West Summer School
Spinoza: Passionate Action
15.07.2019 — 20.07.2019

Image: Guido van Nispen
West Summer School
Spinoza: Passionate Action
Human Being is a Measure
15.07.2019 — 20.07.2019

In order to keep the discussions and experiences substantive and immersive, this Summer School is limited to 30 participants. There is a fee of € 175 per participant, which includes lunches as well as a reader. The program will be held in English.

To apply, please e-mail theo@westdenhaag.nl before 26 June 2018 with a short introduction and a 100-word motivation. If successful, you will receive a confirmation of registration and instructions for payment within the week.


At this year’s summer school we will explore and examine what human being means today. The meaning we make and the meaning we seek is made from experience through our senses. And though we are all different, and the differences are important, what makes experience meaningful is our capacity to find commonalities and share these through language, gestures, sounds and signals. At the same time, conventional understandings of human being need to be revisited, reformulated and radically reworked. Human being exists in a rich and intricate matrix of other beings and materialities and cosmic natureculture which nurture us and which we, in turn, transform. We are not separate, yet we also can be free, not absolutely free, contingently free. We have ideas yet these are embodied, in human bodies enmeshed in the rich matrix of life.
As it comes time to act socially, politically, to confront the planetary destiny we share. The old words, expressions and tropes are failing us, we need new strategies.

At the dawn of our age of automation, Benedict de Spinoza famously examined this difficulty, challenging his readers to imagine freedom as contigent with laws defined by Nature, and Nature expressed through other human beings.

‘There is no individual thing in the universe more advantageous to human beings than one who lives by the guidance of reason. For the most advantageous thing to human beings is that which agrees most closely with their nature that is (as is self-evident), a human being.’
– Spinoza, Ethics, part IV, Prop. 35, Coll.1

Staying with Donna Haraway’s provocative ‘we have never been human’, we will examine, through embodied thinking, to what extent the figure of ‘anthropos’ can still be useful to us in our projects.

We live in a world informed by processes which take place at the speed of light and at scales both smaller than an atom and larger than our galaxy. The questions of how we ‘know’ about such things, and how can we share our experience of this environment become politically and culturally fraught. Electronic information, genetic modification, quantum physics, global economics, climate change, these phenomena act at extremes of scale which undermine our conventions, The metaphors we use are all inadequate, and we need to cultivate new skills and strategies, modes of exchange, to act with agency.

This years summer school will be unapolgetically body-mind, exploring how we can trust our perceptions at human scale to guide us even now when the figure of human being seems to have been obsolesced. Thinking, moving and uttering with challenging and engaging thinkers and artists, working with all our senses and perceptions we will explore the limits and contingencies of human experience and understanding, ‘staying with the trouble’ towards bodily knowing, and sensual critique. Through readings, discussions, writing, acting, music and transdisciplinary experiments we will examine and elaborate what it means to be human in our contemporary technical condition.

Each day of the Summer School will begin with readings and discussions of stimulating, energizing and challenging theory, ideas and philosophy, followed by sessions of movement, breathing and extra-linguistic explorations, and then concluded in synthetic sessions where insights and experiences can have time to settle in and emancipate. Participants should be prepared to join exercises which will transgress conventional disciplinary boundaries, in an atmosphere of respect, with understanding and always attentive to consent. Participants should bring comfortable clothes for movement exercises. Connecting to our existing practices, we want to embrace the challenge to develop new integrative modes of thinking together, with each other, with our environment, thinking in action, acting in receptivity, feeling out unlikely equilibria, towards new performativities.

The summer school is conveyed by Baruch Gottlieb.