12 febrero, 2015

From Joy to Gap: The Accessing of the Infinite by the Finite

Simon O’Sullivan

1.1 Introduction

In this first chapter I want to lay the philosophical groundwork for the further explorations, encounters and composite diagrams of the following four chapters. In particular I want to map out three different models of the production of subjectivity or, which amounts to the same thing, of the finite–infinite relation. In fact, I want to link these three together under one diagram that itself will recur throughout the remainder of this book. I begin with Spinoza’s Ethics (cited in references as E) and with the account of the different kinds of knowledge a subject might embody, before looking more briefly at Nietzsche’s ideas of affirmation and the eternal return as they occur specifically in The Gay Science (cited in references as GS). In both of these works it is especially the idea of joy as a kind of technology and passage – as well as a destination – that I am interested in. The longer third section of the chapter looks in some detail at Henri Bergson’s celebrated cone of memory – the diagram mentioned above – from Matter and Memory (cited in references as MM). Here, I am interested in a certain gap that, again, allows a passage from one intensive state to another, and especially, in Bergson’s terms, to beyond the realm of matter with its particular linear temporality. In general this chapter presents less an overview than an introductory sampling of the thought of these three philosophers, with an eye to extracting certain details and demonstrating certain resonances between them.

1.2 Spinoza’s three kinds of knowledge (and the passage between)

What does Spinoza mean when he invites us to take the body as a model? It is a matter of showing that the body surpasses the knowledge we have of it, and that thought likewise surpasses the consciousness we have of it. There are no fewer things in the mind that exceed our consciousness than there are things in the body that exceed our knowledge. (Deleuze 1988a, p. 18)

1.2.1 Introductory remarks: the Ethics

In an autobiographical passage from the Treatise on the Correction of the Understanding, Spinoza succinctly states his motivation and intention in writing the Ethics:

After experience taught me that all things which occur frequently in ordinary life are vain and futile; when I saw that all the things on account of which I was afraid, and which I feared, had nothing good or bad in them except in so far as the mind was moved by them, I resolved at last to inquire if there was some good which was genuine and capable of communicating itself, and by which the mind would be affected even if all the others were rejected; in sum, if there is something such that, when it has been discovered and acquired, I might enjoy for eternity continuous supreme happiness. (Quoted in Parkinson 1989, p. ix)

In the terms of the thematic of my own book this intention might be figured as the desire of a finite body to access the infinite, or what Spinoza will call the eternal. The relation of the finite to the infinite, which is so often portrayed as a non-relation (especially in religion), is, in fact, outlined by Spinoza in his Ethics as a decidedly livable relation. Indeed, in contradistinction to Kant, this finite–infinite dyad is less a split between a phenomenal world apparent to a subject and a noumenal one beyond, than rather, two poles on a continuum. In relation to this, Spinoza also famously lays out a thesis of parallelism between thought and extension, both being attributes of the same infinite substance. In this sense a subject, or ‘modal essence’, can develop an idea of their own composition as it were – a knowledge that results, ultimately, in a further intuitive knowledge of the infinite substance of which they are a part.

Spinoza’s Ethics is then exploratory and analytic, but it is also fundamentally programmatic. It operates as a manual for life and specifically for the production of a life that is not merely beholden to the world, but that ultimately authors its own existence [1]. In fact, the Ethics involves two distinct transformative moments in this continuing assumption of the subject of their own causality (although, as we shall see, the definition of a body, or mode, does not necessarily go through a definition of the subject per se). What then are these two moments – or specific technologies – of transformation? In order to answer this question this first part of my first chapter provides a brief account of Spinoza’s Ethics via a diagramming of the topology of the three kinds of knowledge found therein [2]. In particular I will be interested in the points of passage between the first and the second, and then the second and third.

1.2.2 The first kind of knowledge

For Spinoza the first kind of knowledge names our general condition of being in – or, we might say, being thrown into – the world. We are constituted by ‘shocks’, the more or less random affects that are determined by the more or less random encounters of our life. ‘Affect’ names here the passage from one state of being to another, the risings and fallings in intensity (or becomings as Deleuze and Guattari will come to call them). This is to posit a toxicology of the world insofar as, from our point of view as individuated beings, it is made up of poisons and food. Indeed, our bodies and minds are, in one sense, a history of these chemical encounters in that they are constituted by these encounters. The first kind of knowledge is also perception (understood as a general ‘sensing’), since the latter involves the registering of these various encounters and collisions between the different elements of our world.

The reason for this basic mutability follows from Spinoza’s particular theory of bodies. We are composed of an infinity of parts – of smaller and smaller particles (that ultimately have no interiority) – in relations of movement and rest. This is the realm of extension, and insofar as we have extensive parts we are bound to the logic of this world – a logic, we might say, of dissolution. We are, in this sense, necessarily finite. My particular individuality is simply that a part of this infinity of parts belongs to ‘me’ under a certain relation, but only for a certain duration (as we will see, these relations express a certain degree of power; in this case the particular degree of power that I am an expression of). My individual relation subsumes other relations within my body, relations that constitute my individual organs and so forth [3].

We might say then that we are fractal beings in this sense, composed of a multiplicity of particles in constantly differing relations of movement and rest that in themselves mean we have different capacities to affect and be affected. Deleuze, in his reading of Spinoza, is especially attuned to this alternative cartography of beings – or becomings – in and of the world:

You will not define a body (or a mind) by its form, nor by its organs or functions, and neither will you define it as substance or a subject. Every reader of Spinoza knows that for him bodies and minds are not substances or subjects, but modes. It is not enough, however, merely to think this theoretically. For, concretely, a mode is a complex relation of speed and slowness, in the body, but also in thought, and it is a capacity for affecting or being affected, pertaining to the body or thought. (Deleuze 1988a, pp. 123–4) [4].

In Deleuze’s Spinoza: Practical Philosophy a mode, as defined above, is understood as moving on, or across, the plane of immanence on which ‘[t]here is no longer a form, but only relations of velocity between infinitesimal particles of unformed matter’, and where ‘[t]here is no longer a subject, but only individuating affective states of an anonymous force’ (Deleuze 1988a, p. 128). This immanent plane ‘is concerned only with motions and rests, with dynamic affective changes’ (Deleuze 1988a, p. 128). This is then to posit an affective ethology in place of notions of fixed forms or functions [5]. It is also a call to experiment insofar as any given body cannot know in advance which bodies might, or might not, combine successfully with it. I will return to this ‘combinatory knowledge’ in a moment.

In the first kind of knowledge then we are subject to the world and, we might say, victim to it. This is the zone of battle, a constant struggle over the capture and appropriation of parts by different competing relations. We might describe this as the animal realm; certainly Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-animal develops from this notion of affective capture or contagion. In passing it is worth noting that Deleuze and Guattari’s Spinoza, particularly as utilized in A Thousand Plateaus, is a kind of animal or creaturely philosopher [6]. This might be contrasted with a thinker like Badiou who also turns to Spinoza, albeit for a specifically non-creaturely philosophy (one could describe this as a turn towards a vertical becoming-subject as opposed to a horizontal becoming-animal) [….]

For Spinoza our desire to persist in our being and, indeed, to increase our capacity to act in the world, is our very essence (‘The endeavour (conatus) wherewith a thing endeavours to persist in its being is nothing else than the actual essence of that thing’ (E Book III, Prop. 7, p. 91)). This understanding of desire is the animating principle of the Ethics, since the latter intends to produce an understanding of what, really, is ‘good’ for us (ultimately, the community of free men). It is in this sense that we perceive the external world as either a threat or an aid to our fundamental desire for continuous existence. In the first kind of knowledge we perceive the world as causing our various pains and happinesses. Spinoza’s Book VI of the Ethics erects a whole physics of the different emotions, or affects, on this simple truth about life – whether something aids or abets our survival (including different variations depending on whether the apparent cause of a certain affect is in the past or present, whether it is necessary or contingent, and so forth). As Spinoza remarks, affect, as well as a degree of intensity, is then also ‘an Idea wherewith the mind affirms a greater or less force of existing of its body than before’ (E Book IV, Prop. 7, Proof, p. 148). Spinoza was excommunicated for the heresy of Deus sive Natura, but we might note a more subtle, insidious heresy that follows from this: good and evil are determined, ultimately, by joy and sadness, or simply the continuing survival, or not, of the organism.

The ideas we have when ‘in’ this kind of knowledge are necessarily inadequate inasmuch as we only have effects, ‘on’ our body as it were, to go on. We are, we might say, blown around by the ‘worldly winds’. We are like the baby who cries from what is immediately apparent (or absent) without any understanding of a deeper causality. This is a passive knowledge that develops from the taking of effects for causes: ‘We are passive in so far as we are a part of nature which cannot be conceived through itself without others’ (E Book IV, Prop. 2, p. 146). This kind of knowledge also relates to extrinsic laws, morality and, indeed, any kind of knowledge that is not built on a knowledge of the constitutive relation of things (Deleuze refers to the former as ‘opinion’ and ‘hearsay’) [7]. In passing, we might note that our current state of capitalism thrives on passive affects and the masking of causes (it stymies participation and any real knowledge). Capitalism, we might say, organizes encounters so as to produce a situation in which we are the spectators of our own lives. In this sense, the apparent ‘joys’ of consumerism and accumulation are always transitory and vicarious. In fact, it seems to me that the predominating character of our contemporary affective landscape is fear, and a kind of paralysis that arises from it (as evidenced, for example, by the overwhelming fear–anxiety affect of mass media ‘news’ programmes). I will be returning to this below.

This is then a world in which effects rule, one in which there is no true knowledge of causation. Deleuze, in his essay on the ‘The Three Ethics’ from Essays Critical and Clinical draws out a topology of signs based on this distinction. Signs refer to states of bodies that are themselves mixed states of affairs, confused, concerning only the shadows cast by actual objects. There are scalar signs that are ‘slices’ in our duration and then also affect signs that name the transitions between states, the becomings [8]. Simply put, we dwell here in a world of signs in which we confuse effects for causes. Indeed, we ‘mis-read’ the causes of our experience as coming from ‘outside’ ourselves as subjects. Hence the logical inversion we typically assume: we think it is the other that is causing our pain (or, indeed, our happiness), but in fact, following Spinoza, we are partly responsible. As in the Buddhist theory of karma, the cause of my suffering is not the fist that hits me, but the fact that I have a particular fleshy body to be hit and that can thus experience pain (my body being, in this sense, literally ‘old karma’). Deleuze characterizes this reversal of causation – an illusion in which we position the other as cause – in his ‘Lecture on Spinoza’ as ‘a scream that we will not stop having so long as we remain in the first kind of knowledge…’ (Deleuze 1978, p. 6)

In another essay, Deleuze refers to the three kinds of knowledge as three individualities that co-exist as if superimposed on one another (Deleuze 2003a). The individuality of the first kind of knowledge is the body of ‘parts’ that has an existence within a certain space–time and thus has a certain duration in that world, a duration that constitutes that individual’s very world. We can note Spinoza’s mind–body parallelism again here: the ideas we have in this first kind of knowledge are determined by this body of parts, just as our body of parts is, in a sense, determined by the ideas we have about our body, I will return to what we might call this relation of reciprocal determination below [….]

We might simply picture this world of random encounters between bodies – Spinoza’s first kind of knowledge – as in Figure 1.1.

1.2.3 The second kind of knowledge

Spinoza’s second kind of knowledge arises from the effort we make to understand, and then determine, these hitherto random encounters. If, in the first kind of knowledge, we are conscious of – and act on – our appetites, in the second we become conscious of the reasons for the appetites themselves. With the second kind of knowledge we attempt to fathom why it is that we act in the way we do. This is to move from a knowledge of effects to a knowledge of causes (we might note here that it is in this precise sense that Marx might be seen as a Spinozist). Indeed, freedom, for Spinoza, is not necessarily the apparent freedom to act a certain way, but consists in understanding why we act in a certain way.

For Spinoza, this understanding of causation cannot be achieved through immediate experience (that is, through the confused mixture of bodies). There is then a specifically speculative aspect to Spinoza inasmuch as the second kind of knowledge is necessarily of that which is beyond the immediately given (beyond the senses as it were). We might say that an abstraction of some kind is required, a distancing from the world, that will allow for a reflection on the mixed state of affairs that constitutes our being in that world. It is this speculative aspect that determines Spinoza as part of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, since science, in its most radical form, also involves a knowledge that goes beyond the subject-as-is, at least insofar as the latter subject is not determined by reason.

More specifically, the second kind of knowledge involves the formation of ‘common notions’ that come about when we understand how two or more things relate, or, more precisely, when we understand what two or more things have in common (beginning with the least universal, that is, our own body’s agreement, or not, with one other body). This complicates the idea that the second kind of knowledge is purely speculative. Indeed, Deleuze, in his reading of Spinoza, specifically warns against a purely theoretical/abstract ‘understanding’ of the second kind of knowledge because it evacuates the body and experience from Spinoza’s system: ‘In this moment of the second kind of knowledge, I simply insist on this: that the way I have tried to put it does not imply that this is at all an abstract form of knowledge …’ (Deleuze 1978, p. 5). Deleuze gives the case of learning to swim as a paradigmatic example of what we might call this bodily knowledge: if in the first kind of knowledge we ‘splash about’, precisely as victims to the wave that sometimes crashes into us, sometimes not, in the second kind of knowledge we learn to compose the relations that make up our body – relations of movement and rest – with the relations that make up the body of the wave, and thus ‘conquer’ this element of our world. In learning to swim we have formed a ‘common notion’ (Deleuze 1978, p. 5) [9].

These common notions can only be formed off the back of joyful encounters that allow for this knowledge of, as it were, the constitution of the world. This is, crucially, the point of passage, the bridge, between the first and second kinds of knowledge. It is through joy that we begin to understand the various ways in which two bodies agree, and thus we learn something about the constitutive relations (of movement and rest) of these two bodies. It might be thought that such an emphasis on joy, what has sometimes been labelled the ‘affirmative turn’ in the humanities, does not, for example, account for knowledge that might arise from sadness, or even anger [10]. However, for Spinoza it is only with joy – experienced when two bodies come together that essentially agree – that we begin to understand something about the commonality of those two bodies in the sense of their respective relations. This is to grasp something about the rules of combination and composition of life.

This is also a specifically active knowledge in the sense that through these ‘common notions’ we begin to determine the affects that constitute us. We move from being the recipients of shocks to actively organizing our encounters and thus, in this sense, producing our own lives. With the second kind of knowledge we move from spectatorship to participation in and with the world. We are also less affected by passive affects in and of themselves, especially when we are able to separate these affects from their apparent external cause. Indeed, when a passive affect is understood in terms of the second kind of knowledge, in terms of true causality, it ceases being passive. We ‘claim’ these hitherto passive affects, assuming the causality for them ourselves. To pre-empt slightly what follows, we might note here the connections with the Nietszchean affirmation – or ‘claiming’ – of even the most negative of affects. We might also note, once again, capitalism’s privileging and production of passive affects and the concomitant production of what might be called a subject of the spectacle. A subject that is, precisely, subjected.

The second kind of knowledge is then of relations rather than of just parts. Here, we are still in extension, but have raised ourselves to an understanding of the dynamic and kinetic composition of (at least parts of) the world. It is these relations that give a certain cohesiveness or individuation to a life and that also determine the intrinsic laws of combination with other bodies (the capacity to affect and be affected). We might argue that here we become attuned to the different rhythms of life (and that we can thus combine and compose ourselves with different elements of our world). It is a knowledge in which we move from more or less blind reactivity to understanding. The second kind of knowledge is then no longer merely to follow external ‘rules’ but also to know the reasons and the logic behind such rules. Relations might themselves cease to be effectuated, but there is nevertheless an eternal truth to them insofar as such relations are independent of their terms (they are not, as it were, exhausted in their effectuation in extensity).

In terms of Deleuze’s essay on ‘The Three Ethics’ the second kind of knowledge involves an understanding of the structure of the world, the reality ‘behind’ appearance as it were. It is a knowledge of objects rather than merely of the shadows they cast [11]. Such a knowledge must however necessarily arise from the first kind of knowledge. The formation of common notions – or concepts – can only proceed from a particular combination of affects, simply joy, operating as a precursor of conceptual thought and indeed as the platform, or springboard, for the formation of the latter.

These relations are composed all the way to infinity. Indeed, this infinite plane of relations is the plane of life or the plane of immanence mentioned above. With the second kind of knowledge it is as if we are on this plane – like water in water – but that we also have a knowledge of the laws of combination within this complex terrain. This is also to understand the necessity of this terrain and of the relations thereon. It is in this sense that the ‘common notions’ themselves express God, or Nature, as the source of all constitutive relations. This knowledge, which, as we shall see, is also knowledge of our own power (or, rather, of the power of which ‘we’ are an expression), is a knowledge from which, as finite bodies, we are barred at birth, and thus the acquisition of this knowledge involves work (that is, simply, ethics).

We might picture, or more precisely diagram, this understanding of causation and of relations – Spinoza’s second kind of knowledge – as in Figure 1.2.

1.2.4 The third kind of knowledge

For Spinoza, the adequate ideas of the second kind of knowledge are not the final word on understanding. There remains something still to be determined, a deeper mystery: what is it that causes the relations themselves? In the third kind of knowledge we arrive at this knowledge, or source (from where and to where the common notions lead). This ‘place’ is not to do with the history of a specific body–mind (although it is the latter that allows for the journey to be made towards it). It is knowledge of those essences that express themselves in relations. The passage to this third kind of knowledge is then specifically through the second kind of knowledge – the ethical organization of one’s life and the formation of common notions (both of these, in fact, being the same operation) – but it also involves a different kind of operation, a different speed as it were. For, although arrived at through the work of the common notions, essences themselves can be intuitively grasped (this, according to Spinoza, being the knowledge of the ‘True Christ’) [12]. The third kind of knowledge is thus a knowledge of modal essences, a knowledge that leads, ultimately, to God/Nature understood as the source of these essences (or the infinity of modes of substance) [13].

Essences exist outside space and time, that is, in, and as, intensity rather than extensity. They can also be understood as a degree of power or, as Deleuze remarks elsewhere, a particular threshold, or limit point, of intensity. […] [W]e might say, in Guattari’s terms, that the move from the second to the third kind of knowledge is a move from individuality to singularity when the latter is a concern with the pure intensity of life, meaning a general concern with life, death, and so forth, beyond the individual circumstances of a particular life. We might also understand this as what Deleuze himself calls ‘Immanence … A life’, that anonymous inorganic force that pervades living beings but is not reducible to them. I will be returning to this idea below. For Guattari, again […,] it is less essence than a ‘strange attractor’ that brings these relations of a living being into effect, but the operating procedure seems to be the same: there is a kind of autopoietic point around which a given subjectivity might cohere.

The understanding of causality that is the second kind of knowledge operates as a launch pad for this other intuitive understanding of causality (indeed, the second kind of knowledge produces a kind of thirst for this further knowledge, for further causes beyond adequate ideas). At its limit, however, a leap is required to move from the second to the third. This third kind of knowledge being non-conceptual, and not tied to individual and specifically passive affects, cannot be communicated as such, or commodified [14]. Insofar as capitalism operates predominantly in extensity, that is, concerns itself with bodies and the relations between them (and specifically the extraction of surplus from this), then this knowledge is ‘outside’ its operating logics.

However, a question here might be whether contemporary capitalism now includes a certain intensive register alongside the extensive: hence the currency of terms such as ‘affective labour’, ‘cognitive capitalism’, and the like. […] [I]t would seem to me that although capitalism’s terrain of operation increasingly involves the affective (it siphons surplus value from affective labour) nevertheless this is affect as passive insofar as those whose labour is exploited are not the ‘authors’ of these affects. As far as this goes, it seems to me that Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge, and indeed active affects in general, work against even this latest form of ‘affective capitalism’. To a certain extent this addresses a problem inherent in my claim above that the third kind of knowledge is ‘outside’ capitalism since what is really at stake is a refiguration of what ‘is’, a converting of the passive to active [15].

Spinoza’s Ethics is then a programme followed by an intuition (it proceeds by proofs, but, ultimately, by flashes of truth). The third kind of knowledge involves the same understanding as that produced by the second, but is ‘more powerful’ in affecting the mind (E, Book V, Prop. 36, note, p. 219). It involves adequate ideas, but they are arrived at differently – again, through intuition rather than through proof. Just as joy, a particular complex of affects, allows for – or provokes – the formation of common notions, we might say that common notions themselves allow for – or provoke – this intuitive knowledge of essences. In each case a kind of platform is constructed in order to move beyond that very platform.

Bodies perish insofar as they are in duration, that is, to the degree that they are positioned within time and space, but essences also have a reality outside of this existence (‘The essence of things produced by God does not involve existence’ (E, Book I, Prop. 14, p. 22)). To understand things from the perspective of the third kind of knowledge is then to know a body–mind outside its particular space–time, and under, as Spinoza remarks, a species of eternity. Eternity is not an immortality which remains tied to a certain linear temporality, simply put, a before-and-after. Rather, eternity is here and now. We might say that it parallels, or doubles, our own finitude. This is the infinite as ground of the finite. To make, once more, a passing remark about capitalism, we might say this third kind of knowledge is necessarily not determined by those bodies that are themselves determined by capitalism (such knowledge is ‘outside’ a homogenized lived-capitalist time) [16]. Again, it cannot be bought or sold, precisely because it has no existence within time and space [17].

As with the second kind, we are born cut off from this third kind of knowledge, separated from our own degree of power. The third kind of knowledge is always there, but we are habitually blind to it, hindered, we might say, by our body of extensive parts. In a move which, as we shall see in the following chapter, informs Lacan’s understanding of the function of psychoanalysis, we must then come to assume this power that we already ‘are’, converting the passive to the active and ultimately becoming a cause of ourselves. If the first and second kinds of knowledge are of effects and objects, the third is then knowledge of that degree of power that constitutes a self (beginning, necessarily, with a knowledge of the essence of which we are an expression (our own intensive threshold)). Nevertheless, we are also necessarily ‘in’ duration and thus will always be affected by encounters in the world. Indeed, duration and eternity co-exist in and as our very own bodies [….]

It is also in this sense that life becomes a question of what Deleuze calls ‘proportionality’: making the inadequate part the smaller, and those parts of ourselves that have expressed our essence the larger. We can think this through in terms of our mortality. Because we have a body in duration, a body in extensity made up of parts under a certain relation, we will most certainly die. But insofar as the part of our selves which has expressed our essences is eternal, that part has an existence ‘in’ eternity. Death occurs only in relation to a specific time and place whereas essences, once more, are eternal. The question for a given subject thus becomes: have you expressed the essence that you are? Have you become the intensity that you are? Existence becomes a test of sorts, a question as to what, in your life, you have assigned importance.

All essences agree (disagreement and destruction can only take place in duration). Part of the character of this third kind of knowledge is then to see things in their necessity. This is to understand the larger web of causality. It is the ‘arrival’ in a place where everything agrees with oneself, which is to say, produces joy (sadness can only happen in the realm of extensity). The entire world affirms one’s being and one’s capacity to act (one becomes, as it were, the world, or to put it differently, one causes oneself). This is the beatitude of the third kind of knowledge, a knowledge that is determined by this third kind of extended body.

In terms, once more, of Deleuze’s essay on ‘The Three Ethics’ this third kind of knowledge, a knowledge of essences/singularities, involves a different speed of thought that is mirrored in the actual writing of Book V of the Ethics [18]. The propositions and proofs are like a river book, the scholia, a book of fire (or of volcanoes), and Book V a book of air and of lightning flashes.

We might diagram this realm of intensity and essences – Spinoza’s third kind of knowledge – in relation to relations and bodies, as in Figure 1.3.

This is from the ‘perspective’ of an essence, which expresses itself in relations that are effectuated in bodies. To go in the other direction, that is, from a body that is thrown into the world and which then follows an ethical programme (the three kinds of knowledge) – joy, common notions, then intuition – we might reverse the cone (Figure 1.4).

In passing, it is perhaps worth conducting a thought experiment and superimposing these two cones on one another. This would be to diagram what Deleuze calls a relation of ‘reciprocal determination’ between modal essences and their existence in extensity. […] What might also be said here is that these two diagrams can seem as if they imply a certain transcendence, whereas, in fact, the three kinds of knowledge might be said to co-exist on the same plane, and, as such, might be diagrammed as in Figure 1.5.

To jump to some of the material discussed later in my book, we might say that this composite diagram of the three kinds of knowledge – Spinoza’s system flattened – is, in Deleuze and Guattari’s terms […,] the ‘Body without Organs’ that operates on and across the plane of immanence (and, in terms of Guattari […,] we might say that Spinoza’s essences have here become autopoietic nuclei around which a subject might cohere). As Deleuze and Guattari remark in A Thousand Plateaus (cited in references as ATP):

After all, is not Spinoza’s Ethics the great book of the BwO? The attributes are types or genuses of BwO’s, substances, powers, zero intensities as matrices of production. The modes are everything that comes to pass: waves and vibrations, migrations, thresholds and gradients, intensities produced in a given type of substance starting from a given matrix. (ATP, p. 153)

The subject, understood as a mode, is then a specifically intensive subject – and a nomadic one at that, insofar as it is in a constant state of becoming (and not, as it were, entirely separate from the process that produces it). In Deleuze’s essay ‘Spinoza and the Three Ethics’ the third kind of knowledge is also described as being a knowledge of ‘percepts’ (Deleuze 1998, p. 148). We can turn from A Thousand Plateaus to What is Philosophy? (cited in references as WP) here, where percepts are defined as the ‘non-human landscapes of nature’, itself another definition of the Body without Organs (WP, p. 169). Crucially, the subject here is the result of a process of which it is not the origin. In fact, the process is always more than the subject, which, we might say, is nothing but a selective abstraction and retroactive appropriation of certain parts of the process. [...] [I]t is perhaps worth suggesting here that for Spinoza, a subject is likewise a finite appropriation of a part of the infinite.

1.2.5 Concluding remarks: joy as passageway

It is joy that operates as the passageway between the first and second kinds of knowledge in that it allows the formation of common notions; it is the common notions themselves that operate as a further platform, or preparation, for the intuitive knowledge of essences, which also constitute a form of joy, or beatitude – an affirmation, in and of, the world. This joy is not merely a state of the subject in terms of its ego – or in terms of the first kind of knowledge (that is, a certain ‘happiness’, when ‘I’ get what ‘I’ want) – but is, we might say, a more impersonal intensive state. It represents the conversion of the passive to the active, and, as such, is a particular technology in the production of subjectivity, as well as the very destination of that subject. As well as an intensity it is, as the name suggests, also a kind of knowledge, albeit non-conceptual, insofar as the beatitude of the third kind of knowledge is an idea that, as it were, expresses all of God from God’s point of view. In the third kind of knowledge a modal essence thus assumes a perspective of eternity; or in other terms, the finite understands and accesses the infinite of which it is a part.

O’Sullivan, Simon. “From Joy to Gap: The Accessing of the Infinite by the Finite (Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson)”, in On the Production of Subjectivity. Five Diagrams of the Finite-Infinite Relation, Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2012, pp. 13-27.


1. In this sense Spinoza’s Ethics harks back to the ancient tradition of understanding ‘philosophy as a way of life’ as Pierre Hadot has it. In fact, Spinoza’s emphasis on developing knowledge, or simply a certain clarity about our being in the world, and then acting accordingly, has a precursor in Stoic philosophy. To quote Hadot:

The Stoics … declared explicitly that philosophy, for them, was an ‘exercise’. In their view, philosophy did not consist in teaching abstract theory – much less in the exegesis of texts – but rather in the art of living. It is a concrete attitude and determinate lifestyle, which engages the whole of existence. The philosophical act is not situated merely on the cognitive level, but on that of the self and of being. It is a progress which causes us to be more fully, and makes us better. It is a conversion which turns our entire life upside down, changing the life of the person who goes through it. It raises the individual from an inauthentic condition of life, darkened by unconsciousness and harassed by worry, to an authentic state of life, in which he attains self-consciousness, an exact vision of the world, inner peace, and freedom. (Hadot 1995, pp. 82–3)

For the stoics this involves an analysis and ongoing enquiry in to what depends on us and what does not:

all mankind’s woes derive from the fact that he seeks to acquire or to keep possessions that he may either lose or fail to obtain, and from the fact that he tries to avoid misfortunes which are often inevitable. The task of philosophy, then, is to educate so that they seek only the goods they are able to obtain, and try to avoid only those evils which it is possible to avoid. In order for something good to be always obtainable, or an evil always avoidable, they must depend exclusively on man’s freedom ... (Hadot 1995, p. 83)

It is this that dictates the famous Stoic ‘indifference’ to nature, or to that which is necessary. For the Epicureans, on the other hand, it is a focus on the joys of life that can alleviate man’s condition of suffering:

People’s unhappiness, for the Epicureans, comes from the fact that they are afraid of things which are not to be feared, and desire things which it is not necessary to desire, and which are beyond their control. Consequently, their life is consumed in worries over unjustified fears and unsatisfied desires. As a result they are deprived of the only genuine pleasure there is: the pleasure of existing. (Hadot 1995, p. 87)

To a certain extent Spinoza’s own ethics tacks a course between these two traditions insofar as it attends to freedom and necessity, but also to joy as a key technology in the assumption of knowledge (although the actual mechanism of the latter, that is, the common notions, is specific to Spinoza) [….]
2. My synopsis follows Deleuze’s own reading of Spinoza (see Spinoza: Practical Philosophy, especially the last chapter, ‘Spinoza and Us’, pp. 122–30; Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza, especially the last two chapters, ‘Toward the Third Kind of Knowledge’ and ‘Beatitude’, pp. 289–302 and 303–20; and, in particular, the ‘Lecture on Spinoza’ and a further lecture published as ‘The Three Kinds of Knowledge’.
3. We might remark on the resonances with Leibniz’s monadology here, especially as Deleuze reads the latter and in so doing develops his own thesis on the relation between the dominata and the dominated:

as far as variable terms are concerned, monads are what enter in to the relation as ‘Objects’, even if for brief moments. They can exist without the relation, and the relation can exist without them. The relation is exterior to variables, as it is the outside of the constant. It is especially complex since it acquires an infinity of variables. The latter are said to be dominated, specifically insofar as they enter into the relation attached to the dominant or constant. When they cease being submitted to this relation, they enter under another, into another vinculum attached to another dominant (unless they are freed from every vinculum). (Deleuze 1993, p. 112)

Deleuze diagrams this capture of variables as in Figure 1.14.

4. This thesis on the kinetic and the dynamic aspects of the Spinozist body is developed in the Becoming plateau of A Thousand Plateaus, in the two sections on ‘Memories of a Spinozist’ (pp. 253–6 and 256–60), where it is specifically linked to the concept of the plane of immanence and to a becoming-animal.
5. In terms of this affective landscape Deleuze, following von Uexxküll, offers the image of the tick – and its world – as defined by only three affects:

the first has to do with light (climb to the top of the branch), the second is olfactive (let yourself fall on to the mammal that passes beneath the branch); and the third is thermal (seek the area without fur, the warmest spot). A world with only three affects, in the midst of all that goes on in the immense forest. (Deleuze 1988a, 125)

6. As Deleuze and Guattari say in the section ‘Memories of a Spinozist, I’ of the Becoming plateau:

there is a pure plane of immanence, univocality, composition, upon which everything is given, upon which unformed elements and materials dance that are distinguished from one another only by their speed and that enter into this or that individuated assemblage depending on their connections, their relations of movement. A fixed plane of life upon which everything stirs, slows down or accelerates. A single abstract Animal for all the assemblages that effectuate it. (ATP, p. 255)

7. As Deleuze remarks: ‘signs appear to tell us what we must do to obtain a given result, achieve a given end: this is knowledge by hearsay’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 289)
8. To quote Deleuze:

Signs do not have objects as their direct referents. They are states of bodies (affections) and variations of power (affects), each of which refers to the other. Signs refer to signs. They have as their referent confused mixtures of bodies … Effects or signs are shadows that play on the surface of bodies, always between two bodies. (Deleuze 1998, p. 141)

9. In fact, Deleuze, in his ‘Lecture on Spinoza’, admits that the second kind of knowledge might involve speculative abstraction, mentioning mathematics and the formal ‘theory of relations’ as a ‘special case’ of the second kind of knowledge. As we shall see, this non-corporeal and mathematical understanding of knowledge characterizes Badiou’s interest in Spinoza.
10. The critique of ‘affirmationism’ in terms of its politics (as, for example, when the neo-liberal injunction to ‘be happy’ is rightly figured as a device for maintaining a certain status quo of capitalist relations), does not, it seems to me, attend to affirmation as an ethical principle in Spinoza’s sense. Once more, it is not as if critique and negation do not have a place, but simply, in terms of this ethics, that they do not provide knowledge (of true causality) in Spinoza’s sense.
11. As Deleuze remarks:

If we consider the second aspect of the Ethics, we see a determining opposition to signs emerge: common notions are concepts of objects, and objects are causes. Light is no longer reflected or absorbed by bodies that produce shadows, it makes bodies transparent by revealing their intimate ‘structure’ (fabrica). This is the second aspect of light; and the intellect is the true apprehension of the structures of the body, whereas the imagination merely grasped the shadow of one body upon another. (Deleuze 1998, pp. 141–2)

12. Deleuze: ‘the true Christ does not proceed through common notions. He adapts or conforms what he teaches us to common notions, but his own knowledge is directly of the third kind…’ (Deleuze 1992, p. 301)
13. In anticipation of Chapter 4, we might note here another of the attractions of Spinoza for Badiou insofar as this infinity of modes correlates well with Badiou’s idea of ‘inconsistent multiplicity’. Badiou, however, disavows any Univocity, for example of ‘substance’, hence his polemic against Deleuze and the turn to set theory that, for Badiou, is able to ‘figure’ this bounded infinity without recourse to the One.
14. Although, of course, the promise of such a state can be commodified and has been; witness the New Age publishing phenomena that trades on this very promise.
15. We might jump ahead a little here and note Deleuze and Guattari’s own take on capitalism – in Anti-Oedipus – as itself schizophrenic, meaning nothing, least of all that desire is outside of it, but that nevertheless the schizophrenic production remains in some way prior to its instrumentalization and reterritorialization – its capture – by capitalist production in subjectivity (Oedipus) and representation (money and the signifier). It might be said, in this sense, that capitalism has both an active and passive phase.
16. In fact, we might also say that Spinoza’s thought in general, although in one sense determined by capitalism – after all he writes the Ethics at the time of its inception and it bears the marks of a rationality and scientific world view that follows from this – nevertheless goes well beyond the reductive logics and operations of capitalism as it existed in Spinoza’s time, and, indeed, in our own. Antonio Negri is especially attuned to this idea of two Spinozas:

The first expresses the highest consciousness that the scientific revolution and the civilisation of the Renaissance have produced; the second produces a philosophy of the future. The first is the product of the highest and most extensive development of cultural history of its time; the second accomplishes a dislocation and projection of the ideas of crisis and revolution. The first is the author of the capitalist order, the second is perhaps the author of a future constitution. The first is the highest development of idealism; the second participates in the foundation of revolutionary materialism and in its beauty. (Negri 1991, p. 4)

I will be looking at Negri’s particular kind of Spinozism in Chapter 3.

17. One might note an apparent caveat to this point: speculative finance, or precisely the market in Futures. To pre-empt some of the material to come – on Bergson and Deleuze – we might point out that this particular future-orientation, it seems to me, works through a logic of the possible rather than the virtual insofar as, precisely, it is predictive. A further question arises here insofar as capitalism is not a uniform system and, as such, one might argue that certain aspects of it – education, medical care and so forth – increase our capacity to act, which means, on the face of it, the second kind of knowledge could arise from capitalist relations. So the question becomes: what prevents them from entering the third kind of knowledge? Indeed, the imaginary of contemporary capitalism, particularly with new information and communication technologies, has become increasingly Spinozist in the sense of promoting a global vision of immediate inter-connectivity. This is a complex area in which philosophy bleeds into Science Fiction (and where the mystics are also technologists). What might be said, however, following my comments in note 15, is that capitalism has two tendencies, deterritorialization and then a reterritorialization on the latter. As far as this goes, again to preempt some of the work of Chapter 5, we might say that the third kind of knowledge will always be prior to a capitalism that, in fact, seeks to profit from it (or, more specifically, from the promise of it). (I want to thank Stephen Zepke for alerting me to the issues addressed in this note).
18. As Deleuze remarks in that essay:

This is the third element of Spinoza’s logic: no longer signs or affects, nor concepts, but Essences or Singularities, Percepts. It is the third state of light: no longer signs of shadow, nor of light as colour, but light in itself and for itself … pure figures of light produced by a substantial Luminosity (and no longer geometrical figures revealed by light). (Deleuze 1998, p. 148)

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