What is

Since the group met earlier this week to share thoughts on the first two chapters of Massey’s For Space, I’ve been sniffing around the rest of the book, opening it at random and reading a paragraph or a small section, trying to find my way into her way of seeing the world. I’m gradually getting a stronger sense of her notion of space as alive, many-layered, open-ended, relational, the meeting place of many trajectories (human and other) of stories-so-far.

It has been sounding very familiar, like I’ve heard another, closely related version of this ontology before. This morning I think I found the connection.

I’ve been wondering whether, in Massey’s view of things, the intra-psychic has a place. What is it, in other words, that gives people (and things) the impetus to enter Massey’s space? What motivates us? What is the nature of our desire?

For some time, I’ve found Spinoza’s to be the most convincing explanation. Everything has an inbuilt desire (conatus) to preserve and grow its own being; this desire is inevitably relational (depends upon others for its fulfillment); and so all beings (animate and inanimate) are necessarily relational. We inhabit Massey’s space because we must be relational.

This line of thinking, this need to find some kind of connection between Spinoza’s philosophy and Massey’s book, is the result of conversations with a colleague about the intra-psychic. Do we need to turn away from our 19th and 20th century’s preoccupation with individual psychology in order to live differently with 21st century challenges? (The brilliant James Hillman, who died late last year, wrote a book called We’ve had 100 years of psychotherapy and the world is getting worse.) Or is there another, more Spinozan way conceiving the individual and his/her desires, instincts and motivations?

So this morning I turned to the index of the Massey book to see if there was a reference to Spinoza. And there was! Massey draws on Gatens and Lloyd’s “absorbing interpretation of Spinoza” in Collective Imaginings, 1999:

Crucial to their argument is the idea of a ‘basic sociability which is inseparable from the understanding of human individuality’ p14 of Gatens and Lloyd, quoted p 188 of Massey’s For Space.

Why does all this matter? Why would it matter to me as a researcher, or to teachers in their classrooms?

It matters to me – and I think it can matter to teachers – because the more clear we are about what is, the more we see, then the greater our chances of acting with effect. I am aware that this sounds like a very old-fashioned view of the existence of The Truth. A colleague keeps telling me that it’s all about finding truths, not a single truth. Yet it seems to me that the philosophical project, if it’s to have an impact on the way people see, experience and act in the world, must necessarily be about trying to discover more and more about what is.

I think that this might be what Massey is arguing too, when she says her project about space is a political project about action in the world.

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