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.

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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.

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