Following the moderate success of my previous post on faking (“How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel“), I have decided to continue the series with an installment on Spinoza. Now, look here, faking your way through Hegel is a necessity of life (almost as essential as faking your way through Marx and Marxism, a topic too large to tackle at the moment), but faking your way through Spinoza is a choice. Which makes it so much easier, because no one would suspect that you are voluntarily faking an expertise in this mysterious excommunicated Jew.
Before we get into it, let me reassure you that faking is not what it used to be. Formerly associated with lying, cheating and superficiality, it is now a noble art of knowing without putting much effort into learning. There is not enough time in a day to actually read books and learn facts. So what is the aspiring intellectual to do? Some (losers) spend days and nights with their books and their notes. Others (winners) fake it and get ahead. But here is the secret to good faking – everyone, lean forward excitedly! – the precondition to good faking is sincerity. Sincerity is the step-mother of truth. It might not get the facts right, but it wants to get them right and the effort counts more than the result. When you fake sincerely, you go to war with the brain you have, not the brain you wish you had. Instead of feeling bad about skipping pages in the assigned reading or browsing through indexes for topics that interest you, you do so because you are forced to do so by the ever-increasing pressure of success. You honestly and sincerely want not to fake, but are forced to fake. Got it? Full speed ahead to Spinoza then.
1) The most important thing to remember about Spinoza is that he was a mysterious thinker from the olden days whose biographical details help us understand his philosophical achievements. Thinkers come in and out of fashion all the time (as they must), but Spinoza stays relevant and cool by having the peculiar characteristic of always being on the verge of going out of fashion but never actually doing so. So when discussing Spinoza you must never actually mention the time when you did not know who he was. You must always “go back to Spinoza” to figure out some or other aspect of contemporary philosophical problem or set of problems. Think of it as a philosophical “What Would Jesus Do?” but with a twist: “How would bringing up Spinoza position me as a slightly more advanced and relevant intellectual figure in this particular conversation/essay/lecture/small-talk/personal ad?” Get all misty-eyed and tell your story of first encountering Spinoza and realizing what it is all about. Be fuzzy both on the biographical details of the revelatory event (remember, there is no real historical time when you did not know of Spinoza – throw in “always already” liberally at this point) and the substantial content of “what it is all about” and other knowledge-based observations. To get the best mileage out of Spinoza, follow to point 2.
2) You must always bring up Spinoza by making a reference to his ideas as if in passing. Make sure that you develop a believable “insider glance” at whoever it is that you are addressing – they will either attempt to return it or reveal themselves to be not-so-bright philosophical country bumpkins. “This reminds me of Spinoza’s discussion of substance in Ethics. There are certain correspondences and subtle intersections between your notion of [insert any idea, and I mean any idea] and Spinoza’s discussion, don’t you think?” Throw the faking back to your interlocutor and watch the magic take place before your very eyes: Spinoza makes every conversation exciting and full of philosophical mystique (unless, of course, your conversation partners are actual Spinoza experts – the world community is yet to discover a more boring class of human beings).
Addendum: “Spinoza” works well as a part of any title of any essay or conference paper. Don’t believe me? Try it out: “Spinoza and the Aerodynamic Potential of Spoons” – “Spinoza and the Reinvention of Typing” – “Spinoza and the End of Subjectivity” – “Spinoza in Space” – “Where the Mild Things Are: Spinoza and the Eastern European Cuisine” – have at it! Even if you say only a few words about Spinoza and his ideas, your essay will have a guaranteed success because people would assume that you had more to say about Spinoza but the mean editor cut it out (or the mean moderator did not allow for more time).
3) Because Spinoza is an obscure thinker from the olden days, everything he wrote and did was “before his time” – remember and repeat this phrase often. If “your” interpretation of his ideas that you overheard in class or gleaned from a tertiary source appears too far-fetched for your audience, claim that it was already elaborated by Spinoza “long before his time” and it will be eaten up with much relish. Nothing works like resurrecting semi-obscure thinkers from the umpteenth century and claiming that what we are doing now is what they were doing then, but without iPhones! It gives history a certain adventurousness, a certain depth and subtlety. We all know history is as dull as shit, but suggesting that it hides some vast and glorious reserves of undiscovered dissertation potential will make you appear a maverick and an exotic intellectual sea-farer. Women will want to be in the same seminar with you, men will want to be drinking beer with you after the said seminar. In sum, remember the Kierkegaards!
4) Now there is one aspect of faking your way through Spinoza that you must be careful with: bringing up Spinoza means you are running out of other more fashionable and sexy figures to bring up. Since Spinoza is always fashionable (see point 1), it means that his philosophy loses a kind of edgy and exciting aura of just having become fashionable as well as the ultimate danger of a “soon to become irrelevant so why did I waste 3 years on a dissertation about it” situation. Use your reference to Spinoza only when you are unable to throw around some of the more popular names and ideas.
5) “Should I read some Spinoza?” I can hear you asking. The answer to this question is the same as always: “No, under no circumstances should you read Spinoza” – the point is the same as in faking Hegel: reading is too time consuming and thought-oriented. Do learn, however, some basic terms. I say these basic terms are three: conatus (do or do not confuse with coitus, play it by ear), Deus sive natura, and substantia. Do not look these up on Google. Just use them freely in various combinations. Spinoza wrote in Latin so you might want to make sure your prononciation is sufficiently awkward – any dick who points out that you are mispronouncing something in Latin should be rebuffed with a traditional “No one knows how they actually said this” argument.
6) When in doubt about your faking, go to Leibniz. When cornered and near exposure, go to Marx. Faking your way through Leibniz is another matter, but people know next to nothing about Leibniz so in case you feel that your faking skills are lacking, go for a Leibniz connection (“It is sort of similar to what Leibniz wrote in Discourse on Cabbage, isn’t it?” – don’t worry, Leibniz wrote so much useless stuff, there is probably a discourse on cabbage somewhere in the archives, for sure). If you are nearing exposure and the resulting humiliation, go to Marx. Yes, I said Marx. You have options here: Marx and Spinoza, Marx or Spinoza, Wasn’t Marx an atheist Jew as well? or my favorite and safest bet (no self-respecting “Spinozist” would know anything about it) “As you must know, Spinoza inspired a lot of Plekhanov’s reflections on dialectical materialism and further influenced Soviet Marxism, so going back to what I was just saying… Oh, wait, you don’t know about that? Well, I don’t think this is going to be a very productive conversation then, mate.”
In sum, fake sincerely and fake with dignity. No one knows what you do and do not know. No one can judge whether you are an expert or a faker – both look the same on the outside. So fear no exposure, fear only the lack of daring.