Spinoza’s Wonder and D & G’s Deterritorialization

Just back from the Deleuze Studies Conference in Lisbon, preceded by the New Urban Languages Conference in Milan… While the Milan conference was a direct draw from my dissertation research, the Lisbon conference was more of an intellectual experiment. A year prior I had the opportunity to read Spinoza’s Ethics with a Spinoza scholar, which has forever changed my understanding of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari. What was particularly intriguing was Spinoza’s account of wonder in relation to my understanding of deterritorialization. Ultimately, what I found most intriguing was that I was unable to find a point where Deleuze took Spinoza to task on his negative relationship to wonder, so this paper explores that intersection. Ultimately, it will inform my dissertation in an oblique way- artists speak of a sense of wonder and the moment of deterritorialization when they first encountered Google Street View.

The text of the talk is here. The footnotes are a bit incomplete.

In Book III of the Ethics, Spinoza states, “Wonder is an imagination of a thing in which the mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others.” When the mind encounters a thing that has no existing idea in which to place it in relation, this aesthetic experience stands ‘alone in the mind’ and resides outside of the affects, as it does not cause joy or sadness. An object that ‘stands alone in the mind’ fails to positively or negatively affect us; it is an aspect of imagination that fails to cohere to even ‘inadequate knowledge’. For Spinoza, this object distracts the mind until another known object shifts the focus.

In Difference and Repetition, Deleuze states, “It is not enough, therefore, for them to propose a new representation of movement…. Rather, it is a question of producing with the work a movement capable of affecting the mind outside of all representations.” This movement ‘outside of all representations’ is a site of potential for Deleuze, whereas for Spinoza, something that ‘stands alone in the mind’ becomes, at best, inconvenience. Throughout Deleuze’s -and I would include Deleuze and Guattari’s- work, there is an interest in the conditions of an aesthetic experience- and I want to suggest a full interpretation of aesthetics- that destabilizes our habitual relation to the world, one that renders singularities in full; sensations that could be said to ‘stand alone in the mind’ and fail to connect with existing ideas through representation, or an absolute ‘deterritorialization’.  This paper seeks to complexify Deleuze’s intellectual relationship to Spinoza in light of the marked difference of orientation toward the destabilizing aesthetic experience as potentiality, examines the role of knowledge production and concludes with a reconsideration of aesthetics within the framework of deterritorialization and knowledge production that may result at the moment of reterritorialization.

Spinoza’s conception of wonder

Over the course of Spinoza’s written works, he formulates more than one conception of wonder. In his earlier work, Short Treatise on God, man, And His Well-Being, he reduces Descartes’s six passions to four, to include wonder, love, hate and desire. His account of wonder is far less charitable than Descartes’s: wonder occurs when an experience reveals a gap between it and held universal conceptions; when an experience does not correspond with a previously held conception, we stand in wonder. This ‘moment’ of wonder demarcates the limit of experience and ignorance. Whereas Descartes conceives of the intellect with a healthy amount of wonder as being prone to desiring the acquisition of scientific knowledge, Spinoza states that wonder does not exist for the intellect that draws true conclusions by way of scientific knowledge.[1] This is a critical departure for wonder as a passion, for the wonder conceived by Spinoza offers no additional positive curiosity[2] or intellectual development for the ignorant who has encountered an experience that challenges their preconceived ideas of the world.[3]

In The Ethics, wonder is no longer listed as one of the primary affects, which are now comprised of Joy, Sadness and Desire. The primary affects still function similar to Descartes’s originary passions, and depend upon the external object or event and the joy or sadness produced in the subject in relation. Spinoza, however, gives wonder the definition of a singular thing being “alone in the mind.”[4] When considering this singular object, the mind/intellect cannot place it in relation to a ‘like’ experience. Therefore, in 2p13, Spinoza states that when we experience two things at the same time or in succession, future recollections will retain that association.[5] Thus, a cognitive problem emerges when we encounter an object that we imagine to be a singular object that has no known relation to any other.

Like Descartes, Spinoza places wonder in the realm of a cognitive function. But rather than treating it as an affect or passion, Spinoza places it squarely in the realm of imagination. For Spinoza, this imagination of a thing stays transfixed within the mind. Given that our mind recollects a set of objects in relation to a previous experience, when an object is alone in the mind, this cannot take place when the thing is ‘new,’ for there is no horizon in which to place the object. Whereas Descartes allows for an opportunity or potential to increase understanding, Spinoza states that our “mind will be detained in regarding the same thing until it is determined by other causes to think of other things.”[6] The state of being transfixed is not the result of an affect that has a stronger cause over our previous state. Because there is no ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ cause to distract the mind of other ideas or objects, for Spinoza, wonder cannot (or should not) be one of the affects.[7]  It lays in limbo, with the distraction a result from “the fact that there is no cause determining the mind to pass from regarding one thing to thinking of others.”[8] For Spinoza, this has clear implications, for if there is no positive cause that produces a shift from one affect to another, our power of acting in relation to the object is precarious, for reason cannot deconstruct the affect appropriately to provide a remedy for an affect that is not active.[9] If we cannot place an object in relation, we cannot begin to form clear and distinct ideas about it; this places the object in the realm of the first level of knowledge as imagination.[10]

Inconsistencies within Spinoza’s thought

Spinoza’s placing wonder in the realm of imagination and his objections to the inclusion of wonder as an affect produce inconsistencies within his overall thesis. Placing an object that stands ‘alone in the mind’ in the realm of the first level of knowledge is problematic. “Wonder is an imagination of a thing in which the mind remains fixed because this singular imagination has no connection with the others.”[11] In Section II of the Ethics, Spinoza gives an adequate account of how he conceives of the first level of knowledge, in which ‘singular things’ and ‘signs’ form the basis of what he calls opinion or imagination: “from singular things which have been represented to us through the sense in a way which is mutilated, confused, and without order for the intellect; for that reason I have been accustomed to call such perceptions knowledge from random experience.”[12] If an object stands alone in the mind of which we have no preconceived notion, how can this function as the first level of knowledge? If it stands alone, this suggests that we lack the language and signification to attach to the object and form ideas about it, however mutilated or confused they might be. This does not represent inadequate knowledge; there is simply no knowledge of the object in question.

Wonder can be seen at the level of pre-knowledge, or non-knowledge, as a bodily response to the sensible. The movement from pre-knowledge to the first level of knowledge occurs once we are no longer transfixed, which might occur as a result of a new external object producing a new distraction. It might also occur if we acclimate our sense to this new sight and begin to then form ideas about the object in question. If we encounter the object a second or third time, we begin to form the associations of recognitions and affections that Spinoza articulates so well in 2p18 and 3p18, as mentioned above.[13] Given the parallelism that Spinoza lays out- all ideas and their finite modes of thought and extension we know through god- it would follow that our knowledge of this new thing demarcates the limit of our understanding, rather than a new mode that is also unknown to God. Rather than in allowing this first experience as a critical layer that enables us to make it possible to form adequate knowledge, Spinoza rejects this experience without much consideration. Ultimately, Spinoza’s logic produces a contradiction that leaves wonder in an interstitial space, where his exclusion seems more harmful than seeking a way to incorporate the ‘a-affective’ state into the larger movement towards the ideal state of the third kind of knowledge. I would argue that it is a missed opportunity in his theory of knowledge production.

Wonder in relation to key concepts

As is well known, Spinoza is a key figure for Deleuze. Deleuze is also well known for his ability to seize some concepts of philosophers by keeping what is useful, while also criticizing where they did not go ‘far enough’. Descartes is too quick, too fast; Hegel presents false problems through the dialectic; Bergson’s thesis on movement stops half way; Leibniz too, in some respects, is not radical enough in his overturning of Cartesian philosophy. Spinoza, on the other hand, seems to emerge unscathed from critical assessment. I would like to argue here that Deleuze himself misses an opportunity for not addressing this error in Spinozism by not asserting the potential of wonder against Spinoza’s larger thesis and the importance this could have for learning and knowledge production.

There are countless examples of ‘tendencies’ or a kind of ‘spirit’ that Deleuze highlights as a site of potential. We see the importance of the oft-quoted Proust phrase ‘a little bit of time in its pure state’, which exemplifies a cognitive break in linear continuity. This break may cause an incorporeal transformation; cause one to see the world in a ‘new’ way; to see pure difference without resorting to representation of ‘ordering’ and assessing the sensation in front of us. In the cinema books, his intense interest in the new image and mode of cinema that overturns time’s subordination to movement and instead offers moments of time ‘in its pure state’, where time can be said to be ‘out of joint’ in our standard conception of linear time. Deleuze’s third synthesis of time allows the virtual to retain its full potential in the present, rather than reducing time to the linearity in which to measure/compare against representations of past and future. The movement towards the future then offers as many possible worlds as the conditions allow.  Deterritorialization serves as perhaps the best example, in which absolute deterritorialization produces an incorporeal transformation, one that can be described as seeing ‘a little bit of time in its pure state’; a line of flight that produces a cognitive rupture within the individual that produces a movement from which a new reality emerges among possible worlds; whether seeing something ‘new’, seeing a familiar thing as a haecceity, as pure difference that shifts our habitual orientation/ relation.[14] All of these cognitive disruptions of our aesthetic experience have both a positive and negative potential, and I would argue function in a similar way to ‘wonder.’

Ultimately, I would say that Deleuze’s interest resides in conditions that sever or disrupt the phenomenological ‘stability’ of our ‘horizon’ that leads to negative habitual behavior. His search for the aesthetic experience that expresses a rupture or break in the dominant visual language is indicative of the conditions from which the sensation emerges; his intense interest in artistic production is as a symptom of the larger societal forces that provide the conditions within which the artists works. Importantly, these practices render these conditions visible or ‘perceptible’ in a way that cannot be reduced to mere representation, something that might possess a “critical and revolutionary power of which may attain the highest degree and lead us from the sad repetitions of habit to the profound repetitions of memory, and then to the ultimate repetitions of death in which our freedom is played out.”[15] Put another way, ‘the search for the means of a new philosophical expression… must be pursued today in relation to the renewal of certain other arts, such as the theatre or cinema’.

Within Expressionism in Philosophy, there are many opportunities for Deleuze to take up this point, particularly in relation to knowledge production and the importance of imagination. While Spinoza is adamant to not list wonder among the affects, he effectively leaves it in an uncertain territory, one that purportedly functions on the same order of imagination but one that doesn’t not receive the same consideration; one that is at best inconvenient within his overall system. Or to capture his stubborn and somewhat hostile sentiment,

“for this reason I do not number wonder among the affects. Nor do I see why I should, since this distraction of the mind does not arise from any positive cause which distracts the mind from other things, but only from the fact that there is no cause determining the mind to pass from regarding on thing to thinking of others.”[16]

In short, we are stuck, cognitively. Is this a bad thing? That we encounter something that reveals to us our limits of our inadequate knowledge seems potentially productive. We could be said to stand in front of pure difference, unable to impose one of the many dogmatic postulates to ‘accommodate’ this expression, the postulates that Deleuze argues to dispose of in Difference in Repetition. Inadequate knowledge is the result of our knowing the ‘effect’ but not the cause of relations, and forming inadequate ideas about the cause as a result; but if we cannot even form a ‘cause’ regardless of its ‘inadequate’ status opens up a break in this causal chain, which seems like a potentially good thing.

To move from inadequate knowledge to adequate knowledge, we must form common notions from the passive affects that increase our power of acting, both the specific notions that result from the external bodies that produce joy specific to us, as well as more general notions that are held in common with fellow man. For Spinoza, the second level of knowledge is the important point from which to pursue (but not realistically obtain) an intellectual love of god. Reason thus produces the base for developing adequate knowledge, as our intellect is able to process the passive affects of the passions and create the conditions to form common notions that rationalizes the passions in another register that allows us both ‘process’ the effect of the affect and control our response to the situation.

This movement between levels of knowledge is rendered more concrete in Deleuze’s explication of Spinoza’s system, and I would argue offers the clearest point for Deleuze to give a critique of Spinoza’s system, given that it is somewhat predicated on representation and privileges knowledge rather than ‘learning’. This formation of ‘common notions’ as they pertain to us specifically are the most important for Deleuze, for they retain the particular, singular nature of our being and how our passive joy might be made ‘active’; not in a larger societal movement, but rather at an individual level as unique finite body that enables us to not succumb to the overcoding that happens as part of the larger dominant movement. The universal common notions are important for maintaining a little ‘continuity’ between us as a society, but the individual active joys introduces variation, connection and heterogeneity into an otherwise striated, homogeneous society determined and dictated by socio-cultural norms.

Spinoza denigrates wonder and grudgingly places it in the realm of ‘imagination’ and inadequate knowledge.  Deleuze is quick to articulate the necessity for both kinds of knowledge within Spinoza’s larger system, without ever taking Spinoza to task for this denigration. Imagination, when bolstered with adequate knowledge, enables us to think creatively about what brings us joy and the common notions. Or to put in Deleuze’s words,

“A gap opens between the first and second kinds of knowledge. The existence of such a gap should not however lead us to overlook a whole system of correspondences between the two kinds, without which the forming of an adequate idea or a common notion would remain incomprehensible…. The variability of signs becomes in this respect an advantage, and opens up to us possibilities that do not belong to understanding on its own account, but rather to imagination.”[17]

So while Deleuze argues in favor of imagination, it is not a critical position against Spinoza, rather, it seems to be a creative or ‘Deleuzian’ reading of Spinoza’s system. This stands in a rather stark contrast to what is considered the companion text, Difference and Repetition, where great care is taken to articulate the difference between learning and knowledge; where learning is the critical spirit with which to approach the world. Deleuze forcefully argues for learning as becoming, rather than the being of knowledge and thus labels ‘knowledge’ as the eighth postulate of dogmatic image. In this text, the kind of ‘knowledge’ that Spinoza celebrates contributes to the rather grim conditions we face within the world of ‘representation’. “Learning always takes place in and through the unconscious, thereby establishing the bond of a profound complicity between nature and mind.”[18] The somewhat rather ‘contingent’ nature of learning stands in contrast in Spinoza’s system, “there is no more a method for learning than there is a method for finding treasures, but a violent training, a culture or a paideia, which affects the entire individual.[19]

And perhaps most importantly, Deleuze carves out a space for learning, against the usual ‘denigration’ given to it in the knowledge system in order to give it space of consideration on its own terms, “Learning is only an intermediary between non-knowledge and knowledge… (BUT) learning is the truly transcendental movement of the soul, irreducible as much to knowledge as to non-knowledge.  Learning is an infinite task; it is learning, not from knowledge, that the transcendental conditions of thought must be drawn.”[20] Thought, and reason, are inextricably linked to forming common notions; thought emerges from a problem from which we begin to form ideas. If we encounter an expression that destabilizes our habitual way of ‘thinking’, might this not be something that deserves additional consideration? While it is important to pause here and emphasize that the explicit language may not yet be produced to articulate these concepts, what I want to argue is staying true to how the concept functions creates an undeniable consistency throughout Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari’s work.

Implications of aesthetic experience

As a philosophy of affirmation, Deleuze’s interest in ‘potential’ traditionally focuses on the production of affects and percepts. The reception of such elements stands well outside his primary interest. Given that the reception of work is a unique experience and meaning should not be coded in a particular way, it stands to reason that this does not figure directly as an element of his intellectual investment.  But the implicit political implications of Deleuze’s work remains, for how can you put forward a new metaphysics, argue for a new ontology, provide a new methodological way to understand the world without it having real political implications, implicit or explicitly stated? The aesthetic experience- what we recognize, is made visible- of our socio-cultural milieu is inherently political, and Deleuze’s focus on an orientation that seeks to open up our ways of engaging the world by allowing ourselves to be more open, less ‘binary’, to make our ‘strata’ more supple, to allow us to ‘perch’, to ‘experiment’, to let go of the bad habits is an implicitly political project. Political with a small p.

As the artist returns from chaos with new signs, the audience too, has the potential to also be deterritorialized, or perhaps to stand in wonder at this new sign that might cause us to see the world anew. As mentioned of the subsequent process of reterritorialization, “That which is reterritorialized is more deterritorialized than the previous state,” the artist’s production is the result of this reterritorialization; the audience that stands affected by these creative works must also be reterritorialized. Ultimately, to produce creative works that exemplifies a larger symptom of the post-war era or exemplifies the modern condition, necessarily puts this ‘production’ into variation with a variety of audiences. The reception of this production has the potential to produce even more variation into the overall milieu, and in the process, allowing wonder and learning to retain some of its productive potential.

[1] Spinoza, Benedictus de. Short Treatise on God, Man And His Well-Being. From Descartes, René, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and Benedictus de Spinoza. 1995. The continental rationalists. Charlottesville, Va: InteLex Corp.,  gp.. 57, p. 100 [3]

[2] Curiosity, in this sense, is defined by the desire to learn or acquire knowledge about the thing in question. Descartes allows for a certain disposition that is motivated to acquire knowledge, when confronted with wonder, and equates the mind of an intellect to have a curiosity about the world that is compatible with scientific knowledge.

[3] Spinoza does not give any additional consideration over the effects this new experience might have on the peasant, for what was previously understood to be one way is rendered in a new way. While this does in fact expose the ignorance of the peasant, this additional new experience is not likely to be forgotten upon the peasants return to his field, which produces a new layer of knowledge, in a fundamental sense. This interpretation is also expressed in Rosenthal, Miracles, Wonder and the state, 237.

[4] Spinoza, Benedictus de, E. M. Curley, and Benedictus de Spinoza. 1994. A Spinoza reader

[5] By 2p18, which states when the body is affected by two or more bodies at that same time, when we encounter one at a later date, we recollect the others at the same time, and by 3p18, states that we are affected by the same joy or sadness when experienced at a later date.

[6] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[7] 4p7d states “the mind will be affected with the idea of an affection stronger than, and opposite to, the first affection that is  (by the general definition of the affects), the mind will be affected with an affect stronger than, and opposite to, the first affect, which will exclude or take away the existence of the first affect.”

[8] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[9] He does not state this explicitly (Rosenthal) “he does ‘not number Wonder among the affects’ because it involves a lack of determination to something else.”

[10] 2p40s2 states that the first level of knowledge is imagination and opinion, whereas the second level of knowledge is reason.

[11] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[12] Ibid, 141

[13] The subsequent exposure to the thing that initially causes wonder, ceases to cause wonder, as we now possess the associations in relation to the object. I will cover this point more fully in the final section. The critical point is that wonder stands as a first experience..

[14] While not an exhaustive account of the various ways in which the texts of Deleuze and Deleuze and Guattari evoke this particular state, the list here is merely a series of examples that exist within the oeuvres.

[15] Deleuze, Difference and Repetition, 293

[16] Spinoza, Ethics, 189

[17] Deleuze, Expressionism in Philosophy, 294

[18] Deleuze, DR, 165

[19] Ibid

[20] Ibid, 166