Spinoza, Baruch

  ---- by Kenneth Surin
  In the last few decades the writings of Louis Althusser, Etienne Balibar, Pierre Macherey, Antonio Negri, Deleuze and others, have marked a resurgence of interest in the thought of Baruch Spinoza, in which Spinoza's materialist ontology has been used as a framework for constructing a matrix of thought and practice not regimented by the axioms of Platonic metaphysics, the epistemology of René Descartes, and the transcendental rationalism of Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel. Also important for these thinkers has been the use of Spinoza as a resource to reconceptualise some of Karl Marx's more important categories and principles. Coupled with this resurgence has been a parallel development in the area of more technical commentary on Spinoza, associated primarily with the massive works of Martial Gueroult and Alexandre Matheron. Deleuze himself dealt with Spinoza in two texts: his 1968 doctoral thesis Spinoza et le problème de l'expression (D 1992) and the 1970 shorter text Spinoza: Philosophie pratique (D 1988c), though the thought of Spinoza permeates all his works, including the texts co-written with Guattari.
  Deleuze views Spinoza as the first thinker to make judgements about truth and virtue inescapably social. Hence, for Spinoza, notions of moral culpability, responsibility, good and evil have no reality except in so far as they stem from the disposition to obey or disobey those in authority. The State cannot compel the individual as long as she is seen to obey, and so Deleuze credits Spinoza with being the first philosopher to place thought outside the purview of the State and its functions: Spinoza, says Deleuze in Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, 'solicits forces in thought that elude obedience as well as blame, and fashions the image of a life beyond good and evil, a rigorous innocence without merit or culpability' (D 1988c: 4). Life for Spinoza, since it cannot be constrained by the state or milieu from which it emerges, is irreducibly positive: life cannot be enhanced if it is trammelled by the interdictions of priests, judges, and generals whose own lives are marked by an internal sadomasochism. Needless to say, Deleuze's use of Spinoza is inevitably selective. There are many Spinozas, just as there are many Platos and Hegels, and Deleuze's Spinoza is a Spinoza read through the eyes of Friedrich Nietzsche, and especially Nietzsche's doctrine of the eternal return. For Nietzsche, according to Deleuze, the eternal return means that one will be willing to experience life over and over again in exactly the same way. Similarly, where Spinoza is concerned, the person who will not be a victim of the sad passions, the aspirant for beatitude, will be someone whose actions cannot be an occasion for regret. In both cases, therefore, the individual concerned will not want the terms under which she lives life to be any different.
  For Spinoza, there are two primary kinds of forces which diminish life - hatred, which is turned towards the other; and the bad conscience, which is turned inwards. Only a new kind of life, capable of sustaining experimentation and a new appetite for living, can overcome these negative and reactive passions. Spinoza's works, primarily the Ethics, delineate an intellectual framework (going under the name of an 'ethics') for leading this new life. In this new ontology, a body is defined by its speeds and slownesses, not its forms and functions, as it was in the age-old Aristotelian metaphysics that dominated philosophy until the Enlightenment. Also important in this ontology are the linkages between different bodies, culminating in the forming of a nexus of connections, each connection or set of connections proceeding with its own speed and slowness. Knowledge understood in this way is essentially material and contingent, since no individual knows ahead of time what their bodily affects are and what they are likely to involve in relation to other individuals and forces.
  Deleuze and Guattari's kinship with Spinoza stems from their perception that philosophy today has to come to terms with the emergence of new knowledges that have been accompanied by the explosive rise of a whole range of new sciences, based on the creation of 'nonstandard' logics and topologies of change and relation, and typically devised to deal with situations that have the character of the irregular or the arbitrary (what Deleuze and Guattari call 'nomad thought', 'rhizomatics', 'schizoanalysis'). These new logics and topologies concern themselves not only with the structural principles of change and process, but also with surfaces, textures, rhythms, connections and so on, all of which can be analysed in terms of such notions as those of strings, knots, flows, labyrinths, intensities and becomings. Spinoza is viewed by Deleuze as the pre-eminent precursor of this 'nomad thought', though clearly for them Leibniz, Nietzsche and Bergson are also exemplary predecessors.
  The appropriation of Spinoza's thought by Deleuze (and Guattari) is undeniably selective. There is a rationalism in Spinoza that is downplayed in Deleuze's interpretation of him, and while Spinoza was critical of State power, he cannot easily be made to share the same theoretical premisses as the anarcho-Marxism of Deleuze and Guattari. All this notwithstanding, Spinoza's rigorous immanentism and materialism, mediated in complex ways by the thought of several other thinkers, are very much in evidence in Deleuze's oeuvre.
   § Eternal return
   § Immanence
   § Materialism

The Deleuze dictionary. . 2010.

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