The Hanoi Hilton | Memories of Vietnam

The Hanoi Hilton Underbelly by Vic Briggs

Photo Challenge: Converge

It is a trick of the light. Or perhaps it is the geometry of it that makes you believe that you see deeper into the bowls of that corridor than is the case. Deeper still into memory – a memory that belongs to others, not you.  And yet its remnant cannot fail to detach itself from the shadows, creep along the length of the hairs that have taken an upstanding position on the back of your neck and now serve as rope ladders for the misery of those entombed in this fiery furnace. In their hundreds. Thousands. The stench of torture seeps into your pores doubled up with the heat and humidity of the day. You cannot hear their screams, but somewhere beneath your diaphragm the echoes vibrate still. Before long you are at one with the past – a part of it  – and there is nowhere to escape to.

About this image: This is a shot of one of the preserved hallways of Hoa Lo prison in Hanoi, Vietnam (October, 2014). Built by the French it in late 19th century and originally referred to by the authorities as Maison Centrale, the prison’s better known nickname is The Hanoi Hilton, as coined by American POWs during the Vietnam War. Only a small part of the complex has been preserved for posterity and is now a museum. Incidentally, on the former grounds an actual Hilton Hotel has since been erected.

The Writer Sleeps

Image by Luis Beltrán

Image by Luis Beltrán


The writer sleeps…

Her dreams are home

To stories of such wonder

That could she grasp their truths,

Her pen would never leave the page again.


Grey matter feeds

Encrypted hope,

Its secrets — yet to plunder.

The unexpected soothes:

A journeyman’s respite in the inane.


So strange this land;

Dispelled by dawn

Its debris — buried under

The roast of coffee beans,

Like every morning’s rite of the insane.


Yet all the same,

The writer sleeps…



DailyPost: Mouths Wide Shut

The Impossible Weightlessness of Clouds

The Impossible Weightlessness of Clouds by Vic Briggs

Weekly Photo Challenge: Adventure!

Dunes of vapour streak the skies just above. Here and there I can glimpse the blue inverse depths of the beyond. I can’t hold that stare for too long, afraid that the sensation of a world up-sidedown will intensify and I will be overcome by an irrepressible desire to plummet feet-forward into the upper levels of the stratosphere.

There are many reasons why this would not be a great idea.

For a start, I happen to be inclosed with hundreds of others in a metal bus, travelling at high speeds towards a predetermined destination. I haven’t seen any signs indicating that a specific foot position must be maintained at all times, but I am certain that, should I attempt any position other than the ordinarily acceptable, they would have something to say about it. (“they” always do)

For another, should it even be possible for me to somehow find myself outside at this kind of altitude, I would be ill-equipped to deal with the sub-tempretures on offer. (There is a reason why I’m heading to warmer climes.)

You may think that the lack of wings and/or appropriate breathing equipment should be of greater concern, but I beg to differ; these are mere details. The absence of wings does not interfere with gravity, and falling is so close a sensation to flying that I would be unlikely to be able to tell the difference until it would be too late to worry about it. As for breathing: highly underrated in its capacity to slow down and come to a near halt when the adrenaline kicks in. Still…

There are times when whimsy ought to be indulged, when a creative mind requires a physical imbalance of an unpredictable type that may symbiotically transform a literal into a figurative “change of perspective”, but this is not one of those times.

This is one of the others: the ones where the adventures to come  have the advantage of being unknown and all the more exciting for it. So I will draw my eyes away from those lingering dunes and fix my gaze on the spun-sugar islands floating just beneath my feet instead, and dream… of the impossible weightlessness of clouds.

The Serpent’s Kiss

Lovers and falling rain 1996 61x46cm

This ashen tongue…

It slithers through deceit 

Like dreams of silk

Over the morning mist.

Your mouth tastes of promise;

It shimmers over mine

Until synapses burst

And blind, I cannot sift

Away the beauty from its lies.

An angel born of darkness;

Your dagger rooted in my spleen…

Around its icy blade I twist

Until my bowl bejewels yours

With tears of ruby warmth.

Yours is the serpent bite,

And mine… the rift. 


Daily Prompt: Moved to Tears

Philosophy Mondays | Spinoza’s Ethics: A remedy for fear, hate and bitterness?

~ Body and Mind in Spinoza’s Ethics: a challenge to the Cartesian cogito ~

by Vic Briggs

Spinoza vs Descartes

Spinoza (1632-77) vs Descartes (1596-1650)

Part I


“Although he lived three hundred years before our time, the spiritual situation with which Spinoza had to cope peculiarly resembles our own. The reason for this is that he was utterly convinced of the causal dependence of all phenomena… In the study of this causal relationship he saw a remedy for fear, hate and bitterness, the only remedy to which a genuinely spiritual man can have recourse.”

— Albert Einstein

Philosophy is generally associated with the search for knowledge of the self and of the world, and Baruch Spinoza (1632-77) was faithful to these traditional preoccupations. He dedicated his life’s efforts to framing an epistemological theory of the universe explaining the complex lattice of man and his universe.

Feuerbach regarded Spinoza as the emancipator of reason in a new era, with the Ethics more than any other philosophical work establishing the foundation for the force of reason.

In one of his epigrams on Spinoza, Althusser voiced the philosopher’s belief that the truth of a philosophy exists in its effects. It is certainly difficult to find a modern philosopher other than Spinoza whose system has been contended with more passion and determination by fractions otherwise opposed in thought, but united in their denunciation of his works, often without making the effort of reading them:

“I have not read him, but who would want to read every obscure book written by a madman? But I have it from many who have read him that he was an atheist and pantheist, a teacher of blind necessity, and enemy of revelation, a mocker of religion, and thus a destroyer of the state and of civil society; that he was in short an enemy of the human race and died as such. He therefore deserves the hatred and loathing of all friends of humanity and true philosophers.” (Philolaus, in Herder’s dialogues on Spinoza’s system)

In fact the geometrical form of Spinoza’s Ethics with its apparent rigid definitions and axioms makes the undertaking a difficult one for the uninitiated reader, a frustration clearly expressed by Montag:

“In reading the definitions I could not entirely escape the feeling that each term referred to the others which in turn referred to it in what appeared to be a circle of empty abstractions: substance, modes, attributes, essences.”

For the message of Ethics however, this geometrical form was indispensable. Spinoza wanted the reader to pay little attention to the language used, and concentrate on the ideas that he endeavoured to convey by the means of that language.

Ideas, unlike language, are clear and distinct and based on real definitions, therefore being less prone to confusion in the thinker’s opinion (here Spinozian and Cartesian opinions converge).

This reliance on real definitions cannot be without assumptions and there are obvious difficulties with such an approach, as an interpreter of the text can never be sure of whether they are being mislead by the language of the text to ideas other than those intended.

“the apparent impenetrability of his writing is in some measure the opacity of the present to itself”

— Montag.

Yet it is not this that had caused so many to refute his philosophy.  There were countless accusations of atheism, fatalism and pantheism regarding Spinoza’s Ethics.

Perhaps it is for this reason that philosophers who benefited from the necessary “distance” conferred by time, such as Althusser for example, would be able to regard the work’s supposed atheism or heresy as one of its distinct positive aspects, in being able to express a revolutionary spirit representative of a history repressed and denied.

Other important criticisms included the apparent confusion of God with the world or with nature that Spinoza’s definition of substance infers. Such accusations attempted to perpetrate the idea that Spinoza’s God was a part of a finite, degradable world. In this respect the critics failed to understand Spinoza’s theory of substance, modes and attributes and made the false assumption that the attribution of extension to God would somehow render him corporeal, which was certainly not Spinoza’s intention. Spinoza’s particular emphasis on the distinction between Natura naturans – God – another name for the attributes, and Natura naturata – the totality of finite things – disproved his critics’ claims when observed.

What then determined so many to refute his philosophy? It was his departure from the philosophical mainstream of his time, his radical dissonance with orthodox theology and his challenge to accepted dualist conceptions of minds and bodies, God and substance, activity and passivity.

Leibniz, among many others critics, had deprecated Spinoza’s philosophy as exaggerated Cartesianism. Spinoza’s philosophy has indeed been greatly influenced by Descartes. In many ways, his own philosophy speaks to those issues raised by the Cartesian self, and although many similarities of approach exist, the conclusions the two philosophers reach are radically opposed.

To understand these distinctions more clearly it is necessary to take a closer look at Spinoza’s system of thought in the Ethics and his development of the theory of bodies and minds united through ideas and their objects.

Divided in five major parts, Spinoza’s Ethics offers more than a philosophy of morals, as the title may entitle one to expect. The work consists in short of a cosmology in the first part establishing the concepts of God, Nature, substance, attributes and modes; the second part could be conceived of as a psychology identifying the relation between human bodies and human minds and addressing the question of the nature of man; the third and fourth parts contain a psychology of the emotions which to some extent appears as a theory of human happiness; and finally the fifth part fully justifies the title of the work as Ethics, although expounding an ethics that would appear unfamiliar to his contemporaries, with no dogmatic good and evil expressed, morality becomes the tenet of individual’s understanding of emotions through reason.

Subsequently, I will attempt to show that, while Spinoza may have adopted a Cartesian approach (that of mathematical method) and language, most concepts appear transformed in his philosophy. The ‘borrowed’ notions were used in new ways and his thought developed more often in opposition to Descartes’ ideas rather than following them.


Note to my readers: Originally I intended to make this post available on the Monday following my previous post. Those of you who expressed an interest in the subject deserve an explanation for my renewed absence (I am in two minds regarding how explicit or otherwise I ought to be in this respect), but first I would like to apologise for the delay. 

This introduction is by no means exhaustive. It neither could be, nor did it aim to be so. It assumes a degree of acquaintance with Spinoza’s work and is intended as a mis-en-scene for the discussion of the relationship between body and mind in Spinoza’s Ethics and the challenge presented by Spinoza’s theories to the model of the Cartesian cogito on which I will expand in subsequent Philosophy Mondays posts.

All comments and questions are welcome. I can’t promise that I will be able to answer all to your satisfaction, but I can promise to do my best.

If you are new to Spinoza, the following webpages contains a few biographical details and an overview of his work: and


Philosophy Mondays | A reply to my readers

philosopher v2On the 31st of July I posed a question to my readers. The number of replies was encouraging and since there is sufficient interest in philosophy, I have decided to take the plunge and share a part of what I have written on the subject.

There were some very good suggestions for future questions, and in time I will attempt to tackle each of them.

For the time being, however, I will begin with aspects of philosophy I am familiar with and hope that these will be of interest to others as well.

The range of future articles will differ from one another both in the density and complexity of the subject matter, as well as in the manner in which I approach them. Some will be easier to digest than others, but I will do my best to clarify the more obscure points and write introductions that will hopefully make it easier to delve into unfamiliar territory. I will also do my best to ensure that there is a post on the topic on the Monday of every week, hence the Philosophy Mondays tag.

My first philosophy series will consider the relationship between body and mind established by Spinoza in the Ethics and will assess its challenge to the model of the Cartesian cogito; with the first article in the series, being dedicated to introducing Spinoza and giving a context to how his Ethics was received by contemporaries and others.

I’ve opted to make it a series, rather than one post, because the length of it would otherwise exceed 5,000 words and while I would love to think that each and every one of you would take the time to read it all, it would certainly make it easier and I hope more enjoyable too, to have it available in this alternative format.

As you are probably already aware, the word philosopher translates from ancient Greek as “lover of wisdom”, so to all of you lovers of wisdom who will be joining me on this journey: thank you. I hope it will be a rewarding one for all.

Odd Trio Redux

In the absence of sound

Silent Music by Vic Briggs

“After silence, that which comes nearest to expressing the inexpressible is music.” 

— Aldous Huxley, Music at Night and Other Essays


About this image: This is one sculpture amongst the many that have their home in the outdoor rooms of the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial in Washington DC. The memorial is a focus for those who work tirelessly to promote the welfare of disabled citizens. I thought that this sculpture captured beautifully both the idea of sound and its absence,