Constellations of Desire – Hendrik Slegtenhorst (2017)

Spinoza: Ethica

Spinoza: Ethica

Constellations of Desire is the third book of the sequence, Solitary Ethics, on moral and ethical considerations. Part one is Caravaggio’s Dagger; part two is Mahler and Freud Meet in Leiden.

The desire of the title includes the affect discussed by Spinoza, and defined in Part III of his Ethics as: “Desire is man’s very essence, insofar as it is conceived to be determined from any given affection of it, to do something…. by the word desire I understand any of a man’s strivings, impulses, appetites, and volitions, which vary as the man’s constitution varies, and which are not infrequently so opposed to one another that the man is pulled in different directions and knows not where to turn.”

The constellations imply, as given in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Spinoza’s fundamental insight in Book One [, namely] … that Nature is an indivisible, uncaused, substantial whole—in fact, it is the only substantial whole. Outside of Nature, there is nothing, and everything that exists is a part of Nature and is brought into being by Nature with a deterministic necessity. This unified, unique, productive, necessary being just is what is meant by ‘God’. Because of the necessity inherent in Nature, there is no teleology in the universe. Nature does not act for any ends, and things do not exist for any set purposes.”

The structure, and to some extent the content, of the book is further influenced by that employed in the sacred cantatas of J.S. Bach, in which movements of set pieces—choruses, arias, chorales, invariably all based on the teaching of the day, a sort of ecclesiastical or moral ostinato—are linked by recitatives.

Introducing Constellations of Desire at Poetry New Westminster, BC, 23 October 2016. (Photo: Courtesy Ken Ader)

Introducing Constellations of Desire at Poetry New Westminster, BC, 23 October 2016. (Photo: Courtesy Ken Ader)

The correlations with Christ and the apostles (Matthias replacing Judas) are intended. The form of the book is further influenced by the innovative truncation of the sonnet to twelve lines as practiced by Montréal’s Robert Melançon.

The book is structured in 12 sections, a first part in five sections and a second part, in retrograde, and thus also of five sections; the two, linked by an entr’acte in two parts. The arrangement in part one is an exposition (an “understudy”), an ostinato, a commentary, a second ostinato, and a recitative; part two is the exact retrograde of this order, and begins with the recitative and concludes with the understudy. The middle entr’acte contains one recitative and one ostinato.

Constellations of Desire was begun in June, 2015, and completed in May, 2017. It is some 8,000 words in length and comprises about 68 poems. Triadæ, out of Madrid and Toulouse, has previously published five extracts from the manuscript, in the English original and in Spanish translation by poet Eva Gallud. “Naturalism and Its Fee” appears in today’s issue number 7. It opens the ostinato of the entr’acte. Its fine translation into Spanish, again rendered by Eva Gallud, represents our sixth collaboration. The poem is found on page 12. The earlier extracts of the book published by Triadæ are from the first ostinato, the first commentary, and the recitative of part one. An excerpt of the opening understudy appeared in Halifax’s Dalhousie Review.


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