Review of Hasana Sharp’s Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization

Interesting review of Hasana Sharp’s new book Spinoza and the Politics of Renaturalization.


 “The book is split into two parts, “Reconfiguring the Human” and “Beyond the Image of Man”, and it should seen as moving through the dénouement of human sovereignty often depicted in modernity: first its sovereignty over itself, second over nature, and thirdly over the animals that they are. In the first part, Sharp sets out how Spinoza’s philosophy offers an antidote to the atomistic individual, while also countering those forms of hyperbolic ethics after Levinas that denote the asymmetry of self and other. On the one hand, Spinoza’s account of the self evinces “the lack of sovereignty in each and every one of us” (page 24), since we are embedded in webs of relations as “transindividuals”—she weds Spinoza and Simondon on this account—or collectivities among and beyond human beings. For this, she “seek[s] the nonhuman forces operating within everything we think is ours, or our own doing” (page 9). Here, Sharp works to shape a flatter ontology reminiscent of other neo-Spinozists such as Jane Bennett, whose “political ecology of things” in Vibrant Matter (see my review here) she cites approvingly. There is a positive, life-affirming upshot beyond this rethinking of nature, given that she urges us “to built a culture that affirms the necessity rather than the arbitrariness of the will in order to counter the hatred and sadness that arise from viewing ourselves and one another as uniquely responsible for our actions”; our bodies move not simply from the expression of the mind, but in response to other bodies—human and non-human alike (page 46). But just as Spinoza’s parallelism denies the sovereignty of the mind over the body, Sharp is also clear that Spinoza was not a naïve materialist wherein ideas are nothing but the concretion of our material conditions. Thus, she offers a corrective to many recent materialisms. “There is a danger that, in our time,” she warns, “the notion of natural determination may overwhelm the imagination, such that an invocation of the body eclipses any consideration of the mind” (page 49). Spinoza’s account of the ideas as having a force and self-perseverance unto themselves—the quick and loose analogy would be Richard Dawkins’ conception of “memes”—also challenges us to think how ideology operates, not in terms of domination and oppression, but in horizontal disseminations closer to the Foucauldian models of power. That is, the task is not just to think only bodies as caught in a chain of cause-and-effect relations, but the mind as well in terms of changes in affect that “points to the mind and body at once” in the dual languages of mind and extension irreducible to one another.”


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