Benedict Spinoza is feted as the philosopher par excellence of the popular democratic multitude by Antonio Negri and others. But Spinoza himself expresses a marked ambivalence about the multitude in brief asides, and as for his thoughts on what he calls “the rule of multitude,” that is, democracy, these exist only as meager fragments in his unfinished Tractatus Politicus or Political Treatise. This essay addresses the problem of Spinoza’s multitude. First, I reconstruct a vision of power that is found in (...) the Ethics but that tends to be overlooked in the scholarly literature: power is not just sheer efficacy or imposition of will, but rather involves a capacity for being-affected; I call this the conception of power as sensitivity. The second part of my argument shows how, given Spinoza’s emphatic political naturalism, the conception of power as sensitivity can be extended to his political philosophy to shed light on what Spinoza calls potentia multitudinis, or “the power of the multitude”—a term found solely in the Political Treatise and nowhere else in his oeuvre. This juxtaposition reveals significant qualifications to the liberatory potential of the multitude currently claimed in the scholarly literature. (shrink)
It has often been said that the Zhuangzi 莊子 advocates political abstention, and that its putative skepticism prevents it from contributing in any meaningful way to political thinking: at best the Zhuangzi espouses a sort of anarchism, at worst it is “the night in which all cows are black,” a stance that one scholar has charged is ultimately immoral. This article tracks possible political allusions within the text, and, by reading these against details of social, political, and historical context, sheds (...) light on another strand of the Zhuangzi—one that questions prevailing normative values because it is fiercely critical of scholarly complicity with violent imperial territorial consolidation. (shrink)
The recent ‘material turn’ focuses on materiality in two distinctive ways: one, by including nonhuman agencies, another, by mining indigenous knowledges for alternative conceptions of agency and human–thing relations. A troubling gap persists between the two endeavours. The gap insinuates an us–them dichotomy and, more importantly, curtails communication between radically different visions of thingly agency – thereby impeding the political drive of these conceptual enterprises. This article is an essay in cross-cultural transposition. Through a close reading of a story of (...) a useless tree in an ancient proto-Daoist text, Zhuangzi, the author shows how its fabulist and oneiric form illuminates a distinctive perspective on uselessness. Conversely, the trope of uselessness lets us begin from what she calls a ‘situated affectivity’ amidst more-than-human materialities. The article concludes with a brief comparison of three modalities of uselessness from different ‘cosmologies’ of thought – a foretaste of the potentials of cross-cosmological endeavours. (shrink)
With the rise of naturalism in the art of the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance there developed an extensive and diverse literature about art which helped to explain, justify and shape its new aims. In this book, David Summers provides an investigation of the philosophical and psychological notions invoked in this new theory and criticism. From a thorough examination of the sources, he shows how the medieval language of mental discourse derived from an understanding of classical thought.