Thursday, October 11, 2007

Readings: Coo-Coo-Ca-Choo, Prof. Goldstein

Is it just me, or has existence been kinda flat for the past couple of days? Even the blogosphere hasn't been putting out those energizing vibes that keep me posting. I had an excerpt on my desktop, all ready to go. Then I got involved in some issues over at Civis' blog. And here at Rodak Riffs, and never got around to it. Well, my heart's not fully into it, but here goes nuthin':

The excerpt is from the last work of Rebecca Goldstein's fiction that I hadn't read. The anything-but-snappy title is The Late Summer Passion of a Woman of Mind. Rather than providing a full synopsis, I ask you to check out this short review from the New York Times.

Briefly, the protagonist is a woman philosophy professor at a university which reminds me of Cornell. Now entering early middle-age, she has lived a life of the mind, focusing on the philosophies of Plato and Spinoza, basically celebate since a traumatic youthful love relationship. She develops a passion for one of her students. Here's to you, Mrs. Robinson. I know, it sounds boring. But it's not.'s the long-dormant excerpt:

"How exquisitely small and simple truth is. Not something loud and large and showy, but quiet and self-contained. Here it is. The relation of logical entailment. Concepts entail concepts, propositions follow from propositions. And from this emerges the truth entire, indestructibly forged of logic locked into the necessary facts of existence. It was this structure that Spinoza called Deus sive Natura. And it rises up beyond the corrosive tides of time that wash over all that is conditioned and contingent, including us, our own poor bodily selves. It rises beyond, and yet – the gift of it! – within our reach. Our minds, in grasping the logical entailments, can take possession of it, can apprehend it and claim it for our own. And in this way we too can partake of eternity."

This is an example of the kind of thing middle-aged, female philosophy profs think about while they do the dishes, I guess. What I would like to consider is the embedded Spinoza aphorism: Deus sive Natura. I searched for a translation, but found nothing that didn't sound clunky compared to the Latin. So forget the translation. The idea expressed by the phrase, as I understand it, is that we experience God (only) as Nature.

At first glance this looks to be atheistic, or perhaps, pantheistic. But, on the other hand, if we consider this concept in the light of, for instance, Simone Weil's utterly transcendent God, traces of whom are seen reflected in the beauty of the material world, it seems to be quite compatible with religious faith; perhaps even with Christianity.

Note to self: Read some Spinoza.