Anthony Uhlmann on Ratio and Art in Spinoza and Swift

Anthony Uhlmann Seminar 2015

Abstract: Jonathan Israel has forcefully displayed both how important Spinoza is to our understanding of the history of the Enlightenment and how controversial and forbidden his works were in the late 17th and 18th centuries. The censure surrounding Spinoza's works affected creative writers as well as philosophers and scientists, with Montesquieu in France, and Alexander Pope in England being forced to deny charges of Spinozism.

This paper will have two aspects: the first will set out how ratio or reason lies at the heart of each of Spinoza's three kinds of knowledge before examining the importance of a concept of 'perception' to his understanding of third kind of knowledge. In this way I will sketch a path to understanding how Spinoza's theory of knowledge can be applied to art. The second will situate the early reception of Spinoza by writers in English, touching upon its relation to Aphra Behn, Daniel Defoe, Pope and others before turning to the example of Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels, whose journey to the land of the Houyhnhnms involves a satirical engagement with Spinozism. This engagement turns, in large part, on questions of proportion, moderation, or balance.

Together the two aspects of this paper will consider the extent to which reason and the imagination might be brought into dialogue by being considered in the light of Spinoza's multifaceted conception of ratio.

Bio: Anthony Uhlmann has been Director of the Writing and Society Research Centre since 2012. He is the author of two monographs on Samuel Beckett: Beckett and Poststructuralism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), and Samuel Beckett and the Philosophical Image (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006). He also co-edited Arnold Geulincx's Ethics with Samuel Beckett's Notes (Leiden: Brill, 2006) and Beckett in Context (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012). He was the editor of the Journal of Beckett Studies from 2007 until 2013. HIs work focuses on the exchanges that take place between literature and philosophy and the way in which literature itself is a kind of thinking about the world. His most recent book is Thinking in Literature: Joyce, Woolf, Nabokov (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2011). He co-founded the Australian University Heads of English in 2012 and was elected President of this body in 2013. He is currently working on two projects: one on the fiction of J. M. Coetzee and a second on Spinoza's influence on literary history and the importance of his philosophy to understandings of artistic practice.

Audio: Listen to part 1 of Anthony's paper (right click and "save link as" to download).

Listen to part 2 of Anthony's paper

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