SPINOZA’S SOLITUDE Wraps Up a Month of Workshop Presentations Today at 10:30

Colin Greer’s 70 minute play — a reflection of Spinoza’s passage from standing forewarned about the threat of excommunication to this psychic turmoil adjusting to banishment and finally coming out on the other side, months later, lucid and sanguine about his exile — will have one more presentation Sunday morning.  What a great exploration this companion play has allowed to have.

A huge thank you to a great company headed up by Christopher Gallu.  Eager to finally collect insights and comments about the wonderful Colin Greer’s play. Look forward to postings about it below!

19 thoughts on “SPINOZA’S SOLITUDE Wraps Up a Month of Workshop Presentations Today at 10:30

  1. Thanks to all who had hands in making today what it was. The level of argument and historical documentation was far above what I expected.

    Ultimately, I feel that justice was served today – both for Baruch Spinoza and for the body that is Judaism today. A belief system that cannot deal with the inevitable heresies that crop up due to intelligent questioning of basic tenets of its faith is doomed to stagnate, and its people cannot grow beyond their most basic superstitions and fairy tales.

  2. I started off Sunday morning with Colin Greer’s Spinoza’s solitude. It was a very different kind of play than New Jerusalem. The play depicted Spinoza in an almost negative light—his excommunication seemed much more like his betrayal of the Jewish community than vice versa. It was much more difficult to like but far more easy to believe in Greer’s Spinoza as a character, because he seemed less optimistic, much more torn and tormented than Ives’ Spinoza. Whereas Ives’ Spinoza seemed at peace and reconciled with his ideas and their implications, Greer’s Spinoza fought a battle with his inner demons on stage. The play also featured far darker undertones with Spinoza’s fiancée Esther. As a daughter of a Rabbi, she is perhaps symbolic of the Jewish community as a whole. When she tells Spinoza that she is afraid he is going to sacrifice her, the connection becomes evident—the play interprets the history as one where Spinoza sacrificed his faith for his ideas and for his work as a philosopher.

    After seeing Spinoza’s Solitude, I decided to also stay for the Spinozium, which featured such wonderful discussions amongst scholars debating the Spinoza affair. The most memorable part of the Spinozium was the keynote discussion with Howard Shalwitz and Leon Wieseltier. I found their discussion to accurately depict the love-dislike relationship that I too have formed with Spinoza. One of the most interesting remarks made at the Spinozium suggested that the excommunication of Spinoza may have contributed to the flourishing of his ideas, whereas an excommunication by nature attempts to silence, it also sometimes has the unintended consequence of giving the object of its silencing notoriety and fame. It was fascinating to hear the scholars debate Spinoza, an individual whose ideas grew out of conflict and created the conditions for a debate that remains both relevant and utterly engaging today.

    • Sarah, I agree with your perception that this play depicts Spinoza in a murkier light. While David Ives’s work certainly includes dialogue in which the Rabbi warns Spinoza of the misery he would face if excommunicated, Spinoza’s Solitude not only explores Spinoza’s life after excommunication but also depicts the torment of a man in love with both his ideas and a woman who does not support them. I like your idea, Sarah, that Ester could be a metaphor for the Jewish community. The telescope, too, seemed to me a metaphor for paradigm shift. For example, in the story about when Mortera announced that he saw the Second Day of Creation through the telescope, it seemed to indicate the struggle for two worldviews to harmonize. I actually found this Spinoza a little more difficult to understand, because he was less explicit about his passion and motives. Speaking of inner demons, who was Cedric, exactly?

    • I agree with you that Greer’s Spinoza was much darker than that of Ives. I think what made it particularly dark was the subconscious Spinoza and Esther. The subconscious Esther was starkly different from the real life Esther. While she was alive, Esther seemed sweet, thoughtful, and kind. After her death however, the Esther in Spinoza’s subconscious appeared to be mean-spirited, conniving, and manipulative.

      This change was part of what made Greer’s Spinoza so difficult for me to actually like, the characters seemed much more self-absorbed. The Spinoza that Ives created was somewhat portrayed as a martyr. He was excommunicated for his beliefs, but he allowed himself to be banished for the sake of preserving the Jewish community he loved. He wanted to stay with his friends and family, but knew that it would be best if he did not. In Greer’s “Spinoza’s Solitude,” Spinoza’s friends were practically begging him to stay and he refused putting his work above his relationships with others.

      • I agree that Greer’s Spinoza was much more difficult to like. Greer’s play appears to purposefully portray Spinoza as deserving his excommunication. I felt like the inner battle with his demons skewed the intentions of his work, making it seem like if he chose to follow their advice he was doing it for their reasons. The demons in Greer’s Spinoza plant a seed of an idea that Spinoza might be purposefully seeking to undermine the Jewish religion. Though Spinoza may not have been seeking to do that, by ultimately choosing to remain excommunicated and to pursue his work, he appears to confirm this rationale. On the other hand, Ive’s Spinoza is intellectually curious and hopes to settle some of his theological questions through philosophy, and though he acknowledges that his beliefs may undermine some of the Jewish traditions, his end goal does not seem as intentionally malevolent.

    • I agree the Greer’s version of Spinoza was much more darker and tortured. I felt that Ives’s Spinoza was very well done, but I did not get as strong of a sense that Ives’s Spinoza was struggling emotionally with his ideas as much Greer’s Spinoza. If I were Spinoza I would probably be more afraid of my ideas and how they could cause me to be cast out from the community that I love.

  3. I really enjoyed being able to compare “Spinoza’s Solitude” to “New Jerusalem.” After seeing “New Jerusalem” I envisioned that after Spinoza was excommunicated, he had no further contact with the Jewish community. Not that Greer’s Spinoza had extensive contact with the Jewish community after the harem was decided, but it did seem more realistic in my opinion. Regardless of official rules, I felt like Spinoza’s friends would most likely try to convince him to renounce his old ways and come back to them. It seemed like he truly was a beloved member of their society and one that they did not want to accept loosing.

    I also enjoyed that Greer showed some interactions between Spinoza and Christians that were not part of the Dutch Authority. His portrayal of Christians that viewed Spinoza as an interesting oddity was very close to what I envisioned after seeing “New Jerusalem.” The brother and sister duo clearly knew next to nothing about their Jewish neighbors and saw Spinoza as a way to gain insight into their lives. Although it seemed like they thought that since he had been abandoned by his own religion, Spinoza was looking for a new one. In this, they certainly did not understand much of Spinoza’s way of thinking. Still, after discussing religion and religious stereotypes, they seemed to respect his skill as a lens grinder and genuinely like him as a person.

    Something that I found a little difficult to reconcile was the sinister nature of Spinoza’s own self-conscious. It seemed very malevolent and gleeful when Spinoza decided that he could not compromise in his beliefs and that we would have to remain isolated from his friends and Esther. It seemed to be egging him on to do things that Spinoza really was not entirely comfortable with doing. Perhaps this was just Spinoza fighting with his own genius and that’s why he had to “kill” the destructive part of his genius in the closing scenes.

    • I agree that the sinister version of Spinoza was difficult to reconcile. We are told in David Ives’s “New Jerusalem” that Spinoza’s ideas are supposed to be centered around love and so it was slightly shocking to think that Greer would present the inside of Spinoza’s mind to be so “malevolent and gleeful.”

  4. I found Greer’s Spinoza to be a much different experience than the Spinoza Ives created. In Ives’ Spinoza I felt he was misunderstood and fairly treated only because of his “outside the box” thinking. I felt they were excommunicating him almost solely on the fact he was not uniform as everyone else was. In “Spinoza’s Solitude” I felt Spinoza was almost a hazard to his society, he acted many times in acts of passion instead of the other well thought out Spinoza.

    These two characters definitely left me feeling differently about the excommunication. Although I wonder perhaps if Spinoza began as the one Ives created and little by little through the challenges of excommunication became Greer’s Spinoza.

    • Zena I am really intrigued by your comment that Greer’s Spinoza was “almost a hazard to his society.” I think I tend to agree with your assessment. His exchanges with Esther and her father demonstrated a sort of panic among Spinoza’s close friends that what he was doing was not safe for him or those around him. Throughout the play we see how Spinoza causes problems between those he loves the most. Esther and her father demonstrate signs of disagreement as well as Greg and his new wife, and Spinoza is at the heart of every controversy. Greer’s use of these arguments to show Spinoza’s negative effects within the community demonstrates a strong sense of “hazard.”

      However, in Greer’s portrayal of townspeople at his lens grinding shop, I think Greer’s play did more to demonstrate how Amsterdam townspeople might have felt about Spinoza and in doing so showed that they appreciated Spinoza. In a strange and backwards way he was somewhat of a goodwill ambassador for the Jewish community within Amsterdam.

  5. “Spinoza Solitude” and “New Jerusalem” tell two different fictional interpretations to the same story. “New Jerusalem” frames Spinoza in a relatively good light. It allows him to explain his philosophy and gives it credence with the Rabbi’s reaction. Though the Rabbi ultimately excommunicates Spinoza, “New Jerusalem” conveys that as an unfortunate means for protecting his other followers. He acknowledges the strength in Spinoza’s argument, but fears its consequences for his people.

    “Spinoza Solitude”, on the other hand, tells a darker story. In “Spinoza Solitude”, Spinoza and the Rabbi are portrayed as more staunch adversaries. Spinoza’s philosophy is viewed as a more direct attack on the Jewish community, and his role as a teacher makes him appear as a potential corrupter of children. His demons seem dark and sinister, with end goals to guide his philosophy to undermine the Jewish Religion. He receives a justly deserved excommunication because he is an enemy more than a friend.

    Having seen “New Jerusalem” first, I went into “Spinoza Solitude” already biased. I liked Spinoza. I liked his character, found his ideas interesting and view him as a protagonist. Therefore, when I saw “Spinoza Solitude”, I was almost offended. How dare they defame such a good guy? I couldn’t get behind the play because it felt like an attack on a character I had grown to like and respect. The new portrayal of Spinoza felt like a twisted, negative add campaign.

    However, the play helped explain why there’s been so much debate over Spinoza’s excommunication. The week before I saw “Spinoza Solitude”, our class debated Spinoza’s excommunication based on “New Jerusalem”. I walked into this debate with a clear opinion about Spinoza, and though I could debate technicalities of whether or not he should have been excommunicated, on a moral ground I felt it was outrageous. The story told in “Spinoza Solitude” helps balance the argument. It explains how people perceived Spinoza as a threat, and why this remains an on going debate.

    I still remain biased and cannot get over my first impression from “New Jerusalem”; however, “Spinoza Solitude” helped me recognize that both of these plays are fictional interpretations of what actually happened. By slightly bending the truth, the two plays tell a drastically different tale that leaves the respective audiences with far different impressions. I feel like whichever play an audience member sees first could bias him/her against the second.

    • Kevin, I certainly relate with your feelings of bias going into this particular adaptation of the excommunication of Baruch de Spinoza. I too very much liked his character as it was depicted in “New Jerusalem”. I found him to be a very likable person, worthy of admiration and sympathy for the situation he found himself in. I admired his passion and the conviction he showed for his beliefs. Additionally, I found his willingness to be true to his conviction even in the face of certain and irrevocable consequences to be very moving. You are correct to point the difference in the portrayal of Spinoza in this play, specifically, “Spinoza Solitude”. I found myself disappointed to see Spinoza shown in this light, due to the fact of my pre-conceived notions going into the play. Honestly, I had to keep reminding myself who Spinoza was just because in my mind Spinoza in this adaptation did not match up with my idea of him.

  6. “Spinoza Solitude” and “New Jerusalem” were two adaptations of the same historic event, the excommunication of Baruch de Spinoza. I feel the title “Spinoza Solitude” is appropriate for this particular adaptation, in the sense that it came of as more dark and sinister than “New Jerusalem”. Although “New Jersualem” too, had its dark and sinster moments, I felt the character of Spinoza was so moving that he overpowered these moments. However, I found the character of Spinoza to be far less likable in this rendition; I did not feel the same emotional attachment or sympathy that I felt for Spinoza and his plight in “New Jerusalem”. I am not entirely sure if this is due to the fact of the stark differences of the script or simply due to the fact that I grew very fond of the Spinoza portrayal that I had witnessed in “New Jerusalem”.

    “Spinoza Solitude” without question probably gave us as the audience a less romanticized view of Spinoza, although I do not know if they necessarily mean it was more accurate. This version of Spinoza did not strike me as a man of deep held convictions or a man who aggressively pursued the truth, but rather a man who I had a much harder time admiring. He did not come across as a lover of his people and the city of Amsterdam; he rather seemed to only endure both.

    I am most likely being a little unfair to Greer’s Spinoza. I will admit I found it difficult to give it a fair shake because I so much enjoyed “New Jerusalem” that I saw it a second time. Through no fault of its own viewing “Spinoza Solitude” for me was like seeing the remake of one of your favorite movie, in other words my expectation were fairly high.

    • I’m not sure if I felt that I found Spinoza to be less likable in this adaptation, but rather more realistic. While “New Jerusalem” was a phenomenal drama that cast Spinoza in a deserving light, but I felt the entire time that the play was written in an effort to isolate Spinoza as the hero, with the entire cast more-or-less differing from Spinoza. Every character at every point seemed to betray him at least once. In “Spinoza’s Solitude”, I felt like the story wasn’t as emotional or gripping, but more believable.

      While the first play showed us the direct consequence of Spinoza’s actions, I really appreciated seeing the perspective of what happened after the excommunication. Ultimately, we got to see the dedication Spinoza had to his beliefs, and his willingness to stay firm in his ideals, despite how negative the conditions. My only criticism was that I didn’t feel the dramatic pressure that was exhibited in the first play, but that may not be the playwright’s goal, and it could be a negative effect of seeing the plays in the order I did.

    • Looking back on the play now, I too found Ives’ Spinoza likeable and convincing, I think that the conflicted Spinoza created by Greer was a little more realistic though. I think that making Spinoza likeable has its pros and cons. On the one hand making Spinoza likeable allows the audience to create a very strong connection with him, on the other hand, he is so likeable and convincing and charming that it seems almost unrealistic that he would encounter so much resistance. I couldn’t see how or why or who would ever want to stab Ives’ Spinoza in a street corner. Greer’s Spinoza is conflicted enough that I can believe he can incite the sort of anger and passionate response that Spinoza actually encountered.

    • The portrayal of Greer’s version of Spinoza’s story was much harder to swallow than Ives’s version. However, I think that the darker, more tortured view of Spinoza gave him a different kind of depth than is found in Ives version of Spinoza. Ives looks much more closely at Spinoza’s ideas rather than Greer’s focus on Spinoza’s mind and thoughts.

  7. Having watched “Spinoza Solitude” after “New Jerusalem- The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” only made me feel as though “Spinoza Solitude” was the movie version of what really happened to Baruch. Where as “New Jerusalem- The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” was more contextualized, in my eyes, including more, what seemed to be, facts came across as the book version of what truly happened to Baruch. I understand all to well that both of these pieces were both plays but what I am trying to express is what these two pieces would/could have been if they were not plays…but something else rather. That being said I personally enjoyed “New Jerusalem- The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” that much more. Even though everything may not have been exactly as it happened, since it still was a play after all, it seemed that much more real. It had depth, it talked about things that at times went over my head because I was simply not Jewish and because of this I could simply not full grasp and idea presented…again reinforcing my point of its realness, of all that the play entertained. “Spinoza Solitude” though I also enjoyed it, it came off simple, which I also very much appreciated yet because it was too simple at times it lost my interested (from time to time). It was enjoyable to watch yet it didn’t keep my attention so much so that I was yearning for more but as I said it was still enjoyable to watch as it was very different from that which “New Jerusalem- The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza” offered.

  8. Although I agree with you that the Spinoza created by Ives is more likeable than the one created by Greer, I feel that both Spinoza’s have aspects that would frustrate the citizens of Amsterdam. The Spinoza created by Ives is charming and knowledgeable, but the degree to which he challenges the beliefs of others, could make people want to stab him. This frustration was evident during his trial when several characters talked about how Spinoza was hurting them by causing them to reexamine how they thought about certain things pertaining to their faith. Greer’s Spinoza was much more noticeably unlikable because he came across as selfish. Greer’s Spinoza did not consider how his actions would affect his friends, those that he claimed to love, or his fellow Jews. Nothing was as important to Spinoza as his philosophies, and this was abundantly clear in almost everything that he did and in how he expressed himself.

  9. During the reading of Colin Greer’s “Spinoza’s Solitude” I was intrigued by how Greer’s version of Spinoza’s story is both very similar and very different from David Ives’s version. It was just as surprising to learn during the talk-back that Greer had never seen Ives’s play. The most striking similarity was the use of Clara in both of the plays as a powerful within Spinoza’s life and how his love for her shaped his ideas (at least in the plays). The dream or surrealist moment and the use of the ghost of Clara and the other personification in Greer’s play was the most obvious and slightly starting difference. I thought the use of these devices were a good way to show the internal struggle that Spinoza was probably facing with forming his ideas. There were a couple points where I felt a little lost as to what was supposed to be happening on the stage, but those issues would probably be solved in a fully formed production. However, I felt that the ambiguity of Clara’s ghost and the other personification added to the play and left plenty of room for discussion about the intention behind Spinoza’s ideas (if they are Atheistic or not).
    One of the things that I had enjoyed the most about Greer’s portrayal of Spinoza’s story was how it took place after Spinoza had been excommunicated and how it explored the problems and advantages that he might have faced from being cast out. Since participating in the debate between our fellow UC, Michigan, and Notre Dame about Spinoza it has been interesting to ponder the issue of if it was better for Spinoza to be cast out of his community so he could write and discuss his ideas or if he was rightfully shunned from his Jewish community.

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