# SPINOZA /// Episode 5: The Spinozist "Scream": What can a Body do?


The ‘Spinoza Week” continues with its Deleuzian terminology to address the philosophy of Spinoza. The “scream” evoked in the title refers indeed to the concept of philosophical scream that Deleuze invents to define a phrase written or pronounced by a philosopher that contains the essence of his life work. The scream has to be understood in two senses here (at least, that is the way I interpret it): the absolute, almost physical, necessity for a philosopher to “scream” this phrase, and the trouble caused within the normative way of thinking by this same phrase. In the case of Spinoza, according to Deleuze, this scream is expressed in the Proposition II of the Part III of the Ethics:

However, no one has hitherto laid down the limits to the powers of the body, that is, no one has as yet been taught by experience what the body can accomplish solely by the laws of nature, in so far as she is regarded as extension. No one hitherto has gained such an accurate knowledge of the bodily mechanism, that he can explain all its functions; nor need I call attention to the fact that many actions are observed in the lower animals, which far transcend human sagacity, and that somnambulists do many things in their sleep, which they would not venture to do when awake: these instances are enough to show, that the body can by the sole laws of its nature do many things which the mind wonders at.
Again, no one knows how or by what means the mind moves the body, nor how many various degrees of motion it can impart to the body, nor how quickly it can move it.

According to Deleuze again, the approach of the body (and therefore of individuals) for what it can do rather than what it is, is the main difference between an ethical philosophy and a moralist one. One has to understand that Spinoza does not consider an individual as the scheme for which a soul would be hosted by a body, as I explained in the last article, each body is an assemblage of substance, and the chemistry that make us think should be considered as a very similar process than the one that makes us run, dance or…walk on a tight rope. Just like we need to forget the idea of the soul being hosted within the vessel body, we need to stop thinking of the body as a set of organs contained within an epidermic enclosure that prevents them from “escaping”. We are an assemblage of substance, of matter that the bios (life) is holding together for a while. This matter, just like any other in the world is subjected to movements of speed and slowness. The way we compose these internal movements with the ones that surround us precisely defines our relation to the world. A cross reading of Deleuze’s classes allows a better understanding of this way of thinking, himself being a Spinozist even when he is not talking about him! In his seminar about Cinema: The Movement Image in 1981, he talks about the movement of matter in the philosophy of Henri Bergson. (My translation. Original French transcript at the end of the article):

What is moving ? Matte ris moving. What does that mean, to move then ? It means to pass from one form to another. Form does not get transform, it is matter that goes from one form to another. That is a continuous idea in Plato’s work: it is not the small that becomes big, that is not the cold that becomes hot. But when water gets hotter, a fluid matter, water goes from one form to another, from the cold form to the hot form, it is not the cold that becomes hot.

Forms themselves are immobile or they have movements in thoughts, but the finite movement consists in a matter that passes from one form to another. A horse gallops, you have two forms: […] the horse’s form at the maximum of its muscular contraction and the one at the maxim of its muscular development. You will then say that gallop is the operation for which the “horse-matter” (“matière cheval”), the horse’s body in its mobility does not cease to go from form A to form B and from form B to form A.

What Spinoza means by expressing our ignorance about what a body can do is, of course, not an absolute. We know some of the things that a body can do based on the second degree of knowledge that we all experience on a daily basis (we would not be able to move at all otherwise), we might even have a small glimpse at what the third degree of knowledge might be (read the last article for more explanations about the degrees of knowledge); however we can never achieve a perfect understanding of the world according to this same third degree of knowledge and will therefore never fully know what a body can do. Our ability to gain control and decisiveness over the movement of the matter assemblage (again that concerns what we simply call “the intellect” just as well) that we are constitute the only way to acquire a broader knowledge about the capacities of the body and thus, increasing our power (potentia) and therefore our joy.

I have now placed my conceptual tools in front of me for the two last articles (I suppose that the first episode of the week was also a form of Spinozist application) in which will try to use them to elaborate a sort of “applied Spinozism” that might help us a creators to express a materialist and immanent vision of the world.

Appendix: Original French transcript of Gilles Deleuze’s class at the Universite de Vincennes (November 10th 1981):

Bon qu’est ce qui se meut ? qu’est ce qui est en mouvement ? c’est la matière, ce qui se meut c’est la matière. Qu’est que cela veut dire se mouvoir alors ? c’est passer d’une forme à une autre. Ce n’est pas la forme qui se transforme c’est la matière qui passe d’une forme à une autre. C’est une idée constante ça chez Platon, ce n’est pas le petit qui devient grand, ce n’est pas le froid qui devient chaud. Mais quand l’eau s’échauffe, une matière fluide l’eau, passe d’une forme à une autre, de la forme du froid à la forme du chaud, ce n’est pas le froid qui devient chaud.

Les formes en elles même, elles sont immobiles ou bien elles ont des mouvements de pure pensée, mais le mouvement fini c’est celui d’une matière qui passe d’une forme à une autre. Un cheval galope, c’est qu’en effet vous avez deux formes : vous pouvez distinguer une forme d’un cheval et le dessinateur l’autre, la forme du cheval au maximum de sa contraction et la forme du cheval de sa contraction musculaire – et la forme du cheval au maximum de son développement musculaire. Et vous direz que le galop c’est l’opération par laquelle la “matière cheval”, le corps du cheval avec sa mobilité ne cesse de passe de la forme A à la forme B et de la forme B à la forme A .