Negri, Spinoza

David McInerney davidmci at
Fri Feb 16 01:08:57 MST 1996

Thursday, 15 Feb 1996, Jukka Laari wrote:

>> Just as the State/Civil Society couplet must be abandoned,
>> so must the opposition between the material and the ideal
>Hmm? why then:
>> ground Guattari and Negri share -- Spinozism. Spinozism is
>Spinoza if anyone was great theoretician of material vs. ideal opposition
>or distinction!

I suggested that they share a certain "Spinozism" -- a particular
understanding of Spinoza if you will.  The understanding of Spinoza as a
materialist -- "God, i.e., Nature" etc.  Others I have met have suggested
that Spinoza is "really" a dualist of sorts, i.e, that he maintains the
notion of a material/ideal distinction within reality, and that this is the
only way in which Spinoza appears consistent.  The first "school" -- if I
may use this shorthand for a moment -- would reject this interpretive or
hermeneutical reading of Spinoza altogether as foreign to Spinoza's
project, arguing that Spinoza *intervenes* in the materiality of the text
in all its contradictions.  I am not a Spinoza scholar (although I am
familiar with Spinozisms).  I suggest looking at Warren Montag's work --
esp. the paper in _The Althusserian Legacy_ (Verso, 1993) --
if you want to know more.

>Would you tell why you think that opposition between the material and the
>ideal should be abandoned?
>And pardon my conservative side

OK, Jukka, I pardon your conservative side!  The ideal/material opposition
should be abandoned in favour of materialism.  I have said this to you
before.  Philosophy is a struggle between materialism and idealism  -- the
distinction between materialism and idealsim is basic to philosophy and
cannot be abandoned.  The ideal/material opposition, on the other hand, is
idealist, and for Marxists, must be abandoned.  I think it should be
abandoned so that we can start to think of consciousness, the unconscious,
etc in a materialist manner (in relation to the body, etc) rather than
persist with this opposition which leads into all sorts of mechanistic
explanations of the relations between ideology and class, etc.

Again, I would suggest looking at Warren's work, as well as that of
Macherey, Balibar, and Althusser on ideology and Spinoza.  On the matter of
ideology, Althusser say that to be a Marxist or a Spinozist "is to be
exactly the same thing".  On Spinoza's interventionist reading of the Old
Testament, Althusser says:

"What also fascinated me about Spinoza was his philosophical strategy ...
For Spinoza began with God!  He began with God and finally (I believe, in
accordance with the tradition of his worst enemies) he was (like Da Costa
and so many other Portuguese Jews of his time) an atheist.  A supreme
strategist, he began by laying siege to the enemy's most vital and most
heavily fortified point or rather placed himself there as if he were his
own enemy, taking over the enemy's theoretical fortress and turning it
against that enemy, as if one were to turn the cannons of a fortress
against its occupants."

Warren Montag suggests that here Althusser refers to Spinoza's

"strategy of remaining inside the dominant conceptual regime, while
carrying out an operation of theoretical transformation and translation:
God or nature, right or power, preserving words while changing their
meanings and then returning these words against this regime.  Althusser has
preserved the language of interiority, the words "belief", "consciousness",
in the very same sense that Spinoza preserved the concept of God, in oreder
more effectively to subvert it."
(both quotes are from Warren's paper, 'The Soul is the Prison of the Body',
in _Yale French Studies_, No. 88)

That said, I must state here that my reason for intervening in this
discussion was to suggest that perhaps the quote Louis provides could be
read in other ways.  I have not (yet) read the Guattari-Negri book.  To
look at something you said in reply to Louis in another post on the same
passage, I might suggest that the concerns you raise are valid but I remain
puzzled as to why you see the need to assert them in a na idealist fashion.

Thursday, 15 Feb 1996 you wrote:

>Ok, Louis
>in a sense I understood your point. On the other hand I'm wondering a
>bit. Perhaps because my starting point is somewhat different. (I don't
>know Guattari-Negri stuff so that all is new to me.)
>"But it remains to be demonstrated that the innovations of the '60s
>should above all be understood within the universe of consciousnesses,
>of desires, and of modes of behaviour."
>I'm afraid I don't understand all this. However there is something
>common to both several 'post-structuralist' writings and recent social
>research: it isn't enough to chase socio-economic causes to several new
>phenomena (including those mentioned by G-N). The other dimension should
>be considered too - shall we call it 'ideal' or something like that?
>That's because what people think, imagine, want, lust etc. counts too. It
>has to be included in the whole picture. Otherwise our view remains kind
>of 'mechanistic' or one-sided.

Why does the fact that "what people think, imagine, want, lust etc. counts
too" involve bringing "the ideal" into the "whole picture"?  I think these
things can be understood in a materialist -- and non-mechanistic -- manner.
Introducing the seperate realm of "the ideal" reduces "the material" to
something like "material interests" and then trying to posit a relation of
externality and claims for some sort of causal primacy for either that or
"ideas".  Why not say that ideas are material in that they are only present
in practices?  These can be all sorts of practices.  Including those which
restrict our behaviours (prohibitions on certain behaviours -- i.e. what we
don't do) and also unconscious processes which are present in behaviour.
To introduce "the ideal" is to introduce mechanistic explanations, not to
avoid them.  I really think that your concerns can be thought through in a
materialist way.  This would of course change the conclusions you would
draw from these observations.

It seems that we have had this argument before though!


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