Israeli born Artist and Poet Joseph Semah organized a Feburary 23, 2008 simultaneous reading of Spinoza’s “Tractatus theologico-politicus” in Hebrew, Arabic and Latin (read by Joseph himself, Paul Groot, Muhammed Sabet):
The effect is jarring, yet subtly pragmatic and altering. Immediately one is confronted by Babel, and is problematically juxtaposed between the myth of that great, unfinished edifice and the edifice of Spinoza’s works (how unfinished, the Political Treatise left off just where democracy was beginning, and ironically, just as Spinoza established the inequality of the sexes based on experience and historical evidence). One is struck by the simplicity of the event, the way that the bodies gravitate towards each other, almost with an atomic attraction or an animal antagonism. Like a molecule, they hold each other’s texts. One is aware of the impossible grinning or gritting of the words across to each other, and how Spinoza fought hard to keep his TTP from being translated and published in Dutch (so much against the strong, ideal strides taken towards the demystification of language by Spinoza’s friends the Koerbagh brothers, one of which who lost his life). Latin, the mitigator, the citizen-maker of 17th century European intellectualism, here is swallowed up by the two (?) languages of the holyland. Where is one to get their footing?
But there is simplicity here. I am interested in the causal, imaginary paths to Spinoza’s truths, and not only the propositional ones. The event determines us think, feel and see: Three people are gathered. There is a camera that floats; and then a network of Youtube users. Can we believe, “Where there are two or three gathered in my name”? What is that effect? Spinoza tells us “experience can determine our mind to think…of certain essences of things” (Ep. 10). Are we directed to the essence of Spinoza? To the essence of the TTP? Are issues of peace (implied) issues of translation?
I find the presence of the Latin text most problematic. And the presence of the bodies harmonious. We reach across centuries and exhume the text, and then gather in a gallery to encant it. Spinoza talks against himself, and I am enthralled.
KV: Every particular corporeal thing [lichaamelijk ding] is nothing other than a certain ratio [zeekere proportie] of motion and rest.
How are we to read the “ratio” of these three bodies, and the “ratio” of these three languages (the compositions of the peoples enabled by their speaking)? What happens when more-adequate ideas, more joyous ideas are clothed in three historical social forms? Which of these manifestations, the Latin, the Arabic and the Hebrew is more liberating? And how is read, the single body of these bodies and languages in concert, then folded into the electronically related whole that is you and I?
[Video at first found here at Stan Verdult’s Spinoza website]