Letter to Freud

Any cracked mirror will do

Ivan Seal, Prototype to Get Out. 2011, oil on canvas. 20.5 × 16.5". Courtesy of Carl Freedman Gallery, London. © Ivan Seal.

I’m imitating him by writing you this letter, but I don’t agree with what Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi wrote in his last book about your last book. I don’t believe you were thinking about your father and his suggestion not to neglect Torah study when you wrote Moses and Monotheism. Your father was on your mind when you were riding a camel in Egypt and reproaching yourself for seeing the pyramids without him. Over and over you tried to say what Egypt meant to you. You even declared that you’d read more archaeology than psychology, and that no one could know the sacrifices you’d made to acquire your collection of Greek, Roman, Egyptian, and Asian artifacts. Oh, the hide-and-seek chiaroscuro in that sentence! I’ll tell you that the artist Robert Longo seems to have understood your feelings when he drew some of your statuettes — in charcoal and chalk and on a monumental scale. They shimmer with mystery.

Last summer I devoted myself to reading Spinoza for a month. I read him in English, in Edwin Curley’s marvelous translation. I hear his irony, the irony of the Tractatus Theologico-Politicus, in your voice, both of you laughing at the audacity of prophets who described a god in their image: a right-handed god for righties, left-handed for lefties. Prophets who imagined victories when they were in a good mood and wars or other misfortunes when they got depressed. “If a triangle could speak, it would say, in like manner, that God is eminently triangular,” Spinoza wrote to a friend. Such is the bitter laughter of the lonely philosopher aware of his solitude, laughing to himself. I believe Spinoza’s ideas owed something to his past, to the expulsion of the Jews from Portugal during the Inquisition. He expressed himself like a child of refugees, a child whose family was slightly askew with respect to their adopted country, and who could himself expect a skewed fate in this new land — a fate he wisely tried to renounce. His Ethics is a manual for the creation of a utopia.

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