15 Sep 2009

2: Borges and Spinoza: Ground Glass [The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series]

Summary of kvond’s ideas, by Corry Shores
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The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series

[Kvond’s original work with Spinoza’s optics and lens craftsmanship has led me to see Spinoza’s ideas in a whole new way. If you have the chance, check out his blog, especially his work with Spinoza. He’s a world class Spinoza scholar.]

Kvond of Frames /sing

Spinoza’s Foci

Part I: The concept of the Philosopher as Lens Grinder

2: Borges and Spinoza: Ground Glass

One of kvond’s original insights is that Spinoza’s lens grinding influenced his conception of what Ideas are, especially in regard to how Spinoza’s theories are fundamentally different from Descartes'. Kvond explains that he first obtained this insight from Borges’ sonnet on Spinoza. In this poem, Borges relates Spinoza’s lens grinding to how he “polished” his propositions. Kvond offers both the original poem, plus his literal translation. [please see his entry for their original presentation.]


Las traslúcidas manos del judío
labran en la penumbra los cristales
y la tarde que muere es miedo y frío.
(Las tardes a las tardes son iguales.)

Las manos y el espacio de jacinto
que palidece en el confín del Ghetto
casi no existen para el hombre quieto
que está soñando un claro laberinto.

No lo turba la fama, ese reflejo
de sueños en el sueño de otro espejo,
ni el temeroso amor de las doncellas.

Libre de la metáfora y del mito
labra un arduo cristal: el infinito
mapa de Aquel que es todas Sus estrellas.


The translucent hands of the Jew
Work in the penumbra, crystals
& the evening, dying, is dread & chill.
(Evenings to evenings are equal.)

The hands & space of hyacinth
Waning in the confines of the Ghetto
Almost do not exist for the man so quiet
Who is dreaming a clear labyrinth.

He’s not perturbed by fame, that reflection
Of dreams in the dream of another mirror,
Nor by the timorous love of maidens.

Free from metaphor & myth
He works a hard crystal: the Infinite
Map of That which totals His stars.

Spinoza is a finite being. But his philosophical “crystal” is infinite. Kvond then quotes Borges as remarking about this poem:

“In that sonnet, I refer specifically to the philosopher Spinoza. He is polishing crystal lenses and is polishing a rather vast crystal philosophy of the universe. I think we might consider those tasks parallel. Spinoza is polishing his lenses, Spinoza is polishing vast diamonds, his ethics.”

Kvond notes that Spinoza would appreciate his philosophy begin characterized as a material process. Kvond ends by writing:

If Spinoza argues for a liberation, it would seem to be a liberation which understands freedom to be the most material of things, and his Ethics to be material construction. The internal paradoxes of such an aim, the clarity of its labyrinth, are the things which make it possible. (kvond)


  1. Hey, thanks for the positive thoughts here. It seems to me, as least for those that want to emphasize Spinoza's materiality are those that have to firmly embrace a centrality of Spinoza's lens grinding and scientific instrument making. It is not to say that his philosophy and his scientific craftsmanship are of one practice, but the two simply cannot be divorce, and experiences (thoughts, dynamics, theories) in the one most certainly helped shape, and for Spinoza, helped clarify the other.

  2. That Spinoza's lens grinding guided his philosophy is already profoundly insightful. That his philosophy aided his craft is now something else I find very interesting. I am eager to continue working carefully through your posts. It is such wonderful work.