Please join us
at the Early Modern Workshop
Friday, December 4 | 12-1:30pm
for a guest lecture by
Associate Professor of English
“Nil Volentibus Arduum, Baruch Spinoza, and the Reason of Tragedy”
Our events are free and open to the public.
Please register on the link below:
Jan de Baen, The Corpses of the De Witt Brothers (ca.1672-1675)
In his Tractatus Theologico-Politicus Spinoza recognizes the importance of theater in civic life as well as the resources shared between stagecraft and statecraft, between poetics and scriptural exegesis. Students of politics and religion, he suggests, do well to consider how dramatists and orators mobilize affects and passions. He shared this perspective with his close friends Lodewijk Meyer and Joannes Bouwmeester, prominent members of the artistic society or kunstgenootschap Nil Volentibus Arduum—that is, “Nothing is difficult for the willing”—a group that began meeting in 1669 in order to reform poetry and language in the Dutch Republic; theirs is a neglected effort to develop philosophical theses on tragedy in particular, in conversation with advocates of neoclassicism as well as Cartesian and post-Cartesian philosophy. In this paper I illustrate how, just as Spinoza turned to theater in the Tractatus to express the abuses of wonder and the hazards of imagination, the members of Nil Volentibus Arduum seize theater as a medium, and tragedy as an imaginative means, to shape and influence a public at a crucial moment in the history of the Dutch Republic.
Russ Leo, an associate professor in the English Department at Princeton University, received his PhD in 2009 from the Program in Literature at Duke University, where he also received certificates in Feminist Studies and Interdisciplinary Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Leo’s first book, Tragedy as Philosophy in Reformation Europe, was published by Oxford University Press in 2019. He is currently at work on a book on Spinoza, Spinozism, Locke, and the origins of political economy, tracing how Spinozan reflections on ethics and affects were integral to the study of desire, laboring bodies, and (anthropological) notions of interest and agency between 1650 and 1750. As part of this project he is also completing a translation of the complete Preface to Spinoza’s 1677 Opera Posthuma/Nagelate Schriften, a fascinating work by Jarig Jelles (in Dutch) and Lodowick Meyer (in Latin) that offers important insight into the early international reception of the Spinoza’s ideas and legacy. During quarantine he is at work on a book on antipsychiatry, labor, and subjectivity, placing postwar writing by Norbert Wiener, Thomas Szaz, and L. Ron Hubbard in conversation and tension with work by Gilles Deleuze, Felix Guattari, R. D. Laing, Wilhelm Reich, and Fernand Deligny, among others.