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Spinoza and Contemporary Culture

Class at Faculty of Arts |



We shall examine and explore new lines of approach to a major figure in European culture from the last three hundred and fifty years (which is to say since the birth of the modern age), Benedictus de Spinoza (1632-77), who today is enjoying a renaissance of interest in his writings both in and outside of departments of philosophy and literature: for example one of the finer texts on Spinoza in recent years is authored by Warren Montag, a professor of English at Occidental College in Los Angeles. An emphasis will be placed on how Spinoza speaks to our contemporary situation, and to how his conceptual discoveries and doctrines constitute a horizon to which we are still demarcated. Leading twentieth and twenty-first century commentators on Spinoza including Etienne Balibar, Gilles Deleuze and Karl Jaspers will be used. The course is conducted in English.

?Spinoza?s philosophy introduced an unprecedented theoretical revolution in the history of philosophy, probably the greatest philosophical revolution of all time . . . However this radical revolution was the object of a massive historical repression . . .?

--Louis Althusser, Reading Capital

?No philosopher was ever more worthy, but neither was any philosopher more maligned and hated.?

--Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

?Writers, poets, musicians, filmmakers--painters too, even chance readers--may find that they are Spinozists; indeed, such a thing is more likely for them than for professional philosophers . . . He is a philosopher who commands an extraordinary conceptual apparatus, one that is highly developed, systemic, and scholarly; and yet he is the quintessential object of an immediate, unprepared encounter, such that a nonphilosopher, or even someone without any formal education, can receive a sudden illumination from him, a ?flash.??

--Gilles Deleuze, Spinoza: Practical Philosophy

?Nowhere has thought raised so vast a claim, nowhere has philosophical thought attained such heights of happiness.?

--Karl Jaspers, Spinoza


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

Balibar, Etienne: Spinoza and Politics (1985, trans. Verso, 1998).

Deleuze, Gilles: Expressionism in Philosophy: Spinoza (1968, trans. Zone, 1990).

?Spinoza and the three ?Ethics? pp. 138-51 from Essays Critical and Clinical (1993, trans. Minnesota 1997).

Spinoza: Practical Philosophy (1970, trans. City Lights, 1988).

Jaspers, Karl: Spinoza (1957, trans. Harvest, 1966).

Montag, Warren: Bodies, Masses, Power: Spinoza and his Contemporaries (Verso, 1999).

Spinoza, Benedictus de: The Ethics (1677, trans. 2002) in Spinoza: Complete Works, ed. and trans Samuel Shirley, intro. Michael L. Morgan

(Hackett, 2002).

Letters to Friend and Foe (trans. Philosophical, 1966).


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.)