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As Lensmaker: A Quick Overview

A Moment’s Reflection

It strikes me that it would take to give myself a review, a where-its-at since I started looking into the possibility that Spinoza’s lens grinding would have had a formative consequence on Spinoza’s metaphysics, one that might again, bring his metaphysics back to us – us, the technology-users – in a new way. So much has unfolded, most of which consists in the realization that Spinoza was likely a hard-at-workinstrument maker, an investigator of optics, a process that ran parallel to his metaphysical architectures. Like Spinoza’s postulate of mutually expressive Attributes, his engagement with lenses, in his mind, expressed in the “same order and connection” his engagement with ideas. And this co-habitation gave him a uniquely bodied conception of technological means. His approach to issues of invention and mechanization seem studied and cautious, probably shadowed by his pessimism of human knowledge, the often Joyful embrace that the kinds of ideas and freedoms that human beings are capable of are hard-fought and hard-won; they are not made with just with a new turn of a gear, or a lambent conception, but materially and collectively. His lathe was likely elementary, unlike the complex, august creations of most of the optical savants of Europe. He likely embraced somehow in his practice the archetypal relation between the spinning grind cup – exhibiting both change and fixity – and the transfer, under pressure, of its form to a largely transparent, though still clouded and straited, piece of glass: this he patiently, patiently held in his hand. It seems that he ground very small glasses for his microscopes, and if the intuition is true that he made single-lens type scopes, such as those used by Johannes Hudde, Van Leeuwenhoek, Swammerdam, at times Hooke, and eventually Huygens, his practice was most arduous and fine, at times narrowing his attention to pieces of matter, “transpartent atoms,” no larger than a pin’s head. How much can this care be analogized to the construction of the simple propositions in the Ethics, and how much can the Ethics itself be seen as one large grinding dish for the body/mind of its reader, is still open to the aptitude of future thinking. What does not seem in doubt though is that Spinoza invested daily hours in the craftsman’s mediation of shaping semi-transparent material under a mathematical conception, to be placed in material assemblage with the body; and this practice surely both informed and expressed his philosophical conception of what is human, what is God, and the political. The frictions in life were the variable grits of an ocular becoming active, not so much as to crystallize the vision in a moment of clear apparition, but insofar as WE are the lens, our ocularity must be seen as an activity, a becoming clear, in the sense that a knife’s edge is clear, clear in what it can do, yet only suggestive of what it will do. I do not mean this in a metaphorical way for Spinoza tried not think in metaphors, but literally. Ideas are meant to sharpen our activity.

The eye of course makes the most interesting of locations, for it is the site of very precise and incessant refractions, but also is one of the most emotively expressive nexuses of the body. Here the timbre of the tightening of a muscle can pull an object unconsciously into focus, or can reveal the subtlest grade of an emotional or conceptual shift to others. The two must coincide for Spinoza. As his driving hand (or his foot) felt the sensitive, resistant grind of the cup, as his ears heard the quality of the abrasive alter under its effect, and his eye picked up the clued traces of method, hour after hour, the glint, strum and lub must have enacted the clarity that was to be acheived, a wholly material, that is to say, physical, expression of craft and thus freedom.