Life as an Extreme Sport

In the thralls of Spinoza

As most of you know, I’ve spent much of the last few months immersed in Spinoza and his intellectual descendents, the legitimate ones as well as the bastards (I see you, Deleuze – oh, how I see you!). As such, I’ve cultivated a more than unhealthy interest in people who write about Spinoza. What do they write about? What do they see? What are they searching for?

Quite naturally, I was drawn to this New York Times book review of Rebecca Goldstein’s “Betraying Spinoza”. For an excommunicated Jew living an austere life, what was left to have betrayed?

Seems, according to the book review, not much – it is instead one woman’s desperate attempt to see the Jewishness in Spinoza, an idea I find – puzzling, at best. Yes, his religious background is necessary to understand his “Ethics” and the reasoning his God is a naturalistic diety who doesn’t give a damn about the mechanations he’s wound up and released, but why is is necessary to find the religion inside that which the very author professes has no religious motivation? Or at least no Jewish motivation, something with which he wishes no connection.

The review makes me leary to pick up the book, for the book sounds like nothing more than a desperate attempt to grasp on to a now-heroic figure and claim him to a lineage he himself denies. It seems that those who are looking for Spinoza do best to look elsewhere.