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A dictum familiar to experienced “Hegel-watchers” is Hegel’s notion that the monism of Spinoza represented a “natural” metaphysics, being the system which would first occur to the philosophical novice before the problem of subjectivity came into view. I’d like to offer a conjecture about the “effective history” of Spinozism which might serve as a historical counterpart to Hegel’s pronouncement: it seems to me that Spinoza’s ontology set tasks for the philosophy of mind which obsoleted “early modern” philosophy’s efforts in that regard, and that “Spinozism” consequently served as a very real constraint on the character of their 18th and 19th-century replacements.
Early modern philosophy is full of “ad hoc” solutions to the problem of mind-body interaction; Descartes’ famous pineal gland, occasionalism, “pre-existing harmony”. Spinoza’s dual-aspect theory is very different from these: not only in the apparent character of his solution, which is not terribly popular at the present time, but also in its “external” concomitants. Now, today the question of physicalism is commonly posed in terms of networks of physical law which are universally applicable, with the problem being the clarification of mind’s status under those laws. But Spinoza’s was the first modern philosophy to totalize the question of physical law: since all is one, the law governing Nature must be universal and exceptionless.
By the time “Spinozism” became a familiar charge, the “providential” stories about how mind interacts with matter were no longer tenable; the way a universally connected nature could be maintained without falling into “atheism” became a defining task for Idealism and its successors — Wittgenstein said “the human body is the best picture of the human soul”, but perhaps this is true not only insofar as the individual body is the individual mind’s expressive medium, but also insofar as body in general is the paradigm case of intelligible order. I don’t think it’s too much to say that the modern figure of totality, familiar to us from Hegel and “Hegelian Marxist” thought beginning with Lukacs, owes a substantial debt to a Spinoza more explicitly honored elsewhere.
An item for readers in the New York area: the Pacific Northwest’s greatest contribution to world culture, the Sonics, are reforming for their first reunion show in 30 years, at Cavestomp 2007 (Nov. 2nd in Brooklyn). In the ’60s the Northwest featured a number of regionally popular bands who tried to compete with the British Invasion by amping up the energy and darkening the tone; the most familiar product of this sound is the Kingsmen’s “Louie, Louie” (recorded in Portland in a building that was most recently a gay sex club), but in Tacoma the Sonics took the sound to its logical extremes. The five members figured out how to get effects from the equipment then available which would later be commonplace, although Gerry Rosalie’s screams are still pretty singular; they cut two incredible records for the local Etiquette Records, Here are the Sonics and Sonics Boom, before being signed to a major label and fizzling out in the era of flower power.
There hasn’t been a “true” reunion of the original lineup since 1974: and although it’s doubtful that they’ll be able to duplicate their youthful feats of strength in recounting tales of recreational strychnine use and evil chicks, their influence on everyone from Iggy Pop to Belle and Sebastian deserves recognition. If you’re geographically positioned to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, tickets for Cavestomp are available here.
Since I don’t have my usual set-up at hand, I thought I’d write something more general and more speculative about the significance of “rationality” for those apparently deficient in it — but also what it really means for contemporary political struggle. One of the least desirable traits of our contemporary culture is a “bloc” view of rationality, as familiarity with an accepted set of results and mores which more or less simply obtain; in more theoretical provinces, this is encouraged by the discarding of the unity of science and by a resurgence of Aristotelian ethics.
The one presents theoretically rational cognition as absorption of a basically disjoint set of scientific results, not defined instrumentally yet not relevant to life other than instrumentally; the other places severe limitations on our ability to conceptualize any sort of critique of our “form of life”, including its stratification. Between these two core commitments, rationality assumes a form which is substantive without being systematic: basically amounting to what the better sort of people are inclined to think.
Of course (but it, sadly, is perhaps not really a matter of course anymore) these are not the only conceptions of rationality bequeathed us by Western history: a crude “correspondentism” that loudly celebrates Objective Reality without committing the scientific jingoist to any real attention to detail is not the only procedure legitimated by the history of modern science, just as that plutocracy of Plato and Aristotle which dominates contemporary interest in antiquity was a decidedly secondary model for those republicans who revived the thought of the Roman world.
Postmodernism seems to have run its course, and it hardly behooves those of us with marks on our permanent psychiatric record to celebrate a multiplicity of “ways of knowing” or slippery signifiers. But perhaps it would really be better, more historically truthful and politically just, to try to make it such that figures of rationality, partial but serious attempts to clarify some aspect of what it is for human inquiry and behavior to follow some thought-out plan, supplant the toxic “world-system” of “actual” rationality.
The Kanye West single “Good Life” seems to have dropped like a stone from rotation after only a few weeks: which is puzzling to me, since it seems like he’s finally successfully synthesizing the materials which have made him “promising” for lo these couple years. “Stronger”, the lead-off single from the new album, followed Timbaland’s “The Way I Are” in being over-clubbed and white-bread-friendly; to me, nothing says historical oppression is all cool like a Nietzsche quote. However, here West seemed to finally be making the classic R&B he is known for lovingly ripping off.
The sample is from the Michael Jackson-Quincy Jones number “P.Y.T”, but instead of reproducing it more or less whole (“Touch The Sky” was a nice way to hear most of Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up” on the radio) Kanye actually spins out a different melody. I would say the net effect is more Gamble and Huff than “Q”, although I’m also hearing quite a bit of “Hot Fun in the Summertime”; the travelogue shout-outs and overall exuberance suggest that this was probably intended as a “summer jam”. The “Vuitton Don” persona is less irritating, partially through its familiarity and partially through a considerable increase in breadth of vision.
When cuts from the last album were circulating, I felt that stuff might not really be of the moment, and I guess that’s the considered judgment of most listeners about this. Still, too bad that virtue is going unrewarded on the charts (Mr. West’s bankroll I don’t worry about).