Issue #37 February 2021

Spinoza and “Anti-Oedipus.” On Desiring One’s Own Suppression

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761) - 14. The Gothic Arch

“[T]he fundamental problem of political philosophy is still precisely the one that Spinoza saw so clearly, and that Wilhelm Reich rediscovered: ‘Why do men fight for their servitude as stubbornly as though it were their salvation?’ How can people possibly reach the point of shouting: ‘More taxes! Less bread!’? As Reich remarks, the astonishing thing is not that some people steal or that others occasionally go out on strike, but rather that all those who are starving do not steal as a regular practice, and all those who are exploited are not continually out on strike: after centuries of exploitation, why do people still tolerate being humiliated and enslaved, to such a point, indeed, that they actually want humiliation and slavery not only for others but for themselves? Reich is at his profoundest as a thinker when he refuses to accept ignorance or illusion on the part of the masses as an explanation of fascism, and demands an explanation that will take their desires into account, an explanation formulated in terms of desire: no, the masses were not innocent dupes; at a certain point, under a certain set of conditions, they wanted fascism, and it is this perversion of the desire of the masses that needs to be accounted for.”

Anti-Oedipus, p.38

The passage above is the only one within the main text of Anti-Oedipus, in which the name of Spinoza is mentioned.1placeholder Yet, if it is Spinoza who, according to the quote above, has posed the fundamental problem of political philosophy — which, then, is also the fundamental problem of Anti-Oedipus — then we ought to understand in what way he posed it and how he tried to resolve it, and why it is precisely the desire of one’s own suppression that is the fundamental problem of political philosophy. In the following elaboration of Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza in Spinoza. Practical Philosophy, we will, at the same time, uncover the profoundly spinozist character of Anti-Oedipus and gain insight into this difficult oeuvre of political philosophy.2placeholder

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The first version of what would become Spinoza. Practical Philosophy appeared in 1970, two years after Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza; it was augmented and republished with its final title in 1981 (cf. Sauvagnargues 2006, 16). The first version thus appeared after Deleuze met Guattari (in 1969), but before they both wrote Anti-Oedipus (in 1972). The title of the book, Practical Philosophy, already witnesses Deleuze’s ‘turn’ toward the political, which, as Anne Sauvagnargues shows, was elicited by Deleuze’s meeting with Guattari (cf. ibid., 112): One of the primary points of the book is thus that Spinoza’s philosophy is practical, and not that Spinoza has a ‘theory of’ practical philosophy. This critical aspect is already present in Deleuze’s book from 1968, Expressionism in Philosophy, particularly in chapter XVI. Very explicit are also the connections to Nietzsche and Philosophy, and earlier work (1962), in which Deleuze understands Nietzsche’s critique of the “passive forces” as having a “spinozist inspiration” (NP, 96). The desire of one’s own suppression — the reign of reaction and submission — is therefore a problem that Deleuze dealt with throughout his political oeuvre.

In Spinoza. Practical Philosophy, he asserts that the principal questions of Spinoza’s Theological Political Treatise were: “Why are the people so deeply irrational? Why are they proud of their own enslavement? Why do they fight ‘for’ their bondage as if it were their freedom?” (SPP, 9–10); precisely the same as the “fundamental problem of political philosophy” mentioned in the introductory quote. In connecting Spinoza to Epicurus and Lucretius, Deleuze later quotes the referenced passage from the preface of the Theological Political Treatise,3placeholder and points out to how it draws “the deep implicit connection between tyrants and slaves” (SPP, 25), their mutual dependence:

“The tyrant needs sad spirits in order to succeed, just as sad spirits need a tyrant in order to be content and to multiply. In any case, what unites them is their hatred of life, their resentment against life. The Ethics draws the portrait of the resentful man, for whom all happiness is an offense, and who makes wretchedness or impotence his only passion.” (SPP, 25)

There are two principal elements in this dialectic that will give us the leads of how to proceed in our analysis: The “sad spirits,” on the one hand, refer to Spinoza’s theory of affects, where he understands affects as “affections of the body, that increase or reduce, facilitate or inhibit (coercetur), the body’s ability to act (agendi potentia) and the ideas of these affections” (III, def. 34placeholder), sadness being the one that reduces and limits it. In the dialectic of tyrant and sad spirits, the sad spirits desire their own suppression, because their way of life is founded precisely on the perpetuation of sadness. This counter-intuitive idea is the one we need to resolve. But the tyrant is also a sad spirit because his power is completely dependent on the suppression and the sadness of others. And indeed, and that’s the second point, what unites the tyrant and the slave is that their ways of living are expressions of their “hatred of life.” Here, Deleuze draws the connection to Nietzsche’s concept of resentment and his critique of the slave morality, which also understands life not as activity, but as a passivity, as essentially reactive.5placeholder But it is not only the critique of reactionary and reactive concepts of life that, for Deleuze, unites Spinoza and Nietzsche, but also their critique of a body that is subsumed to the mind/soul. In Nietzsche and Philosophy, Deleuze directly refers to Spinoza and his original concept of the body:

“Spinoza suggested a new direction for the sciences and philosophy. He said that we do not even know what a body can do, we talk about consciousness and spirit and chatter on about it all, but we do not know what a body is capable of, what forces belong to it or what they are preparing for.” (NP, 39)

In Spinoza. Practical Philosophy, he elaborates further on this quote from Ethics:6placeholder

“Spinoza offers philosophers a new model: the body. He proposes to establish the body as a model: ‘We do not know what the body can do…’ This declaration of ignorance is a provocation. We speak of consciousness and its decrees, of the will and its effects, of the thousand ways of moving the body, of dominating the body and the passions — but we do not even know what a body can do.” (SPP, 17–18)

At first glance, the statement that ‘we don’t know what the body can do’ sounds rather harmless, especially if we understand it as a scientific statement — we don’t know all the physical, chemical, biological processes that make the body work. This is, as we will see, important, but Spinoza’s statement goes beyond that. What it calls into question is rather our relation to our body, or, more precisely, the relation of our consciousness (mind) to the body. From this perspective, we feel like we know very well what a body can do: We know how to move our limbs, we know how to breathe, how to move, how to move our eyes, we know how to defecate and copulate: In general, we consider ourselves healthy when we feel in control of all these functions, and the moments in which we are not, we consider ourselves ill, or weak. But Spinoza’s statement of ignorance is not an expression of consternation, but rather of astonishment: There is something fundamental about our body that we do not know of. In other words, the problem is not a lack of knowledge that we need to ‘catch up’ on, the problem is our very way of knowing and experiencing our body; not a problem of not enough consciousness, but of false consciousness.

This shift is important for our leading question. We might be tempted to understand ‘desiring one’s own suppression’ as a problem of lack of consciousness — lack of education or intelligence. For example, it is common to say that people vote against their interest — which already asserts that they have certain interests but they just don’t know them. They therefore either need to be educated, or simply guided by a group of people that does indeed know those interests: “If only they knew what I know, they would act exactly as I do…” I would call this a liberal understanding of the problem, and it is usually aimed at specific groups, be they trumpists or rednecks; various names that cover the liberal disdain for ‘the mindless masses.’ But posed that way, the desire of one’s own suppression is no longer a fundamental problem. It is a question of technicality, of removing obstacles: not enough education, not enough laws that provide guidance for the masses. We will see later, to what degree such a view is not only mistaken, but also dangerous. Let us for now note that what Spinoza and Deleuze mean is not, for example, that we vote against our (seemingly objective) interests because we just don’t know better, but that we do so consciously and purposefully, that we have an interest, or, more precisely, a desire for it. And this includes not only the ‘mindless masses’, for example concerning the problem of racism dividing the working class, but also the liberals who defend the billionaires every time they are called into question, or the socialists and communists who are willing to bow down to the rule of a State or a Party. More so, we understand the radicality of this fundamental problem when we don’t just judge others for their reactionary and reactive views and ways of life, but acknowledge our own inner desires for submission and self-limitation, our acceptance of ‘necessary evils’. We all constantly desire our own suppression, we are all constantly more than ready to limit our lives, to work in jobs we hate, to give up our dreams, to be obedient, not because we are forced to or out of fear, but because we want it. It is in that sense that Spinoza showed a “new direction”: it is a new concept of criticism and of philosophy — Spinoza. Practical Philosophy.

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Let us take a step back, and ask ourselves, what political critique is, and on what grounds critique works. The question of its validity, as much as its efficacity, problematises the relation of theory and practice. One classic way of seeing this relation is to say that theory — as a rationally constructed and founded model — brings order into the chaotic and irrational ‘everyday life,’ that it criticises its bad and harmful aspects, that it therefore serves as a means to become conscious of our ordinary way of living, so that we can change it for the better. But political theory, being normative, is also necessarily related to values. It can, for example, claim that our society does not realise the value of justice. Practice, then, fails to ‘live up’ to certain values that rationality prescribes to it. Becoming conscious, in other words, is here a means to tame the irrationalities of life, to establish order, but also to gain control of the things that seem to be out of reach. The cause of all our misery is then that the passions rule, and that the mind is following their whims; the solution is to control the passions, to be in control of our bodies, and to let the (rational) mind guide us. If this description sounds a bit old school and dusty, then just replace ‘theory’ and ‘rationality’ with ‘economic/psychological/scientific models’ and ‘efficiency’. It boils down to the same functions.

The outline of this general model is so wide-spread and ‘natural’ that it is difficult to conceive how one is to call it into question. Are there not evidently many bad things happening in the world — poverty, war, suffering, illness? Would it not be good to get rid of all these bad things? Would it not be good to bring some order into all this chaos? Certainly, and it is not here that Spinoza deviates from other critics. He also criticises the fact that we are guided by passion, instead of Reason. But what he puts forward is a different way of understanding the relation between theory and practice, and he connects it to a critique of our ordinary, ‘natural’ way of relating body and mind. It is here that we must start: with Spinoza’s conception of natural consciousness.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 11. The Arch with a Shell Ornament

Natural Consciousness

If the ‘traditional model’ sketched out very generally above supposes that we are so irrational in our political (and everyday) lives because our bodies run rampant while the mind is powerless, then it presupposes that in our ‘natural state’ there is something wrong in the relationship between our bodies and our minds. The issue (according to the model) is: The body is active, while the rational mind is passive, subsumed to the passions. But of course, as the word ‘passion’ already says, this activity of the body is not a ‘real’ one: it is irrational, without direction.7placeholder The solution: The mind should be active, meaning: actively in control of the body, which in turn is passive, obedient to the mind. Again, this way of phrasing it might sound rather outdated, so let’s say something like: we don’t have the appropriate economic models to efficiently organize our society, or we are not mindful enough in our daily lives, or we are guided by our emotions instead of our interests, or we are plunged in inauthentic lives instead of seizing our authenticity, or we waste time through distraction. They are all different ways of expressing the same problem, which is based on a dichotomy and an imbalance between activity and passivity, between mind and body, between theory and practice. All our issues — personal, social, political, economic — stem from not enough control and too much directionless irrationality.

We can already see that this divide does not only concern the individual level. Rather, the dichotomy between a too active body and a too passive mind, and the need to reverse this order, is particularly wide-reaching in our modern, capitalist world, where manual and mental labour are also divided into ‘passive work’ and ‘active work’, with ‘jobholders’ and ‘job creators’.8placeholder “We need job creators so that the workers can work” is just another way of saying that “the body without the mind couldn’t be active.” The ‘masses’ have throughout modernity been associated with the corporeal and all its vices, while the ruling classes are those who can exclude themselves from manual — bodily — work, but gain the capacity to guide the masses, introducing a rational order into their lives — a rational order, from which the masses, allegedly, also profit. For the socialist thought of the 19th and early 20th century, this division was precisely the problem that it had to resolve; namely through the synthesis of manual and mental labour, of the intelligentsia and the proletariat. Attempts to ‘reach the people’, for ‘accessibility’, to ‘go into the factories’, but also for general public education, were means to overcome this fundamental dichotomy. It seems then that both, proponents and critics of capitalism, are working with the same premises, namely that there is an antithesis between active/mind/theory/intelligentsia and passive/body/practice/masses. We could add: active-male and passive-female, thereby opening a can of worms that we won’t directly deal with here. Either way, the fundamental model for this antinomy seems to be the relation of body and mind, namely a dualism, whose principles are: If the mind is active, the body is passive (the mind is in control of the body), and: If the body is active, the mind is passive (the passions are taking over, but as they are irrational, this is not a ‘real’ activity).9placeholder Such a view is still so common that it is hard to see what might be wrong with it. To really grasp it, we therefore need to go quite deeply, namely to the very nature of our perception.

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Political critique within this ‘traditional model’ asks for more consciousness and fewer irrational passions. But indeed, it is a question of quantity: more systematisation, more data, more efficiency — those are the difference between the ideal order and our reality. A lack of control, nothing more: in essence, all people are good and rational — or at least they have objective interests –, but they need to be guided to get there. It is a higher consciousness, but it is just a cleaner version of our natural consciousness. What we need to analyse closer is therefore this natural consciousness that guides our daily lives.

What is the biological function of our consciousness? It is our main tool of survival. It does so, we could say, by a simple procedure: through the separation of cause and effect.10placeholder What factually happens around us in each given moment, are myriads of little, subatomic, atomic, microscopic, molecular events: molecules colliding and diffusing, photons passing through and reflecting, sound waves crossing, reverberating, electrons electroning, protons protoning. Every such event happens because of a cause, and can therefore be seen as an effect, but it itself also effectuates other events, and can therefore be seen as a cause. ‘Objectively’ one cannot distinguish one side from the other. When does a particle stop being an effect and start being a cause? We can speak of “a mutual immanence: on one hand, the cause remains in itself in order to produce; on the other hand, the effect or product remains in the cause“ (SPP, 92; Deleuze here cites Ethics, I, 29, sc.). But even if that might be the ‘objective’ state of things, we can’t help but perceive things a bit more… differentiated.

In the event ‘lightning-tree-fire’, we will say: ‘the lightning causes the tree to burn’. The utility of this separation of cause and effect is obvious: because we can separate cause and effect, we can — simply speaking — mentally put ourselves into the place of the lightning and also start acting as ‘causes’ of fires.11placeholder Logicians have long since made fun of Aristotle for his belief that the stone falls because it wants to fall (final cause) instead of seeing it as a working of abstract gravitational forces. But it is indeed the way our consciousness orders our perception: because we perceive our surrounding as ordered by final causes, we can consider ourselves as causes of things. We can perceive ourselves as free. I’m drinking water because I’m thirsty, because I want to drink — maybe, ‘objectively’ there were chemical receptors in my brain that received signals from chemical receptors in my mouth, which, through complex processes, have determined that my mouth is too dry for the normal functioning of my body etc.; but even if I knew, after extensively studying biology, all the processes, all the chemical and physical ‘events’ that have caused my drinking of water, I will still perceive it as a free choice; but all this is because I perceive causes as effects and vice versa (cf. I, app.12placeholder).

But how does this separation of cause and effect become possible? Are we somehow induced with a ‘divine’ capacity to differentiate what is actually undifferentiated? What is rather making this separation possible, is a fundamental ignorance: In our natural perception, we completely ignore the actual causes of things. The long and difficult history of modern science is showing us precisely how difficult it is to uncover the causes of things, how far away from our natural perception things actually work. What we in fact perceive are not the mechanisms of photons, but simply the way light affects our eyes. We do not perceive the movement of the earth’s mass as the cause of gravity, we perceive the way gravity affects our bodies by pulling them to the ground. In short, what we actually perceive, is the effect side of things, the manifold ways our bodies are affected. In short, affects. Precisely because, therefore, we are ignorant of the causes, we can ‘fill’ this role with our ‘free will’ and act as final causes (cf. II, 35, sc.). In a way, we are then victims of an illusion that is caused by a fundamental ignorance: First of all, we are ignorant of the real causes of things, but we are all also ignorant that we are ignorant of them. We think that we perceive and act as final causes, but we don’t, all we perceive are affectations and affects.13placeholder The separation of cause and effect is therefore an inherent feature of our natural consciousness, it is that which allows it to work the way it does. It is for that reason that Spinoza can say that what we have are inadequate ideas, which is like having the conclusion (effect) without the premises (cause) (cf. II, 28, dem.). We are approaching a genealogical explanation of dualism: We indeed perceive the ‘passive side of things’ — the effects and the way they affect our bodies — which entices us, in order to become active, to oppose something to this perceived passivity of our body: the transcendent mind or soul, which introduces activity from the ‘outside’ as a final cause. And this ‘move’ makes sense once we understand that what is useful, at least on a basic level, is not to know the real causes of things (how lightning is made, the subatomic mechanisms of electricity), but rather the ability to know what bodies affect each other (sparks and wood), and then fill in the ‘position’ of the cause of that event: the separation of cause and effect. The ignorance noted above is in that sense a powerful tool of survival.

But once we start perceiving the world around us and ourselves as final causes, we start forming universals (universales) that serve as ideals that the things seem to be destined to realise; and as we start to believe that all things around us try to realise certain ‘model images’ (exemplaria), we consider them imperfect in as far as they don’t coincide (conveniunt) with those ‘model images’ (for the whole following argument, cf. IV, prae.). After all, you cannot have a final cause without a final goal. In that sense, we divide the world into the real world as it is, and an ideal world that it seemingly tries to approach. And as long as the world around us doesn’t coincide with such an image, we consider it imperfect, we perceive it as lacking.14placeholder Final causes are in that sense the origin of a moralist worldview, as we also start considering, for example, the people around us as not coinciding with a certain image of humanity we have — they act against their interest, they are irrational — and in need of correction.

The actual differentiation between accomplished (perfectum) and unaccomplished (imperfectum), Spinoza shows, is not made according to the approximation to an rational ideal image, but, rather, it is more like when we judge the accomplishment of a building according to the intentions of its maker (cause); thus only if we know the real cause can we say whether it is accomplished or not.15placeholder But if we see something that we’ve never seen before and where we don’t know “the mind of its maker,” i.e. its essence, we cannot know if it’s accomplished or not.16placeholder And as we are, as Spinoza shows, always ignorant of the real causes of things, all the ideal images that we form due to our natural consciousness are illusions. But as nature does not act according to final causes,17placeholder Spinoza’s point is neither that ‘we don’t know the ways of the maker, i.e. God,’ who would then act as a (mysterious) final cause for the world around us and ourselves. The point is that the whole moralistic world view that arises from of our natural consciousness is a false idea that we produce in our brain (cf. I, app.): final causes, in their theological or secular forms, are products of our instinct, formed under the guise of natural consciousness.18placeholder Perfection and imperfection, Spinoza understands rather as transitions to a higher or a lower ability (potentia) to act; it is a purely immanent definition.19placeholder

Our natural consciousness necessarily produces the illusion of liberty, the idea that we are first causes of things, an illusion that arises out of our ignorance of causes, since all we perceive are affects. But this illusion is possible only if, in separating causes and effects, we also separate our mind from our body. Our bodies, obviously, are material things, and material things, as we observe, follow necessary laws. There is no place for a freely acting consciousness there. Liberty, then, must be conceived as an external — transcendent — force that activates the necessarily passive body. A body that is active all by itself is inconceivable in such a worldview, because it plunges all materiality into passivity.

In our natural perception, we perceive the affectations of the body. As it is affected by external bodies, we perceive it as a passive thing, following laws that it does not control. What happens with the development of a natural consciousness properly speaking, is that this perception is displaced: Now, the body is still an object that is affected by an external force, but this time, this ‘exteriority’ becomes a transcendence. The force that affects the body is external to the material world — our mind/soul. Natural consciousness discovers its activity by taking itself out of the material world; but by that operation, the whole material world becomes passive, while only the transcendent world — populated by the mind and, if needed, by God — becomes active.20placeholder

Meanwhile, if we understand that cause and effect are mutually immanent (as we’ve seen above), then the material world is both active (cause) and passive (effect), and so is our body. Just because we only perceive the body as passive — through affects — does not mean that it is passive. Here we ought to remember the quote from above: We don’t even know what a body can do — we don’t know the activity of the body. Yet, as the natural consciousness ‘naturally’ draws a divide between an active mind and a passive body, thereby being the origin of dualism, which is not only a philosophical, but a natural way of imagining the mind-body-relation. It is here that a basic tool of survival — natural consciousness — becomes a worldview with unexpected consequences.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 02. The Man on the Rack

If we were completely separated from the order of causes, there wouldn’t be any alternative to this way of being; even if we acknowledged that we are victims of a fundamental ignorance, we couldn’t do anything about it. Also, on the surface, the whole thing seems unproblematic, for does our main tool of survival not work as intended? It would also remain inexplicable, why our natural consciousness is so good at what it does. If it just randomly reconnected cause and effect, it could not help us to survive. It is precisely the mutual immanence of cause and effect that guarantees natural consciousness’s efficacity, but which at the same time offers us a ‘way out’. Obviously, as we will always only perceive the affectations of our bodies, we will never be able to perceive causes directly; but through these affectations there might be a way to overcome our fundamental ignorance. For not all affects are worth the same, and there is an enormous multiplicity of them that we experience very differently — hope, fear, devotion, desperation, antipathy, sympathy, love, jealousy, surprise, anger etc. etc. But, at the same time, as they all are affectations of the body, there are basically three options for what happens when an exterior body affects ours: it can compose with us (make us ‘stronger,’ increase our ability to act and to be affected), it can decompose with us (make us ‘weaker,’ decrease our ability to act and to be affected), or it can do neither and be indifferent. In the latter case, it does not affect us at all, which therefore does not result in an affect. Once again, Spinoza works with an immanent definition, which allows his extensive analysis of the affects in book III of Ethics, where he proceeds by retracing the sources (causes!) of each affect, to see if it increases or decreases our ability to act.

The difference of a body composing with us or decomposing us is a difference that we feel, perceive. And as it depends on the cause if a productive or destructive encounter happens, it is precisely through this difference that we experience the connection (mutual immanence) of cause and effect. We can see here, how Spinoza intends to overcome our fundamental ignorance of the causes: through our affects. Now, this feeling of composition or decomposition is what we experience as two fundamental affects: joy (laetitia) and sadness (tristitia) (cf. III, 11, sc.). Through joy we experience something that composes with us, meaning that it increases our ability to act. Through sadness, we experience something that decomposes us, meaning that it decreases our ability to act. As we therefore don’t experience all causes equally — again: we don’t perceive them, but they affect us differently — we can gain a knowledge of the order of causes through a proper understanding of what increases our joy and what increases our sadness.21placeholder This offers us not only an alternative way to the separation of cause and effect, but already includes a different conception of life. If Spinoza defines joy as a transition, as an increase of our ability to act and to be affected, it evidently includes survival — what composes with us is that which enables us to survive — but as an increase of power it goes beyond mere self-preservation.

In what way is that not precisely what natural consciousness does? We have seen that instead of connecting us with the causes, natural consciousness separates cause and effect, and sets itself into the place of the cause. Through its mechanism, it perceives itself as free, an exterior, transcendent cause. But again, it couldn’t do that without at least some insight into the causes that are good for us and those that aren’t. One problem for it is that if it started systematically looking for the real causes of things, it would realise that everything happens out of necessity, and that there is no place for a free will in the world. Natural consciousness, one could say, desires survival not only for the coherence of its body, but also for its immortal soul. Yet, the ‘survival’ of the latter depends precisely on the separation of cause and effect. Systematically seeking out the real causes of things and understanding their necessity, which leaves no place for an exterior, transcendent instance, would amount to some sort of suicide of natural consciousness.

But there are more basic and less romantic reasons for why natural consciousness deviates from the order of causes. We can be affected by the same object in many different ways, due to the composed nature of our body (cf. III, 17, sc.), but also not every object is good for us in every situation (e.g. medicine is only good for us if we’re sick). We can also mistake apparent causes of joy for real causes of joy, for example, if there is a similarity between them (cf. III, 16). In short, everything can by accident be the cause of joy, sadness or desire (cf. III, 1522placeholder). In fact, as long as natural consciousness is guided by the affects, by what feels good or bad, without searching for the true causes, it is precisely in the state of passivity that it accuses the body to be. It is powerless (passive) because it depends on exterior causes to cause joy, but such events are purely coincidental, or, at best, depend on the affects, and not on their causes. For example, eating sugar feels good, because we like the taste, but also because it gives us energy. In that sense, sugar indeed composes with us. But without learning about its nature, we will not know to what degree it does compose with us, and we will start seeking out the sugar rush, instead of the increase of energy (of our ability to act), which we can attain by better means. At the same time, it can happen that our natural consciousness believes something to be a cause of joy, because it is good for it, but which does not necessarily is good for our essence, for our ability to act.23placeholder For example, it can be good for it to believe that it has an immortal soul that will live in a lovely transcendent world after it dies, leading to a religion that vastly inhibits our ability to act in this world.

But the problem cuts even deeper. For what does “good for it” mean? What does natural consciousness want? It wants to survive. But as Spinoza notes, every essence has an urge (cupiditas) to rest in existence, to persist. In that sense, this is not what sets natural consciousness apart. We have seen, though, that in developing dualism and dividing the world into the active transcendence (soul) and the passive immanence (material bodies), natural consciousness also develops a specific method of survival: namely through the control of the material bodies (including its own body) by the transcendent instance. But in the material world, there are necessarily forces that are stronger than us (cf. IV, ax.), and in letting our essence be dependent on the control of external things, we thereby become completely dependent on external circumstances, i.e. the controlled environment itself. In other words, the more we try to control the material world, the more we depend on it.24placeholder Once the mind fails at survival — and it necessarily does so, because at some point an external force will appear that is stronger than it (cf. IV, ax.) — it loses everything, because all it ‘had’ was the control over the body. In reducing life to survival, we cut away life from all its productive forces. We are thereby coming back to the mutual dependence of the slave and master: the soul as the ‘master’ of the body falls into the greatest dependence of the ‘slave’, because it needs the body to function properly, to find external circumstances that facilitate its abilities to control. This way, natural consciousness by default does not desire what increases its ability to act, because what it desires is actually the greatest limitation of its power: the dependence on external circumstances and forces, which drive it to complete passivity. It falls into self-contradiction.

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We find ourselves here at the heart of our problem. It is, on the one hand, obviously true that with help of our natural consciousness we can learn to avoid things that decompose us (hot plates, poisonous food…) and gain things that compose with us (warm shelter, healthy food…). But we can see, at the same time, that the mechanism of natural consciousness goes into unexpected directions: as it separates cause and effect, not looking for the real causes of things and assuming that it itself is a free cause, it also separates us from the productive forces of life. We can therefore see that it is natural consciousness which introduces the desire of one’s own suppression, which is the desire for sources of sadness, as limiting one’s productive forces is a cause of sadness (III, def. 3). Let us once again trace back — look for the causes of — this reversal.

We could see that for natural consciousness, free action, activity itself, becomes thinkable only as originating from an external, transcendent instance, which by consequence reduces the whole material world — including our bodies — to passivity. Activity always lies outside, in a transcendent soul, or, where the soul can’t do anything, in a god.25placeholder The separation of cause and effect is complete once only transcendence can cause (as a final cause), while immanence is the world of effects, an essentially passive world that is driven by an external motor. Even in our naturalised worldview we tend to understand the physical laws as something ‘affecting’ matter (matter is determined by physical laws), a set of laws that matter follows.

Furthermore, we could see that the mechanism of natural consciousness, its dualism, is one where activity (the active soul) can only be understood at the cost of a passivity (the controlled body). Natural consciousness becomes active by making things passive, by controlling them. It needs to pacify, tame the body, make it obedient. The soul takes the role of the ‘master’, the body the role of the ‘slave’. It is here that Spinoza’s parallelism shows its critical impulse, showing that dualism bites its own tail: the body, reduced to passivity, can only produce a passive mind, as this ‘free will’ of dualism becomes completely dependent on exterior forces. The tyrant is as dependent on the slave as the slave on the tyrant. Natural consciousness thus creates its own passivity, even more the more it feels active and free — for its freedom stems from the separation of cause and effect, and therefore the reduction of the material world to a thing that it has to control and exploit for its own survival. And it is indeed the dominant mode of our modern mind to perceive Nature as something to be controlled, to be tamed, a resource to exploit. The self-destructive essence of this view has become very obvious in the last century, and an ecological mindset must call this whole way of thinking into question; it can therefore, paradoxically, not become ecological without the negation of ‘natural’ consciousness.

But this self-destruction does not only concern the relation of natural consciousness to the exterior world, but also to itself. In reducing its goals — and its understanding of life — to pure survival, natural consciousness does not seek to become active, it searches for security and protection. Security is attained best through a controlled environment, but as there are always stronger exterior forces than us, we cannot attain this goal on our own. It is better to subsume our forces to a ‘greater instance’ — society, morality, religion — that is more capable to create a protected environment. The next consequential step, then, for a subjugating rationality is to subjugate itself to a higher power. As the need for control drives natural consciousness into complete dependence on external circumstances, it is best to delegate the power to control to external forces that are better capable at it. This leads to the formation of societies based on hope and fear, what Spinoza calls the civil state.26placeholder Its citizens demand nothing more than security, comfort, and the bare minimum to survive, calling everything else a luxury and a privilege to the few, jealously looking at the possession of others. This runs parallel to the “two basic illusions” of natural consciousness that we have already talked about: the illusion of free will, and, where it reaches its limits, of “a provident God has arranged everything according to relations of means-end” (cf. SPP, 60). If the ‘free soul’ is the final cause of a creator, then it is passive in view of its maker, just like the material world is passive in view of the ‘free will’. The mind of the natural consciousness does not free itself from matter without subjugating itself to a God: hence we can once again see that a passive body (a body controlled by an ‘active’ mind) can only produce a passive mind. And once again, this order does not need to be strictly religious. The role of transcendence can be also taken by the civil law, by morality, by higher values, by Man himself: in all these cases, the ‘free,’ transcendent mind is subjugated to a higher order, a higher transcendence. But in this self-limitation, natural consciousness precisely hinders the increase of its ability to act, and therefore perpetuates sources of sadness. It desires its own suppression.

One will note that this elaboration of natural consciousness is inherently structural and ahistoric. It can be argued convincingly that cartesian dualism is an inherently occidental and modern phenomenon, and not a natural tendency. Such an objection introduces a complexity that I want to leave aside here. Let me merely suggest that such a perspective opens up possibilities to rethink historical sociopolitic constellations (monarchism, feudalism, nomadism, etc.) as a variety of ways in which such volontary servitudes are realised, ways, in which transcendences are erected. Chapter 3 of Anti-Oedipus ought to be read in that way. In a previous essay, I have analysed this structure in view of Marx’s critique of labour in capitalism, or, more precisely, the way Deleuze and Guattari resort to Marx in Anti-Oedipus. Let us therefore remain here on this structural level and continue with Spinoza’s concept of thought as a critical notion.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 10. Prisoners on a Projecting Platform

Thought as Critique

The consequence of the self-depreciation we have elaborated above is radical and difficult to grasp: Critique — critical thought — cannot be founded on natural consciousness; it must break completely with it. The leap from inadequate ideas to adequate ones goes through the negation of it and all its consequences. We have seen how the worldview based on natural consciousness was inherently anthropocentric — developing out of our need to survive — while at the same time, ironically, having the self-enslavement of humans as its outcome. Spinozist critique, on the other hand, must attain a ‘non-human’ perspective (the mutual immanence of cause and effect), which is why the Ethics also includes the theory of substances and modes, a whole metaphysics.

As the mutual immanence of cause and effect is not given to us ‘naturally’ due to the nature of our perception, learning the true causes of things — connecting, instead of separating — is an effort (cf. SPP, 82), a conscious activity, in that sense, but conscious in a different way than natural consciousness. At the same time, learning the causes of things means also understanding why certain things are necessarily the way they are, and only appear arbitrary of possible to us. It gives us an understanding of their ‘genesis’; it is inherently genealogical. This means that critique is demystification (cf. SPP, 10), as it uncovers hidden causes; in contrast to the fictions of natural consciousness, which are but effects and pretend to have unknowable transcendent causes.27placeholder Critique is an effort to understand how things are produced,28placeholder and the knowledge of the causes of our affects empowers us (cf. V, 3, corr.29placeholder). The power (potestas) of the mind lies therefore in its capacity for insight (intelligere), thereby turning the passions into actions (cf. V, 4, sc.30placeholder). But it also allows us to understand, how we are able to produce, to understand ourselves as productive forces; not as a ‘free will’, which, as we have seen, is an illusion, but through our essence: as bodies and minds. But let us see how we attain this perspective.

· · ·

Let us say we are taking Spinoza’s critique of natural consciousness for granted. Yes, we are inherently ignorant of the real causes of things, yes, we only perceive affects, etc. etc. But how do we overcome this dilemma? What is out of the question is that we somehow change our way of perception: There is no way that we can directly perceive the real causes of things. We will always only perceive the manifold ways our bodies are affected. This also excludes any forms of mystical contemplation. To use Spinoza’s example, even if we know that the sun is millions of kilometres away, we can’t help but perceive it as being just a few feet away from us (cf. II, 35, sc.; IV, 1, sc.), or, maybe a more common example, even if we know that it’s not the sun that is setting, but the earth that is rotating, we will always perceive it as the sun’s movement. In short, what we experience are affects, nothing but affects. But here, Spinoza makes an important distinction, namely between ‘passive affections’ — passions — and ‘active affections’ — actions (cf. III, 5831placeholder).

The difference between the passions (passive affections) and the actions (active affections) is the following: the passions have an exterior cause, while the actions “are explained by the nature of the affected individual, and […] spring from the individual’s essence” (SPP, 27). But wait, you will say, we haven’t heard anything about these active affections yet — and indeed, until now, we have only encountered two kinds of passions: joy and sadness. And indeed, as we have seen, both have exterior causes: we experience joy, if a body we encounter convenes with us, and sadness, if a body decomposes us. But as our essences are themselves active entities, it should not surprise us that they also are capable of true activity. For if the whole material world is based on the mutual immanence of cause and effect, then our bodies too must be capable not only of being an effect, but also of causing. But as we have seen, we cannot attain liberty by liberating ourselves from material causes (free will). For Spinoza, rather, the active and free mind is one that conceives itself and its own ability to act (cf. III, 58, sc.32placeholder). This activity we must understand as a capacity for clear insight into indubitably true (adequate) ideas (cf. II, 4333placeholder), it is Reason itself (cf. II, 3; IV, 52, dem.). And we cannot doubt this insight, i.e. we perceive it clearly and distinctly, because we ourselves are the adequate cause of it; more precisely, our ability for insight (intelligendi potentia) (cf. II, def. 2; IV, 52, dem.). In other words, the activity of the mind lies precisely in this capacity for insight. The exterior causes we will never perceive directly and adequately, but the activity of the mind, being caused by the mind, we can. And once our activity is truly based on a solid foundation — the adequate ideas — we can gain insight into other, exterior things as well (cf. II, 40).

It is this self-reflection that puts forward a new conception of consciousness, as a ‘redoubling’ of the passions with active affects, an insight into one’s own productive forces (agendi potentia) that uphold the mutual immanence of causes and effects. The affect that corresponds to this self-reflection on one’s own ability to act is self-content (acquiescentia in se ipso) (cf. IV, 52). The leap from the inadequate ideas to the adequate ones therefore goes through the leap from passions to actions. The mind can attain an activity that stems from itself. But how does one get to that point? We have seen that there are two kinds of passions: joy and sadness. And

“joy is still a passion, since it has an external cause; we still remain separated from our power of acting, possessing it only in a formal sense. This power of acting is nonetheless increased proportionally; we ‘approach’ the point of conversion, the point of transmutation that will establish our dominion, that will make us worthy of action, of active joys” (SPP, 27–28).

As the passions, be they of joy or sadness, have exterior causes, there is a separation of cause and effect, more so as we are ignorant of their causes.34placeholder Passions, then, cannot help us overcome this fundamental separation. But at the same time, it is only through them that we can reach the adequate ideas, and we do that through the systematic encountering of exterior bodies that bring us joy, the effect of joy being that our ability to act and to perceive (be affected) is increased. The systematic experience of joy prepares the capacity for active affections, for actions; the leap to adequate ideas. This prepares the resolution of

“the threefold practical problem of the Ethics: How does one arrive at a maximum of joyful passions?, proceeding from there to free and active feelings (although our place in Nature seems to condemn us to bad encounters and sadnesses). How does one manage to form adequate ideas?, which are precisely the source of active feelings (although our natural condition seems to condemn us to have only inadequate ideas of our body, of our mind, and of other things). How does one become conscious of oneself of God, and of things? — […] (although our consciousness seems inseparable from illusions)“ (SPP, 28).

We are coming back to the provocative statement from above that is so important for Deleuze: We don’t even know what our bodies can do. Indeed, if critical thought is to start with our affects, first looking for the causes of joyful passions, and only then can reach active affections, which originate in our essence, then it is having its roots in our bodies. This is the practical consequence of Spinoza’s parallelism.

· · ·

So how do we go about systematically organising joyful encounters, founded on adequate ideas? The problem, as we saw, is this: we experience the affect of joy when we encounter something that composes with our essence, meaning that it increases our power to act and to be affected. To do so, we need to know what truly causes these affects in us; but all that we experience are the affects themselves, meaning the effects of other bodies on ours. This whole ‘leap’ from inadequate ideas to adequate ones is thus very difficult to grasp. Let us nevertheless try.

Practical Philosophy

We have seen that joy as a passion is caused by external forces. Nevertheless, as a joyful encounter is defined as one that increases our productive forces, then any encounter that increases our dependency (on such external forces) won’t count as a real cause of joy. That would mean that such an encounter, for example, increases our ability to act in the short term, but decreases it in the long term — let’s say, for an easy example, something like addiction. Once again, this excludes an understanding of ‘joy’ as ‘pleasantness’ (and its various forms), because if ‘systematically organising joyful encounters’ meant ‘experience pleasant things,’ then we would be more and more dependent on such external forces that bring us joy. The same counts for all forms of sadist joy: The sadist might indeed feel ‘joyful’ when he causes the suffering of others, but his joy is precisely dependent on that suffering, and can therefore not be true joy. This brings us back to the dialectic of tyrant and slave.

This does not mean that we ought to cut our ties to the world and try to look for some truly ‘inner’ affects that don’t depend on anything exterior to us. As noted above, the search for adequate ideas goes through passion of joy, which increases our productive forces — which are, in that sense, nothing that we ‘find’ in ourselves, but something that we develop. This gives us a way to distinguish false sources of joy — those that only seem to increase our productive forces, but actually make us more dependent — and true sources of joy — those that not only increase our productive forces, but also render us more autonomous. What love, for example, teaches us, in contrast to addiction or sadism, is not only the ‘happiness of the presence of the loved object,’ but also the ability to love the other and ourselves, and to experience the love of the other (if it’s mutual). While love, in that sense, still needs an exterior object of love (cf. III, def. 6), it is through love that we can reach an activity that no longer depends on that object, and that goes beyond love itself.

Such processes render us more apt to perceive, which is useful (as Spinoza notes rather drily) (cf. IV, 38). But perception here should not be understood in the sense of natural consciousness. This kind of perception is not the capacity to separate cause and effect, but rather the ability to gain insight into (intelligere) causes. As their direct perception is not an option for us (as noted above), this kind of perception is aimed at something beyond itself — what Spinoza calls insight (intelligere). In other words, it is the leap from a perception based on inadequate ideas to a ‘perception’ based on adequate ideas. This changes the nature of utility, which is no longer merely the tendency to persist in existence (mere survival), but the utility of Reason: “What we strive for (conamur) out of reason is nothing else but insight (intelligere); and the mind judges, if it only uses reason, that nothing else is useful to it but what leads it to insight” (IV, 2635placeholder). What can be autonomous in us must be something that is active in us — our active essence itself — and we can see now, what ‘activity’ Spinoza is aiming for: the ability for insight, Reason, which is the source of our autonomy. We are, evidently, not the source of Reason, which would collapse into some sort of solipsism. The source of Reason is God, but “not in as far as he’s infinite, nor in as far as he’s affected by the ideas of many singular things, but in as far as he constitutes only the essence of the human mind” (II, 40, dem.36placeholder). As he notes in the first scolium, this explains the cause of what he calls notiones communes (common notions). There is a lot to unpack here, so let’s try to understand what that means.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 06. The Smoking Fire

Common Notions

Spinoza strictly distinguishes common notions from the scholastic transcendentals (Being (ens), Thing (res), Something (aliquid)) and universal notions. They are produced differently (again the perspective on production). Transcendentals and universal notions are products of the body’s limitation to imagine a very large number of things. So, if we add in our minds table + chair + wall + sky + tree + house + electron etc. etc., at some point, our imagination will become so blurry, that we lose all differences and unite all those things in one attribute: Being, Thing. Or, for universal notions, Man, Horse, Dog. A universal notion like ‘Man’ will arise if we blur in our imagination the difference between the many human beings we’ve encounters, leaving only what stands out the most. And this ‘brightest’ aspect is nothing but the thing that has affected us the most in our encounters with other human beings. This will vary, depending on our disposition and experience. To use Spinoza’s example, if someone mostly admires the stature of human beings, they will consider ‘Man’ to be ‘the animal that walks upright.’ This is the reason why there is so much dissent over these universal notions (for this whole paragraph, cf. II, 40, sc. I). Note that this ‘strongest affect’ can also be an affect of sadness, leading us to form rather unflattering universal notions of ‘Man’: ‘Man, the sinful animal, the desperate animal, the selfish animal.’ It does not need to be something that ‘composes’ between human beings.

But how do we, in contrast, come to form common notions, how are they produced? “The idea of that which is common and proper to the human body and some external bodies which usually affect the human body, and that is both in the part and in the whole of these external bodies, will also be adequate in the mind” (II, 3937placeholder). In a maybe easier formulation: “a common notion is the representation of a composition between two or more bodies, and a unity of this composition” (SPP, 54). We experience this composition with the affect of joy — it is this composition that increases our productive forces –, but only once we start forming the idea of this composition, of what it is that is common to us and to an external body in a given encounter, do we start forming common notions. It is, in that sense, not the strongest affect that leads to the formation of common notion, and neither a blurry universality, but the idea of what composes between our essence and an exterior body in a given encounter. To get back to the example above: We start forming the common notion of ‘Man’ once we start forming the idea of what it was that has led to a joyful encounter between us and another human being; in other words, what that common element is which has mutually increased our abilities to act. It is therefore anything but a solipsist affair.

Let us say that you have helped me out financially, and let us consider it a joyful encounter for both of us: I can get rid of some bills that have been pestering me, and you can feel good about your good deed and because I’m now praising you in front of others. We can see that even though for both of us the encounter was productive, strictly speaking, it has not happened due to something that is common to both of us, it is not us who have ‘composed.’ What actually has caused me joy is the money that will help me, and what has caused you joy is the praise. If I got the money in another way, or if I praised you for another reason, we’d both end up with the same result. Also, the money did not really ‘compose’ with me, but rather with my bank account, and the praise is composing with your ego. To find what is common between you and me in this given encounter, we therefore need to dig deeper. What is common between us is rather precisely this ability to increase each other’s productive forces, to cause each other joy, with various means. It is not my praise that increases your ability to act — or, at least, it does so just ‘externally’ by improving your social status — but rather the knowledge that you have the capacity to cause joy. It is not my praise that increases your autonomy — which would be a self-contradiction, because you would further depend on my praise — but rather your act of generosity that makes you aware of your ability to act. Neither is it your money that increases my autonomy — again, that would affirm my dependence on you — but rather my act of gratefulness that makes me understand that I also can cause you joy. But this joy that we cause to each other can be accidental — you, because you have money, I because I know certain social formalities, which prescribe me to say ‘thank you’ if someone helps me. This capacity to cause joy becomes truly active only through the act of reflection which is the act of formation of common notion; it is the act of Reason itself that increases out autonomy, and it is Reason that is common to both of us. A slot machine can also be a cause of joy if I win, but that does not mean that it has the active capacity of causing joy; if it causes joy, then it does so accidentally. Furthermore, if we want to keep increasing each other’s autonomy — if we want to repeat the productive joyful encounters –, the solution is obviously not to keep lending and borrowing money. Again, this would merely deepen our mutual dependence. Neither should we keep giving for the sake of giving, or saying thanks for the sake of saying thanks; this would again lead to mutual dependence. Rather, in each given encounter, we should seek the means to strengthen this common element, meaning reflect on it, and to make sure that, if this encounter was caused by a dependence or by sadness, that this dependence or sadness is removed.

We can already see, why the formation of common notions is an effort. After all, if we don’t think about it, I will keep believing that it is the received money that caused me joy, so I’ll keep seeking out money, and you will keep believing that it was my praise that caused you joy, so you’ll keep on seeking out praise. Without this effort, a possibility of joyful encounters is that they will lead to dependence, and therefore be rather a cause of future sadness. A joyful encounter between two human beings does not therefore by default mutually increase their autonomy. It is, quite the opposite, quite rare that both will try to form the common notion within this encounter. It is, in that sense, strictly speaking not the affect of joy that brings forth the common notion, but rather the common element, which is the reason for which an exterior body composes with us. It composes with us, because we both have something in common, and the insight into this communality is what is the beginning of the mind’s activity.

What is common between me and another human being is the ability to cause joy, our autonomy. If therefore we both, you and I, try to understand why our encounter was joyful, we will start forming the common notion of ‘Man,’ that which is common to all human beings, which makes it possible that all human encounters become joyful, if only they are aimed at what is common in everyone. Each joyful encounter increases one’s ability to act by default, but it remains a passion, if we don’t make the additional effort of forming the common notion, of finding the cause of this joy. An active encounter therefore does not merely increase everyone’s productive forces, but also increases everyone’s autonomy. Forming common notions develops our capacities for insight — to perceive adequate ideas — which is the capacity to understand what is common to all of us: Reason.

Common notions, then, “represent something common to bodies, either to all bodies (extension, motion and rest) or to some bodies (at least two, mine and another)” (SPP, 54). Thus, only the joyful encounter “is an occasional cause of the common notion” (SPP, 55). In forming these common notions, in the effort of understanding what is common to us and the exterior bodies we encounter, we lay the foundation to systematically organise joyful encounters, which also systematically increases our own productive forces.

“This is why Reason is defined in two ways, which show that man is not born rational but also how he becomes rational. Reason is: 1. an effort to select and organize good encounters, that is, encounters of modes that enter into composition with ours and inspire us with joyful passions (feelings that agree with reason); 2. the perception and comprehension of the common notions, that is, of the relations that enter into this composition, from which one deduces other relations (reasoning) and on the basis of which one experiences new feelings, active ones this time (feelings that are born of reason)” (SPP, 55–56).

It should be clear at that point that the effort to form common notions is precisely the effort to understand the actual causes of things. Why was this encounter joyful? Because the exterior body that caused it and my essence have something in common. But what? Why does this body compose with mine? What has caused the joy of this joyful encounter? As long as we experience accidental joy, we experience it as a passion: something good has happened to us, but we don’t know what has caused it (a happy accident, so to speak). We need to differentiate accidental causes of joy (money, praise) from the common element, which is the actual cause of composition. As we have seen, if I take money as the cause of my joy, I will try to ‘systematically encounter money,’ and therefore also systematically feel joy. The actual cause of the joyful encounter is therefore different from the accidental cause that is nevertheless a crucial element for the actual happening of the event. To reflect on the actual causes of things is therefore not simply to connect cause and effect, which is simple enough (money — praise), but to reach a deeper understanding into the relation of our body to exterior bodies. It is therefore not enough to know in advance what will cause me joy, it must be connected to an activity of Reason that increases my autonomy. Thus, in the joyful encounter,

“the external or ‘passive’ affection is compounded [se double] by an active affection which depends strictly on our power of acting and is internal to, constitutive of, our essence: an active joy, a self-affection of essence, such that the genitive now becomes autonomous and causal” (SPP, 42–43).

The systematic organisation of joyful encounters is possible because the formation of common notions is not merely a singular event; rather, these common notions themselves become enchained, allowing us not only to bring order into our understanding of actual causes, but also move to more and more general common notions. On its very basis, the formation of common notions helps us to distinguish things that have something in common with us (that compose with us) from those that don’t. For example, a poison, being something that decomposes us, doesn’t have anything in common with our body; or, to be more precise — and here lies an important distinction — with the way we as individuals perceive our bodies, namely as an organised, individual unity. This leads to the first, least general common notions, “those that represent something in common between my body and another that affects me with joy-passion” (SPP, 56). It is at this level that we acknowledge what is common to us and other human beings: Reason, and we start trying to organise the encounter with other human beings on the basis of Reason, on the basis of what is common to all of us. This is the starting point for the creation of the “state of reason,” where “the composition of men is realized according to a combination of intrinsic relations, and determined by common notions and the active feelings that follow from them” (SPP, 107). It is the first change of perspectives, namely from a purely subjective order of composition and decomposition (that which composes with me) to an anthropocentric perspective, which includes all human beings. But this ‘second level’ does not cancel the first one; the composition of human beings in the state of reason expands the horizon of the individual and does not occur at its expense. The common notions strictly build on each other.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 12. The Sawhorse

But this is not the end of it. After all, we can’t really say that a poison has nothing in common with us. If that was the case, it would pass imperceptibly in us, it’d be indifferent. Rather, a cause of sadness (something that diminishes our productive forces) “still combines with our parts, but in ways that do not correspond to our essence, as when a poison breaks down the blood” (SPP, 22). The poison cannot decompose us without composing with something in our body, for example with proteins in our blood. There is something in common between us and the poison, which goes beyond the distinction of joyful and sad encounters, but to grasp that, we need to change our perspective, namely away from the perspective of ‘the whole body that wants to keep its total composition’ to the perspective of ‘the encounter between the poison and the proteins.’ It is the first step away from the anthropocentric perspective. But to reach that point, we need to first produce the most ‘fundamental’ common notions that arise out of joyful encounters; and as these encounters increase our productive forces and allow us to gain better insight into our affects, this gives “us the force to form common notions that are more general, expressing what there is in common even between our body and bodies that do not agree with ours, that are contrary to it, or affect it with sadness […]. And from these new common notions, new affects of active joy follow, overtaking the sadnesses and replacing the passions born of sadness” (SPP, 56). To be clear: The perspective is not a scientific one, for example the study of what poisons compose with which proteins. The point is, rather, that even in a sad encounter — for us! –, there is something that composes with something else. Obviously, from the perspective of our organic body, it is sad if a poison decomposes us. But if we learn to truly reach this different point of view, where even a sad encounter is a composition, an increase of productive forces, we will also gain a different perspective on the encounters that are sad for us.

Note that we started with a common notion between two bodies (which is the minimum) and are now including more bodies and more complex constellations. In that sense, even if it appears that we are moving upwards to a ‘higher level,’ it is not a vertical movement towards a transcendence that orders the bodies, but rather a horizontal order of the bodies themselves. It is through this movement that we learn not only to distinguish truly joyful and sad encounters, but also learn to handle sad encounters better, as we understand that even there, something was in common between two bodies. This still means, obviously, that we know to distinguish joyful from sad encounters — we still won’t drink poison — but we attain a perspective that is no longer reduced to the subjective order of composition and decomposition — that which composes with me, but learn to understand that from another perspective, poison indeed is part of an order of composition, for example when it composes with proteins in the blood. More precisely, we learn to understand that our bodies are not singular things, but multiplicities, in which compositions can happen between parts of the body and exterior objects (protein —poison), which nevertheless decompose the body from ‘our perspective.’ This not only changes our relation to our own body, but also our relation to the outside world. It is the first step out of the anthropocentric perspective, in which I will, for example, understand that my corpse is indeed my body in decomposition, but that it can also be an order of composition for maggots and fungi, for the earth that it turns into, for new life that it composes with. Again, this second perspective does not contradict the first one. It nevertheless gives us a new perspective on our own death and the grander order of things.

From these common notions, which include not only causes of joy, but also causes of sadness, we can move on further to more general common notions. After all, the act of forming common notions, is the very activity of our Reason, and the more active we are, the more we increase our autonomous productive forces. It is now that we reach things that all bodies have in common, namely “extension, motion and rest” (SPP, 55) — maximum extension of the common notions. This means that the whole universe is an order of composition. This now leaves not only the anthropocentric perspective behind but attains an even non-biological point of view: Not only are all living beings part of a multiplicity of compositions and decompositions, but so is all ‘lifeless matter.’ Indeed, the difference between living matter and non-living matter is suspended; all matter is, considering that all bodies have some things in common and that all matter is part of this manifold order of composition, ‘living.’ We attain a pantheist perspective, an insight into non-organic life.38placeholder It is from this perspective that we can understand that bodies differentiate not as substances, but according to movement and rest, their speed and slowness; a purely kinetic definition of the body (cf. II, lemma 139placeholder): “The important thing is to understand life, each living individuality, not as a form, or a development of form, but as a complex relation between differential velocities, between deceleration and acceleration of particles. A composition of speeds and slownesses on a plane of immanence” (SPP, 123). And it is indeed here that we are reaching the true understanding of immanence, of the mutual immanence of cause and effect.

But, in a way, with these common notions we are still on the level of existence. We see, how the world around us enchains into one big order of composition, infinite in as far as it includes infinite perspectives. There is still a leap left, “a point where everything changes over,” (SPP, 57) namely the one from what Spinoza calls the second kind of knowledge to the third one, which concerns “the internal agreement of our essence, other essences, and the essence of God” (SPP, 51);

“we go beyond Reason as a faculty of the common notions or a system of eternal truths concerning existence, and enter into the intuitive intellect as a system of essential truths (sometimes called consciousness, since it is only here that ideas are redoubled and reflected in us as they are in God, giving us the experience of being eternal)” (SPP, 58).

Indeed, the highest form of consciousness thereby transcends Reason (without being transcendent); it is the insight into the essential communality of everything, immanence itself. In its ultimate consequence, the enchainment of common notions leads us to the idea of God, “it expresses what there is in common between all the existing modes; namely, that they are in God and are produced by God” (SPP, 57). It is, in that sense, with this perspective that we reach the order of causes (of essence and existence); on the level of existence, the order of composition and decomposition still pertains to the order of effects, the question of how different bodies affect each other. But God is the cause of everything (not as a ‘free will,’ but as a necessity!), which means that if true insight is the understanding of causes, then we can’t truly understand things without God (cf. II, 45, dem.).40placeholder But this insight we gain only through the activity of Reason, which, as an activity, is also a cause. In other words, as the insight into the actual cause of things is something that we all have in common due to Reason (cf. IV, 36, dem.), the love to God is that which unites us all, as we understand that we are all connected through the same essential ties (cf. V, 20). The insight into the causes, in its final consequence, leads us to the inner (essential) connection of everything, to pantheism (cf. SPP, 111), which is the insight that the whole universe is but a single substance (cf. I, 14), of which we are all modes; and as modes are affectations of the substance (cf. I, def. 5), we finally understand, why we only perceive affects — namely because we all are affectations of the same substance, God (whoosh!).

In its final consequence, the order of composition and decomposition itself is an illusion, something that is caused by our fundamental ignorance of causes — and it is here that “one understands in what sense evil is nothing. For, from the standpoint of nature or God, there are always relations that compound, and nothing but relations that compound in accordance with eternal laws” (SPP, 36). And as it is us who form these common notions, meaning that they originate from our own activity, that they have their cause in us and no longer depend on exterior factors, they not only increase our activity, but also our autonomy (cf. V, 38). Natural consciousness, in contrast, in its dependence on external circumstances, due to the perpetuation of its ignorance (separation of cause and effect), perpetuates its own sadness, which, as we have seen, lies precisely in that dependence; meaning that, as Spinoza phrases it, “if it stops suffering it also stops existing” (cf. V, 4241placeholder). It is in that sense that it loses everything in death. In contrast, we attain our autonomy, once again paradoxically, only by overcoming our anthropocentrism and attaining a non-human and a non-biological, a pantheistic perspective. Or, as Spinoza phrases it, it is not only the nature of Reason to perceive things under a certain aspect (say: perspective) of eternity (II, 44, cor. 242placeholder), but in becoming the cause of adequate insight, Reason itself is active from the aspect of eternity (cf. V, 31), and herein it perceives its profound community with God: “our mind, in as far as it has insight (intelligit), is an eternal mode of thought (aeternus cogitandi modus), which is determined by another eternal mode of thought, and this one from another, until infinity, so that they all together constitute God’s eternal and infinite Reason (intellectum)” (V, 40, sc.43placeholder) (whoosh!).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 08. The Staircase with Trophies

In moving up the chain of common notions, we gain insight into our communality with other humans and with the world around us, making us understand that ‘joy’ not only regards our subjective perspective, but also the joy of others; organising joyful encounter in that sense means not only joyful encounters for us, but also enabling them for the people around us. Highest joy — beatitude — cannot be reached at the cost of others, but strictly only through mutually nurturing the activity of everyone. This whole movement is therefore not a solipsist affair, it is not a ‘cartesian meditation’; it is a long and consistent effort, starting with our bodily affects and including encounters with other human beings, as much as with nature the world around us. This communality, to underline it once again, is not anthropocentric, and therefore builds the foundation not just for a political thought, but also an ecological one.

It also lies in the nature of the common notions that they don’t really form a theory that can be taught. As we have seen, the beginning of the formation of common notions does not lie in the reading of a book — or an essay, for that matter — but in the affects of joy and in the effort to organise joyful encounters. To reach that ‘highest level’ of common notions, each one of us needs to acquire the activity of Reason, through their body and its affects. We cannot just jump in in the middle. For example, to say that “extension, motion, and rest” is what unites all bodies, is, as an abstract statement, quite banal. What we really need to go through is this change of perspectives, this activity of the body and mind, which, as we now truly understand, correlate and don’t oppose each other (cf. V, 39).44placeholder

So those were quite a few whoosh moments, huh? The whole theory of common notions is very difficult and highly complex, and I tried my best to offer a concise presentation of the way the most ‘basic’ common notions begin to be formed and how they enchain, building on each other, until we reach the most general common notions, the idea of God. But, in a way, slowing down this ascendance might not be that helpful after all, for “a great relative speed is needed at first in order to arrive at God as substance; then everything broadens out and slows down, until new accelerations are produced, always at necessary moments” (SPP, 112). The Ethics therefore strictly demands the readers activity, not just to follow an argument, but to go through a motion; the activity of the mind.

A New Consciousness

We were trying to understand the way Spinoza conceptualises the leap from inadequate ideas to adequate ones, and how that ought to entail a concept of consciousness that is no longer based on the separation of cause and effect, but on the search for causes. As common notions are precisely the ‘tool’ to acquire the mind’s activity, to reach autonomy, we had to pass through this difficult part of Spinoza’s thought. Let us quickly retrace this leap and try to understand, in what way it leads to the formation of a new kind of consciousness.

“It is this positive kernel of the inadequate idea in consciousness that can serve as a regulative principle for a knowledge of the unconscious, that is, for an inquiry concerning what a body can do, for a determination of causes and for the forming of common notions. So once we have attained adequate ideas, we connect effects to their true causes, and consciousness, having become a reflection of adequate ideas, is capable of overcoming its illusions, forming clear and distinct ideas of the affections and affects it experiences (V, 4). Or rather, it overlays the passive affects with active affects that follow from the common notion and are distinguished from the passive affects only by their cause, hence by a distinction of reason (V, 3 et seq.)” (SPP, 60–61)

Just like in the ‘natural’ understanding, consciousness is understood as a doubling, as a ‘self-reflection’; but this time, it is not a separation of cause and effect on a higher level (dualism), but rather the unification of cause and effect on a higher level, an autonomy that stands in strict continuation with the exterior world, but that, paradoxically, is more autonomous than natural consciousness. We saw, after all, that natural consciousness loses everything in death, while this new one gains an autonomy that is inalienable (we’ll come back to that in a moment). I would also argue that the idea of “a knowledge of the unconscious” expresses Deleuze’s broader interest in the unconscious, with Anti-Oedipus, for example, being precisely that, an effort to get to understand the unconscious. But as in Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze understands the unconscious not as a personal entity, but as the material world itself — “immanence is the unconscious itself” (SPP, 29), which echoes the concept of the unconscious in Anti-Oedipus, “[n]either imaginary nor symbolic, it is the Real in itself, the ‘impossible real’ and its production” (AO, 53), “that unbearable point where the mind touches matter” (AO, 20) from the “harrowing, emotionally overwhelming experience, which brings the schizo as close as possible to matter” (AO, 19). To search for “a knowledge of the unconscious” is therefore once again not a solipsist affair, not a Freudian digging in our personal histories, but concerns rather our relation to the world, and to matter as such. But as it is still a knowledge, it would be wrong, as it has been done by some interpreters, to understand Deleuze’s philosophy as an affirmation of the unconscious at the expense of consciousness. In a certain way, philosophy is always connected to some sort of consciousness, or it will fall back into mysticism. The question is rather once again: What kind of consciousness?

A kind of consciousness that stands in connection to the unconscious, that does not try to subjugate and control it (as natural consciousness does), but rather affirms it. It is a kind of knowledge that is not gained at the cost of others (within the confines of a privileged class, for example); quite on the contrary, it is a knowledge that we need to mutually affirm and nurture. We have also seen how the various changes of perspectives, resulting from the formation of higher common notions, changes our relation to death. But this changed relation is not just a ‘subjective’ one, meaning that we learn to stoically accept our demise. When Spinoza speaks of an acquired autonomy, it is not merely as a metaphor. Something happens. The autonomy is real, and “the more we attain to these self-affections during our existence, the less we lose in losing existence, in dying or even in suffering, and the better we will be able to say in fact that evil was nothing, or that nothing bad, or almost nothing, pertained to essence” (SPP, 43). On other words, there is an objective change in our relation to death, in as far as we acquire something that death cannot take away. Deleuze insists a lot on Spinoza’s idea of the exteriority of death (cf. SPP, 41–42; 71; 100), in contrast to the “internal death” that arises out of the dialectics of master and slave (SPP, 12–13). The interiority that is created through the active auto-affections, through the activity of the mind, is out of death’s reach, because death always comes from the outside, and affects our exterior parts. The radical exteriority of death is summed up in the possibly most anti-Heideggerian statement ever: “A free man thinks of nothing less than of death; and his wisdom is a meditation about life, not about death” (IV, 6745placeholder).

But this also shows, how much is at stake: if we fail to build this autonomy through our own effort, there is so much more — potentially, everything — that death can take away from us. We are coming back to the concept of life that natural consciousness put forward: life as survival. As long as life is all about survival, it loses everything with death, because death, bluntly speaking, is the failure to survive. Only if life is more than mere survival can there be something that escapes death. This is probably the most far-reaching consequence of the natural illusion: the transcendental, external soul is a self-contradiction. The systematic organisation of joyful encounters and the formation of common notions thereby becomes an existential task.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Carceri d'Invenzione - Second Edition (1761). 13. The Well

What practical consequences derive from this new consciousness, from this new way of thinking that fundamentally breaks with natural consciousness, with the world of doxa? We could see that there are two aspects to this new consciousness: On the one hand, it consists in the effort to organise joyful encounters that increase our productive forces; on the other hand, it leads us to develop our Reason, thereby increasing our autonomy. The former connects us to the world around us, while the other one enforces our individuality and reduces our dependence. In other words, it consists in the desire to destroy both external and internal sources of sadness, and to radically negate the desire of the suppression of others and the desire of one’s own suppression, the “internal death” (SPP, 12). It promotes external and internal liberty, a practical parallelism. It promotes the active construction of the world, in which everyone can realise and maximise their own ability to act and the ability to be affected. The inability of others to realise their autonomy necessarily affects mine, because the pain and suffering of others is a sad encounter and diminishes my ability to act. Once again, we ought to realise that Spinoza’s theory of affects is not based on how we feel, but is based on his theory of forces. For example, seeing someone suffering will make us feel sad, and looking away will make us feel better. However, in looking away, we once again diminish our ability to act, as we limit ourselves in our relation to the world. In a way, Spinoza’s ethics is very ‘cold,’ as I am not helping the other because I feel compassion or pity — Spinoza radically criticises them both — but because the dependence of the other on my help (for example) puts myself into a relation of dependence. The only way to resolve this dependence is by increasing the autonomy of both, of me and the other. As we have seen, this reflection, which is the process of the formation of common notions, is very difficult and necessitates an effort in each single case, even if we get better at it with time.

The reverse of this ‘negative parallelism’ is that the liberation of others, the augmentation of their ability to act, also increases my ability to act, as the joy of others affects me with joy too. Political consciousness therefore becomes a question of ethology46placeholder, a study of all the external (social, economic, historic, political) forces that affect my body, that cause sad or joyful encounters, that separate my force or the force of others from what they can, a study of the real causes that produce our ways of living. It is the consciousness of our role and position in the sociopolitical and economic production process.47placeholder This is what Anti-Oedipus sets out to uncover: How the Oedipus complex produces the desire of one’s own suppression,48placeholder how capitalism separates the productive forces from what they can,49placeholder how it perpetuates the master-slave dialectic,50placeholder how it produces this ‘internal death’51placeholder but also how these sources of sadness were introduced in previous socioeconomic systems. But this critique is not merely negative, as it goes hand in hand with the search and the production of new ways of living, in which the mutual nurturing of autonomy is the fundamental ethical principle.

This radically opposes the ‘natural competition’ of natural consciousness, where your survival necessarily affects mine negatively, as we fight for scarce resources. The competition between individuals is an illusion, it itself is a major source of sadness. Even if we try to soften this natural competition on the grounds of natural consciousness for reasons of practicality, such an improved condition looks more like a prisoner’s dilemma, where we each calculate how much to concede to the other; how much suffering and misery is still ‘tolerable’ for a functioning society. It reduces political consciousness to the administration and control by a privileged group of people that can ‘overcome’ the corporeal limitations, a political dualism. But as we have seen, this dualism expresses itself politically as the mutual dependence of tyrant and slave. And here we might draw the possibly most important conclusion of Spinoza’s parallelism: That one cannot desire the suppression of others without desiring one’s own suppression. One cannot liberate oneself at the cost of others, just as the mind cannot liberate itself from the body, just as the tyrant cannot liberate himself from the slave. All these sources of negativity, of suffering, of sadness, are opposed by Spinoza in his resistance against the reduction of life to mere survival:

“This is what Spinoza calls Nature: a life no longer lived on the basis of need, in terms of means and ends, but according to a production, a productivity, a potency, in terms of causes and effects” (SPP, 3).

All negativity is negated in Spinoza’s conception. As joyful encounters lead to active bodies, they also lead, following parallelism, to active minds. Thought becomes something positive and empowering, instead of calculating and controlling. From a negative function (limitation, distribution, separation) it attains a positive function (liberation, empowerment, unification). But we have seen how difficult this leap from inadequate ideas to adequate ones is. It is not only a one-time effort, but a constant one, as we naturally fall back to calculation and the separation of cause and effect. The affirmative effort of forming common notions goes along with a radically negating critique; as Deleuze reminds us in the book on Nietzsche, one cannot affirm without the radical negation of all negativity.52placeholder It is for this reason that the desire of one’s own suppression, as a consequence of natural consciousness, is the fundamental problem of political philosophy.

If you’re interested in a further reading, I have analysed the traces of Marx in Anti-Oedipus regarding the notion of voluntary servitude here, and regarding the relation between production, distribution, and fetishism in capitalist economy here.

Timofei Gerber has an MA in philosophy from the University of Heidelberg, Germany, and an MA in film studies from the University of Zurich. He is currently writing his PhD at Paris 1 Sorbonne. He is also a co-founder and co-editor of this magazine.

Works Cited

Abensour, Miguel. « Spinoza et l’épineuse question de la servitude volontaire », Astérion [online], 13, 2015.

Deleuze, Gilles; Guattari, Félix. Anti-Oedipus. Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1983 [AO].

Deleuze, Gilles. Nietzsche and Philosophy. continuum, London/New York, 1983 [NP].

Deleuze, Gilles. Spinoza: Practical Philosophy. City Lights, San Francisco, 1988 [SPP].

Sauvagnargues, Anne. Deleuze et l’art. puf, Paris, 2006.

Spinoza, Baruch de. Ethics (latin citation from Ethik in geometrischer Ordnung dargestellt, Meiner, Hamburg, 2010).


Apart from this, he is shortly mentioned twice in footnotes and once in the appendix.


The question, to what degree the question of voluntary servitude really is that central for Spinoza’s thought, is itself controversial (cf. Abensour, Miguel. Spinoza et l’épineuse question de la servitude volontaire). In the following essay, I will not deal with this question and focus on Deleuze’s reading of Spinoza.


“In despotic statecraft, the supreme and essential mystery is to hoodwink the subjects, and to mask the fear, which keeps them down, with the specious garb of religion, so that men may fight as bravely for slavery as for safety, and count it not shame but highest honour to risk their blood and lives for the vainglory of a tyrant” (cited in SPP, 25).


“Per affectum intelligo corporis affections, quibus ipsius corporis agenda potential augentur vel minuitur, juvatur vel coercetur, et simul harum affectionum ideas.”


“depreciation, hatred of life in general, entails a glorification of the reactive life in particular. They the evil ones, the sinners . . . we the good; principles and consequence. The Judaic consciousness of the consciousness of ressentiment (after the golden age of the kings of Israel) presents these two aspects: the universal appears as a hatred for life, the particular as a love of life — provided that it is sick and reactive” (NP, 152).


III, 2, sc.: “Etenim, quid corpus possit, nemo hucusque determinavit”.


We will analyse Spinoza’s concept of the passions further below.


‘Mental labour’ obviously does not refer to philosophy. Rather, the worth of that ‘mental labour’ is a function of the profit it is capable of generating. And this brings it directly to the idea of ‘job creators’, because profit can be generated only through the appropriation surplus value of labour. The ‘job creator’ is in that sense dependent on ‘sad spirits’ who work for him.


For Spinoza’s critique of Cartesianism and its idea that the mind can have total control over the passions, cf. V, prae.


“the conditions under which we know things and are conscious of ourselves condemn us to have only inadequate ideas, ideas that are confused and mutilated, effects separated from their real causes” (SPP, 19).


We should be reminded of Bergson’s Matter and Memory here.


“Nam id, quod revera causa est, ut effectum considerat, et contra.“


“Quae omnia satis ostendunt unumquemque pro dispositione cerebri de rebus judicasse vel potius imaginationis affectiones pro rebus accepisse“ (Ethics, I, app.).

“Since it only takes in effects, consciousness will satisfy its ignorance by reversing the order of things, by taking effects for causes” (SPP, 20).


“Cum itaque aliquid in natura fieri vident, quod cum concepto exemplari, quod rei ejusmodi habent, minus convenit, ipsam naturam tum defecisse vel peccavisse remque illam imperfectam reliquisse credunt“ (IV, prae.).


“Qui rem aliquam facere constituit eamque perfecit, rem suam perfectam esse non tantum ipse, sed etiam unusquisque, qui mentem auctoris illius operis et scopum recte noverit aut se novisse crediderit, dicet.“ (IV, prae.).


“Verum si quis opus aliquod videt, cujus simile nunquam viderat, nec mentem opificis novit, is sane scire non poterit, opusne illud perfectum an imperfectum sit.“ (IV, prae.).


“Ut jam autem ostendam naturam finem nullum sibi praefixum habere et omnes causas finales nihil nisi humana esse figmenta, non opus est multis“ (I, app.).


“Causa autem, quae finalis dicitur, nihil est praeter ipsum humanum appetitum, quatenus is alicujus rei veluti principium seu causa primaria consideratur“ (IV, prae.).


“sed quod ejus agendi potentiam, quatenus haec per ipsius naturam intelligitur, augeri vel minui concipimus“ (IV, prae.).


Think here of Descartes and the automata. Only the conscious beings, i.e. humans, are active, while all animals are passively following their “nature.”


“The fact is that consciousness is by nature the locus of an illusion. Its nature is such that it registers effects, but it knows nothing of causes. The order of causes is defined by this: each body in extension [étendue, extensio], each idea or each mind in thought [pensée, cogitatio] are constituted by the characteristic relations that subsume the parts of that body, the parts of that idea. When a body “encounters” another body, or an idea another idea, it happens that the two relations sometimes combine to form a more powerful whole, and sometimes one decomposes the other, destroying the cohesion of its parts. And this is what is prodigious in the body and the mind alike, these sets of living parts that enter into composition with and decompose one another according to complex laws. The order of causes is therefore an order of composition and decomposition of relations, which infinitely affects all of nature. But as conscious beings, we never apprehend anything but the effects of these compositions and decompositions: we experience joy when a body encounters ours and enters into composition with it, and sadness when, on the contrary, a body or an idea threaten our own coherence. We are in a condition such that we only take in “what happens” to our body, “what happens” to our mind, that is, the effect of a body on our body, the effect of an idea on our idea” (SPP, 19).


“Res quaecunque potest esse per accidens causa laetitiae, tristitiae vel cupiditatis.”


And for Spinoza, our essences are our abilities to act: “The essences are neither logical possibilities nor geometric structures; they are parts of power, that is, degrees of physical intensity. They have no parts but are themselves parts, parts of power, like intensive quantities that are composed of smaller quantities” (SPP, 65).


A point that Kierkegaard makes as well in his Upbuilding Discourses, cf. one of my previous essays.


Spinoza shows in V, prae. how Descartes had to resort to the idea of God to explain his mind-body dualism.


“In the civil state, the composition of men or the formation of the whole is realized according to an extrinsic order, determined by passive feelings of hope and fear” (SPP, 107).


The genealogy and thought as demystification and as a negation of all fictions is what Deleuze also finds in Nietzsche. We can thereby also better understand the mechanism of fiction: The effects of fiction are always real (for example the subjugation of women by the fiction of the superiority of men), while their causes are ‘fictional’ (originating from a separated, autonomous, transcendent sphere). This contrasts with our common understanding of fiction, where it’s the effects are ‘fictional’ (“It’s just a movie…”), wile the causes are real, but nevertheless transcendent (‘revelation’ in the case of religion, the talent or ‘genius’ of the author in the case of art, together with its ‘realism’). It is in that sense that fiction always conjures a dualism.


“A recent commentator is able to say that the true originality of the Treatise is in its considering religion as an effect. Not only in the causal sense but also in an optical sense, an effect whose process of production will be sought by connecting it to its necessary rational causes as they affect men who do not understand them” (SPP, 10).


“Affectus igitur eo magis in nostra potestate est, et mens ab eo minus patitur, quo nobis est notior.“


“Quandoquidem nihil datur, ex quo aliquis effectus non sequatur, et quicquid ex idea, quae in nobis est adaequata, sequitur, id omne clare et distincte intelligimus, hinc sequitur unumquemque potestatem habere se suosque affectus, si non absolute, ex parte saltem clare et distincte intelligendi et consequenter efficiendi, ut ab iisdem minus patiatur.“


“Praeter laetitiam et cupiditatem, quae passiones sunt, alii aletitiae et cupiditatis affectus datur, qui ad nos, quatenus agimus, referuntur.“


“Cum mens se ipsam suamque agendi potentiam concipit, laetatur; mens autem se ipsam necessario contemplatur, quando veram sive adaequatam ideam concipit.“


“Qui veram habet ideam, simul scit se veram habere ideam nec de rei veritate potest dubitare.“


Joy remains a passion as long as we haven’t reached the point where we gain adequate insight into its causes: “nec [laetitia] passio est, nisi quatenus hominis agenda potential no eo usque augetur, ut se suasque actiones adaequate concipiat” (IV, 59, dem.).


“Quicquid ex ratione conamur, nihil aliud est quam intelligere ; nec mens, quatenus ratione utitur, aliud sibi utile esse judicat nisi id, quod ad intelligendum conducit.“


“Nam cum dicimus in mente humana ideam sequi ex ideis, quae in ipsa sunt adequatae, nihil aliud dicimus, quam quod in ipso divino intellectu detur idea, cujus Deus est causa, non quatenus infinitus est nec quatenus plurimarum rerum singularium ideis affectus est, sed quatenus tantum humanae mentis essentiam constituit.“


“Id, quod corpori humano et quibusdam corporibus externis, a quibus corpus humanum affici solet, commune est et proprium, quodque in cujuscunque horum parte aeque ac in toto est, ejus etiam idea erit in mente adaequata.“


A concept that is central for Deleuze.


“Corpora ratione motus et quietis, celeritatis et tarditatis, et non ratione substantiae ab invicem distinguuntur.“


I won’t develop Spinoza’s whole theology (i.e. Book I of Ethics) here. Suffice it to say that of course Spinoza doesn’t reintroduce a ‘personal’ God (created in the image of Man), i.e. a transcendent instance here. God, as the singular substance of the universe, is rather Immanence itself. Hence the accusations of Spinoza being an atheist etc.


“Ignarus enim, praeterquam quod a causis externis multis modis agitatur nec unquam vera animi acquiescentia potitur, vivit praeterea sui et Dei et rerum quasi inscius, et simulac pati desinit, simul etiam esse desinit.“


“De natura rationis est res sub quadam aeternitatis specie percipere.“


“mens nostra, quatenus intelligit, aeternus cogitandi modus sit, qui alio aeterno cogitandi modo determinatur, et hic iterum ab alio, et sic in infinitum; ita ut omnes simul Dei aternum et infinitum intellectum constituant.“


Strictly speaking, the body cannot be autonomous, because it will always depend on exterior things. But only with a body with a high ability to act and to perceive is the mind capable of forming common notions. Nevertheless, this should not be mistaken for a natural intelligence that some have and others don’t. Reason is something that is strictly common to all of us and Spinoza’s parallelism does not collapse the mind to the body.


Homo liber de nulla re minus quam de morte cogitat, et ejus sapientia non portis, sed vitae meditation est.“


“Ethology is first of all the study of the relations of speed and slowness, of the capacities for affecting and being affected that characterize each thing“ (SPP, 125).


For that point cf. also Walter Benjamin’s The Author as Producer.


“the more the problem of Oedipus and incest comes to occupy center stage, the more psychic repression and its correlates, suppression and sublimation, will be founded on supposedly transcendent requirements of civilization, at the same time that the psychoanalyst plunges deeper into a familialist and ideological vision” (AO, 117)


“Why, at the same time as it discovers the subjective essence of desire and labor — a common essence, inasmuch as it is the activity of production in general — is capitalism continually realienating this essence, and without interruption, in a repressive machine that divides the essence in two, and maintains it divided [sépare] — abstract labor on the one hand, abstract desire on the other […]?” (AO, 302f.).


“The generalized slavery of the despotic State at least implied the existence of masters, and an apparatus of antiproduction distinct from the sphere of production. But the bourgeois field of immanence — as delimited by the conjunction of the decoded flows, the negation of any transcendence or exterior limit, and the effusion of antiproduction inside production itself — institutes an unrivaled slavery, an unprecedented subjugation: there are no longer even any masters, but only slaves commanding other slaves; there is no longer any need to burden the animal from the outside, it shoulders its own burden” (AO, 254).


“what is this death that always rises from within, but that must arrive from without — and that, in the case of capitalism, rises with all the more power as one still fails to see exactly what this outside is that will cause it to arrive?” (AO, 262).


Nietzsche’s donkey is the avatar of the simplified affirmation, he who says I-A (“ja” means yes in German) without saying no: “The shrewd word is yes, but it is preceded and followed by an echo which is no. The donkey’s yes is a false yes: a yes which is not able to say no, without echo in the donkey’s ears, affirmation separated from the two negations which should surround it” (NP, 178). We see again, how closely Deleuze reads Spinoza and Nietzsche, and the way he situates himself within the philosophical tradition: an inherently critical, practical philosophy.


February 2021


Parachute Woman: Simone Weil's Front-Line Nurses Proposal

by Ronald K.L. Collins

The Phenomenological Panopticon and the Historical a Priori: Towards a Genealogy of the Transcendental Subject

by Giorgi Vachnadze

Truth, Belief and Illusion in Nietzsche’s "Thus Spoke Zarathustra"

by Declan Lloyd

Spinoza and "Anti-Oedipus." On Desiring One's Own Suppression

by Timofei Gerber

Leibniz's "The Monadology"