Constellations of Desire – Part Three of the Solitary Ethics Trilogy

Spinoza: Ethica

Spinoza: Ethica

Constellations of Desire is the third and final book of the trilogy, 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. The correlations to the twelve notes of the chromatic scale are intended. The correlations to the circle of fifths that explains the relationships of musical keys is also deliberate.

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 also intended. In addition, the form of the book is also influenced by the structure of Montréal’s Melançons superb Le paradis des apparences, in which he uses an innovative truncation of the sonnet to twelve lines, by devising four tercets without a concluding couplet. Melançon’s is comprised exactly of 144 poems, that is, a gross of twelve times twelve individual compositions.

Constellations of Desire is structured in 12 sections, a first part in five sections of five poems each, and a second part, in retrograde, and thus also of five sections; these two linked by an entr’acte in two parts. The arrangement in part one, the prime motion, is an exposition (an “understudy”), an ostinato, a commentary, a second ostinato, and a recitative; part two is the exact retrograde motion of this order, and begins with the recitative and concludes with the understudy, but as conclusion. The middle entr’acte contains two ‘arias.’ The total number of poems, therefore, is 60.

Constellations of Desire was begun in July, 2014, and the first full draft, containing the material for 60 poems, and their potential sequencing and organization, was completed in March, 2018.  A full edit over six weeks in June and July, 2018, improved the manuscript and reduced its content to 45 poems, representing the first nine of the necessary twelve sections. The creation of new material resumed at the beginning of August, 2018, has proceeded more quickly than anticipated, and has produced eight new and finished poems. The manuscript is now 90% complete.

In order to free considerable time for creative activity on this book and on the completion of the trilogy in 2019, work on this book in 2018 has been generously underwritten by the British Columbia Council for the Arts.

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