dialogues at greenwich: Colloquium - Mick Bowles on 'Understanding: Spinoza, Kant, Deleuze'

dialogues at greenwich

discussion and reports from the Volcanic Lines research group at Greenwich University

8 July 2007

Colloquium - Mick Bowles on 'Understanding: Spinoza, Kant, Deleuze'

7th June Colloquium - Mick Bowles (Greenwich) 'Understanding: Spinoza, Kant, Deleuze'

On the 7th June 2007 Volcanic Lines: Deleuzian Research Group met for a colloquium delivered by Dr Mick Bowles of the philosophy department here at Greenwich. We are very grateful to Dr Bowles for giving this vital and highly productive paper. The status and value of the understanding must concern us given that it has been maligned by philosophies of difference, including by Deleuze's own critique of the 'image of thought' in Difference and Repetition. The paper raised such questions and revealed to us their very great importance. How do we account for Kant's veneration for the understanding? Mick drew us into the question 'what is unity?' The transcendental logic shows Kant's reverence for the understanding and we were made to see the importance of appreciating this. Spinoza's love for the understanding was introduced in relation to his conception of the will. For Spinoza affirmation is the logic of the understanding.

Mick developed Spinoza's investment in the understanding. He wants to get to 'complete understanding' as soon as possible. Kant does not conjoin reason and understanding, thus in contrast to Spinoza it is not connected to its own genesis. It was emphasised that understanding for Kant 'pulses with activity', even if its origin is not explored. Spinoza's thought was related to Quine's work where the system comes before the part, the whole is 'a space that is already there'. The role of incompleteness was also developed, involving the swarming of possibilities. Thus for Spinoza, Mick argued, we need to engage with the productive understanding. There is a then a 'swarming of the virtual' but for Spinoza the understanding ensures that 'there is no going back.' Death is for Spinoza 'not knowing what to do' and thinking never seeks this, it is rather sustained by conatus or striving. Avoiding death makes understanding productive and energetic.
Deleuze's reading of Spinoza was engaged with, bringing us to the 'third kind of knowledge'. This is manifested in the point of ‘collapse and flow' which is called, amongst other things, the 'object=x.' At this point 'the force of production swarms.' Concepts are constructed because thought is animated by this point. The limits of the relations between Spinoza and Deleuze were also developed. Understanding is for Spinoza different from the intensity of relations, in contrast to what happens in Deleuze’s reading of his thought.

The paper brought out the very deep role of understanding in Spinoza and Kant's thought – showing it to be complex and inescapable. We were brought to appreciate that seeing understanding as simply detachable from their thought is not an option. In this sense Deleuze's readings of both of their systems have certain limitations. Indeed, we must ask whether we cannot read Kant or Spinoza against Deleuze in their encounters with him. Does there need to be understanding if we are to avoid death or to have something that survives the ‘throw of the dice’? All these questions and more were raised by this deeply fascinating paper.

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