From Marx to Spinoza: Affect, Ideology, Materiality

An online seminar series led by Jason Read, Andrew Goffey and Jeremy Gilbert

At least since the 1960s, a particular strain of radical thought has explored the relationships – potential and actual – between the ‘Marxist’ tradition and the philosophy of Baruch Spinoza and others influenced by him. The modern turn to ‘affect’ as a theme in many branches of the humanities and social sciences would arguably not have happened without this philosophical current; yet much contemporary ‘affect theory’ makes little effort really to think through the implications of this encounter or the relationships between questions of affect and those of power, economics and sociology. 

At the same time, in socialist and communist thought, the radical implications of Spinoza’s materialist psychology often go overlooked in favor of the familiar clichés of Freudianism. Yet some of us would argue that ‘Spinozist Marxism’ is the most useful framework through which to understand many aspects of the relationship between self and society today. It’s a theme that often comes up on Jason’s and Jeremy’s podcasts, 

So our aim in this series of seminars is to explore these issues as thoroughly as possible, in a way that will be both accessible to people coming to them for the first time, and  valuable to those studying them at the most rarefied levels. 

The series will be led by Jason Read, Andrew Goffey and Jeremy Gilbert, but will feature guest speakers when we can get them, and it will take the form of roughly 3-hour online seminars happening approximately monthly. We have topics in mind ranging from materialist feminism to music theory, that could well keep us going for a few years, but for now, we’re just going to list the first few topics 

The series will be hosted by Jeremy’s Culture, Power, and Politics project and recordings of the seminars will appear in the Culture, Power and Politics podcast feed. But we would definitely encourage ‘live’ attendance so that you can ask questions, tell us we’re wrong, and make jokes. We’ll send out occasional updates about the series to the Culture, Power and Politics email list (that you can join on its webpage). 

Access for anyone will be completely free and we are not receiving any funding or institutional support, including from our employer institutions. Omnia sunt communia. There are costs associated with the project, though, so if you can contribute, please consider doing so here.

To attend, you’ll need a Zoom link. We’ll send out the link to the Culture, Power, Politics email list about an hour before each session starts. You can join the list here.

0) What is ‘Marxism’ anyway?
November 18th  17:30 GMT

We’ll discuss what we actually mean by ‘Marxism’. What is historical and what is materialist about historical materialism? Does it matter what Marx himself thought about anything? Is Marxism a philosophical school or a political programme?

 We’ll consider the history of philosophical supplements to, and re-workings of Marxism; and we’ll ask what has provoked the turn to Spinoza on the part of Marxist thinkers in the past and recently. 

  1. Why would radicals read Spinoza?
    December 2nd 2023 17:30 GMT

How does Spinoza fit into the history of Western (and world) philosophy? To what is he relevant outside of academic philosophy? Why did he become a hero to a certain strand of Marxist / post-Marxist thinkers in the late 20th century? Why was he ignored by others? This is what we will discuss in this session.

  1. Spinoza’s Philosophy
    December 16th 2023 17:30 GMT
    In this seminar we’ll finally lay out and discuss the core topics from Spinoza’s major philosophical works, and discuss some of the issues involved with trying to read a 17th century Dutch philosopher who wrote in Latin when you’re a 21st-century Anglophone with a life of your own to live. 
  1. Spinozist Marxism: the organic philosophy of the contemporary left?
    January 6th 2024 17:30 GMT
    In this session, we will be joined by none other than Etienne Balibar to discuss the history and present state of dialogue between Marxism and Spinozism. Is Marx already a Spinozan? Is Spinoza already a Marxist? 
  1. The ‘Affective Turn’
    Feb 3rd 17:30

In this session, we’ll be joined by Erica Tucker look at the so-called ‘affective turn’ in the humanities and social sciences since the late 1990s. We’ll consider the multiple forms which this ‘turn’ has taken, in both political terms (from libertarian accelerationists to radical communists) and disciplinary ( from film theory to geography). We’ll ask how Spinozan it all is, and whether that matters anyway.

  1. Spinozism? 

 March 2nd 2024 17:30 GMT
In this session we will be joined by Tracie Matysik to discuss the very idea of a Spinozan philosophy beyond the writings of Baruch Spinoza himself. To what extent is there a consistent  tradition of materialist monism that can be traced back to Spinoza and necessarily or possibly informs historical materialism? Deleuze called Spinoza this ‘Christ of philosophers’ – is he really? What does that mean, and  to what extent is this a retroactive construction? Does it matter? 

  1. ‘That is God…A shout in the street’
    March 23rd 2024 17:30 GMT

The title of this session is a quote from James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses, and has often been read as an expression of a deliberately Spinozan pantheism. Like many radial thinkers of his time, Joyce was interested in Spinoza, an in this session we’ll discuss ‘Spinozan’ and Spinoza-adjacent conceptual radicalism in the early 20th century, particularly in the work of philosophers who would go on to influence Deleuze and his contemporaries, such as Bergson, Nietzsche and Whitehead.

After this we’re probably going to move the time slot to Wednesdays, at least for the rest of the academic year. But we’re not totally sure yet.