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Spinoza Opera, Spinoza Sung

I have had the extraordinary pleasure today of listening to what can only be called a Spinoza Opera, recordings of music written for the 2002 VeenFabriek performance of Spinoza: I am not where I think myself to be  [performance website]. It is an thought-provoking rendition of both Spinoza’s defintions of the affects, taken from the end of part three of the Ethics, read in Latin and put to a harpsichord’s punctuating notes and aura effects; and then, it is the acoustical reading of Spinoza’s letter to G. H. Schaller [62 (58)], wherein he determinatively explains the illusion of Freewill by evoking the “thoughts” of a stone that flies through the air (how we are all resolutely to be). The baroque instrumentation, the haunt of precise Latin passing through the affectation of a feminent throat (concievably repressed to some degree in Spinoza, how we see the figure of the Courtesan rise up again, gathering up in her tresses the whole of the scholia which drag like a great train to her/his thought). One wonders how a 17th century Amsterdam marano who loved the theatre and Terence would respond to hearing his sculpted propositions on the affects, so themselves affecti-fied, doubling back upon their employ.

The title of the recording is The Thing Like Us, in reference to one of the most powerful analytical condensations of all of Spinoza’s thought. Rem nobis similem… (3p27). As the composer envisioned it, the music was to engage the very affective and imaginary foundations of our sociability, the way that we interpret the world inescabably through a projection of seeing others as “things like us”. Part of this ratio-imaginary capacity is extended to the affective way that we “see ourselves” in music, expressed there, amid the arrangement of the notes. (One should keep in mind that traditionally in Latin Res is not only “thing” as in “object”, but situation, condition, matter.) In very real senses, the reason why we can even read music is because it is a “thing like us”, echoing to the core of our body’s affective and rational capacities. But part of the piece’s reflexivity is not only in comment upon how music operates by being in similitude to us, but also, as the composer Yannis Kyriakides confesses, in acknowledgement of the very musical, self-referential, recursive structure of the Ethics itself. In this way The Thing Like Us shows us how music itself is a Thing Like Us, but also it does so through a remarkable involution, by being a Thing Like the Ethics. Instead of merely a copy of a copy in any Platonic sense of diminishment, it is a productive similitude, an enabling affective entrance into the priorities and claims of the Ethics. As we hear the note and tonal cartographies of the Latin, is it not so like how we encounter a proposition. So engaged, the entire Ethics  almost stands up with a kind of articulative force, its many propsitions like so many operative, inter-connected legs, ambulate, its proofs newly so like organs of internal exchange. There is something of the animation of the Golem in this piece, a Golem that is internal to Us.

After the clear and distinctly voiced musical manifestations of the affects, in the second half as Spinoza’s letter to Schaller is read/performed, it should not be missed that through the introduction of the worker’s “everyman” voice, how human and connected historical Spinoza was. Not only was it through the glimmering and glass edifice of the Ethics  that Spinoza performed his truth, but in epistolary bridgings. His thought extended out in handwriting across plague and sea-lanes, in greeting. At a unique hour of Western becoming, as a man of science and the politic of words, Spinoza attempted thought sub specie aeternitatis, and the lived consternation of a historical homo faber, a balancing act in which friendship and communication played a vital part. Epistolary Spinoza was an artisan, a worker, and ultimately his great systematic assemblage was one that he imagined would physically”work”, much like the lathe he applied himself to daily. The Ethics was a smithed tool, not only metaphorically, fashioned out of our own body of God, and designed to affect our bodies as much as our minds. Without actors and stage much of the interpretive power of this opera’s original performance is lost in the second half – wherein it seems a working class Haguean encounters something of a Lady Philosophia on stage (if I read the description right – the singing character of Carla being inspired by Van den Enden’s daughter), entering with the audience a theatrical space meant to affectively be the interior of Spinoza’s architectural mind — yet the two voices in dialogue still bring forth a historicism which cannot not be lost in Spinoza, (what is Spinoza in dialogue?), the flesh and body of finite action.

I think that this is what at most this musical rendition allows, the shining forth of the flesh of Spinoza’s contemplations (and life lived), the affection of the affectio. In the end any diadactic interpretation of Spinoza that might have inspired and structured these pieces in the minds of the composer, director, and actors, falls to the essential and unitary trans-lation of a Latin text meant to be invisibly read, without moving one’s lips, translation into a stringed-vibration (instrument and throat). The materiality of his invention is recaptured it if was ever lost in the great Rationalist appropriation/interpretation of his thought.

So what does Spinoza sound like?

I found most powerful here the expression of the affects, in the first half. The vibrato way in which the Latin words, each sonically isolated in their short sentences, are made to resonant higher, even higher than the text alone could take them. In this way they here scale  the body.

Take for instance one of my favorite defintions of the affects…love

The Affect of Love : “Love is Joy/Pleasure accompanied by the idea of an external cause”.

Read with the voice, “Amor/est…lae-ti-ti-ah…concomitante idea CAUsae externae”

See, feel, how Amor rises out of the atmospherics of a potentiality of the Body, and the verb to-be seals it off. How Joy floats momentarily, suspended ontologically until it is brought up with the mechanics of causal interpretation, the sour-rise of cause, pushing the affect forward, as a passion, the closure of causal understanding itself caught in a aural crespification. The potentiality of human love is segmented out in a bit by bit anatomy of thought within tremendous historical consequence. (At least this is my reading and experience.)

Or the whispering, precise feather in the Affect of Desire that causes us to linger, to contemplate not only the thought itself, but also the conditions of the Latin within which Spinoza wrote, the citizen-of-the-world lingua, fostered by Catholic and Protestant imaginations that were tearing. Like a long tenebrous string Kyriakides’ and Harpaz’s “Desire” plays under, sub, to the immanence of our organizations, like a subtle thought.

And then Laetitia itself, Joy/Pleasure, the increase of  perfection, “Laetitia est hominis transitio a minore ad maiorem perfectionem” . The harmonics are haunting in the contemplation of the definition Spinoza provides. The way that the tone of “perfectionem” carries out, incompariably, does more than indicate the nature of Laetitia, it affectively qualifies it within our meditation on the definition. The ultimate coherence of the defintion, and their whole, plays out. This not so much an inter-pretation, as a consub-statiation, in mind and body, a renewal.

These are just a few thoughts.

Here is where you can explore each of the tracks devoted to Spinoza in extended clips, and purchase the CD (or Amazon). You will find the text that comes with the music, as expressed by the composer, the director Paul Koek, and the actor/singer Carola Arons, a commentary which serve to bring to life not only the philosophy behind the composition and performance, but also summon up the full physicality that emerged from this engagment between rational construction and the affecture of the body in theatre and music.

The material of the Ethics, Spinoza’s letters and life comes alive in very much the sense that Spinoza defined alive, that which opens into and as a degree of freedom. If Spinoza imagined the propositions of the Ethics to be the eyes of the Mind, then singing propositions can perhaps be imagined as something like the skin of the Mind, as they allows us to be envoloped and oriented to what the eyes can see — perhaps more tenebrated, communicated, in-speed. Part of understanding the fidelity of Kyriakides’ opera is appreciating that its aesthetic power, the authenticity of its form, may lie in its pedagogic power, much as with the method more geometico of Spinoza’s own Ethics. It is contemplation of Spinoza’s propositions (and letter), a meditation via musicality, that something of its rationality is grasped, in process.

The extended tonal lyricism of this “opera”, as it negotiates tipping between peaks of cacophony, and clustered hues of sweeter clarity, should be fruitfully compared to “Breathing in Reverse”, Joseph Semah’s performance reading of Spinoza Theological-Political Treatise in three antique languages. The tonal justapositions in the former compliment the historical juxapositions in the latter.

[Also of interest, here, a rich personal response and review to Kyriakides' Spinoza, and Stan Verdult's weblog comment on the production in 2005]

Spinoza and Ovid

Michael Weiss discusses the book Betraying Spinoza with it author: A Kibitz on Pure Reason (Day Two). I have have to say that the book was not a favorite of mine, though the combination of veiled and unveiled personal observation, fiction and nonfiction was a unique take on Spinoza, a man who is sometimes overly caricatured by our needs to make him be a certain kind of person.

But I write here momentarily on something Michael Weiss says in passing, his note of the “inner warmth” of Spinoza beneath the “outer carapace”, signaled by Spinoza’s use of Ovid in the Ethics, hinting at an exoteric and an esoteric Spinoza:

I quite liked your narcissism quote, although my Penguin translation of The Ethics doesn’t put it so poetically as that – a shame, given the citations of Ovid with which Spinoza peppered a few of his axioms. This lure towards the romantic furnishes us with a clue, I think, about Baruch’s unacknowledged biases, since he thought the antique pangs of a fellow outcast fit for such a hyper-rationalist treatise on how best to stifle those pangs. Augustus likely gave Ovid the boot for his decadence and estimation of eros above the stuffy political conservatism and jingoism of imperial Rome. Spinoza had his own epicurean tastes, so I wonder if the frequent nods to the love poet aren’t further evidence of his inner warmth despite the outer carapace.

This caused me to think of my own love for Spinoza’s Ovid quotes and suggestions. In the wider view, I actually find Spinoza quite humorous at times. There have been guesses on what part Spinoza would have played in Terence’s “Andria” and “Eunuchus”, put on by van den Enden’s group in ’57 and ’58 (Leopold, Proietti), a point brought out by Wim Klever. I love the picture of Spinoza acting on stage as a 25 year old. But mostly, I have liked Spinoza’ remarkable Ovid Amores II xix reference when discussing the nature of the courtesan, and the facts of social binding, a Nietzschean: 

Ovid:

Iron is he who would love what the other has set down.

Let us hope while we fear and fear while we hope, we lovers

And let rare repulse make a place for a vow. (4-6)

The wordplay of the Latin is intense, and that Spinoza would draw on such multiplicitous lines is suggestive. Spinoza must have quoted favorite lines from memory (!), for he transposes the two initial lines, and significantly perhaps, suppresses the conciliatory conclusion of mutual conflict, the “locum voto”, the space for a vow (must we revisit the rumor of his lost love for van den Enden’s daughter?),

Spinoza:

Let us hope while we fear, and fear while we hope, we lovers

Iron is he who would love what the other sets down. (Ep31c)

Spinoza’s contextually Ovidian argument:

If we imagine that someone enjoys some thing that only one can possess, we shall strive to bring it about that he does not possess it.
Schol: We see, therefore, that for the most part human nature is so constituted that men pity the unfortunate and envy the fortunate, and with greater hate the more they love the thing they imagine the other to possesses. We see, then, that from the same property of human nature from which it follows that men are compassionate [misericordes], it also follows that the same men are envious and ambitious (E3p32).

He who strives, only because of an affect, that others should love what he loves, and live according to his temperament, acts only from impulse and is hateful…since the greatest good men seek from an affect is often such that only one can possess it fully [ut unus tantum eius possit esse compos, hinc fit], those who love are not of one mind in their love-while they rejoice to sing the praises of the thing they love, they fear to be believed (E4p37s1)

I find these to be incredibly subtle and suggestive parts of his argument, and the poem they are drawn from provocative in subject. And lastly, one must remember that Colerus tells us that he would place spiders in a web to fight, amusing himself at the gladiatorial display. I have a feeling that Spinoza was something more than the man (image) we have made of him.

 

related thoughts: Spinoza and His Courtesan

Glazemaker’s translation of Descartes’ La Dioptrique (1659)

Being blind to Dutch, Stan Verdult over at http://spinoza.blogse.nl/, was so kind to point out that of the listings of Glazemaker’s translations below, one of them is of the germane La Dioptrique, by Descartes. This is published two years before Spinoza left Amsterdam, 1659, by Timon Houbaak, (if I read correctly).

The significance of this is that this is likely the text that Spinoza (and Jelles) would know and have some reference to as to the questions of letters 39 and 40. It shows an abject familiarity with Descartes’ optical theories by Glazemaker, who as part of the Rieuwertsz/Van den Enden circle would have brought them to bear. In terms of timing and content, there is a useful co-incidence of Glazemaker’s potential glass knowledge and Spinoza’s lens-grinding and Descartes’ La Dioptrique. Here is the link to the book: Descartes, Proeven der wijsbegeerte (1659). We have not established a strong Glazemaker and Spinoza connection at this point, but there is at least the suggestion. 

Jan Hendriksz Glazemaker…the Glazier

Jan Hendriksz Glazemaker was born in 1619 or 20, married in 1651, and buried Dec 5 1682.

Assumed to be the translator of Spinoza’s works into Dutch, on the strength of the evidence from Duijkerius’ Philopater novel, Glazemaker is seen to be a thorough participant in the Van den Enden and Jan Rieuwertsz circle of Cartesian-Collegiant politicists. Nadler counts him, taking him as part of the Mennonite Amsterdam community, a likely friend of Jelles from youth. It should be noted as a very shallow but perhaps significant resource that, as per his adopted name, he worked as a glazier before becoming a professional translator. As a glazier, and part of a glazier family (after his step father Wijbrandt Reijndersz), he was familiar with techniques of glass making (if peripherally), sources for very good glass, and possibly spectacle makers.

(There is a history that connects the glass used for lens-grinding to the glass used for windows and mirrors. Rolf Willach in his “Development of Lens Grinding and Polishing…” reports that at least in the early part of the century, the glass used was window glass cut into circles, and deduces that three telescopes from the first decades of the 1600s used Venetian mirrors to grind into their plano-convex shape.)

Though a negligable lead in the quest for Spinoza’s early lens-grinding knowledge, because Hudde’s technique of microscope lenses was a glass-beading technique, and by one report Van Leeuwenhoek was inspired to learn lens-crafting from watching a fair glass-blower, it is something to mark.

 

A list of some of Glazemaker’s translations and their dates [Spinoza leaves Amsterdam mid 1661]

De deugdelijke vrou (1643)
Joh. Barclai, D’Argenis (1643)
Toonneel der werreltsche veranderingen (1645)
Romainsche Historien van Titus Luvius, sedert de bouwing van Romen tot aan d’ondergang van ‘t Macadonische Rijk. (1646)
Nikolous Coeffeteau, Romanische historien (1649)
D. Erasmus, Onderwijs tot de ware godgeleertheit (1651)
Homerus, De Iliaden (1654)
Descartes, Redenering om ‘t beleed, om zijn reden wel te beleiden ende waarheit in de wetenschappen te zoeken (1656)
Descartes, Meditationes de prima philosophia: of bedenkingen van d’eerste wijsbegeerte (1656-1657)
Descartes, Principia philosophiae: of beginselen der wijsbegeerte (1657)
Descartes, Proeven der wijsbegeerte (1659)
J. Lily, De vermaakelijke Historie, Zee- en Land-Reyze van Euphues (1668 )

Anti-Trinitarian Politics at the Time of Spinoza’s Collegiants

For those interested in a summation of the political difficulties facing Spinoza’s group of Collegiants, here is an excerpt from Jonathan Israel’s The Dutch Republic: Its Rise, Greatness and Fall (1477 - 1806). In all likelihood Spinoza’s circle organized itself around the political protestor, Latin instructor, physician and playwright Van den Enden, and the bookshop of Rieuwertsz, who would publish, among other things, Spinoza’s study of Descartes’ Principles of Phllosophy and his Theological-Political Treatise.

 

Menno Simon (1496 -1561)

Fausto Sozzini (1539 – 1604)

Israel writes:

“But it [the centrality of the Socinian issue] was also due to the spread of the Collegiant movement, especially in the 1640s, to Amsterdam, and mounting evidence that some Dutchmen were being influenced by Socinian doctrines. Zeeland had already acted by the time the North and South Holland Synods petitioned the States of Holland, in 1653, to combat this ‘sickness’, which they called the most dangerous, and most ‘Jewish’, of all Christian heresies, alleging that it was spreading rapidly, especially in Holland, Friesland, and Groningen, and indication that Mennonites were regarded as particularly susceptable to Socinian arguments.

“In September 1653, the States of Holland duly prohibited Socinian and other anti-Trinitarian ‘conventricles’, warning participants they would be charged with blasphemy and as ‘disturbers of the peace’. Booksellers found stocking anti-Trinitarian books were to be fined 1000 guilders [a day laborer made about a guilder a day], printers of anti-Trinitarian literature 3000 guilders. The edict was aimed at Collegiants, and others who were susceptible to anti-Trinitarian influences, as well as avowed Scocinians, meeting in groups. There was a crackdown on anti-Trinitarianism throughout Holland, as well as in neighboring Utrecht, which continued through the 1650s and undoubtably had a considerable effect….At Amsterdam, too, the Collegiants were for some years forced to meet in smaller groups, than before, private homes, and be more circumspect….The crackdown on anti-Trinitarianism extended also to the countryside. The baljuw of Alkmaar wrote to De Witt, in March 1655, reporting his enquiries in the villages around the city, with the help of the ‘regents of the principal villages’, as to whether there were any Scocinians, or anti-Trinitarian books, in the vinciity, concluding that there were not…

…At Amsterdam, it proved impossible to halt the flow of Socinian publications for long…Collegiant meetings in large groups, or ‘colleges’, revived in the early 1660s [Spinoza moved to Rijnsburg in mid 1661]. In 1661, the Amsterdam Reformed consistory complained to the vroedschap of the ‘exorbitance of the Socinian gatherings, in which Quakers and Boreelists mingled, such that one hundred, one hundred fify, and sometimes even greater numbers attended them’. What was at issue here was not the existence of the Collegiant groups, as such, but that there was no longer sufficient pressure to compel them to meet only in small groups, in private homes” (911 – 912) [without footnotes].

Professor Israel does not take into immediate account that the consistory’s claim is likely an exaggeration, so as to make the complaint more forceful, but it is notable that by the time of Spinoza’s move to Collegiant center Rijnsburg, College gatherings in Amsterdam appeared to have bloomed to rather large numbers.

 

The “genius” behind Spinoza, Van den Enden

Wim Klever

For those of you who have not read W. N. A. Klever’s article for The Cambridge Companion to Spinoza, “Spinoza’s life and works” you are missing something. It presents a radically different Spinoza, one quite divergent from the one that gets passed down in philosophy circles. A man much closer to Science and natural investgation, and perhaps more spiritual and political. His research is historically diverse, detailed and eyeopening, though perhaps conclusions need to be checked. Aside from these sweeping thoughts, I wanted to post here a brief description that Klever makes of his thesis of an underpinning influence of Spinoza’s thought, to give context to the Van den Enden link below. Klever, remarkably, considers him the “genius” behind Spinoza’s thought. Part of this is his understanding that Spinoza was part of a circle of like-minded thinkers all of whom organized themselves around this nearly forgotten philosopher, Scientist, playwright and political revolutionary. His thesis is supported by various entries in the diary of Borch:

We do not actually have manuscripts of Van den Enden from this period, but we do have a printed pamphlet written by him in 1661 and 1622 with the title Kort Verhael van Nieuw-Nederlants…[1662] and another one published in 1665 under the title Vrije Politijcke Stellingen, but written in 1663. These pamphlets were recently unearthed by this author [1990] and were also discovered nineteen years earlier, but not published by M. Bedjai, as I came to hear some weeks later. On the basis of the mentioned works I came to the conclusion that Van den Enden must be a proto-Spinoza, the genius behind Spinoza; Bejai defends in his thesis the same idea by claiming that the so-called Amsterdam Spinoza circle could be better named “Van den Enden and his circle” [Bedjai 1990]. The works of Van den Enden contain a political theory which is in fact the same one worked out by Spinoza in his Theological-Political Treatise and Political Treatise. One finds moreover between the lines all the items which would later be proven deductively by Spinoza in his Ethics: full-fledged determinism, the distinction between three kinds of knowledge [and other epistemological claims], human passivity, the conatus theory, the intellectual love of God, and so on. Much research has to still be done, but one may already conclude that the group of Amsterdam friends, to which Meyer and Bouwmeester also belonged, had a common philosophy (26)

I doubt the genius behind the genius conclusion, for one cannot tell the impact Spinoza himself had upon the thinking of Van den Enden. And several of the themes that Klever brings up as to be original to Van den Enden have antecedents that are rather ancient. But I do think it quite convincing to place Spinoza’s work within a larger historical context, and the shared ambitions of a mind of many men, making of his abstractions, not only a political, but a spiritual and communitarian movement indicative of a mid-17th century Dutch struggle with modernity.

 

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