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Tag Archives: Poem

Spinoza’s Tomb and Sign: sêma

In a curious and revealing conflation of meanings, in Greek sêma, the word from which we get our “semiology” and “semantics” was generally a “sign” or a “mark” of significance, but also archaically it meant a “tomb,” a “burial mound,” a “cairn”. In the video above we encounter the “sign” of Spinoza, his tomb at The Hague. Perhaps we are to recall in contrast Hölderlin’s initial lines of his last poem of sanity, “Mnemosyne”…

A sign we are, without interpretation,

Without pain we are, & we have nearly 

Lost our Speech in the Foreign…

This is precisely the grip of the negation, absence, nothingness that Spinoza puts aside, as all signs point to something, that is, all ideas have a res  as their object. What is the sêma of Spinoza’s Grave? For those of us who have read him, struggling at times against the sheer texturelessness of his interlocked propositions, there is something, some-thing, an effect to seeing his grave, even in this video of it, what has become a monument to a National and historical figure (I have not been to it, but only read it off the aesthetic texture of the digital form). Spinoza has not lost his tongue. The foreign has not made him speechless, or in-sig-nificant. Instead, his death (and he had death all about him, living in a time of plague, his father perhaps dying of the tuberculosis that also struck Spinoza closely after his father’s death), brought him to construct a vast apparatus thought to aid the human mind and body, and articulate matrix of legs, arms and organs which extended man over the sea-bit abyss that would later fascinate the extentialisms of the German and French of modernity, and raft of Being.

I recall the makeshift tomb of Polyneikes from the Antigone, (actually the two graves)…the first driven by the Naturalized windstorm of the gods (in a thorough imaginary constitution ascended to through the fear of the guards watching over his body…the brother who was buried twice); the second by the poor hand of a pubescent girl, sister and kin, dust. The intentional sêma  of the latter a willful determination of the former. For the philosopher who seemed to mimimize the memory, the effects of the imagination, what purpose does his grave give to us? What constitutive effect? Is not it the sign of the preservation of the better part of a mind (and necessarily a body)? There is the unmistaken scent of eternity behind the sêma.

And what of the productivity of the skin of aesthetic capture, the de-sedimented layer of “film” and voice which crosses boundaries and unites in pixelation, and qualitative condensation? Is this not the “body” of Spinoza par excellence, the speed-driven arch of mind through constitutive, material effect?

A Poem Worth Remembering (subjunctive)

If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;

If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:

If you can dream – and not make dreams your master;
If you can think – and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;

If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with wornout tools:

If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’

If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with kings – nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;

If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run –
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And – which is more – you’ll be a Man my son!

But Also Worth Remembering

“According to Kipling in his autobiography Something of Myself, posthumously published in 1937, the poem was inspired by Dr Leander Starr Jameson, who in 1895 led a raid by British forces against the Boers in South Africa, subsequently called the Jameson Raid. This defeat increased the tensions that ultimately led to the Second Boer War. The British press, however, portrayed Jameson as a hero in the middle of the disaster, and the actual defeat as a British victory.”