No. 118 (essentialsaltes) wrote,
No. 118

Of Shamballa & Spinoza

postgoodism was good enough to slip me a copy of Uncharted 2 a couple weeks back, and I finished it this weekend. He denies having really done any work on it, so I'll commend mersh instead. It's definitely a great game. I'm not sure it's the Second Coming, as many commentators seem to think, but it's great. It looks absolutely fantastic; not only are there many beautiful locations, but you'd be hard pressed to find a wall that was just a boring wall. Every wall is adorned, or grimy, or partially blowed-up.
The story is pretty basic: go get the Macguffin in Shamballa before the bad guy does. That said, they pull off a nice in media res beginning, and the whole experience is definitely very cinematic (as the commercial notes). Despite most of the activity being shoot-them-before-they-shoot-you, there is good variety in the game play, particularly if you're a cool enough customer to alternate stealth attacks with full Rambo mode.
I was tickled to see a nod to Nicolas Roerich in Drake's journal, but sad that there was no actual mention in the game, though possibly some of Roerich's Himalayan art was used by the designers. Roerich's mountainscapes were also appreciated by HPL, who refers to them a ridiculous number of times in At the Mountains of Madness.
My sucky Time-Warner Cable connection had a happy period of good connectivity, so I had a chance to play some online multiplayer. It is also a lot of fun. I got my ass handed to me in a competitive team game, but I did much better in a cooperative mode where you fight off waves of bad guys. I can see that becoming the real addiction. I've started a new game on the higher difficulty, but I'm already skipping through the cut-scenes. Cinematic or not, I'm not waiting around to watch it again.

And now in part 2 of stuff my friends gave me, jason_brez lent/gave me Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750, by Jonathan Israel. It is quite the hefty tome, clocking in at 720 pages of smaller-than-average text, followed by almost another 100 pages of bibliography and index.

It is not a philosophy book; it's not even quite a history of philosophy. It's maybe a bibliohistoriography of philosophy. It focuses not so much on what these philosophers had to say, but rather with how the word spread from mind to mind, through book after book. Apart from generalities, reading this book will not tell you what Spinoza had to say, but you will know the complete publication history of his works, including when and where and by whom they were first translated into the other European languages. And the mention of Spinoza is not random. Whatever the Enlightenment is, the Radical Enlightenment to Israel is more or less the strain containing Spinoza's ideas, so Spinoza, Spinozism, and responses to Spinozism are the core of the book.
Since the book is carried out at a mind-crushing level of detail, there is much in the book that I found dull, but there were still some very interesting nuggets.

One of the first things that surprised me was how The Church or The Establishment viewed Descartes with such suspicion. It seemed to me that Descartes gets from cogito ergo sum to the existence of God pretty rapidly, so you'd think the Church would be chill with that, but there was suspicion that he was putting philosophy before (or worse yet, above) theology. More details in this convert_me post.

It's also interesting to consider Spinoza's work as something like a corrupting influence... Like a forbidden Lovecraftian tome that drives people insane. Some of the people who set themselves up to demolish Spinoza wind up becoming Spinozists. Or, more commonly, they swallow some Spinoza, and while they denounce him and take pains to separate their position from his, they still betray the fact that they've been infected by a little Spinozism. Figures like Bekker, a Dutch minister. Though Bekker denounces Spinoza, Israel sees the definite hand of Spinoza in Bekker's rejection of the reality of witchery, demonic possession and even the existence of the Devil. Naturally, Bekker was defrocked and his work banned here and there.
Or Leenhof, another preacher. Presumably, he started as a conventional Christian, but exposure to Spinoza turned him into a crypto-Spinozist.
And, with justification or without, accusations of Spinozism flew all over Europe. The Cartesians accused the Leibnizians of Spinozism, and the Newtonians accused the Wolffians of Spinozism. And vice versa and all around. It's almost funny, except that if the accusation stuck, your works might get burned and you might end up in prison, as happened on more than a few occasions.

It's also interesting to see the rise of deism -- and even 'militant deism' -- in this period as an acceptable philosophical stance. This is the milieu that produced the Founders of the US (not that Israel is concerned with that). But many of these deists were militant enough (in words!) that the "New Atheists" do not appear to represent anything particularly new.

I must sheepishly confess that whenever I see Malebranche, I think of demons.

Speaking just of Israel's writing, he arouses my ire by quoting lengthy passages in French without translation, but translates all the German. And he also manages to create bizarre layercake sentences like the following:

Projected since 1697, in May 1700, despite bitter opposition from the local university, where the Galenista medical faculty sent a circular of protest 'to all the universities of Spain', the first of Spain's academies of medicine and science was established, 'for the general utility and credit of our nation', in Seville.

Boulainviliers was educated at the Oratorian college at Juilly, north-east of Paris, at a time when the college was strongly Cartesian in orientation, among others, during his final year as a teacher there (1673), by Richard Simon.

Simon Tyssot de Patot seems to have written the first Hollow Earth novel in 1720. But his Voyage de Groenland also includes plenty of philosophy, as the protagonist finds the indigenes of the inner earth are all Spinozists. "He discovers there is no magic, and no satanic power, and that the best way to be rid of sorcerors and accusations of witchcraft is not to persecute or execute alleged witches but to depict their accusers 'pour des fous'." He also "discovers that women are absolutely equal to men and that there is no reason why men alone should exercise political power and responsibility." What an imagination that guy had!

Here's an intriguing hypothesis: "Wachter's aim was to demolish Spaeth, and his advocacy of Judaism, by equating the latter with cabbala and cabbala with Spinozism, thereby showing Judaism itself to be Spinozistic and consequently atheistic."

Getting back to the non-newness of the "New Atheists", among the many anonymously circulated books of the period was Traité des trois imposteurs -- the three impostors being Moses, Jesus and Mohammed. "Vehement in tone, it constitutes a veritable declaration of war on the entire existing structure of authority, faith, and tradition, proving that by the 1680s there was already a European intellectual fringe fired with a zealotry which was unabashedly revolutionary, dogmatic, and intolerant." To quote from the thing itself:

As Jesus Christ was a Jew, and consequently imbued with these silly opinions, we read everywhere in the Gospels, and in the writings of his Disciples, of the Devil, of Satan and Hell as if they were something real and effective. ... [But] there is no God such as is conceived, nor Devil, nor Soul, nor Paradise, such as has been depicted, and that the Theologians, that is to say, those who relate fables for truth, are persons of bad faith who maliciously abuse the credulity of the ignorant by telling them what they please, as if the people were capable of nothing but chimera or who should be fed with insipid food in which is found only emptiness, nothingness and folly, and not a grain of the salt of truth and wisdom. Centuries have passed, one after the other, in which mankind has been infatuated by these absurd imaginations which have been combatted; but during all the period there have also been found sincere minds who have written against the injustice of the Doctors in Tiaras, Mitres and Gowns, who have kept mankind in such deplorable blindness which seems to increase every day.

Okay, a bit antiquated for invective, but I bet Bill Donohue could get just as upset about it as he does about PZ.

Since the Traite circulated clandestinely, it was quite mysterious. A certain La Monnoye wrote a dissertation claiming that it didn't exist. In a marketing stroke of genius, someone associated with an early actual printing of the book wrote a response to La Monnoye saying, "Oh yeah? It does too exist, and in fact I have a copy of it open on my desk in front of me as I write this 21 page vituperative reply to your stupid dissertation."
Tags: book, game, lovecraft, wordplay

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