the other baruch.

I know I said I wouldn't write about music anymore here, but where else am I going to write this?

I'm continuing to stress about an event that may or may not be happening, that's not too too smart of me, is it. But my contribution to this event would be quite a bit more conceptual in nature than what I've been up to lately, and via some routine pre-flight equipment checks I've discovered that my conceptual engine has been left unattended for too long: creatively, I'm feeling woefully underpowered. The fact that some of the other contributors are prodigiously creative is not helping.

Plus this thing includes a collaboration with an as-yet-unknown choreographer, which I've also never done before. And know nothing about. You can see that there are many free hangers dangling in my closet of possible obsessions here, can you not? And, the subject under discussion is all over the news here at the moment because it was his birthday this weekend (well, you know..."birthday"), a new statue of him has just been unveiled, etc. So I can't escape.

Nor should I, b/c I've got to get cracking. So this is an open call for ideas. You'll get credit, I promise. All you have to do is figure out a way to base both a sound and dance piece on 17th century Rationalist philosopher Baruch Spinoza. That's what these comments sections are for, right?

The photo above is a detail of Spinoza's lens-grinding studio in Rijnsburg (taken from Theun de Vries’ book on Spinoza [1972]). I got it from here, which is a good place to go when I want to feel Extra Stupid.



kvond said...


In terms of wide-frame:

I think that the piece should be modeled on the only time that we know that Spinoza definitely lost his temper (something his entire philosophy is against), the mob's lynching of his friends the de Witts. The tension of him strained behind the locked door, his fury against the crowd, and his own attempted self-control would be quite rich.

As one describes,

"Johan and Cornelius de Witt were the political leaders who oversaw the great Golden Age of the Holland of Rembrandt, of Vermeer, of the great scientific and commercial achievements of the Dutch Republic. They were lynched by a mob in The Hague in 1672, and literally torn to bits. Spinoza, who realised his and his friends’ freedom to privately philosophise was due to the climate of tolerance they had created, was known to be a preternaturally calm person; the occasion of the murders was the only time we know of when he got really, really angry. Gottfried Wilhelm (von) Leibniz, the soon to be famous German philosopher came to visit, 4 years after the murders. He wrote:

I have spent several hours with Spinoza, after dinner. He said to me that, on the day of the massacres of the De Witts, he wanted to go out at night and post a placard near the site of the massacres reading ultimi barbarorum. But his host locked the house to keep him from going out, for he would be exposed to being torn to pieces.

Ultimi barbarorum is difficult to translate; English lacks a proper vocative case. We can best think of it as “O ultimate barbarians,” or “you are the greatest of barbarians”."


one, if one wanted to capture something far more serene, perhaps Borges' poem on Spinoza would be an inspiration:


Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)

Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.

No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.

Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas.


The translucent hands of the Jew
Work in the penumbra, crystals
& the evening, dying, is dread & chill.
(Evenings to evenings are equal.)

The hands & space of hyacinth
Waning in the confines of the Ghetto
Almost do not exist for the man so quiet
Who is dreaming a clear labyrinth.

He’s not perturbed by fame, that reflection
Of dreams in the dream of another mirror,
Nor by the timorous love of maidens.

Free from metaphor & myth
He works a hard crystal: the Infinite
Map of That which totals His stars.

MEM said...

Ah, what a surprise....

First of all, many thanks for the amazing resource which is frames /sing...

I'd already singled out the Borges poem as a possible...repetitious, semi-obsessive, small-scale movements translate easily into the music I'm making, but my quick conclusion is that it's a bit slight...I'm not sure there's enough potential for development to sustain 60 minutes of dance. But I'm not a choreographer.

The lynching of the de Witts is a smart suggestion, maybe a bit more dramaturgical than I'm comfortable with, but then...I'm not really comfortable with any of it.

Anyway, thanks for your input, really...hopefully I'll have more to contribute as I start getting deeper into my research...

kvond said...

MEM: "The lynching of the de Witts is a smart suggestion, maybe a bit more dramaturgical than I'm comfortable with, but then...I'm not really comfortable with any of it."

kvond; Of course I'm working blind, trying to envision musically something I have never heard (your style), but the de Witt occassion can certainly be handled with your vision of "...repetitious, semi-obsessive, small-scale movements". It need only be Spinoza behind his door (grinding lenses, writing propositions), but "harkened" to the disturbance. There need not be any actual reference to the violent events themselves, or even his "ultimi barbarorum". The tension of the outside turmoil, if only faintly heard, would make perhaps a counter point to the serene isolation Borges imagines...but alas, just a thought.

Another thought would be Leibniz's visit to Spinoza's room, which I believe Goldstein dramatizes in her "Betraying Spinoza". I threw the book out before I got that passage, but it could be fecund.

If you are going to make 60 minutes of repetitious, small movements, then perhaps a very slight variation could be the difference between day and night. The circular repetitions of lens-grinding in the day, the crouched proposition writing at night. If one put these in the context of Spinoza's death, his tuburcolosis, maybe something interesting.

Another idea might be a kind of dance performance which is structured on the Ethics. The Five Parts could be interpreted (liberally), as five parts of Dance (I remember Deleuze saying that something that is overlooked in Spinoza is tempo, and how FAST the fifth part, the passing into intutitive knowledge is). I'm not sure how much conceptual-expressional work you want to do, but it certainly would make an interesting performance if you moved from God, to Mind, Affects, Bondage, Intuition. If there were two dancers, lens-grinding could be done as a repetious sub-part, while the Ethics was performed as an evolution of a kind, by another.

Anyways, some thoughts. And thank you for the good words as to the weblog.

MEM said...

kvond: Thanks for following up...

The "repetitive, semi-obsessive, small-scale" approach I mentioned is not really something I already do, I was in fact referring to Spinoza's grinding and polishing, as well as Borges' extension of that polishing into the philosophy-as-diamond metaphor. And this obsessive refinement and reworking seemed like the most obvious musical entry point to start looking at.

And so yes, this "audio polishing", let's call it, could easily be part of the de Witt angle as well, or any angle I guess.

I've been thinking about the Leibniz story for some weeks now, I've been reading Matthew Stewart's book...and I think I've decided to leave it alone, maybe because I prefer the idea that we don't really know what happened when they were together.

Just yesterday I skimmed the Goldstein book and was turned off by her writing, decided I'd never make it through.

I also skimmed Ethics for the first time yesterday, and yes, I may just start there. Something that I do do musically is work in discrete but connected 90-second blocks that could be seen as a succession of interrelated problems to be solved.

I was initially avoiding this because a good friend of mine wrote a piece a few years ago based on Ethics...but maybe it just makes sense.

I'm still thinking. Thanks again for your valuable input, it helps.

kvond said...

MEM: "I also skimmed Ethics for the first time yesterday, and yes, I may just start there. Something that I do do musically is work in discrete but connected 90-second blocks that could be seen as a succession of interrelated problems to be solved."

kvond: Well, this gives us 45 blocks with which to build a 60 minute piece. I have been thinking of writing a novel which takes certain problematic, interesting propositions from the Ethics, and using them as emblems for sections. I can see something of the same process for a musical piece. The structure of the Ethics, (look at its cross-references, from one proposition proof to another proposition, they actually strikes me as quite musical, leading to variations and return).

I have no idea what your creative/conceptual music process is, but perhaps Spinoza's "Proposition" "Proof" "Scholium" "Corollary" structures could provide scaffolding. Interesting propositions to approach would be E2p13, E1p18, E2p7,
EIIIp35 E5p19, just to suggest few.

Anyways, not sure that any of these are productive for you, but you asked for ideas.

Its amazing how disappointing that Goldstein book is...I go through periods when I read everything on spinoza I can get my hands on...but perhaps it opens up Spinoza to some minds that would never find him interesting. I don't know which kind of persons that cross-sectoin would be, but at least she told HER Spinoza.