As I think of Spinoza’s lonesome life, night after night in his room, musing over his thoughts or worrying over his lenses, I can’t help but feel sad for him. He had lots of friends, yes. But who could make him laugh when he got lost in his thoughts and anxious? Who was there to remind him to eat when he spent too much time working out some question? Who was there at the end of a good day when he wanted to share some happy news? Whose comforting breath did he hear when he woke in the middle of the night, and who did he get to shower his attention on?
Suppose I’m right, Spinoza was a gay man in the 1600s who needed to hide the very essence of who he was. How would that color his actions? How would that determine the way he behaves? Would it change how he publicly acts toward the man he has or did have a romantic relationship with — someone like Simon de Vries?
Spinoza respected emotion in the way someone who spends a lot of time outdoors respects thunderstorms or black bears — a powerful, awe-inspiring force that can wreak great damage before you know what hit you. And like storms and bears, he believed they couldn’t be controlled. They could, however, be understood. In fact, to do so was the only way to obtain any sort of freedom in a world he viewed as devoid of free will.
It was beyond heretical in the mid-1600s. To even say such a thing was monstrous. But I’m fairly certain — in fact, I stake my reputation on it — there’s a reason Spinoza was so tight-lipped about his most personal side. That reason? He was gay.
Right-wing alarmists complain that political correctness runs amok. Imagine their despair to learn the Amsterdam Museum banned the phrase “Golden Age.” The reason: the golden years weren’t golden for everyone. But terms like “Golden Age” make history more accessible, and god help us, we need to talk about our history more if we want to change our future.
True tolerance — not grudging, not hesitatingly offered. That’s a model of how we should act and the kind of country we should be. Between Locke and Spinoza, one of these philosophers had a vision for it – and the man who inspired the American Revolution wasn’t it.
I’ve finished my first read-through of my manuscript, and I’ve got good and bad news. The good news first: I enjoyed reading it from start to end.…… Read more “Let the editing begin!”
I finally did it: bit the bullet and got the PBS Passport membership so I could watch “The Miniaturist.” Suffice it to say, I loved it. But it also got me thinking, how good was it, historically speaking?
In case you didn’t know, Bram Stoker didn’t invent vampires. No, neither did John Polidori, who wrote “The Vampyre,” the great-granddaddy of all vampire fiction. Vlad the Impaler certainly did exist, and by many accounts he was a monster. But he wasn’t a vampire. Nor was Countess Elizabeth Bathory, who bathed in the blood of virgins in an attempt to keep her youth. So who were the first vampires?
Few people realize that during his own lifetime, Rembrandt was equally — if not more — known for his printmaking. There are about 300 paintings attributed to the artist. He also made 290 plates for printmaking, and each of those was used to make “scores, even hundreds” of impressions of each.