Thursday, May 30, 2019

Amsterdam Journal: Conatus

"The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius (1654)
“Conatus” is a term which appears in the work of Baruch Spinoza. It’s a little like the Shavian “life force” and more in line with the pantheism the Dutch philosopher promulgated than the Hebraic notion of God. This along with other heretical views may have been why Spinoza was expelled by the Jewish community in his native Amsterdam. Amsterdam was a center of the burgeoning mercantilism of the 17thcentury and one of the great ports of Europe. The Dutch East India Company opened trading routes to the new world. New York if you remember was once Nieuw Amsterdam with the island of Manhattan apocryphally being bought by Peter Stuyvesant for $24. The burgeoning free market spirit also made Amsterdam a place of ideas that could beget rebellious spirits like the famed Jewish philosopher. The city still exudes a free market spirit (it’s one of the few places in Europe where prostitution is legal) that exists in tandem with a liberal attitude towards ideas. Amsterdam may be free, but it’s not always safe in a world in which free speech itself is under attack on many sides of the ideological spectrum.Theo van Gogh, the great grandson of Van Gogh's brother was assassinated after producing the film Submission (2004), about the plight of Muslim women (in 2015 Michel Houellebecq published a novel also titled Submission and involving a critique of Islam, provoking a terrorist attack on the satiric journal Charlie Hebdo--where his caricature had appeared).  A section of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, based on a famous Dutch painting by Carel Fabritius, a student of Rembrandt's (and featuring a main character also named Theo) takes place in Amsterdam following the aftermath of something closely resembling the 9/11 attacks. In the novel the underworld of the Dutch city symbolically houses a stolen work of art. However the city itself can express its own form of backlash. The Rijksmuseum which is one of the great cultural institutions of Amsterdam is home to the current comprehensive exhibit of Rembrandt’s work. However, the institution's inception was also plagued by conflicts (documented in a film of the same name) when the vision of the Spanish architects who built it went against the needs of the city’s avid bicycle riding population.

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