Polishing the Infinite: Spinozian Optics

Polishing the Infinite: Spinozian Optics.

Polishing the Infinite: Spinozian Optics

“By ‘God’ I understand: a thing that is absolutely infinite, i.e. a substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, each of which expresses an eternal and infinite essence.”

Baruch Spinoza’s Ethics is an unsurpassed philosophical work because it applies a pure rationalism. Demonstrated in geometrical order, the Ethics is undoubtedly the most influential philosophical work of the past 350 years. For this reason, Spinoza is the grandfather of modernity: his thought was able to determine decisively the work of philosophers of the stature of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche and Deleuze, among many others. The whole Spinozian philosophy is held in the causa sui, the cause of itself, that is God. That’s why it is historically acknowledged as pantheistic, as it affirms that understanding is formed by the same substance with which the world is formed. Thus, there is only one substance for all attributes, and that substance is the divine substance. In Spinoza, however, the image of man and the world is not only measured with eternity, but it is configured in the same plane, ie, in the plane of nature. For Spinoza, human actions are affected by the laws of nature and the cosmos: there is one nature for all bodies just as there is only one nature for all individuals. This nature is itself an individual consisting of infinite attributes, and has the ability to vary in infinite ways. Thus, in Spinoza, nature is a common plan that is immanent to its own substance.

Baruch Spinoza was born in Amsterdam on November 24, 1632 and dies a victim of tuberculosis, in The Hague on February 21, 1677. Spinoza lived only 45 years, but his life was a flash of intensity. In 1656 he was accused of heresy by the orthodox Jewish community and expelled from the synagogue. He would live on the outskirts of the city over the next 5 years, and would move on to Rinjnsburg in 1661, to Voorbureng in 1663, and La Hague in 1664. To prevent his thought to be restricted, Spinoza rejects the chair of philosophy offered by the University of Heidelberg in 1673. Also, Spinoza despises the share of a pension that the French king Louis XIV disposed for him. Besides of being in life a man of philosophy, Spinoza also had a particular office: it was a lens grinder. According to Deleuze, it is precise to contemplate all together the more geometrical method of the Ethics, the profession of polishing lenses, and Spinoza`s life:

“For Spinoza is one of the vivants-voyants. He expresses this precisely when he says that demonstrations are “the eyes of the mind.” He is referring to the third eye, which enables one to see life beyond all false appearances, passions, and deaths. The virtues-humility, poverty, chastity, frugality-are required for this kind of vision, no longer as virtues that mutilate life, but as powers that penetrate it and become one with it. Spinoza did not believe in hope or even in courage; he believed only in joy, and in vision. He let others live, provided that others let him live. He wanted only to inspire, to waken, to reveal. The purpose of demonstration functioning as the third eye is not to command or even to convince, but only to shape the glass or polish the lens for this inspired free vision.”

by Jorge Luis Borges

The Jew’s hands, translucent in the dusk,
polish the lenses time and again.
The dying afternoon is fear, is
cold, and all afternoons are the same.

The hands and the hyacinth-blue air
that whitens at the Ghetto edges
do not quite exist for this silent
man who conjures up a clear labyrinth—
undisturbed by fame, that reflection
of dreams in the dream of another
mirror, nor by maidens’ timid love.

Free of metaphor and myth, he grinds
a stubborn crystal: the infinite
map of the One who is all His stars.


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