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Leibniz and Contemporary Culture

Class at Faculty of Arts |



We shall use the operative concept of the Baroque to find new points of approach to probably the most neglected of the major figures in European philosophical culture from the past twenty-five centuries: Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716). In so doing, this interdisciplinary seminar seeks to elucidate some of the contours of a Baroque or of a neobaroque aesthetic and world-picture that would speak to our contemporaneity by showing how we are not only still terraced and demarcated by discoveries of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth-centuries, but also that this epoch produced concepts with unlimited developments. Outstanding work on Leibniz by such key figures as Gilles Deleuze (1925-95) and Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) will also be used. The course is conducted in English.

?for us the name of Leibniz does not stand as a tag for a bygone system of philosophy. The name names the presence of a thinking whose strength has not yet been experienced, a presence that still awaits to encounter us. Only through looking back on what Leibniz thought can we characterize the present age??

--Martin Heidegger, The Principle of Reason

?It cannot be said that Leibniz does not go as far as Hegel: there is even a greater depth in his case, more orgiastic or bacchanalian delirium, in the sense that the ground plays a greater role [ . . . ] The point is that in the last resort infinite representation does not free itself from the principle of identity as a presupposition of representation. That is why it remains subject to the condition of the convergence of series in the case of Leibniz and to the condition of the monocentring of circles in the case of Hegel. Infinite representation invokes a foundation.?

--Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

"[ . . . ] Leibniz goes further or deeper than Hegel when he distributes the distinctive points and the differential elements of a multiplicity throughout the ground, and when he discovers a play in the creation of the world."

--Gilles Deleuze, Difference and Repetition

?Ontologically and logically, Deleuze locates the philosophical basis for modern literature in Leibniz. Leibniz conceives of the world as a ?pure emission of singularities,? and individuals (monads) are constituted by the convergence and actualization of a certain number of these singularities, which become its ?primary predicates.? Here, for instance, are four singularities of a life: ?to be the first man,? ?to live in a garden of paradise,? ?to have a woman emerge from one?s rib,? ?to sin.? These singularities cannot yet be defined as predicates, but constitute what Deleuze calls pure ?events.??

--Daniel W. Smith, introduction to Essays: Critical and Clinical

?We are all still Leibnizian, although accords no longer convey our world or our text. We are discovering new ways of folding, akin to new envelopments, but we all remain Leibnizian because what always matters is folding, unfolding, refolding.?

--Gilles Deleuze, The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque


Extracts from the following texts will be available in a course reader, or available as single texts on reserve, at the English department library:

Ariew, Roger: ?G.W. Leibniz, life and works? pp. 18-42 from The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz (Cambridge, 1995).

Deleuze, Gilles: The Fold: Leibniz and the Baroque (1988, trans. Minnesota, 1993).

Jolley, Nicholas: ?Introduction? pp. 1-17 from The Cambridge Companion to Leibniz.

Leibniz, G.W.: De Summa Rerum: Metaphysical Papers, 1675-1676 (1675-76, trans.

Yale 1992 with parallel English and Latin texts).

The Labyrinth of the Continuum: Writings on the Continuum Problem, 1672-1686 (1672-86, trans. Yale 2001 with parallel English translation and original Latin texts).

Monadology: An Edition for Students (trans. 1991, Pittsburgh, 1991).

New Essays on Human Understanding (1765, trans. Cambridge, 1996).

Theodicy (1710, Wipf and Stock, 2001, original translation from 1875-90).

Writings on China (trans. Open Court, 1994).

Mercer, Christia: Leibniz?s Metaphysics: Its Origins and Development (Cambridge, 2001).

Russell, Bertrand: The Philosophy of Leibniz (George Allen, 1937).

Additional matter in the original Latin available for consultation upon request from the teacher?s private collection:

Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. Tentamina Theodicaeae de bonitate Dei, libertate hominis et origine mali. Versionis novae, edition altera. Vita auctoris a Bruckero descripta, Kortholti Disput. De Philosophia Leibnitii &c. et variis Observantionibus aucta. Cum praefatione Aug. Frid. Boeckii. Tübingen, Berger, 1771. Tomus I/II.


To receive credit for the seminar students will be required to have no more than three absences and to submit a final composition of 1500-2000 words on a topic of their creative choice that may also be graded as písemná práce. (Specialization students will be required to submit a longer final essay of 2500-3000 words that may also be marked as písemná práce; intercultural studies students must submit an essay of 2500 words for zap. or two essays of 2500 words each for p.p.)