April 2007


BOOK III, PROP. XVII. If we conceive that a thing, which is wont to affect us painfully, has any point of resemblance with another thing which is wont to affect us with an equally strong emotion of pleasure, we shall hate the first-named thing, and at the same time we shall love it.

Note.–This disposition of the mind, which arises from two contrary emotions, is called vacillation; it stands to the emotions in the same relation as doubt does to the imagination (II. xliv. note); vacillation and doubt do not differ one from the other, except as greater differs from less. But we must bear in mind that I have deduced this vacillation from causes, which give rise through themselves to one of the emotions, and to the other accidentally. I have done this, in order that they might be more easily deduced from what went before; but I do not deny that vacillation of the disposition generally arises from an object, which is the efficient cause of both emotions. The human body is composed (II. Post. i.) of a variety of individual parts of different nature, and may therefore (Ax. i. after Lemma iii. after II. xiii.) be affected in a variety of different ways by one and the same body; and contrariwise, as one and the same thing can be affected in many ways, it can also in many different ways affect one and the same part of the body. Hence we can easily conceive, that one and the same object may be the cause of many and conflicting emotions.

A timely proposition today:

BOOK III, PROP. XVI. Simply from the fact that we conceive, that a given object has some point of resemblance with another object which is wont to affect the mind pleasurably or painfully, although the point of resemblance be not the efficient cause of the said emotions, we shall still regard the first-named object with love or hate.

* * *

In his original formulation from The Interpretation of Dreams, Freud used to transference to refer to any transfer of affect from one object or thing to another. Thus, for example, transference is involved in the dreamwork, where displacement leads a particular element associated with the original object to which the affect is attached to the other object. As a result, something unrelated to the origin of the affect comes to take on an affective charge as a result of its resemblance or association to this other object. The same mechanisms are found at work in Spinoza’s analysis of affect as can be seen from above. For example, if one is repeatedly beaten by their stepfather they might come to experience the affects associated with their stepfather with regard to any other man that resembles their stepfather. Resemblance should be construed very broadly here. Resemblance can be obvious physical resemblances, but it can also refer to a common context or even a shared word or signifier. As nominalists have pointed out for a long time, there are fewer words than there are things. As a consequence, a diversity of things can be grouped under one and the same word without sharing hardly anything in common. Nonetheless, because they share minimally the word in common, affect can be transferred from one object to another based on the common link between the objects to the word.

It is interesting how much Spinoza, a rationalist, resembles Hume on these points. In his critique of miracles in an Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding Hume writes,

The maxim by which we commonly conduct ourselves in our reasonings, is, that the objects, of which we have no experience, resemble those, of which we have; that what we have found to be most usual is always most probable; and that where there is an opposition of arguments, we ought to give the preference to such as are founded on the greatest number of past observations.

Hume’s point is simply that we determine the probability of third person testimony of things that we have not experienced in terms of whether these reported events conform to the regularities we have come to expect in the world. However, one might be mislead in reading Hume’s reference to reasoning, as this is not a conscious process. It must be recalled that for Hume we form associations of relations between cause and effect through habit or custom, which he describes as an unconscious process that occurs automatically in our minds when two events commonly occuring together (thus allowing us to often confuse causation with mere correlation). Hume and Spinoza are very much on the same page here. Similar experiences of things that resemble one another produce similar affects for Spinoza, regardless of whether or not the two things are in fact the same. What makes Spinoza especially interesting here is the way in which he treats the passions as a principle by which these associations are forged and maintained.

Adam Kotsko has written an interesting post about hostility towards high theory over at An und fur sich.

I have noticed a phenomenon that seems to be particularly intense at CTS, but I’m sure happens elsewhere. This is the phenomenon of being impatient with scholarship and theoretical work that does not appear to have an immediate practical application or to be immediately communicable to “common people.” Today this did not come up in class, since we were talking about a very topical book of Judith Butler’s (Precarious Life), but when discussing the idea of how an identitarian “we” very often ends up excluding some of those that it by all rights should include, this issue came to mind.

It seems to me that various types of activist movements, identitarian or not, and also religious movements tend to marginalize or exclude their more “intellectual” members. Hence when we get the impatient question, “But how does this play to the people on the streets/in the pews?,” it may represent a certain defensiveness among people who are seeking to be intellectuals who are faithful to the movements with which they identify. In rhetorically identifying with the “common person” — which the speaker, who is in this case enrolled in an advanced degree program, simply no longer is, whether they want to admit it or not — the speaker can make a double assertion:

1. The common people are right to be suspicious of some intellectual work, which really is useless at best or counterproductive at worst.
2. I, however, do not do that kind of intellectual work and am very suspicious of it myself.

This identification and distancing, then, can be a means of expiating a certain type of guilt for enjoying “useless” intellectual pursuits for their own sake. It is difficult for me to imagine that anyone would enter a PhD program without enjoying intellectual work for its own sake, even if the primary goal is, for instance, to document a neglected aspect of one’s cultural heritage or history, or to develop specific programs to help people, etc., etc. Even if one really is a “movement intellectual” in sincere solidarity with an activist or religious group, one is still an intellectual, which is always going to include at least some minimal slippage between one’s intellectual pursuits and the immediate needs (strategic of propagandistic) of the movement. One may take theological stances that one’s church body takes as disruptive of the training of ministers, or one may ask questions about sexuality that are experienced as attacking the unity of one’s identitarian movement — in any case, one’s identification is not complete. Even if that must necessarily be true for every member of a movement, it is much more of a “public” issue for the intellectual, whose role makes it much less easy to hide misgivings than is the case for a “private individual” in the rank and file.

I confess that I’m increasingly guilty of this. In the realm of political theory I increasingly find myself feeling that high theory seldom leads to any genuine action, and is often remote from the living struggles of its day. As such, it finds itself in a sort of performative contradiction. At the level of its content it espouses a radical agenda of change, yet the form of its discourse and the way it is addressed to other academics ends up withdrawing it from the social sphere and allowing the very things it claims to struggle against to persist. The academy can be thought as a way of containing more public forms of engagement and cutting them off in advance.

With regard to theology my suspicion is that high theology is often a rationalization of much more basic religious phenomena. Here the situation is not unlike the Heidegger affair. Heidegger comes up with all sorts of nuanced and sophisticated grounds to explain the world-historical significance of the Nazi party, but at the end of the day the Nazi party is a very stupid, very vulgar, very ugly social phenomenon that possesses none of the saving power he suggests at the level of its concrete practice. Heidegger ends up supporting the very thing promoting the forgetfullness of being he decries. The theologian ends up supporting, in action, the very things they decry by virtue of how religious politics objectively functions.

At any rate, I’m continuously being told that I don’t recognize the diversity of religious belief so I cited some statistics:

Here in the states 59% of Protestants voted for Bush, 52% of Catholics voted Bush, and 78% of Evangelicals/Born-Agains voted for Bush. 64% of people that attended church more than once a week voted Bush, as did 58% of those that attend church weekly.

http://www.cnn.com/ELECTION/2004/pages/results/states/US/P/00/epolls.0.html

These are numbers that can’t simply be brushed aside or ignored, and I think they underline why Adam’s allusion to this variety of religious believers is a disingenious argument to make. The numbers for Catholics and Protestants are heartening as they’re almost split down the middle. Consequently, for me the interesting question would be one of how to push those numbers in the other direction. Is high theology going to do this? I don’t see how any of you, however, can reasonably deny that as it stands now there’s a strong coalition between conservatives and religion in the United States.

You can imagine the response from Adam:

Show me an atheist Mother Theresa and we’ll talk. Show me that doctrinaire atheism promotes anything other than stupid pride and other than that just totally going along with the capitalist system, and we’ll talk. Until then, just fucking shut the fuck up.

It’s interesting that Adam believes there haven’t been any atheist benefactors of mankind. It’s even more interesting that he so readily accepts the stories about Mother Teresa and doesn’t look into her own relationship with capitalism (i.e., the way she was perhaps making the condition of the lepers worse due to a religious mission). But the most astonishing claim is the idea that atheists are somehow alone in going along with the capitalist system. If anything, religion in the United States seems to systematically function as one of the central promotors of capitalism. In the end, however, I think Adam’s call to shut up says it all and reveals his true nature. This is the whole problem.

UPDATE: Apparently I’ve been banned from the Weblog and An und fur sich for my remarks. It is good to see Christlike behavior alive and well. I think a not so careful examination of Adam’s mode of speaking to others reveals the true nature of how he feels about discussion concerning religious belief. He’s completely open to such discussion so long as no one disagrees or criticizes the religious. It’s interesting how this company immediately resorts to invectives and attacks the moment they feel questioned. Who knows what else they might do (they certainly did some unkind things to Rich Pulasky over at the Weblog). In his response to this post he refers to me as a doctrinaire, fundamentalist atheist. I wonder if Adam understands that I, and most other atheists, would never speak up about their atheism at all if it weren’t for folk like Adam brutalizing our positions and religious zealots enacting legislation in the United States. We’d much rather discuss ways of solving political problems, social problems, engage in philosophy and science, and discuss an interesting novel or film. At any rate, Adam’s banning performatively re-enacts the history of the church with regard to dialogue. I’m just glad he doesn’t have the institutional power to burn me at the stake or torture me like Galileo.

BOOK THREE, PROP. XIV. If the mind has once been affected by two emotions at the same time, it will, whenever it is afterwards affected by one of the two, be also affected by the other.

BOOK III, PROP. XV. Anything can, accidentally, be the cause of pleasure, pain, or desire.

Corollary.–Simply from the fact that we have regarded a thing with the emotion of pleasure or pain, though that thing be not the efficient cause of the emotion, we can either love or hate it.

Note.–Hence we understand how it may happen, that we love or hate a thing without any cause for our emotion being known to us; merely, as the phrase is, from sympathy or antipathy. We should refer to the same category those objects, which affect us pleasurably or painfully, simply because they resemble other objects which affect us in the same way. This I will show in the next Prop. I am aware that certain authors, who were the first to introduce these terms “sympathy” and “antipathy,” wished to signify thereby some occult qualities in things; nevertheless I think we may be permitted to use the same terms to indicate known or manifest qualities.

* * *

Proposition 15 is a revolution in Western thought concerning the nature of pleasure and desire. Throughout the philosophical tradition there has been a marked tendency to distinguish natural and unnatural forms of pleasure. Take, for example, this representative passage from Epicurus’ Letter to Menoeceus:

We must also reflect that of desires some are natural, others are groundless; and that of the natural some are necessary as well as natural, and some natural only. And of the necessary desires some are necessary if we are to be happy, some if the body is to be rid of uneasiness, some if we are even to live. He who has a clear and certain understanding of these things will direct every preference and aversion toward securing health of body and tranquillity of mind, seeing that this is the sum and end of a blessed life. For the end of all our actions is to be free from pain and fear, and, when once we have attained all this, the tempest of the soul is laid; seeing that the living creature has no need to go in search of something that is lacking, nor to look for anything else by which the good of the soul and of the body will be fulfilled. When we are pained because of the absence of pleasure, then, and then only, do we feel the need of pleasure. Wherefore we call pleasure the alpha and omega of a blessed life. Pleasure is our first and kindred good. It is the starting-point of every choice and of every aversion, and to it we come back, inasmuch as we make feeling the rule by which to judge of every good thing.

The aim is to live only in terms of natural desires or those desires that are inborn. With Spinoza all of this changes. Just as we do not know what a body can do, similarly, we must account for the specific system of affects and desires that characterize a particular body. The most striking examples of this would be masochism and suicide, where a particular form of jouissance and desire is at work, showing just how varied desires and forms of enjoyment can be. Subsequent propositions will show just how well Spinoza is able to account for these sorts of phenomena. We must thus necessarily provide some account of the manner in which this body’s desire is individuated. Deleuze and Guattari praise Freud for having developed an account of desire, of libido, that is no longer shackled to innate objects. This comes out with special clarity in the case of Freud’s Three Essays on the Theory of Sexuality, where it is argued that we are born “polymorphously perverse”. Such a thesis is already at work in Spinoza’s Ethics. Given his own intense engagement with Spinoza, Deleuze would have been well aware of this.

It is also worthwhile to note the strong affinity between proposition 15 and Hume’s theory of association with respect to the formation of subjectivity. Every social theory requires a conception of the body similar to that of Spinoza’s, Hume’s, and Freud’s to account for the formation of socialized subjects or the formation of socially and historically specific affects, percepts, and desires. For instance, why do we begin approaching the world in an “objectified” fashion in the 17th century, seeing things as objects of quantification and dispassionate scientific investigation? What accounts for this sudden shift in how things are perceived? Here questions of individuation emerge that are necessarily bound up with questions of changes in production that took place with respect to the emergence of capitalism. The historical explanation, however, is not sufficient as we must presuppose a certain malleability of the body to determine how it is possible for perception to be transformed in this way, shifting from what Heidegger called the “ready-to-hand” of the Feudal world, to the “present-at-hand” of products under capitalistic production. In particular, we would have to focus on what Marx describes as “alienation” from the object of production in the Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844, as a non-phenomenological condition for the possibility of the phenomenology of the scientific gaze or attitude. This separation from the object produced serves as a historical a priori condition of the scientific gaze by rendering us indifferent to the use-value of the object for us qua producer. One need only think of the difference between our phenomenological attitude towards food that we produce in a restauraunt for customers (for those who have been “fortunate” to work in food service), compared to our attitude towards food we produce for ourselves. In the former case the food becomes an “inert” thing, such that our interest in it is subtracted. The object comes to be experienced as “present-at-hand”, just as a doctor or nurse sees a human body as a machine, rather than another person with whom they share interpersonal bonds. This “indifference” towards the object was also reflected in an indifference to subjects, where heirarchical social identities began to disappear and we came to conceive ourselves as individuals pursuing self-interest. Perhaps more on that another time, I’m off to dinner at the anthropologists house.

BOOK III, PROP. XIII. When the mind conceives things which diminish or hinder the body’s power of activity, it endeavours, as far as possible, to remember things which exclude the existence of the first-named things.

Corollary.–Hence it follows, that the mind shrinks from conceiving those things, which diminish or constrain the power of itself and of the body.

Note.–From what has been said we may, clearly understand the nature of Love and Hate. Love is nothing else but pleasure accompanied by the idea, of an external cause: Hate is nothing else but pain accompanied by the idea of an external cause. We further see, that he who loves necessarily endeavours to have, and to keep present to him, the object of his love; while he who hates endeavours to remove and destroy the object of his hatred. But I will treat of these matters at more length hereafter.

Rene Daumal and Melanie have suggested some additional hermeneutics:

Technohermeneutics: This hermeneutics traces phenomena back to their technological conditions. Examples would be Kittler and Ong.

Libidohermeneutics: I’m amazed that I forgot this one. This hermeneutics traces phenomena back to drives, desire, and jouissance. Freud, Lacan, and Deleuze and Guattari would fall here.

Rene also suggests Geohermeneutics that traces phenomena back to their geography as in Braudel and certain moments in DeLanda’s earlier work.

To this I’d add Genderhermeneutics, that comprehends phenomena in terms of gender relations.

BOOK III, PROP. XII. The mind, as far as it can, endeavours to conceive those things, which increase or help the power of activity in the body.

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