For an hour on Friday, Mumbai will engage with the naturalist philosophies of Benedict de Spinoza, a radical 17th century philosopher of Jewish and Portuguese origin.
Mumbai is among the 16 cities that are part of an unusual and rather ambitious project by the Dutch artist Job Koelewijn — The Spinoza Mondial Reading Performance. A group of volunteers will sprawl out at Horniman Circle Garden and collectively read aloud from The Ethics, a seminal text in which Spinoza demonstrates his audacious views about God, nature and the highest principles of society and religion.
“Spinoza’s book is about understanding human emotions. The Spinoza Museum (Holland) approached me and two other artists to build a sculpture or monument for Spinoza to commemorate him,” said Koelewijn.
The artist spent hours reading out The Ethics on audiotape. After 16 hours of recording the audiobook, Koelewijn conceived of “reading the book with the world”. “There is a great synergy created when people read in unison. I have women read one sentence and men the other, and the chorus plays back very nicely,” Koelewijn said.
Although the text is in Latin, the artist conducts the readings in English as it is an international language. He delights in the accents and mispronunciations that lend authenticity and character to the audiobook.
The performance has already taken place at Paris, Venice, Amsterdam, Istanbul and Dar Es Salaam. The readings in each city last an hour after which participants are awarded an intellectual share or certificate stating their involvement.
“Given the incredible pace of our lives we really don’t engage in such group activities anymore. We forget that societies were built by artists and are instead consumed by terrorists and Tiger Woods on TV. It seems like a fun collaborative effort,” cited Johan Pijnappel, a freelance art historian and curator. Stuart DaCosta, from a popular jam band, Something Relevant, plans to read the entire manual before the reading at Horniman Circle. He hadn’t heard of Spinoza before he stumbled on the project on Facebook. “I signed up because it’s quite exciting to be part of such a brilliant global project,” said DaCosta.
The audiobooks of the reading in 16 countries will be available for purchase.
(The reading is on Friday at Horniman Circle at 5pm. Lecture today on Spinoza’s philosophy at the NGMA Auditorium at 6 pm)