Tweemaal Maximin – zoek het verschil

cimg35261Maximin was een jonge dichter uit het München van begin 20ste eeuw. Zijn volle naam luidde Maximilian Kronberger.
Stefan George ontdekte hem als zijn muze en verleende hem een bijna goddelijke status binnen zijn kring van zgn. jongeren. cimg35251Maximin overleed op jonge leeftijd aan meningitis. Dit voor George traumatische verlies verwerkte hij in een cyclus van zijn bundel “Der Siebente Ring” maar ook in de vorm van een gedenkboek “MAXIMIN, EIN GEDENKBUCH”, rijk geïllustreerd door Melchior Lechter en bibliofiel geproduceerd. Het colofon luidt als volgt:


Hierbij een paar foto’s van een van de zeldzame exemplaren. Deze is uit onze bibliotheek.
cimg35231Nu is er gek genoeg in ons bestand ook een exemplaar dat op een kopie lijkt, met de hand geschreven en met zwarte inkt geïllustreerd. Heeft er iemand ooit een kopie willen maken omdat een echt exemplaar niet meer de verwerven viel? cimg35291Of is dit misschien zelfs een dummy voordat het boekje echt naar de pers ging? Want er staan correcties in van een tekst die later niet werd gedrukt, maar de correcties zijn wel in de drukversie. Johann zegt dat dergelijke correcties in de tekst in het Duits glossen genoemd worden. cimg35301Of is het boekwerkje gewoon een product van een contemplatieve oefening, zoals in de George Kreis wel gebruikelijk was?
Ik vind het spannend om erachter te komen. En ik ben zeker dat iemand weet wat het is en door wie het vervaardigd is. Zoek het verschil!

Undivided we stand! Outcomes Spinoza redux II

talkshow-2Hosted by Machiel Keestra this second edition of our series Spinoza redux turned out to be another highlight in our brand new project space.

In case you have missed this evening or want to revisit the central thoughts here is what we could capture. This may grow with additional material or comment reaching us with time and can also be seen as a step only in an ongoing discussion.

Please find details about the contributors in the announcement of the evening.

aaThe first presentation was given by

Ariel Suhamy

Animal’s right: up to what point?

First of all I would like to thank this institution for inviting me to say a few words about Spinoza in his homeland. This is the first time I do such a thing, and I’m very glad and moved, because I have been studying Spinoza for years in France, without ever going to Netherlands, the country he dearly loved and, as a philosopher, fought for. As you know, Spinoza was one of the first and the greatest defenders of political freedom and religious tolerance in his century; and nowadays Holland is still considered, as it was in the XVIIth century, as the country of tolerance. That’s one of the reasons why I was very much appealed and puzzled when Mr Keestra told me that the parliament here had now even a party dedicated to the rights of animals. It happens that last year I published a little book, a sort of initiation to Spinoza, which I wrote with an illustrator, Alia Daval – during my speech I’ll show you a few pictures she made for the book. In this book we have presented Spinoza’s thought from the sole point of view of animals, that is after the animals which appear in his works. There are dozens of them, rather strangely, and I thought it would be funny to sum up his thought and his doctrine through this picturesque zoo; then I was amazed to realize that almost every important point of the doctrine could be explained through an animal that Spinoza mentioned, most of the time very briefly, in his demonstrations or argumentations, for instance in a scholium of the Ethics, in a Treatise, or in some letter. Thanks to this device, Spinoza makes us understand some important things about human nature. So I got very interested in this issue of animals in his works, and particularly of animals compared to man, as to their rights. So, when I learned that you here have a party dedicated to animals’ rights, I decided to examine, or to imagine, what Spinoza would have thought of this. This was obviously an important question for him, since in the Ethics, when he comes to politics and the constitution of the State, he mentions the question of animals. Well, I may as well tell you right away that he is not exactly in favor of this, and has even pretty rash words about it, but the important point is that he can help us to raise up the problem. But first of all, it is necessary to explain why.

So I shall first explain the very peculiar conception Spinoza had about human freedom, then about natural right. Then I’ll switch on to the issue of man, and human nature, and finally will go back to this statement he makes about animals’ rights in human politics.

Critique of free will

publiek-schrijvend1At first sight, in his system, man seems not far from animals, and not essentially different: one of Spinoza’s most famous statements is the denial of man’s free will by which, traditionally, man pretended to be radically different from and superior to the other living beings. As the Ethics quotes, man is not “an empire in an empire” or “a dominion in a dominion” (Ethics III, preface); he is part of Nature, and he is submitted, like any other being, to the laws of Nature, and determined by an absolute necessity. Free will – that is the possibility to break the laws of nature (or if you prefer, God’s commandments), and their absolute necessity, is therefore a mere illusion. In order to explain this illusion, Spinoza makes use of many examples, among which the stone you can see here. I quote letter 58: « For instance, a stone receives from the impulsion of an external cause, a certain quantity of motion, by virtue of which it continues to move after the impulsion given by the external cause has ceased. (…) Now conceive, if you will, that this stone, while continuing in motion, should be capable of thinking and knowing, that it is endeavouring, as far as it can, to continue to move. Such a stone, being conscious merely of its own endeavour, would believe itself to be completely free, and would think that it continued in motion solely because of its own wish. And this is that human freedom, which all men boast that they possess, and which consists solely in the fact that men are conscious of their own desire, but are ignorant of the causes whereby that desire has been determined. Thus an infant believes that it desires milk freely; an angry child thinks he wishes freely for vengeance, a timid one thinks he wishes freely to run away. Again, a drunken man thinks, that from the free decision of his mind he speaks words, which afterwards, when sober, he would like to have left unsaid. So the delirious, the garrulous, and others of the same sort think that they act from the free decision of their mind, not that they are carried away by impulse. As this misconception is innate in all men, they are not easily freed from it. » (Letter 58 to Schuller).

Right of Nature

We are not born free, but we can free ourselves from prejudice concerning freedom. This denial of free will scandalized many of his contemporaries, and one of them protested that if it were so, that is, if man could not make any free choice, there would be no difference between man and animals. But Spinoza deeply resented this accusation, and protested that he never meant such a thing. On the contrary, far from reducing man to animal, Spinoza claims that imitating them is what perpetually threatens humanity.

So we must suppose that he placed the difference between man and animal somewhere else. His conception of natural right, as it was expounded in the Theological and political Treatise, published in 1670, again generated a storm of protest, which made it impossible for him to publish his Ethics during his lifetime.fish_eat

This theory is illustrated by examples taken from the animal world, more precisely, from an old dutch proverb, illustrated by Bruegel and then by Alia, saying that “big fish eat litlle fish”:

« By the right of Nature, I merely mean those natural laws  wherewith  we conceive every  individual to be conditioned by nature, so as to live and act in a given way.  For instance, fishes are naturally conditioned for swimming, and the greater for devouring the less; therefore fishes enjoy the water, and the greater devour the less by sovereign natural right. (…) it follows that every individual has sovereign right to do all that he can; in other words, the rights of an individual extend to the utmost limits of his power as it has been conditioned. «  (Theologico-political Treatise, XVI)

According to Spinoza, therefore, man has a natural right to do anything he is constrained to, and there is no difference, from that point of view, between a rational man, led by his reason, and a passionate man, led by his affects. They are all as perfect as they can be. Natural right is absolutely co-extensive with power – physical power, or mental power. Everyone, man or animal, rational man or passionate man, have as much right as they have power to do what they do. There again, a new comparison with animals illustrate this point:

« The  natural  right  of  the individual man is determined, not by sound reason, but by desire and power.  All are not naturally conditioned so as to act according to the laws and rules of reason; nay, on  the contrary, all men are born ignorant, and before they can learn  the  right way of life and acquire the habit of virtue, the greater part  of their life, even if they have been well brought up, has passed away. Nature  has  given  them  no  other  guide,  and  has denied  them  the present power of living according to sound reason; so  that  they  are  no more bound to live by the dictates of reason,  than  a  cat  is  bound to live by the laws of the nature of a lion. » (Theologico-political Treatise, XVI)

This image shows a cat pretending to be a lion…

What is freedom

In this latter example lie the ultimate reason and the true conception of freedom.

Let us go back to Letter 58: “I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. (…) You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity“. Everything, according to Spinoza, is necessary, and bound to behave the way it behaves. “Nothing happens in nature which can be attributed to any defect in it, for Nature is always the same” (Ethics III preface). But sometimes it is submitted to an external necessity (for instance when the smaller fish is eaten by the bigger), sometimes to an internal necessity, and in that last case, necessity is a “free necessity”, since one acts according to the laws of one’s own nature.m-schrijvend

Of course it is impossible that man always should behave and live according to the laws of his own nature, because he is a part of a whole and is submitted to the common laws of nature, which was not made for him. He will never be able to act totally according to his own nature: the only being able to do that is God, or Nature. Nevertheless, he can approach such an achievement, and that is what philosophy is made for – and religion as well, insofar as it is not contaminated by superstition.


Now, upon what condition is this possible? This is the point where society, and common laws of society, have a rule to play. For man is not essentially rational – a reasonable animal, as Aristotle would say. If it were so, most of the men would not be men at all, which is absurd. Man is first of all a creature capable of imitation. It is by imitating that his reason can rise and develop; but it is also by imitating that passions develop and rise. Spinoza explains all the human affects through this ability: affects are not, as you can now understand, faults, or vices, but proprieties of human nature, that can be explained as everything else in nature. Nevertheless, many of them are contrary to reason – mostly, passions rising from sadness, hate, jealousy, anger, etc. So for Spinoza, man was not born free, and freedom is not a universal specificity of man; but what is specific to him is his ability to imitate what he believes to be like him. The problem is that he does not immediately know what is like him; so he’s likely to imitate almost any kind of living being, particularly animals.imitation

A famous passage of the Ethics suggests a very original explanation of the story of the first man, Adam, and his sin. You can now understand that for Spinoza, Adam was not “guilty”, since there is no fault in nature, and Adam was not free to make a choice between vice and virtue. He was just ignorant.

Therefore, what theologians call Adam’s sin is not what theologian believe and teach: a free act of his will, implying responsibility, guilt and punishment. If Adam made this mistake, it was just because he was like a child, not knowing what is good for his own nature, for he did not know much about his own nature. No surprise in this: he was, after all, the first man. Freedom is not given from the beginning. It must be constructed, built up, it is a goal, and not a principle, an end, a purpose and not a beginning. The more we succeed in knowing our own nature, and the more we are able to act according to the laws of this nature, the more free we become.

So Adam believed animals to be like him, and began to imitate their affects, instead of imitating man’s (or woman’s) affects, and keeping safe his freedom. But animal ‘ss affects are quite different from man’s. For instance, as Spinoza wrote in a letter, rather strangely: “we all admire in animals qualities which we regard with dislike and aversion in men, such as the pugnacity of bees, the jealousy of doves, &c.; these in human beings are despised, but are nevertheless considered to enhance the value of animals. This being so, it follows that sin, which indicates nothing save imperfection, cannot consist in anything that expresses reality, as we see in the case of Adam’s decision and its execution.” (letter 19)

So, sin indicates nothing in a essence, save what is not in this essence. What does this mean? It means, as we have said before, that insofar as man is a part of nature, he is not always acting according to the laws of his own nature. Most of the time, and particularly when he is a child, or a passionate man, he’s driven by external causes and acts against his own nature, though still and always necessarily. To be able to recover, if one may say so, his own nature, he must understand what is really good for him – and only for him: the first step is to understand that nothing is good or evil in itself, but always good or evil insofar as it is related to some specific being ; and the same thing can be good for somebody, bad to another one, or indifferent. Now, Adam’s sin was not to desire knowledge, but to desire to know good and evil. I cannot help here to quote one of my favorite propositions of the Ethics:  « if men were born free, they would form no concept of good and evil so long as they remained free ». (Ethics IV 68). A free man does not believe in such a thing as good and evil, because he is always seeking directly what is good to him, and never thinks of evil.

Now, since natural right is nothing but power, it is obvious that we’ll be all the more powerful that we’ll be more numerous to be acting in the same way. When men are acted upon by external causes, that is when they are submitted to passions, they can be contrary to one another; whereas when they really act, according to the guidance of reason, then they agree in nature, and are more powerful, that is more virtuous, or more free.


vrouw-schrijvendThat is why tyrants of all kinds always want to transform their subjects into animals or automatons, and renew Adam’s sin. Spinoza has all his life fought against superstition and prejudices which “turn men from rational beings into beasts, since they prevent everyone form using his free judgment”. One must note here that the false conception of freedom, as free will and responsibility, is quite useful to tyrants because it is a source of sadness, bad conscience, shame, anguish and fear ; it then weakens men, and makes them dependent on superstition. It is not surprising then that Spinoza wrote, just before the sentence which was chosen as a motto for these sessions : the true aim of Society is liberty, that “the object of government is not to change men from rational beings into beasts or puppets (automatons), but to enable them to develop their minds and bodies in security, and to employ their reason unshackled.” Beasts: since their nature is deeply different from man’s, jealousy or hatred being for some of them a virtue, a man cannot try to imitate them without losing his nature, that is, his freedom, or his reason.

Here Spinoza’s thought is rather optimistic, because he says that in fact it is impossible to transform men into animals or automatons: everything has a nature out of which it cannot be expelled. So if tyranny fails, it is not because it is morally wrong, it is because it tries to do impossible things, as transforming men into animals, or tables in animals.

“A commonwealth then does wrong, when it does, or suffers to be done, things which may be the cause of its own ruin; and we can say that it then does wrong, in the sense in which philosophers or doctors say that nature does wrong; and in this sense we can say, that a commonwealth does wrong, when it acts against the dictate of reason. For a commonwealth is most independent when it acts according to the dictate of reason; so far, then, as it acts against reason, it betrays itself, or does wrong. And we shall be able more easily to understand this if we reflect, that when we say, that a man can do what he will with his own, this authority must be limited not only by the power of the agent, but by the capacity of the object. If, for instance, I say that I can rightfully do what I will with this table, I do not certainly mean, that I have the right to make it eat grass. So, too, though we say, that men depend not on themselves, but on the commonwealth, we do not mean, that men lose their human nature and put on another; nor yet that the commonwealth has the right to make men wish for this or that, or (what is just as impossible) regard with honour things which excite ridicule or disgust.” So the limits of what a political power can do is just the limits of nature, and of human nature, nothing else.


ariel-met-mSo to conclude let us go back to the question of animals and their rights. We know that right is nothing but power; so if a right must be bestowed by men on animals, this means that a power must be given to them, but for Spinoza, power is never really given, transferred: we just constitute a greater individual, more powerful and mighty. So the real question would be: can we really form an individual with animals, I mean some real unity?

The answer is yes if they have the same nature as we have, no if they don’t. Now it is obvious that they are not entirely like us. One might object that men don’t always agree, and therefore are not either of the same nature, which is true: insofar as they are submitted to passions, they are different. But they still have a nature in common, and the possibility of sharing the same values: no one can affirm that this is impossible, since, as we said, reason is not given from the very beginning, but must be elaborated, through a rational use of imitation. And now we can, I hope read without prejudice this remark Spinoza makes in Ethics, IV 37, when he establishes the basis of the State:

“It is plain that the law against the slaughtering of animals is founded rather on vain superstition and womanish pity than on sound reason. The rational quest of what is useful to us further teaches us the necessity of associating ourselves with our fellowmen, but not with beasts, or things, whose nature is different from our own; we have the same rights in respect to them as they have in respect to us. Nay, as everyone’s right is defined by his virtue, or power, men have far greater rights over beasts than beasts have over men. Still I do not deny that beasts feel: what I deny is, that we may not consult our own advantage and use them as we please, treating them in the way which best suits us; for their nature is not like ours, and their emotions are naturally different from human emotions.”

I don’t think he meant that reason teaches us to slaughter all the animals. He is just telling us that they have their own nature, not inferior. For sure they can be used to understand what we are and what we are not. There can be used as a means to attain a goal, whereas men are always a goal in themselves: the goal being, to form a greater whole, a greater individual.cat1

But the important point, for us, is that Spinoza pointed out that animals do have natural rights, and that these rights cannot be conceived after our own rights, but in respect to their own nature; so, eventually, if a right must or may be bestowed on them, it will be insofar as they can join to us, in order to form a new individual. Is that possible? Alia imagined so…

mmMachiel Keestra

followed with a statement that had the following point of departure:
Human culture is driven by dynamics and power struggles of different kinds. Easily overlooked, though, is the role played by the introduction of concepts. Such concepts can open up a new perspective on reality and offer new ways of dealing with it. The ‘bitter-sweet’ love in Sappho heralded emotional ambiguity, while scientist and philosopher Aristotle introduced concepts that enabled us to grasp development and change. Since understanding and action are tightly connected, coming to terms with these phenomena has many consequences.
In modernity, the influence of a dualism of sorts is rampant. Best known is of course the body-mind dualism attributed to Descartes. Other dualisms are between man and nature, between individual and society, between freedom and necessity. Although influenced by Descartes, Spinoza’s thoughts take a completely different starting point, avoiding thus a whole set of problems. Not wanting to deny differences, he still assumes an original unity between those domains.
Such unity is aspired too in neuroscience, most clearly in research on free will. How to reconcile neurophysiology with freedom is the question. Less problematic appears to be the explanation of our social nature, due to research on so-called mirror neurons and empathy: humans appear to be attuned to emotional exchanges.
However, I will end by discussing the limits of empathy and imitation for ethics: the sameness that imitation presupposes & confirms may easily overshadow the differences between persons, for instance. Instead of simply embracing a simple neuro-ethics we may need to draw on diverse sources of morality in order to seek unity and accept diversity – a necessary task in our present multi-crisis global society.

aiaiAlison Isadora:

Spinoza and the Sex Pistols – the politics of music making

I have to admit that my closest connection to Spinoza before several weeks ago was that while I was studying in the Hague Conservatorium in the late 80’s I lived in the same street as Spinoza did, and I knew the professional squatter  slash botanist who tended his garden. Or rather who postulated that by leaving the garden completely alone one had a chance that the plants that grew best in that habitat would return ,and that that was the closest one could get to reconstructing an ‘authentic’ Spinoza garden. Having now read a little about Spinoza, I can imagine that he might have appreciated this non-interventionist approach.

Let me read the Spinoza text for this evening again”A man who is guided by reason is more free in a society, where he lives according to a common decision, than in solitude, where he obeys only himself.”

I ‘d like to relate this text of Spinoza’s to my own journey towards musical freedom and touch on some aspects of music-making that interest me. Music has the possibility of offering us reflection and inspiration on how we live together. If we take the idea of society at its broadest to include any organisation of human beings, we can think of music groups as micro-societies. I’d like to suggest that there is a relationship between the socio-political aspects of music-making, and the freedom that the musician enjoys, and that this in turn has aesthetic implications.

From an early age growing up in New Zealand, I became aware of the diversity of environments in which music was produced. I’m not talking about venues here, but about the organisation of the ensmbles themselves. In the early 80’s I was simultaneously: an orchestral violinist/member of punk band/performing in a West Javanese gamelan group/member of a Baroque ensemble and studying (political philosophy) at University.
In a single day I  was often confronted with a number of completely different models of music-making.

On arriving in The Hague to study violin and composition I added a few more genres to my musical bow – I perfomed in new music ensembles, improvising groups and as well as composing for chamber ensembles made music theatre productions and installations.rechts-met-amie

How do these widely divergent music cultures relate to Spinoza’s ideas on freedom?

Let’s first consider the orchestra.Orchestral musicans are organised into sections, each with a section leader. These liase with the conductor who has not only the responsibility of co-ordinating the musicians but also acts as the interpretor. There is a strict hierarchy in rehearsals and performances – I remember being 21 and enthuisiastically trying to suggest a different bowing from the back of the 2nd violins, only to discover that information moved in one direction only, from the top to the bottom. So one sat and waitied and hoped that the leader had good ideas!

Individual players (especially string players) focus on blending their sound with the others. The Individual chooses to live within this structure to achieve something that is not possible on his/her own and membership is only viable if one accepts these constraints.

The organisation of the orchestra has evolved as a practical way of synchronising a large group of musicians. I must say that for me it is reminiscent of the mass synchronised performances that I associate with Communist regimes. (I’m thinking of the opening of the Beijing Olympics or displays by the armed forces)

There are also democratic tendencies at work in orchestras  – orchestral players are often aware of the power that they wield – there are numerous anecdotes concerning moments in which the orchestra has demonstrated to the conductor the sound of his own baton! An article in the Volkskrant several weeks ago concerning the Concertgebouworkest and Jan-Willem de Vriend being assessed as a conductor highlights the potential power of the musicians. The performance of every conductor is judged by a committee of Concertgebouworkest musicians and the conductor’s future with the orchestra lies largely in their hands.

So how free is the orchestral musician? As far as I understand it, for Spinoza, freedom means to follow one’s determined conatus  – which is one’s striving to persist in one’s own being. Spinoza suggests that one is free in so far as she or he follows their necessary nature. Can we say then that one is free if it lies in one’s nature to be part of an orchestra?

As an artist I would argue it is essential to act in relationship to one’s own nature  – it is a necessary condition for  authentic artistic expression. However, and here I maybe diverge from Spinoza, I believe individuals may be guided by different reasons and reasoning. An orchestra may offer freedom for one musician and bondage for another. This is also true for composers relationships with the orchestra. There is no question that the musical potential of such a large body of musicians is extraordinary. However, many modern composers, myself included, have a love/hate relationship with the orchestra. The very organisation that allows such a large group to exist is also it’s  limitation.

  • pretty-vacant-excerpt (live recording 1977)

Punk music and particularily the Sex Pistols represented everything that was anti-establishment in the late 70’s, the nemesis of the symphony orchestra. Punk was loud, rude and unruly-it was all that I missed in classical music-chaotic, spontaneous and intuitive.

I’d like to look briefly at the Sex Pistols, as an extreme example of pop culture and their relationship with freedom.

publiek-met-nikoLike Spinoza, 300 years earlier, the Sex Pistols had material banned. The songs Anarchy in the UK and God Save the Queen both enjoyed a BBC radio ban for some time.

The Sex Pistols were a group formed by their manager Malcolm McClaren. He encouraged bad behaviour in the group, swearing on tv, public drunkenness/ vomiting etc were common. McClaren used shock tactics to revolt against musical expertise and the corporate machinery of pop. He set out to create scandals and coined the idea  of “Cash out of chaos”

Spinoza’s concept of the importance of connecting one’s own interests with the collective interests can be compared to the cynical fashion in which the  Sex Pistols made money by feeding society material (in the form of scandals) that society itself could financially profit from. Somehow I don’t think that was what Spinoza had in mind!

We can say that the Sex Pistols exploited freedom of speech to suggest a revolution, although their anti-art/counter culture tendencies were an aesthetic, rather than real. The Sex Pistols acts of defiance were largely symbolic – the band was repressed by the state, but tolerated -they posed no real threat. And in fact, the band benefited from the states repression.

Their clothes style was anti working class hero, they chose the cliches of white trash – safety pins, tattered clothing, dyed hair. But their so-called anti-art stance was actually fuelled by  a fashion shop run by Malcolm McClaren and Vivienne Westwood where the band often hung out.

The musicians in the Sex Pistols could not be said to be acting out of freedom but out of greed or ignorance. In Spinozian terms we could say that the actions of the musicians were passive – originating outside of themselves. They gave the impression of freedom but were not acting from a position of awareness, having been manipulated by their manager.

Spinoza believed that freedom of thought, speech and publication were important, and that a restriction on these things could jeapordise the security of the society. He recognised that it was ridiculous to suppose that the state could curtail individual thought. However he did consider that agitation of the mob through rhetoric was unacceptable – I wonder what he would have made of the Sex Pistols.?

My search for an ideal  musical envornment continued. Punk might seem to offer freedom, but at what cost?. I started to realise that the relationship between the maker and the performer played a central role in determining not only the aesthetics but also the kind of musical society that could be created.

Free jazz and collective improvisation grew, like punk rock, out of a dissatisfaction with both  musical and political cultures but  this time in the 50’s in the States. Arriving in the Netherlands in the late ’80’s I was exposed to Misha Mengelbergs Instant Composiers Pool, Guus Jansen and Han Bennink and performed with Willem Breuker Collectief and the Maarten Altena Ensemble amongst others.

Philosophically, improvisation often focuses on bringing one’s personal awareness “into the moment,” and on developing a profound understanding for the action one is doing. This fusion of “awareness” and “understanding” brings the practitioner to the point where he or she can act with a range of options that best fit the situation, and respond to the unexpected.

In a Spinozian world Improvisers could be said to be acting out of freedom in so far as their actions originate from their own nature.

In improvisation we are offered a model for positive, non-hierarchical, fluid communication, which I find very inspiring from both a socio-political as artistic viewpoint. My search is to find the  possibilities to integrate this kind of music-making within a  composed music  environment.

I’d like to mention briefly a man called Butch Morris, a respected cornet player in his own right who has developed a personal musical form that is both inclusive and specific. He calls what he does Conduction. At first sight it looks like conducting. He  stands in front of an ensemble with a baton and uses a vocabulary of signs and gestures to communicate with a group of musicians. Some of these gestures are related to traditional conducting, but Butch has also developed new signs such as: ‘memory’ – recalling material  or mimicry etc. There is no written music and he works with groups from diverse traditions, all with some connection with improvisation. The musicians offer their own musical material and Butch works on the material as a sound sculptor. While playing with the Maarten Altena Ensemble I experienced his Conductions as a facilitation of a new sound world

  • This is the beginning of a Conduction with the MAE. Conduction # 35

Another model that has been very influential for me is aleatoric or indeterminant music. Pierre Boulez popularised the term aleatoric music and used it to describe music in which ‘controlled chance operations’ were used. From the late 1950’s it became a widespread composition tool, with John Cage, Morton Feldman and Christian Wolff in New York and Pierre Boulez and Karlheinz Sockhausen in Europe all utilising it, albeit in very different ways.floris-en-dames

If we take Spinoza’s idea that we are free when the causes of our action are internal to us and we are unfree when those causes are external to us, it would make sense to create a situation in which the musicians considered the causes of their actions – their performance – to belong to them.

What are the possibilities for including the performers in the creative process? Of breaking down the segregation between the producer and the re-producer?

In 1999 I wrote a musictheatre piece called nachtvlinders and the last movement #6 was inspired by ideas from collective improvisation  and indeterminant music.

  • This is the beginning of #6

This kind of piece requires the musicians to have an understanding of their possible musical functions and the form of the piece as a whole. Although the pitch material is set, the musicians have many choices concerning timing, attack, colour, dynamic and melody. The piece is something they make within a given framework.

Collective improvisation, Butch Morris’s conduction and aleatoric music all offer ways of thinking that influence not only the music produced but the environment in which that occurs. I am convinced of the necessity for musicians to feel a sense of ownership towards the music they make, Without a conductor one already has a more active environment. New dynamics start to occur between the performers. The responsibility and power of making the piece work rests with them.

The use of biography is another way of including the performers, and of connecting a piece specifically to them. Since 1994 I have composed many works in which biographic information from the players is included.

I’d like to play a small excerpt from a piece called Le Reve, which combines various threads of interest. The text was based on musical nightmares the performers recounted to me.. One performer had a real-life story that involved reading a poster in town with his name on it and realising the concert was the same day in another city, rushing home to get his bass, falling down the stairs, and then breaking the key in the lock on his car. That story became the beginning of the text which I then combined with material from the other players. The piece has a number of elements that exist on both a musical as extra-musical level. During the work small events occur that appear to be mistakes – a musician drops his stand and the music falls on the ground. The conductor tidies the papers up. Someone coughs, another musician offers cough drops that fall on the floor, and so on. That these events are related and orchestrated only becomes apparent near the end of the piece when the events all occur again simultaneously.

The role of the conductor is largely that of a stage hand.

The text talks about a performer who is required to play an instrument they have never played before and this aspect is also musically present. During the piece musicians swap instruments which  allows a whole level of non-pitched material to develop. At the end of the piece no-one is performing on their own instrument.

•·  A short excerpt from Le Reve

The piece is specifically written for these musicians. It contains their stories and the instrument swapping that goes on is dramatically connected with specific body types (the large gangly doublebass player that has to play the recorder and the tiny Japanese recorder player behind the bass) and also specific issues of trust. Like many of my pieces, it is literally written on the body and being of specific players. Aleatoric moments, in which the players exercise decisions over aspects of the music occur while the singer is talking.

My hope is that the musicians will connect with the material and each other in a way in which the form and the material are embodied in the very process of music-making. Like the botanist in Spinoza’s garden, I try to provide an environment in which natural germination will occur.

Finally I’d like to remember Spinoza’s quote that “freedom is not freedom from necessity, but the consciousness of necessity”. As an artist one is always striving to make something that has an inner necessity, an inner logic..The question I ask myself constantly while composing is WHY. Why this note and not another, why this instrument, why this form. And the only satisfying answer is that is has to be that way and no other.

Here are some impressions of the evening and the public showing the concentrated sphere and the engaged public. These are as so often by Simon Bosch. Thanks to him –as always- for a great job. We will hear more about him and see more of his work soon in the framework of our Aura project.

















This series of lectures is part of the European Learning Partnership JETE (Jewish Education Traditions in Europe) DEF flag-logoeac-LLP_EN

_mg_5629_mg_5523_mg_5527_mg_5624_mg_5633_mg_5642This evening was made possible by the generous support of Maison Descartes and the LiraFonds


Met een korreltje zout

cimg3407Dit is het zoutvat en de pepermolen op de keukentafel van Castrum Peregrini. Sinds ik op de Herengracht kom (dat was voor het eerst eind 1999) staan ze daar en ik ben ervan overtuigd dat generaties voor mij hetzelfde zullen zeggen. Ik ben dol op die twee. Niet dat ik ze vaak gebruik. Maar zout en peper zijn sterke symbolen, de twee voorwerpen dragen een verhaal en ze staan gewoonweg mooi op die tafel (natuurlijk is de tafel ook een lemma waard, dat komt later wel eens). Zout is het symbool van zuivering en reiniging. In de bijbel geldt het zout als symbool van de verbinding tussen God en zijn volk. Peper is al bekend uit oude Indiase geschriften in het Sanskriet, waar het “pipali” genoemd werd. Via Perzië kwam het pepergebruik bij de oude Grieken terecht. De Romeinen noemden peper “piper”, waar ons woord peper direct van afstamt. Peper werd door de Arabieren in Europa ingevoerd. Het monopolie voor de peperhandel lag tot het eind van de 15e eeuw bij de Italiaanse handelssteden Venetië, Genua, Pisa en Florence. De VOC is onder andere ontstaan vanuit de behoefte van de Nederlanders om zelf peper te halen uit de wingewesten.

Terug naar ons zoutvaatje en de pepermolen. Op de pepermolen staat: W.F. 8.7.1982 gegraveerd. W.F. staat voor Wolfgang Frommel en op acht juli is zijn verjaardag. Hij was geboren in 1902, dus in 1982 werd hij 80 jaar oud. Hij stierf vier jaar later in 1986. Zou hij één van die types geweest zijn die bij ieder maaltijd meteen zout en peper eroverheen strooien voor ze proeven? Het zou bij hem passen, hij hield van pittig begrijp ik. Volgens mijn weten is de pepermolen een cadeau van William Hilsley, genoemd Billy, een van Wolfgangs eerste en oudste vrienden, nog uit zijn tijd in Berlijn. Wij hebben onlangs een hele briefwisseling tussen die twee in de nalatenschap van Claus Victor Bock gevonden. Er werd jarenlang beweerd dat die briefwisseling in de oorlog verloren was gegaan. Dat ze nu toch plotseling opduikt is een van de velen paradoxen van dit huis. (Lees meer over Billy, in William Hilsley, Musik hinterm Stacheldraht, Tagebuch eines internierten Musikers, 1940-1945, Berlin 2000).

Maar dan is er ook nog het zoutvat. Ik zou willen wedden dat dat uit Schloss Hainfeld in Oostenrijk stamt, het familiekasteel van Gisèle’s moeder. Gisèle zegt dat ze twee van die vaatjes herinnert uit haar jeugd, maar niet meer precies hoe het ene hier is gekomen of hoe het andere is verdwenen. cimg3083Het zou ook van haar vaders familie kunnen stammen, maar, zoals ze zelf zegt: “het ziet er helemaal niet Nederlands uit…”. Het is van tin en misschien uit de 17de eeuw. Een kleine 5 cm hoog met een doorsnede van 3 cm. Je moet de deksel opnemen en tussen twee vingers wat zout pakken en op je eten strooien. De dingen met een korreltje zout nemen is iets wat ik op de Herengracht heb geleerd. Ik ken weinig plekken waar zo veel en zo hard wordt gelachen als aan deze keukentafel, rond dit zout- en pepersetje. Het gaat er pittig en uitdagend aan toe en dat is dan vooral een teken van genegenheid. Alleen thema’s en mensen die echt raken zijn onderwerp van vermaak. Iedereen zal dat herkennen. Misschien weet iemand nog het fijne van de twee omschreven voorwerpen, hoe het echt in elkaar zit. Ik ben benieuwd!

Undivided we stand! Programme Spinoza redux II

Reflections on music and politics, man and animals, body and mind:

Spinoza redux 19 March 2009

“A man who  is guided by reason is more free in a society, where he lives according a  common decision, than in solitude, where he obeys only himself.” (Spinoza, Ethics IV P. 73) 

Tolerance towards animals: up to what point?
Ariel Suhamy (Philosopher; Sorbonne – Paris, France)

The parliament of The Netherlands has a party dedicated to the rights of animals. I wonder what Spinoza would have thought of this. At first sight, in his system, man is not far from animals: one of his most famous statements is the denial of man’s free will. Man is not “an empire in an empire” (Ethics III, preface), he is a part of Nature, and he is submitted, like any other being, to absolute necessity, and determined by the laws of Nature. “I say that a thing is free, which exists and acts solely by the necessity of its own nature. (…) You see I do not place freedom in free decision, but in free necessity” (Letter 58). This statement scandalized many of his contemporaries, who protested that if it were so, there would be no difference between man and animals.
Not at all, Spinoza answers. There is a large difference between a man and, for instance, a rat, a pigeon or a bee. Far from reducing man to animal, he claims that imitating them is what perpetually threatens humanity. For instance, this is how he explains Adam’s sin: Adam believed animals to be like him, and began to imitate their affects, instead of imitating man’s (or woman’s) affects, and keeping safe his freedom. And tyrants of all kinds always want to transform their subjects into animal or automatons, and renew Adam’s sin. But since the nature of animals is deeply different from man’s, a man cannot try to imitate them without losing his nature, that is, his freedom. Therefore, to believe that they have the same rights as we have, would be quite contrary to reason and most perilous to freedom. 

Spinoza’s use of animals is therefore pretty ambiguous. On the one hand he uses them as examples to make us understand that man, exactly like them, is a part of Nature, and that free will is just an illusion. We are not more free than a bee or a donkey. But on the other hand he claims that they are not like us (their nature is different), and for that reason cannot be used as models; such a belief is quite dangerous to freedom, particularly to political freedom. We know that Spinoza was one of the great defenders of tolerance. The question I would like to examine is then: is a party dedicated to the rights of animals adverse to tolerance and a threat to human freedom?

Spinoza and the Sex Pistols – the politics of  music-making.
Alison Isadora (Composer and musician; Amsterdam)

Art in general is not an area devoid of any power struggles, unlike many people think. Music is characterised by several forms of power relations. If we take a look at the way how music is produced we can observe several relationships like the relationship between producer (as in  composer) and re-producer (as in performer) and of course also the relation to the audience. These all can be analysed in political terms.   However, we should acknowledge that different sorts of music-making assume different kinds of  relationships (power structures). What might be the
connections with actual political situations? One could examine various genres – punk,  romantic orchestral music, free jazz, the New York school (Cage and co.) with regards to  their internal power structures and the specific historical socio-political climates in which they emerged. There is of course also  the matter of how these musics are regarded by the public – which is not  always contiguous with the musicians own understanding – and how that changes  in time. I have been very influenced by the idea of music mirroring or embodying a political ideal and have written many pieces which deal with power issues on both a musical and meta-musical level. Apart from offering reflections I will present and discuss some examples of my own work.

Coming to terms with complexity. Neuroscience, free will, society and a Spinozan take on conceptual unity.
Machiel Keestra (Philosopher, University of Amsterdam)

Human culture is driven by dynamics and power struggles of different kinds. Easily overlooked, though, is the role played by the introduction of concepts. Such concepts can open up a new perspective on reality and offer new ways of dealing with it. The ‘bitter-sweet’ love in Sappho heralded emotional ambiguity, while scientist and philosopher Aristotle introduced concepts that enabled us to grasp development and change. Since understanding and action are tightly connected, coming to terms with these phenomena has many consequences.

In modernity, the influence of a dualism of sorts is rampant. Best known is of course the body-mind dualism attributed to Descartes. Other dualisms are between man and nature, between individual and society, between freedom and necessity. Although influenced by Descartes, Spinoza’s thoughts take a completely different starting point, avoiding thus a whole set of problems. Not wanting to deny differences, he still assumes an original unity between those domains.

Such unity is aspired too in neuroscience, most clearly in research on free will. How to reconcile neurophysiology with freedom is the question. Less problematic appears to be the explanation of our social nature, due to research on so-called mirror neurons and empathy: humans appear to be attuned to emotional exchanges.
However, this will end by discussing the limits of empathy and imitation for ethics: the sameness that  imitation presupposes & confirms may easily overshadow the differences  between persons, for instance. Instead of simply embracing a simple neuro-ethics we may need to draw on diverse sources of morality in order to seek unity and accept diversity – a necessary task in our present multi-crisis  global society.


suhamyAriel Suhamy studied philosophy at the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris and at the Sorbonne University. He is agrégé and doctor, and taught philosophy for a few years before turning to journalism and writing. He is also in charge of a Seminar on Spinoza at the Sorbonne.
He is currently chief assistant at the internet site and review La vie des idées (Books and Ideas in english) at the Collège de France in Paris.
His last book on Spinoza: Spinoza par les bêtes, with illustrations by Alia Daval, was published by Ollendorff & Dessein in 2008.

alison-isadoraAlison Isadora was born in Aotearoa/New Zealand. She studied political philosophy and music at the Victoria University of Wellington before moving to the Netherlands in 1986 primarily to study violin with Vera Beths and thereafter to study composition with Gilius van Bergeijk and Theo Loevendie at The Hague Conservatorium (1994, with distinction.) She has been a performing composer or a composing performer within numerous groups in the Netherlands including Hex, Gending, the Maarten Altena Ensemble, and her own group The Electric Aardvark. Her works have been performed in the Pacific, Europe and North America. In the last years she has become increasingly interested in the possibilities of connecting music to other disciplines, and in the ways realtime electronics can assist this process. Her first foray into this arena in 1995 was the music-theatre work Hoofdwas, for midi-controlled washing-machine, live electronics and mezzo-soprano which she created together with Jan-Bas Bollen (with whom she forms the duo SYNC). Many of Isadora’s recent works deal with cultural identity and the use of biographical material. In  2003 she graduated from DasArts (an institute for post-graduate theatre studies) with Speaking Rites, an installation and audio walk in which interviews with Dutch citizens from various cultural extraction were presented in an interactive environment. The work was premiered during the Gaudeamus Music Week. In 2005 as part of her Wild Creation residency she created an installation in which the situation of Chinese goldminers in 19th Century NZ was juxtaposed with current-day Chinese villagers dealing with e-waste sent by the west.

machielMachiel Keestra studied philosophy and psychology in Amsterdam and Heidelberg (Germany). Formerly a staff member of the International School of Philosophy in Leusden (NL) and the Studium Generale of the University of Amsterdam, he is currently assistant professor at the Institute for Interdisciplinary Studies of the University of Amsterdam. He taught and organised many courses and seminars on philosophical, scientific and cultural subjects. He published edited volumes on the history of philosophy, breakthroughs in physics and a cultural history of mathematics. The topics of his articles range from philosophers like Aristotle and Hegel to the philosophy of language and tragedy. His current research is on the philosophy of neuroscience, in which he confronts concepts of action and understanding from philosophers like Aristotle, Ricoeur, Bratman and Frankfurt with recent evidence from cognitive neuroscience. Read more..

Begin 20h00. Price € 7,50, reduced € 5; including drinks; Herengracht 401/Beulingstraat 10. Please register by mail at

This evening is realised in co-operation with Maison Descartes logo-couleur-hires1

Over en weer

Over en weer
Cees Nooteboom, Remco Campert

Het laatste nummer van Castrum Peregrini (278/279; 2007) droeg de titel ‘Freundschaft, Vorstellung und Bedeutung’. Er stond een gesprek afgedrukt tussen Cees Noteboom en Rüdiger Safranski dat bij Castrum Peregrini plaats vond en de vriendschap tussen de beide verschillende denkers weerspiegelde. Een cruciaal moment in hun relatie was – beklemtoonden ze alle beide – het verschijnen van Cees’ roman ‘Phillip en de anderen’. Die lijkt toch zijn leven in twee tijdperken in te delen. Ervoor en erna. Zo verbaast het me ook niet dat Cees er weer naar verwees toen hij met Remco Campert op toneel van de Melkweg stond tijdens de slotavond van het Weerwoord festival op 1 februari 2009.

imagesHet zijn twee iconen van de Nederlandse literaire wereld, op leeftijd, en de ene heeft  meer met de bijbehorende sentimentaliteit te ‘campen’ dan de ander. Ze hebben elkaar leren kennen, hoe kan het anders, in een kroeg. Er was meteen een klik. Ze hadden elkaar iets te vertellen maar het was ook duidelijk dat regelmatige uitwisseling moeilijk zou worden, doordat hun  levens niet in hetzelfde ritme en helemaal niet in dezelfde ruimtelijke sferen verliepen. Ze gingen elkaar dus schrijven, zoals het hoort voor schrijvers, maar dan gedichten, alleen maar gedichten. Over en weer dus. Met variërende periodes ertussen. En daar staan ze dan beiden en lezen afwisselend voor wat ze elkaar te zeggen hadden. En dat is schitterend. Wat een genadeloze openheid over de wederzijdse gevoelens en verschillen in leefwerelden. Wat een ontroerende waardering voor juist die verschillen. En dan: de tijd, de tijd die afstand brengt, verandering in ideeën, afstand en dood. Händel schreef een opera betiteld ‘Il trionfo del tempo e della verità’ (De triomf van tijd en waarheid). Je zou dit bundeltje kunnen noemen: de triomf van de waarheid over de tijd. En omdat je het niet zo makkelijk met goddelijke grootheden zoals de tijd kunt opnemen moet je toch wel in staat zijn om jezelf enorm te relativeren. Wie klein is moet slim zijn zegt men en in die zin hebben we het met enorme slimmerds te maken.

‘Toch vriend van oudsher/ hoe komt het dat ik niet vergeet/ wat ik niet meer voel’ schrijft Remco en Cees antwoord: ‘Waar blijft alles / nu we er zelf / nog zijn? / Hoort wat ooit bestond / dan niet meer bij ons, of hoe vervormd? // En toch, dat hooi in de zomer / in het hart van de winter, / hoe komt het dat ik weet / wat je zegt?’

Gek genoeg is dit prachtbundeltje nooit eerder besproken. Bij deze dus en met overtuiging. ‘Over en weer’ is verschenen bij Atlas en meer dan de moeite waard. Een kleintje, maar erg slim.

Spinoza redux I with Chris Keulemans – outcomes

In case you have missed this wonderful first Spinoza redux or want to get back to our inspiring talks we try to capture a bit of the thoughts that emerged on 13 February at our project space, Beulingstraat 10. Feel free to comment!

_mg_49931Good evening and a very warm welcome to all of you. My name is Lars Ebert, programme co-ordinator at Castrum Peregrini. Tonight is the first regular event here in the new project space of Castrum Peregrini, which is just the first visible step in a transition process that will continue in the near future and the years to come and that will open this building in steps to our creative network and the public partly. I hope that at the next evening the neighbouring ground floor area will welcome you with bar facilities, a lounging area, a decent cloakroom but first and formost the auratic sphere which most of you will still know from our building at the OZV, only then in a modern dress.

To stay tuned to our always exciting process of transition and to keep updated about our events please check regularly our blog at We invite you there to actively participate in our debates, thoughts and project work. Get online and make your voice have an impact on our work.

We start our spring programme with the Spinoza redux.

Spinoza is an iconic philosopher from the 17th century. Redux is a Latin adjective meaning “bringing back” or “coming back”.

In a series of three evenings Castrum Peregrini will confront artists, poets, writers and scholars with the ideals of freedom set out by Baruch de Spinoza and ask them to react on it. With the recent developments on the world stage and the accompanying tensions the ideas of this 17th century thinker come in the focus of attention. He was one of the first to plea for a complete separation of state and religion.

Spinoza is also one of the icons of Amsterdam Wereldboekenstad and has a kind of come back in the public opinion. His ideas about tolerance and freedom of religion are at the heart of recent debates on immigration. As an immigrant himself he preached freedom of speech. He upholds reason above believe and defends humbly reflecting the ideal of tolerance.

Castrum Peregrini stands for the values of freedom, friendship and culture. The foundation believes that each generation needs to redefine those values and wants to enhance the respective debate. Seen the omnipresent ‘celebration of freedom’ held in the name of Spinoza, it seems an appealing challenge to search for the attitude of Spinoza in nowadays lives and oeuvres. Maybe we can make obvious what is still of relevance of this philosopher. What kind of Spinoza-curricula can be found today and which inspiring oeuvres? And above all: can we find an entrance to Spinoza that can inspire all our lives?

Our three evenings will be hosted by Chris Keulemans, Cox Habbema and Farid Tabarki. The hosts were asked to choose a quote by Spinoza as a point of departure for their evening. Then they were asked to invite three companion speakers from different disciplines to each give a 15 minutes maximum statement about their live and work in relation to the chosen Spinoza quote.

The Spinoza redux is being made possible by the generous support of LIRAfonds, Goethe Institut Amsterdam, Maison Descartes and Amsterdam Wereldboekenstad.

We have the photographer Simon Bosch with us tonight who will capture debate in visual material and I hope that you will be able tomorrow to find back impressions from tonight including documentation of statements.

Time to introduce our today’s host, Chris Keulemans:

I could tell a lot about him (his CV is endless) especially about Chris publications, his being a director of the Bali for quite a while, his ambitious Tolhuistuin project etc. But I will not and instead quote from one of his e-mails to one of tonight’s speakers:

“First of all, thanks for being so gracious as to accept the invitation to participate in what promises to be a night of hybrid thoughts by four wildly different thinkers – all of whom confess not to know very much about Spinoza. I certainly am not an expert on Amsterdams most famous philosopher. But the quote offered to me by Lars was hard to resist.”

Chris I leave it to you to introduce your quote and your guests.

 Chris Keulemans:

Ethics IV

I.          By good I mean that which we certainly know to be useful to us.

II.        By evil I mean that which we certainly know to be a hindrance to us in the attainment of any good.

_mg_5007First time I read this, I thought: chocolate. I thought: Soprano’s. Airport whiskies. Lazy Sunday afternoons. Gauloises blondes. Short stories by James Salter. Walking down a deserted street, not a destination in sight and no need to have one. Amy Winehouse. Leaving a cinema in daylight. Chocolate, I thought.

All of these are very dear to me. I call them good. They make me feel free. Free to do anything I want. They may or may not be shared with friends. All of them, in one way or another, have something to do with culture. Freedom, friendship and culture – the principles upon which this space was founded, when Gisele van Waterschoot van der Gracht and Wolfgang Frommel opened this house to Jewish citizens of Amsterdam during the nazi occupation. Why then, if my deep but innocent pleasures seem so well at home in this place, does it make me feel uneasy to express them here?

Because of Baruch de Spinoza. Because of his Ethics. I have never read them. Which makes me feel like a fool, accepting an invitation for an evening devoted to his understanding of freedom. A fool who starts talking about chocolate and the Soprano’s, with Amsterdam’s greatest philosopher looking on in scorn and dismay. But it gets worse. I cannot agree with him.

Much as I have come to sense the awesome scope of his thinking, over the past weeks, his definitions of good and evil – which I chose from a handful of quotes offered to me by Lars Ebert, our host tonight – trigger in me an instant impulse to revolt, every time I read them.

By good I mean that which we certainly know to be useful to us.

Alright. I understand Spinoza was not talking about chocolate and Soprano’s here. Not even of James Salter and Amy Winehouse. He was contemplating serious good. The good that he strove for during all the thinking hours of his life. The good that comes from the security of knowing. And I hope that I am correct when I suppose that he chooses the word useful here in its most existential sense – useful in our permanent endeavor to survive, to be and to remain being.

But still. I am not a philosopher, never will be, and anything I say will be swept away by the sheer intellectual force of Spinoza’s all-encompassing Ethics. But instinctively, I refuse the equasion of good and useful.

In my understanding of good, good is almost by definition the very absence of utility. Good does not ask or demand anything, it cannot be translated into result, it will not help me survive in the face of evil. The list of pleasures I started out with could be easily extended into a much longer one. All of these pleasures would have a few things in common. They are innocent. They do not harm me or others. (Although I confess this might be a bit shaky in the case of Gauloises Blondes…) They give me a sense of comfort and very often of freedom. If I allow the list to include more serious examples of good – moral courage, compassion with others, an uncompromising rejection of injustice – this still holds true. And to see good in others will strengthen my sense of freedom, at least my sense that freedom is possible.

Is that sense of freedom useful to me? In a sense, yes. There is profit in feeling free. It encourages my confidence and imagination. But that’s where, as far as I am concerned, the utility of good should end. Good should not be put to use for the sake of a greater ideal than itself. Once we allow all things good to be measured in their contribution to any larger cause, we’re in trouble. Deep trouble.

The great ideologies and religions have defined good as that which advances people to a perfect future. A good soviet worker would help the community fulfill the five year plan. A good Christian will bring himself and others a step closer to heaven. Now Spinoza was anything but a loyal Christian, let alone a communist, but you see my point. Even in daily life, the equasion of good and useful puts us at risk. Reducing good to something in function of something else, as a step towards a greater goal – my survival, our survival – is denying the essence of good. Good has no intentional result. It cannot be traded. It exists in itself, in its own moment, and that is precisely the beauty of good._mg_5029

Take love. I understand Spinoza has written wise and comforting things about love. And I am sure he can explain how love can be good and thus, in his own definition, useful. But again, to me love is at its most powerful exactly when it does not ask or give anything, but when it is simply there, between people, in its incomparable quality of freedom shared. Love is good, and it gets even better when combined with chocolate and a dvd-box of the Soprano’s, but it reaches perfection only when no one involved starts measuring up its usefulness. In the presence of love, I would have a hard time even remembering the word ‘use’. Use is simply out of the picture, when love is in the air.

Okay. Next question. Where does all of this leave evil? Spinoza writes:

By evil I mean that which we certainly know to be a hindrance to us in the attainment of any good.

This line does not trigger in me the same immediate revolt that Spinoza’s definition of good did. Because yes, evil – the absence of chocolate, whiskey, books, movies, love & compassion – will stand between me and anything good. But, of course, what I have just said about good complicates this definition of evil too. If I have just argued against the equasion of good and useful, because it will get us in trouble, I might even have to be happy with a little evil now and then, because it will stop me from measuring the utility of good.

Evil can be very useful, if you believe in five year plans and heaven. It takes some abuse of power and authority, after all, to force everyone you find under your command to move in the same direction. But there is more to evil. It is a power in itself. It can be of great use to those who choose to inflict it on others, but it can also be totally senseless. To consciously cause pain and depravation can be evil, but to cause it without even thinking is evil too. So to me, evil as a hindrance to attain good is too modest a definition. Evil has countless faces, and they can hurt me just as badly when they don’t stand in my way. Just like good, evil is a force that exists outside of any equasion. It cannot be measured or traded, and it will leave its mark regardless of what I do or do not achieve.

In the meantime, Baruch de Spinoza must have left the building, utterly depressed by the aimless mumbling of this non-philosopher. He is mistaking a mistake, though. Because now, we’re getting to the good part. I have invited three distinguished gentlemen to have their own go at his definitions of good and evil. They couldn’t be more different, but they have two things in common: all of them are brilliant at what they do, and all of them confess to know too little about Spinoza. Well, that didn’t stop me from accepting this invitation, and I am happy it didn’t stop them either._mg_5025

Before hearing from them, I will introduce them shortly.

Gawie Keyser has been the film critic at De Groene Amsterdammer for a long time, and still I can never predict what he will think of the movie under review. He has an astonishing range of cinematic knowledge, his style glitters both – and this is a rare quality – when he loves or hates a movie, he will not look away when a director explores the darkest sides of human nature, and faithful readers of De Groene recently discovered that he has a thing for Georgina Verbaan.

Ashok Bhalotra is a prizewinning poet among architects. Over his long career, he has lit up otherwise unspectacular Dutch urban environments such as Amersfoort, Emmen, Hoogeveen and Heerhugowaard. But his work, as a longtime companion at KuiperCompagnons in Rotterdam, has also taken him across, from Mecca to his country of origin, India, and from Shanghai to Abu Dhabi. If I have ever come a prime example of the rare species called postmodern humanist, it has to be Ashok Bhalotra.

Ram Manikkalingam is one of the reasons why we should be happy with our university. They managed to attract him for a spell as a visiting professor of political science, which is why we are fortunate enough to have him here tonight. As an academic and an activist, he has dealt with matters of war and peace throughout his life, both in his troubled country Sri Lanka, where he had the courage to serve as senior advisor on the peace process to the previous president, and across the globe, wherever his insight in questions of good and evil was called upon. And on the one occasion that I met him before tonight, I discovered that even professors in a field of such deep gravity do not always lose their sense of humor.

The first guest to react on Chris opening statement was Gawie Keyser. He opted for writing an essay which he summarised for the public. Theis the full text, in Dutch

Force of Evil is een film noir uit 1949, geregisseerd door Abraham Polonsky. Er is geen enkele reden om het over deze film te hebben, behalve dat het een cinematografische tour de force is dat zich keer op keer laat bekijken, en het feit dat ik het toevallig weer zag in de week waarin ik over Spinoza moest nadenken, specifiek dus Ethica IV, Definities 1 en 2, die ik voor de volledigheid en de context citeer: ‘Onder “goed” versta ik dat, waarvan wij zeker weten dat het nuttig voor ons is. Onder “kwaad” daarentegen dat, waarvan wij zeker weten dat het ons belemmert iets goeds te bereiken.’ Het boeiende aan deze Definities zijn die twee woorden: ‘zeker weten’. Ze impliceren immers het tegenovergestelde, of op z’n minst een schemergebied, rekbaarheid, een marge. We moeten iets dus zeker weten, alvorens de rest van de Definities in werking treedt. Als die zekerheid er niet is, dan komt de rest van het statement op losse schroeven te staan, gelukkig maar, want dat schemergebied vormt juist een vruchtbare voedingsbodem voor verhalen in de gietvorm morality play, waarvan er nauwelijks een beter exemplaar te bedenken valt dan Force of Evil._mg_5014

Door de kredietcrisis, de wereldwijde recessie en het schrikbeeld van een op handen zijnde Depressie is Polonksy’s film meer relevant dan ooit. Het werk werd wel eens omschrijven als de ‘scherpste ontleding van het vrije kapitalisme die ooit uit Hollywood kwam’ (Nicholas Christopher in Somewhere in the Night. Film Noir and the American City, 1969). De protagonist, de maffia-advocaat Joe Morse, gespeeld door John Garfield, vormt een archetype: de Amerikaan die in alle vrijheid – vrij van moraliteit, wetten en het eigen geweten – werkt aan zijn eerste miljoen. In een zekere zin wijst Joe vooruit op John Galt, held in Ayn Rands roman Atlas Shrugged (1957) en boegbeeld van het laissez-faire-kapitalisme. Een paar maanden geleden, middenin de schokgolven rond de federale overname van de hypotheekbanken Freddie Mac en Fannie Mae, kopte The Wall Street Journal: ‘Waar is John Galt?’ Dezelfde vraag geldt te meer voor Joe Morse.

Voor Polonsky was Force of Evil een reflectie van zijn eigen persoonlijke en politieke geschiedenis. Polonsky (1910 – 1999), zoon van een joodse apotheker, groeide op in New York, studeerde aan Columbia Law School en raakte al vroeg in zijn leven politiek bewust. Over de Depressie zei hij: ‘Ik werd volwassen in een land dat tot stilstand was gekomen, met vijftig miljoen werklozen en banken die omvielen.’ Na de oorlog ging Polonsky voor Paramount werken waar hij opviel met zijn script voor Body and Soul (1947) met John Garfield in de hoofdrol. Garfield en Polonsky konden het goed met elkaar vinden; ze waren allebei ‘lefties’, Polonsky was zelfs een uitgesproken marxist, wat hem later in zijn carrière duur te staan zou komen toen hij tijdens de heksenjacht van sen. Joseph McCarthy op de zwartlijst belandde en daardoor nauwelijks meer aan de slag kon in Hollywood. Maar voordat het zover was, schreef Polonsky speciaal voor Garfield een script gebaseerd op de roman Tucker’s People van Ira Wolfert. Hij verfilmde het in 1949 als Force of Evil.

Het verhaal gaat over de rumbers racket, of illegale loterij, waaraan duizenden mensen in arme woonbuurten in New York meedoen. In dit kansspel gokken mensen op drie cijfers die de volgende dag zullen worden getrokken. Garfield speelt de rol van Joe Morse, een advocaat die werkt voor de gangster Ben Tucker. In opdracht van Tucker ontvouwt Joe een plan om alle illegale ‘banken’, locaties verspreid over de hele stad waar mensen geld storten om aan de loterij te kunnen meedoen, als het ware op te kopen en zo onder een dak, dat wil zeggen onder Tuckers beheer, te brengen. Om dit te bereiken, plannen Joe en Tucker om het getal 776 te laten winnen op Onafhankelijkheidsdag. Op die dag zullen miljoenen Amerikanen uit bijgeloof al hun geld zetten op de symbolisch belangrijke datum 4 juli 1776, de dag waarop Amerika werd ‘geboren’. Als dat gebeurt, zullen de meeste informele banken, waar mensen de numbers game spelen, in een dag failliet zijn.

_mg_5011Een van deze banken wordt bestuurd door Leo Morse, broer van Joe. In een poging Leo te beschermen tegen de overname van de maffia, probeert Joe zijn broer over te halen in zee te gaan met Ben Tucker, de gangster. Want, zegt Joe, het word toch allemaal straks ‘legaal, respectabel en zeer profijtelijk’. De integere Leo weigert; nooit zal hij met gangsters werken. Joe snapt er niets van. Het is geld, Leo, zegt hij, en geld ‘heeft geen moraliteit’. Waarop Leo riposteert: ‘Maar ik merk wel dat ik moraliteit heb.’

Net als in de klassieke moraliteit (morality play) zijn er duidelijke schakeringen van goed en kwaad in Force of Evil. Polonsky schetst deze opponerende terreinen met religieuze beeldspraak. De film opent met een wide shot van Wall Street, met het accent op de Trinity Church. Het financiële district is de hemel, het is Eden. In een poging hem over te halen toch toe te geven en zijn heil bij de gangsters te zoeken, zegt Joe tegen broer Leo dat hij hem rijk zou maken, dat hij een kantoor op Wall Street zal krijgen, een kantoor ‘in de wolken’. Later, in nog een verleidingsscène waarin Joe centraal staat, probeert hij ook Doris, een mooie, jonge vrouw die voor Leo werkt, zover te krijgen de louche ‘bank’ van Leo te verruilen voor de glitter en glamour van Wall Street. (Cruciaal is dat Polonsky de illegale activiteiten van de numbers game in de bank van Leo afbeeldt als een noodzakelijk kwaad. Bij Leo werken gewone mensen en komen gewone mensen hun geld vergokken in de hoop op een beter leven. Leo weet dit, en het feit dat hij getrouw wil blijven aan deze mensen, schetst zijn karakter. Hij zegt tegen Joe: ‘Zo’n grote boef ben ik nou ook weer niet.’) Terug naar Doris, in gesprek met Joe. Joe laat haar een robijn zien, als symbool van het nieuwe leven dat haar te wachten staat. Het is de verleidingsscène in Genesis. Joe: ‘To reach out and take it – that’s human, that’s natural. But to get pleasure from not taking, by cheating yourself deliberately, like my brother did today, from not getting, not taking – don’t you see what a black thing that is for a man to do?‘ Het is een magnifieke speech geleverd door de magnifieke John Garfield. De speech verwijst niet alleen naar zichzelf en naar de verhaalwerkelijkheid, maar vooral ook naar de grote tragiek van datgene wat Polonsky zag als de Amerikaanse nachtmerrie: ongecontroleerde, ongebreidelde lust naar rijkdom en macht.

De ironie is dat deze elementen eveneens de bouwstenen van de Amerikaanse droom vormen. Wat Joe wil, staat niet ver verwijderd van het oude cliché, namelijk een Amerika waar iedereen het recht heeft in alle vrijheid rijkdom en macht na te streven. Een Randiaans, objectivistisch Amerika, waar John Galt niet in staking hoeft. Als dat ‘goed’ is – en dat kan – wat is er dan met Joe Morse aan de hand? Waarom is hij ‘slecht’ in Force of Evil? En hoe wordt hij ‘goed’? Is er verlossing mogelijk?  Wat goed is, is datgene waarvan we zeker weten dat het nuttig voor ons is. Wat slecht is, is datgene wat ons belemmert in het bereiken van het goede. De droom en de nachtmerrie liggen vlak naast elkaar, ze overlappen elkaar zelfs. En dat is het probleem met de stelling van Spinoza._mg_5003

In hetzelfde Amerika waarin Joe Morse leeft, leeft ook Bernie Madoff, de ‘Talented Mr Madoff‘, zoals The New York Times kopt. In het stuk voert de schrijver de referentie naar Patricia Highsmiths personage Ripley in het opschrift verder in een betoog waarin seriemoordenaars en Wall Street-handelaren als Madoff, die ervan wordt verdacht vijftig miljoen dollar aan investeringen te hebben verduisterd, op een lijn worden geplaatst. Maar is dat wel terecht? Hoe slecht is Bernie Madoff? Hoe nuttig is hij niet, was hij niet? Hieruit volgt de vraag of Madoff werkelijk een lone gunman was. Of was hij simpelweg een natuurlijk bijproduct van het laissez-faire-kapitalisme, de verpersoonlijking van de wortel van het kwaad?

Natuurlijk, er is een keerzijde. Het is wrang dat, zoals Machteld Allan aantoont in een artikel in De Groene Amsterdammer, de kredietcrisis in een zekere zin voortkwam uit een ‘altruïstische sociaal-economische politiek van de Amerikaanse overheid, waarbij iedereen, ook de minvermogende mensen, in staat werd om een huis te kopen’. Hiermee betoogt Allan dat niet het ‘boze kapitalisme’, maar juist overheidsbemoeienis tot monopolievorming leidt, waardoor een ‘bel van waarloze hypotheekcontracten’ ontstond. De link met Rands personage John Galt is duidelijk: juist Galt, in Atlas Shrugged, laat zien dat vrijheid alles is in het scheppen van welvaart voor iedereen.

Interessant is wanneer het element moraliteit in het spel komt, en daarmee ook Spinoza en het paradigma van goed en kwaad. Geloofde Joe in Force of Evil erin niets fouts te hebben gedaan, aannemelijk is eveneens dat Bernie Madoff dacht ter goeder trouw te hebben gehandeld, althans het is heel goed denkbaar dat hij meende geen formele regels te overtreden, dat hij in zijn ogen die regels hooguit op een creatieve manier interpreteerde. Het boeiende aan Madoff is niet dat hij precies wist hoe hij het systeem moest bespelen, maar juist dat hijzelf dat systeem wás. The New York Times legt bloot hoe Madoff eind jaren tachtig kind aan huis was bij diegene die in Washington verantwoordelijk waren voor de financiële controle op Wall Street. Hij was de held van deze regulators, vertelt een anonieme bron, een ‘ridder op een wit paard’. Ondertussen was hij bezig met een eigen numbers racket waarvan de volle omvang nog altijd niet helemaal duidelijk is.

Het geval Madoff laat zien dat er geen helden meer zijn op Wall Street, in ieder geval voorlopig niet, geen winnaars meer, dat weten we nu de ene bank na de andere kapseist, de kredietcrisis geen grenzen meer kent, en over de hele wereld oude financiële structuren niet in staat blijken de onbeteugelbare hunkering naar rijkdom te dragen. De krachten van het kwaad, zou je kunnen zeggen, hebben zich teruggetrokken. Of tieren die krachten juist welig, nu het overheid overal inspringt, en er een nieuwe Amerikaanse president in het Witte Huis zit die de meest onamerikaanse president in mensenheugenis is?

Wat leert Force of Evil ons? Kunnen we iets ‘zeker weten’? Waarom drukt Spinoza zich in deze absolutistische termen uit? Het woord ‘nuttig’ – het drukt dienstbaarheid uit. Maar kan dat, in het New York van Joe, of van de Getalenteerde Mr. Madoff? Het móét, zegt de nieuwe onamerikaanse president, product niet van Lincoln of Roosevelt of Jack Kennedy en zijn Peace Corps, maar van de geruststellende, modieuze moraliteit van Jon Favreau en The West Wing.

Duisterder en daardoor beter dan de fictie van Obama is het verhaal van Force of Evil. Regisseur Polonsky was een marxist, en zijn ‘oplossingen’ zullen daardoor gekleurd zijn, misschien niet eens bruikbaar. Maar zijn film staat – als een huis. Dat geldt ook voor de waarheden die dit narratief bevat. Een van de mooiste dingen aan de film is dat er verlossing mogelijk is, ook voor Joe, ook al bereikt hij aan het einde van de film de diepste hel. Waar heeft hij het allemaal voor gedaan? Ook voor Joe heeft het geen zin erom heen te draaien. Voor het geld, natuurlijk. Het eerste wat hij zegt, wanneer de film begint, is dat 4 juli een mooie dag is, want op die dag ‘verdien ik m’n eerste miljoen’.

Wanneer Joe aan het einde van de film in de buurt van de Brooklyn Bridge naar het lijk van zijn broer zoekt, zoekt hij ook naar zijn eigen zelf. Joe heeft geen identiteit meer. Hij is volledig opgezogen door de numbers racket, door Wall Street en het gebrek aan morele integriteit, doordat hij niets deed behalve voor zichzelf, niets nuttigs. Polonksy beeldt deze neergang magnifiek uit door een shot waarin Joe, klein, tegen de achtergrond van een grote muur en een trap naar beneden rent. Joe: ‘I just kept going down there, it was like going to the bottom of the world.‘ En daar vindt hij Leo, dood, vermoord door de bazen van de numbers racket, de opdrachtgevers van Joe. Joe: ‘I found my brother’s body at the bottom there, where they had thrown it away on the rocks… by the river… like an old dirty rag nobody wants. He was dead – and I felt I had killed him. I turned back to give myself up to Hall; because if a man’s life can be lived so long and come out this way – like rubbish – then something was horrible and had to be ended one way or another… and I decided to help.’

To help, om iets nuttigs de doen.

Zo eindigt de film: deprimerend, maar met een krachtige, positieve boodschap. Eindelijk, voor het eerst, doet Joe iets goeds, en hij denkt, in ieder geval in deze laatste seconden van het verhaal, zeker te weten dat wat hij doet – meewerken aan het onderzoek van de autoriteiten naar de numbers racket – nuttig voor hem zal zijn.

Maar een film is maar een film. En een slot is maar een slot, en wat er daarna gebeurt, krijgen we nooit te zien. Hoe absoluut kan het besef van Joe Morse in Force of Evil zijn? Natuurlijk, het kan dat nooit zijn. Maar dat is ook niet de bedoeling in de klassieke moraliteit. De bedoeling is om ons iets te leren, en dat doet deze film, of je nu wel of niet daarin wil geloven: ongecontroleerde rijkdom en macht creëren een moreel vacuum dat ontmenselijkt, dat gewone mensen belemmert in het bereiken van datgene waarvan ze zeker weten dat het goed voor hen is. En dat is: dienstbaarheid, liefde, trouw, eerlijkheid. Zeker weten, nee. Want rijkdom en welvaart en macht zijn eveneens dingen die in een bredere context net zo goed een situatie teweeg zouden kunnen brengen waarin mensen iets kunnen doen waarvan ze zeker weten dat het goed voor hen is (hypotheek, huis, kinderen, sociaal burgerschap). Zeker weten, nee.

We will try to get the statements of Ram and Ashok online as soon as possible. Meanwhile enjoy some more impressions of the evening captured by photographer Simon Bosch:












This series of lectures is part of the European learning partnership JETE (Jewish Education Traditions in Europe)

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Het aura van Castrum in het tijdperk van transformatie..

Hoezo koos Michiel van Iersel voor deze projecttitel? Lees het hieronder.

Het woord ‘aura’ in de titel van het kunst-project verwijst naar de Duitse literatuurcriticus en cultuurfilosoof die Walter Benjamin die dit begrip in de jaren ’30 van de vorige eeuw als eerste gebruikte. De theorieen van Benjamin over het ‘aura’ van de kunst en zijn tragische levensloop vertonen veel raakvlakken met Castrum Peregrini en met het leven en werk van Stefan George (zie eerdere post op deze weblog). In zijn beroemde essay ‘Het kunstwerk in het tijdperk van zijn technische reproduceerbaarheid’ bracht Walter Benjamin in 1936 het begrip ‘aura’ in verband met de kunst(enaar). Ook in andere artikelen en brieven heeft hij het erover en probeert hij het te duiden met begrippen als de authenticiteit, uniciteit, en autoriteit van het originele kunstwerk.


Door de opkomst van nieuwe reproductietechnieken in de decennia voor 1900, zoals fotografie en film, kwam de originaliteit van kunstwerken in het gedrang. Door een foto van een kunstwerk af te drukken in een boek of tijdschrift raakt het losgeweekt van van zijn unieke context. Voor die tijd was kunst hoofdzakelijk bestemd was voor ritueel gebruik in de beslotenheid van de kerk of familiekring. In de nieuwe eeuw zorgde de grootschalige reproductie van kunstwerken volgens Benjamin voor de teloorgang van het aura, van de uniciteit van het originele beeld.

Walter Benjamin kan ook direct in verband worden gebracht met Castrum Peregrini door de haat-liefde verhouding die hij als literatuurcriticus had met (het werk van) Stefan George. Voor zover bekend hebben zij elkaar nooit ontmoet, maar hun persoonlijke geschiedenissen zijn nauw met elkaar verweven. Van de gedeelde liefde voor literatuur en kunst tot de grote invloed van de Nazi’s op hun leven en tevens op hun dood. Ook schreef Benjamin meerdere malen over het werk en leven van George, waarbij hij stevige kritiek uitte op diens rechtse denk- en dichtwijze. Het lijkt (en is) misschien paradoxaal, maar Stefan George vormde een grote bron van inspiratie voor de Joodse onderduikers op de Herengracht, terwijl hij op hetzelfde moment ook veel aanzien genoot van leden van de Nazi-top. Toch kan hem feitelijk niks worden verweten. In 1933, toen de Nazi’s in Duitsland aan de macht kwamen, overleed George. In datzelfde jaar deed Benjamin volgende onheilspellende uitspraak over het dichtwerk van George:”Wenn jemals Gott einen Propheten durch Erfüllung seiner Prophetie geschlagen hat, so ist es bei George der Fall gewesen” (“Als God ooit een profeet heeft gestraft door zijn profetieën in vervulling te laten gaan, dan is het bij George zo geweest” Of zoiets). Hij refereerde hiermee aan de titel van dichtbundel ‘Das Neue Reich’, waarin de Nazi’s een voorbode van hun eigen Duizendjarig Rijk zagen.


Op basis van Benjamin’s analyse van het aura, kan mogelijk ook het charisma en de bekendheid van Stefan George in (het vooroorlogse) Duitsland worden verklaard. Ook kunnen de theorieën van Benjamin licht werpen op de mysterieuze aantrekkingskracht die George en Castrum Peregrini sinds het begin uitoefent op intellectuelen en kunstenaars, van Beckmann tot Baselitz. Wat maakt Castrum zo uniek? Vormen de vele tradities, rituelen en mythes het ‘aura’ van Castrum Peregrini? Wat blijft er over van dit aura als Castrum zich geleidelijk meer open zal stellen voor invloeden van buitenaf? Kan deze website iets van de magie overbrengen, die je ervaart als je voor het eerst het pand aan de Herengracht betreedt? En kan het aura überhaupt wel behouden worden wanneer je, in de woorden van Walter Benjamin, aanneemt dat ‘het ware beeld van het verleden voorbij glipt’? Deze en andere vragen spelen een belangrijke rol binnen het Aura-project.

Herengracht 401 ca. 1890 door G.H.Breitner

Naast de (kunst)theorieën van Walter Benjamin kan ook zijn persoonlijke leven in het licht van Castrum Peregrini worden bekeken. Zijn tragische dood door zelfmoord had mogelijk voorkomen kunnen worden als hij tijdig een onderduikadres had gevonden. Wat nou als hij niet via Spanje de oprukkende Nazi’s had proberen te ontsnappen, maar vanuit Frankrijk naar Nederland was gevlucht? Op 7 september 1940 huurde Gisele een etage aan de Herengracht. Nog geen drie weken later, op 27 september, maakt Benjamin een einde aan zijn leven. Zou hij de oorlog hebben kunnen overleven als hij Castrum had weten te bereiken? Het had gekund, maar we zullen het nooit weten. Als gedachte-experiment is het wel interessant en het roept de vraag op of Castrum in de toekomst onderdak kan bieden aan kunstenaars en intellectuelen die tijdelijk onderdak zoeken? Het Aura-project vormt namelijk ook het begin van een zogenaamd ‘artist-in-residence’ project, waarmee Castrum tijdelijke woon- en werkruimte wil bieden aan kunstenaars uit binnen- en buitenland.

benjamin-george-collageDe Joodse Walter Benjamin werd in latere jaren door de Nazi’s vervolgd en pleegde in 1940 naar alle waarschijnlijkheid zelfmoord toen hij door de Pyreneen naar Spanje probeerde te vluchten. Het is niet waarschijnlijk dat hij haatdragend of wraakzuchtig zou zijn geweest, als hij inderdaad de keuze voor Nederland had gemaakt en de oorlog binnen de veilige muren van Castrum Peregrini had weten te overleven. Het afrekenen met de geschiedenis, het openhalen van oude wonden openhalen, het koesteren van haat. Allemaal sentimenten die niet van toepassing op hem zijn, als hij schrijft dat “only he who can view his own past as an abortion sprung from compulsion and need can use it to full advantage in the present. For what one has lived is at best comparable to a beautiful statue which has had all its limbs knocked off in transit, and now yields nothing but the precious block out of which the image of one’s future must be hewn.”

Hopelijk kunnen we ook nu nog iets leren van deze wijze woorden en onze blik op de toekomst richten.

Spinoza redux I with Chris Keulemans – programme

Spinoza redux      

Over de grenzen van vrijheid

“Het doel van de politiek is dus in werkelijkheid de vrijheid” (Tractatus theologico-politicus 20.6)

In een reeks van drie avonden zal Castrum Peregrini kunstenaars, dichters en essayisten confronteren met het vrijheidsbegrip van Baruch de Spinoza en hun vragen daarop te reageren.

Door de huidige ontwikkelingen op het wereldtoneel staan de gedachten van deze 17de eeuwse denker, die als één van de eersten pleitte voor een volledige scheiding van staat en religie, weer in de volle belangstelling.

U wordt uitgenodigd om kennis te maken met originele, luchthartige, diepzinnige maar altijd onderhoudende reacties op het werk en leven van een medeburger, op wie nog steeds een officiële ban rust.

Iedere avond kent een eigen opperspreekstalmeester. Die kiest een fragment van Spinoza en drie bijdragers (uit verschillende disciplines) die de opdracht krijgen om naar aanleiding van het gekozen fragment een bijdrage te bedenken. De opperspreekstalmeester geeft zelf een inspirerend statement over zijn/haar motivatie, nodigt de gasten uit hun statement te geven en gaat na afloop met het podium en het publiek in gesprek.

De eerste avond vindt plaats op 13 februari 2009
Opperspreekstalmeester: Chris Keulemans

Chris Keulemans is schrijver en journalist. Voormalig directeur van De Balie. Oprichter en directeur de Tolhuistuin, centrum voor cultuur en horeca, Amsterdam Noord. Hij heeft het volgende citaat voor de eerste Spinoza redux gekozen:

Onder ‚goed’ versta ik dat, waarvan wij zeker weten dat het nuttig voor ons is. Onder ‚kwaad’ daarentegen dat, waarvan wij zeker weten dat het ons belemmert iets goeds te bereiken. (Ethica IV, Definities 1 en 2)

Als bijdragers nemen op uitnodiging van Chris Keulemans deel:

Ram Manikkalingam, Sri Lanka, Gasthoogleraar Politicologie UvA
Gawie Keyser, Filmcriticus De Groene Amsterdammer
Ashok Bhalotra, Architect KuiperCompagnons


Spinoza redux opperspreekstalmeesters:

13 februari   Chris Keulemans
19 maart       Cox Habbema
17 april          Farid Tabarki


In samenwerking met Goethe Institut Amsterdam en Maison Descartes 

Begin 20h00. Entree € 7,50, gereduceerd € 5; consumpties gratis; voertaal Engels
Herengracht 401/Beulingstraat 10. SVP aanmelden via

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Spinoza redux!

Spinoza is een Filosoof uit de 17de eeuw. Redux is een bijvoeglijk naamwoord uit het Latijn dat “terugbrengend” of “terugkomend” betekent. De term wordt in de filmindustrie gebruikt om een nieuwe versie van een bestaande film aan te duiden.

In een reeks van drie avonden zal Castrum Peregrini kunstenaars, dichters en essayisten confronteren met het vrijheidsbegrip van Baruch de Spinoza en hun vragen daarop te reageren. Door de huidige ontwikkelingen op het wereldtoneel en de bijbehorende spanningen staan de gedachten van deze 17de eeuwse denker, die als één van de eersten pleitte voor een volledige scheiding van staat en religie, weer in de volle belangstelling.

Het publiek wordt uitgenodigd om kennis te maken met originele, luchthartige, diepzinnige maar altijd onderhoudende reacties op het werk en leven van een medeburger, op wie nog steeds een officiële ban rust.


Spinoza is een van de iconen van Amsterdam Wereldboekenstad en beleeft op dit ogenblik een comeback in de openbare opinie. Zijn denkbeelden over tolerantie en godsdienstvrijheid worden volop gebruikt in het huidige debat over immigratie en staan centraal in het Europees Grundtvig Project JETE – Jewish Education Tradition in Europe. Een allochtoon die vrijheid van meningsuiting predikt, die geloof in de rede boven geloof in welke god dan ook stelt en bescheiden en zorgvuldig redenerend de tolerantie verdedigt. Zo’n allochtoon, daar lijkt Nederland met smart op te wachten. Geen wonder dat Baruch de Spinoza, de zeventiende-eeuwse Amsterdamse filosoof, op dit moment steeds populairder wordt. Baruch de Spinoza werd op 24 november 1632 geboren in het hartje van Amsterdam. Zijn ouders waren Portugees-Joodse immigranten. Hij was een allochtoon van de tweede generatie en integreerde bijzonder goed, om in moderne termen te spreken. Zo goed dat hij uit de Amsterdamse Joodse gemeenschap verbannen werd.

Castrum Peregrini staat voor de waarden vrijheid, vriendschap en cultuur. De stichting gelooft dat elk generatie deze waarden opnieuw moet definiëren en wil het discours hierover bevorderen. Gezien de algehele ‘celebration of freedom’ die in de naam van Spinoza gevoerd wordt, lijkt de behoefte groot om de houding van Spinoza te zoeken in hedendaagse levenslopen en oeuvres en zo aanschouwelijk te maken wat er nog actueel is van deze filosoof. Wat voor spinoziaanse levenlopen zijn er vandaag te vinden en welke inspirerende oeuvres (cross disciplinair) zijn er te vinden? En nog veel belangrijker: hoe kan zulk een werk in gesprek toegankelijk gemaakt worden voor het publiek?


Heb je interesse? Lees meer en meldt je vooral aan (, want de aantal zitplaatsen is beperkt.


DEF flag-logoeac-LLP_ENThis series of lectures is part of the European Learning Partnership JETE (Jewish Education Traditions in Europe)

Opening nieuwe ruimte

23 januari – Herengracht 401/Beulingstraat 10 

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In tijden van grote verandering..

Michiel van Iersel, geestelijke vader van het Aura project en curator van gelijknamige tentoonstelling stuurde de volgende post. 

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