Below is a brilliant survey of the Glass Man syndrome by Gill Speak, an apparent psychological melancholic disorder that characterized concerns of the early 17th century. I have always felt that Spinoza at his grinding lathe somehow intuited that his work on glass was equivalent to his work on the Ethics, the Ethics being something like a grinding form against which and with which the human body-mind interacted. I did not have much support for this intuition, and still do not, but after listening to Daniel Selcer’s “Singular Things and Spanish Poets: Spinoza on Corporeal Individuation” for the second time – I don’t know why I listened to it again, it’s just one of the more enthused and precise lectures on Spinoza I have heard – I renewed my thoughts on the matter. Selcer does a wonderful job parsing out the famous mentally impaired Spanish poet on the question of what makes you the “same” individual over time, bringing into the equation Cervantes’ short novella “The Glass Graduate” about an intellectual who believes he has been turned into glass, with the result that, like a super computer, due to speed of transmission in his substance he is able to achieve unconventional intelligence. Cervantes writes:
As Gill Speaks shows this man of Glass conception was somehow symptomatic of the newly modern age, and as Descartes in his mediations refers to the example as a form of madness, and as melancholic Constantin Huygens (friend of Descartes) also wrote of the Glass delusion, and as Spinoza spent some time in the Huygens household among the sons, it does find a curious constellation of associations. Spinoza the glass worker and philosophical psychologist, and the case of the Glass Man.
Most notable is that the Glass Man is he who fears any contact with others and the world, for fear that he will shatter, and Spinoza’s advisement that Good and Evil are simply judgements of interaction with external effects, some which will destroy us, some preserve us. And then there is the issue and image of speed and transmission. At the very least a powerful image of knowledge, thought and body to weigh. Is the pragma of the intellectual not the moated ivory tower of academic institutions, but rather the man of glass?