It was with great joy (and no sorrow) that we met up with Nicola and her friends for a salon in Toronto on a sunny Sunday afternoon - ready to take on a topic that 17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza saw as central to our entire existence. For Spinoza, almost everything we experience can be linked to those oft-twinned states of feeling joy or feeling sorrow...Though just what those two states represented for this monist and materialist thinker - emotions? affects? passions? degrees of perfection or imperfection? - has remained a subject of lively philosophical speculation in the 350 or so years since his controversial 'Ethics' was published to little fanfare and publicly shunned.
To be sure, Spinoza's embracing of joy-seeking as the supreme 'good' and God as an earthly substance like any other was bound to ruffle more than just the odd feather in his time. It is, however, the tendency since then amongst philosophers of diverse stripes and colours to 'bend' Spinoza to suit their conceptual purposes that makes his thinking so perpetually timely.
Considering first Spinoza's notions of joy and sorrow through the virtue ethical lens of Aaron Ben-Ze'ev, we debated their status as 'typical emotions' and compared the way they are seen to heighten, peak and ebb within moral philosophical circles to Spinoza's understanding of our ever-changing emotional state.Turning then to post-structuralist Gilles Deleuze's borrowing of Spinoza to illustrate the workings of affect, we considered sorrow and joy as impersonal 'energy fields' and their fleeting manifestations in and through us as life's ongoing play of intensity meeting banality.
What primarily concerned us, however, was not so much the nature of joy and sorrow in and of themselves as the relationship between the two - were we talking flip-side, here, or fold? With this question in mind, we set to work: testing the waters with a series of well-known quotes that highlight the traditional linking of joy and sorrow; wading into the depths with scissors and paper to hand as we attempted to tangibly represent the differences between a flip-side connection (joy and
sorrow as opposites) and that of the fold (joy and sorrow as a continuum). This particular line of flight culminated in an exercise in haiku poetry that found us peering in from the outside at joy and sorrow personified in an image, and attempting to translate that 'vision' into a fragment of bodily writing.
Nicola's delicious homemade soup made a welcome entrance as we brought this afternoon of lively thought and stimulating discussion to a conclusion. We want to thank Marion, Emily, Juli, Tanya, Bonnie, Erika and, of course, Nicola, for generating such joy in the context of a working salon, and for creating with us such an intellectually exciting environment.