Page 126 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 20

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principles laid down by Philo. To the question, then, what is
new in Philo? the answer is that it was he who built up that
philosophy, just as the answer to the question what is new in
Spinoza? is that it was he who pulled it down.”
Spinoza as a Literary Work
When Wolfson’s
The Philosophy of Spinoza
appeared in 1934,
Alfred North Whitehead, his colleague at Harvard, remarked
that “Wolfson is the best living writer of philosophic prose.”
This work has gone into six large printings and is widely recog'
nized as a classic of philosophical scholarship. I t is also of the
highest literary excellence.
If the reader puts aside the vast and varied learning of the
Spinoza
volumes and reads them as a literary work, he will find
from beginning to end a natural instinct for structure. The
author set out with a clear conception of what he wanted to say
and a method of developing his conception. Both the conception
and the method are raised above ordinary exposition by an
underlying form of presentation which results not only in “un-
folding the latent processes” of Spinoza's reasoning, but also in
a separate portrait of Spinoza’s personality. Of course, Wolfson’s
primary aim is to demonstrate the unity and continuity of the
Ethics,
and this work, as he wryly points out, does not seem “to
possess sufficient elements of human interest to justify our at-
tempting to intrigue the reader by presenting each problem in
the form of a mystery story.” Yet the search “to find out not only
what is within it, but also what is behind it” subtly introduces
a scheme of structure essential to portraiture.
It is the union of structure and style that gives the
Spinoza
literary relevance and impressiveness. The style throughout is
pointedly clear and uncannily precise. There are no superfluous
words. When the author employs a literary device such as the
fictional conversation in the first chapter or the imaginary ser-
monette delivered by Spinoza in Doctor Cordes’ church in the
last chapter, the prose sparkles and is highly evocative. The
whole work is studded with epigrammatic sentences, sometimes
bristling with irony; for example, a definition of popularization:
“. . . what is called popularization means nothing but the expla-
nation of a text in terms of the ignorance supposed to be pos-
sessed by the readers for whom it is intended.” And some of the
high peaks of expression are achieved in the passages in which
the author brings Spinoza’s unconscious to the surface and by a
remarkable feat of identification unites what he calls the mind
of Benedictus, the explicit Spinoza, with the mind of Baruch, the
implicit Spinoza. These passages are gems of literary psychography.