De Spinozareceptie zit vol interpretatieconflicten – ook op dit webblog
Sinds de laatste botsing met en het vertrek van dit blog door Henk Keizer, houden de moeilijkheden en verschillen van interpretaties mij de laatste dagen zeer bezig (momenteel loopt er weer zo’n fundamenteel interpretatieverschil met Adèle Meijer op dit blog). Zo stuitte ik op
Christopher Norris, Spinoza and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory. Wiley-Blackwell, 1991 [november 1990] - 330 pagina's. Ik heb en ken het boek niet, maar zag enige reviews – en het volgende:
Alex Houen, begint zijn hoofdstuk “'Various Infinitudes': Narration, Embodiment and Ontlogogy in Beckett's How It Is and Spinoza's Ethics,” 1) aldus
and the Origins of Modern Critical Theory (1990), Christopher Norris
declares Spinoza to be the thinker who 'more than anyone saw the need to
maintain a clear-cut distinction between knowledge arrived at through
experience, sensory acquaintance, and phenomenal intuition', and 'knowledge as
established (or produced in thought) through a form of immanent structural
critique'. All the most significant developments and debates within modern
critical theory have their origin in Spinoza's writings accordingly, Norris
argues - whether the critics know it or not - for only by making these
distinctions can we conceive of critical thought as producing what Spinoza
calls 'adequate knowledge', one which, à
la Althusser, is unattainable from within the realm of 'ideology, lived
experience or the discourses of socially legitimized truth' (p. 164). And this,
he asserts, is the 'single most contentious issue in present-day literary
critical debate' (ibid.).
These separations, as far as Norris is concerned, are manifest in Spinoza's ‘scientia intuitiva', the third and highest form of knowledge, which is defined in Part 5 of the Ethics as the thinking of the body 'under a form of eternity' (sub specie aeternitatis). Yet Spinoza denies any possibility of transcendence at many points in the text, declaring at the end that this third kind of knowledge means viewing eternity as determined and known only in particular things: 'the more we understand particular things the more we understand God'. For this reason, Deleuze and Guattari, in What is Philosophy? (1991), pose Spinoza as the 'Christ' of philosophers because he 'drew up the "best" plane of immanence" in thinking an incarnation of infinitude.”
Deze Christopher Norris schreef twintig jaar later het eerste hoofdstuk, “Spinoza and the Conflict of Interpretations,” in Dimitris Vardoulakis (Ed.) Spinoza Now [Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2011]. Daar op dit Spinoz-blog, de enige plek in Nederland waar over Spinoza gediscussieerd kan worden, ook voortdurend conflicterende interpretaties zichtbaar zijn, ben ik zo vrij hier enige pagina’s uit dit hoodstuk over te nemen (de verwijzingen naar de eindnoten laat ik staan, maar voor de inzage ervan verwijs ik naar het boek.
Spinoza and the Conflict of Interpretations
if there has always been a “new Spinoza,” this is no doubt because his thinking so strongly resists assimilation on any of the terms laid down by every mainstream school of European philosophy from Descartes to the present. Thus his work has very often been taken up by radicals or dissidents—those who approach it with a view to transforming the discourse of ontology, metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, politics, or aesthetics—while always leaving something unaccounted for, or something that is consequently thought to require a likewise radical critique.1 This pattern of response goes a long way back—historically as well as philosophically speaking—to the earliest stages of Spinoza’s reception, when his writings became a chief zone of engagement in the struggle for freedom of conscience and belief or for emancipation from the dictates of religious (whether Christian or Jewish) orthodoxy.2 Later on, it assumed the same kind of salience for the quarrel between idealism and materialism or— at its most extreme—between the romantic (German and English) idea of Spinoza as a “God-intoxicated” mystic and his underground reputation as an out-and-out determinist, materialist, and atheist.3
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this reception-history was that both parties to each dispute could cite chapter and verse from Spinoza’s texts and moreover buttress their respective readings with a good show of exegetical care and argumentative rigor. It is the same with those recent or present-day schools of Spinoza interpretation that are often sharply at odds with each other on basic points  of method, doctrine, and principle yet that likewise manage to putup a strong textual-documentary as well as philosophical case. Thus,for instance, thinkers such as Althusser and Balibar—“structural Marxists,” as the label went—could very plausibly appeal to Spinoza by way of support for their rationalist account of the relationship between lived experience, ideology, and the process of “scientific” concept formation,4 while others, like Gilles Deleuze, could just as plausibly invoke him as the chief source or elective precursor for a kind of radical process metaphysics grounded in the notions of desiring-production and molecular or deterritorialized energy flows.5
More than that, the impact of his work was clearly visible across a swathe of developments in hermeneutics, critical theory, and the human and social sciences, where Spinoza’s philosophicohistorical critique of revelation and scriptural warrant was among the most crucial early contributions to the project of secular Enlightenment thought.6
Some years ago, I wrote a book about Spinoza that put the case for his pervasive yet underacknowledged influence and tried to sort out some of these multiple, often closely intersecting, yet sometimes wildly divergent lines of intellectual descent.7 In particular, I traced the conflict of interpretations that started out with his double role as archheretic or vilified atheist, on one hand, and on the other, purveyor of a knowledge—a mystical-intuitive mode ofcomprehension—beyond all the limits and endemic shortcomings of plain-prose reason. This conflict has been repeated in various displaced or surrogate forms over the past three centuries of often intense and heated debate around Spinoza’s thought. Nowadays it appears in the clash of priorities between those in the analytic camp, who regard him as having some useful (if often misleadingly formulated) things to say about issues in metaphysics, epistemology, or philosophy of mind,8 and those of a so-called Continental persuasion, who tend more often to emphasize Spinoza’s politics or what they see as the basically political nature of Spinozist ethics, ontology, and psychology.9 Even so, this fails to capture the full complexity of the situation because there is something in common—philosophically if not politically speaking—between the analytic drive for conceptual clarity and precision and Althusser’s claim for Spinoza (in company with Marx) as having achieved a decisive epistemological break with  the currency of commonsense or ideological belief.10 Indeed, the very fact of his having spawned so diverse and complex a receptionhistory is one measure of Spinoza’s extreme singularity and his way of holding out against classification according to such ready-made categories. French thinkers in the wake of structuralism, Deleuze especially, have on the whole been more concerned to emphasize this aspect of Spinoza’s thought as a part of their campaign against the grip of conceptual abstraction or “totalizing” systems of whatever kind, not least Althusserian Marxism.11 However, it has also left a strong impression among his analytical commentators through their sense of his standing quite apart from—and posing a sizeable challenge to—some of the most rooted assumptions of mainstream philosophic thought.
Thus, for all their marked, even drastic differences of interest, idiom, and dominant agenda, the two traditions are, at any rate, largely agreed in their perception of Spinoza as a thoroughly anomalous and (to say the least) provocative thinker. Though to some, this has been cause for unqualified celebration—in particular those, like Deleuze, who enlist him on the side of radical difference or heterogeneity—in others, it has provoked a very mixed response and sometimes taxed their exegetical patience to the limit and beyond. Here I am thinking chiefly of Jonathan Bennett’s approach, in the mode of Russell-style rational reconstruction, whereby he offers a patient, detailed, and often admiring account of Spinoza’s Ethics until he gets to the “third kind of knowledge”—scientia intuitiva—achieved through the “intellectual love of God,” at which point, all this patience suddenly runs out and his commentary gives voice to a sense of bafflement and downright exasperation.12 Thus, picking out a phrase from the more indulgent Stuart Hampshire, “I contend that instead of implying that Spinoza has brought us ‘beyond the limits of literal understanding’ and that this is acceptable because it is inherent in his chosen topic, we should say openly that Spinoza is talking nonsense and that there is no reason to put up with it.”13 As for Frederick Pollock and his claim that these passages are “among the most brilliant endeavors of speculative philosophy,” and moreover, that they “throw a kind of poetical glow over the formality of [Spinoza’s] exposition,” Bennett is quite unable to contain his indignation. Thus, “when a commentator as shrewd as Pollock is reduced to such babbling by his desire to  praise the final stretch of the Ethics, that is further evidence that this material is worthless. Worse, it is dangerous: it is rubbish that causes others to write rubbish.”14 Still, as I say, even these sharply conflicting valuations bear witness to the sheer singularity of Spinoza’s thought and its power to solicit uncommonly intense and deeply felt modes of response, whether as an unprecedented challenge or a scandal to received ideas. In this context, we might recall Derrida’s etymologically pointed use of solicit (from the Latin solicitare) with the sense of challenging and summoning forth but also of shaking to the very foundations.15 What unites these otherwise disparate approaches is their willingness—albeit very often within certain clearly marked limits—to accept the possibility of a thinking at odds with those dominant conceptions that have shaped the self-image of reputable philosophic discourse.
If commentators once joined battle over the issue of Spinoza as atheist and radical materialist versus Spinoza as nature-mystic and proto-Wordsworthian pantheist, they now more often take sides over matters of ontology, epistemology, or philosophy of mind and language. Or again, they divide with respect to the question of whether these are indeed (as analytic philosophers would have it) the core issues in Spinoza’s thought or whether—on the dominant Continental view—they must ultimately take second place to his ethicopolitical concerns. Thus, as things stand at present, it is hard to imagine (say) followers of Althusser, Balibar, or Deleuze entering into some kind of constructive dialogue with philosophers whose main points of reference are the commentaries offered by analytic thinkers like Bennett, Donald Davidson, or Alan Donagan.16 Yet, in truth, the Spinoza who emerges through Althusser’s structuralist–Marxist reading bears a closer resemblance to Bennett’s Spinoza—the rationalist thinker of “adequate ideas” as opposed to the delusions of imaginary commonsense belief—than to anything that finds room in Deleuze’s (for want of any better description) radical–empiricist account. And again, despite obvious differences of idiom, what Deleuze has to say about Spinoza’s doctrine of the affects and his notion of conatus as the inbuilt drive toward self-preservation and fulfillment on the part of every living organism finds a close parallel in readings from a very different quarter that likewise place chief emphasis on his treatment of the positive and negative emotions  as the basis for any rational account of knowledge as conducive to human well-being. Among the latter can be counted Antonio
Damasio’s recent book, which comes at these issues—that is to say, questions concerning the relationship between cognitive and passional components of the human psyche—from a neurophysical and cognitive–psychological angle but which nonetheless adopts a broadly analytic rather than Continental approach.17 My point is that Spinoza’s thinking resists any adequate classification in terms of the standard, textbook account of how philosophy has developed over the past four centuries. For if Spinoza is undoubtedly a full-fledged rationalist who maintains that true wisdom can only be achieved through a reasoned critique of commonsense notions or intuitive, self-evident ideas, then he is just as much a radical empiricist (more aptly, a radical naturalist and materialist), according to whom such wisdom consists in a due recognition of the various physical, causal, and sociopolitical factors that bear on human knowers in their quest for more adequate self-understanding.
Of course, the mere fact that he cannot be placed on either side of these deep-laid philosophic rifts doesn’t mean that he manages to bridge them effectively or achieve the ultimate reconciliation between subject and object, mind and world, reasons and causes, or free will and determinism that has eluded philosophers from Descartes down and continues to preoccupy analytic and Continental thinkers alike. However, it does provide a telling reminder of just how anomalous a figure Spinoza must appear by the light of any orthodox historiography or any attempt to assimilate his thought to this or that certified line of descent. Where responses do tend to divide in fairly predictable ways is by reacting to the scandal that Spinoza represents either in downright celebratory terms—as a salutary challenge to the norms and pieties of orthodox philosophic thought—or with various degrees of suspicion, mistrust, or hostility. Thus Bennett, as we have seen, has a high opinion of the Ethics just so long as it remains on analytically respectable ground, that is, just so long as Spinoza is concerned with the corrective capacity of adequate ideas when applied to the various confusions thrown up by the realm of sensory appearances or ideas of imagination. However, this attitude switches very sharply to one of disappointment or shocked incredulity when Spinoza moves on, in Part V, to expounding the  third kind of knowledge, that which involves a direct apprehension of the nature or essence of things somehow conceived as present to thought without any form of conceptual mediation. Such claims can only strike Bennett as amounting to a quasi-mystical doctrine whereby the mind is taken to possess something very much like the power of intellectual intuition that Kant likewise denounced, that is, a capacity to pass beyond the realm of phenomenal appearances where sense data are brought under adequate concepts and thus lay claim to an immediate knowledge of ultimate, noumenal reality.18
Yet it is hard to see the point of any rational reconstruction in the analytic mode that adopts so partial or selective a view of those elements in Spinoza’s thought that are deemed to merit serious attention by present-day analytic standards. For what drops out of sight in this process is also what constitutes the singular challenge of a thinking that runs directly counter to the whole tradition of epistemological enquiry that began with Descartes, found its systematic high point in Kant, and is still very much a part of the present-day analytic agenda. That is to say, it is the radically monistic approach that typifies not only Spinoza’s claims with regard to scientia intuitiva but also his entire conception of knowledge or, more precisely, his entire ontology of mind and nature conceived as twin aspects or attributes of a single, indivisible substance.
It seems to me that analytic philosophy has long been striving to escape or overcome this Kantian legacy while in fact coming up with nothing more than a series of minor variations on it.19 Spinoza alone, among the great thinkers of philosophical modernity, goes so far in his rejection of the dualist epistemological paradigm and his embrace of a radically monist ontological alternative as to provoke bewilderment not only among his goodwilled exegetes but also among those analytic types who are themselves in quest of some such (albeit less radical) alternative. As I have said, this contrasts with the positive, even celebratory response to Spinoza’s thinking in the recent Continental—mostly French—reception-history where he has been recruited to a range of philosophical causes whose main (in some cases sole) point of contact is the link they propose between issues of ontology and issues of an ethical or sociopolitical nature.20
Not that this dimension is altogether ignored by analytic commentators, forming, as it does, a crucial component of Spinoza’s  case for the role of philosophy in achieving a clearer, more distinct idea of the various factors (causal and social) that operate either to expand or to contract our scope for the exercise of human creative and emancipatory powers.21 They have also shown some interest in pursuing the relation between Spinoza’s more formal or logically articulated procedures of argument in the Ethics and the kinds of concern that animate those other portions of that work in which he discusses the affective or passional aspects of human knowledge and experience, along with more overtly engagé writings such as the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus.22 After all, any serious attempt to make sense of Spinoza’s project as a whole will have to find some plausible way of explaining how the exercise of reason may contribute to a better, more enlightened understanding of the factors that make for psychological, social, and political well-being through a wise acceptance of our place in the natural order of things. More than that, it will have to offer an account of this process that ties in convincingly with Spinoza’s critique of religious revelation and his arguments concerning the complex background of historical and cultural conditions that alone provide an adequate contextual basis for reading the scriptures in a critically informed and nondogmatic way.
So of course, the broadly analytic reception has included some work on this aspect of Spinoza’s thought and on relevant details of his own sociopolitical background as one much involved in the various debates—as well as the frontline struggles for power and influence—within the Dutch Republic of his time.23 However, it has not shown anything like the commitment of thinkers like Althusser, Balibar, Deleuze, or (most strikingly) Antonio Negri to produce a reading of the new Spinoza that brings these multiple aspects together in a strictly inseparable fusion of politics, life-history, and work.24 What unites these various Continental approaches—despite their otherwise large divergences of aim—is a shared conviction that Spinoza’s thought cannot be understood except through a reading that takes due account of both its immanent (“purely” philosophical) modes of argument and its close imbrication with the various historical, social, and political events that made up its formative background. That is, they start out by rejecting the analytic principle that requires a clear distinction between context of discovery and context of justification, or the kind of strictly second-order research that has to do with  matters of cultural–historical or psychobiographical interest and the kind of first-order investigation that pertains to the assessment of philosophic claims in accordance with distinctly philosophical criteria of truth and validity.25 For an echt-analytic commentator like Bennett, this distinction is so very basic—so definitive of what properly counts as philosophy rather than intellectual or cultural history—that the worth of Spinoza’s intellectual achievement is to be judged solely with reference to the context of justification, which for him means in keeping with present-best ideas of conceptual rigor and precision.26 For others of a broadly similar but somewhat less hard-line analytic persuasion (among them Alan Donagan), the distinction holds in matters of conceptual exegesis or strictly philosophical content but doesn’t prevent such extraneous interests from making some (albeit very limited) contribution to our better understanding of Spinoza’s thought.27 However, this allowance doesn’t go so far as to invoke a contingent, that is, historical, geographically specific, and sociopolitically emergent context for his central philosophic concerns, that is to say, his monist ontology and metaphysics, along with whatever implications they might hold for current debates in epistemology, philosophy of mind, or cognitive psychology.
Nor is it surprising that this should be the case, given both the analytic premise that issues in philosophy cannot be reduced to second-order questions of history, politics, or psychobiography and also—reinforcing that belief among his analytic commentators—Spinoza’s commitment to the idea of philosophy as aimed toward an order of truth transcending any mere particularities of time and place. Yet, of course, there is another whole dimension of Spinoza’s thought that is inescapably rooted in the social conditions and political events of his time and that cannot be understood without reference to those same conditions and events.28 Moreover, it is one that touches so directly on his chief metaphysical concerns—especially the issue of free will versus determinism that lies at their very heart—that any attempt to apply the two-contexts principle and distinguish clearly between life and work is sure to end up by offering a highly partial, not to say distorted, view of those concerns. This is where his Continental readers have an edge because they reject that principle—at least in its more doctrinaire form—and make a point of relating life to work not just as a matter of more-or-less relevant psychobiographical  or sociohistorical background but as offering the only adequate means to grasp what is most distinctive and uniquely challenging about Spinoza’s project. For it is a main part of that project to explain how we can think of human beings both as belonging to an order of causal necessity that allows no appeal to some imaginary realm of purely autonomous agency or choice and yet as possessing the capacity to transform passive into active modes of experience. This capacity comes about—so he maintains—through the achievement of adequate ideas, which in turn make possible some measure of freedom from the realm of unknown and hence blindly operative causal forces.
[volgen nog zo’n 20 blz’n tekst en 6 blz’n noten]
1) Alex Houen, “'Various Infinitudes': Narration, Embodiment and Ontlogogy in Beckett's How It Is and Spinoza's Ethics,’ Chapter Eleven in: Martin McQuillan, Graeme MacDonald, Robin Purves & Stephen Thomson (Eds.), Post-theory: New Directions in Criticism. Edinburgh University Press, 1999 = books.google