# SPINOZA /// The Reciprocity of Violence: The Butter Also Affects the Knife


I realize that I always write about the violence unfolded by architecture’s physicality on the bodies. However, there is a more or less implicit corollary to this affirmation that can be sometimes ignored, but that should nevertheless be acknowledged in the form of a small reminder of Spinoza’s philosophy (see The Funambulist Pamphlets Volume 01 for more articles). Architecture is violent to the bodies, but so are the bodies to architecture.

Spinoza does not talk about violence; he establishes two different sorts of affects that result from the encounter of two material assemblages (like a body). He calls them either sad or joyful. Joyful is, as I have had many occasions to write, the characteristics of affects that result from what we could call, a harmonious relation between these two bodies, whereas sad affects is precisely what we could understand as violence. What is interesting is that Spinoza, on the contrary of le Marquis de Sade, does not seem to think that there could be a body that can not experience a joyful affect while the other body of the material encounter  experiences a sad affect. In simple words, the knife that we use to cut butter is not strengthen by its repetitive function of cutting — i.e. it does not have a joyful affect — quite on the opposite, it actually deteriorates a little bit more at each cut to the point that we all know well, when one morning, the knife ends up breaking. Of course, the knife does not get equally affected from the material encounter with the butter. If it was, it would not serve its function as a tool. However, the double sad affect can be said to be effective; there is simply a difference of intensity between the two affects.

Intensity is an important word as we can understand our relation to the world uniquely through it. Something as artificial as the idea of races for example, is illustrative of how social categories have been applied based on an erroneous predicate. Each human is the entire world folded in itself at various intensities. Each of us contains the characteristics of the narrow social categories (man/woman, heterosexual/homosexual, black/white etc.), only the intensities of these characteristics are changing in a unique combination for each body. These intensities are also continuously fluctuating, which should in principle prevent even more the organization of a given society based on a definitive categories.

The immanent world interpreted by Spinoza is therefore a world of intensities. When we associate this thought with his “philosophical scream,” what can a body do (see past article), we might want to rethink of our own predicate that observe the violence of architecture on the bodies, and accept the actual reciprocity of violence by affirming that the bodies, as well, affect architecture with a certain violence. There is little chance that these two intensities can equalize, but when one sees these people who break bricks or concrete blocks with their bare hands, we might want to return to our ignorance about what can a body do. The predicate is that our body alone, i.e. without the help of an external tool, cannot develop enough energy to go through a solid wall, and therefore, there is a political and legal instrumentalization of these physical condition that goes from the crystallization of private property (take any house as an example) to the incarceration of specific bodies inside of it like in the case of a prison. We leave a body between the four hermetic walls of a prison, as we are absolutely sure that this body will not be able to modify the structural integrity of these walls, in such a way that it could pass through the lines that they materialize. We can therefore affirm that the carceral industry/politics thinks that it knows the answer that Spinoza asks (What can a body do?), or at least its reverse equivalent (What can’t a body do?).

Assuming that a body could actually subvert this certitude would be a mistake as it would also consists in a misleading certitude; however, we can integrate in our design and in our thoughts that there is an actual doubt about whether or not a body can cross a wall. When we see someone breaking a concrete block with his or her bare hand in front of us, what we see is raw strength, and therefore a form of reciprocal violence. What we might be missing nevertheless, is the fact that there is also a material reading of the hand that finds the condition of the encounter in such a way that the structural integrity of the block would be affected to the point that it would break into two parts. This reading, based on an interpretation of the world through its intensities, is not an obvious one; however, its experience allows us to rethink the relation that the built environment and our bodies develop with each other. By accepting a certain form of reciprocity of affects, even if of different intensities, we can also rethink the notion of subversion of the political instrumentalization of architecture as there is a possibility to negate the very bases on which the latter is built upon.


One Comment on “# SPINOZA /// The Reciprocity of Violence: The Butter Also Affects the Knife

  1. I think time is also a factor. The guy who breaks bricks with his hands does so in an instant. But the prisoner locked for years in a cell can give the time to scratching away at the walls, day by day. And we are not just talking of breaking the walls. Each piece of graffiti, each glitch and scratch, alters the environment. We see the traces of former occupiers, and even experience something of the emotional flavour of their occupancy. Especially in environments like prisons, the effects are cumulative over long periods of time. Great article. Thanks.