Spinoza’s Concept of ‘Wonder’ as Aesthetic Interruption

Arnon Rosenthal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article is an attempt to connect Spinoza’s concept of ‘wonder’ (admiratio) to ‘aesthetic interruption’—the response of being ‘frozen’ by a performative event. According to Spinoza we experience wonder when we perceive an object we have never perceived before, and being unable to relate the object to anything else, our mind pauses on it as an unfamiliar singular image. And because for Spinoza body and mind are parallel and equal forms of each of us, our body too ceases its ongoing movement. This wonder, moreover, as Christopher Davidson (2019) notes in his interpretation of Spinoza’s ‘wonder’, may intensify the affects induced in us by external bodies and arouse powerful emotions in the perceiver, as, for example, in ecstatic events such as festivals. However, the aspect of ‘wonder’ Davidson does not touch upon is the question of aesthetic interruption. Since Spinoza does not elaborate on ‘wonder’ in relation to the theatre or the arts in general, I draw an analogy between his concept of wonder and Benjamin’s concept of ‘interruption’ (Unterbrechung) in Brecht’s epic theatre. For much like Spinoza’s description, Benjamin describes ‘interruption’ as a break in an ongoing situation that we see as an unfamiliar standing image that induces our ‘astonishment’ (Staunen). In both cases the wonder or astonishment arises from the element of ‘pause’—an image that interrupts the movement of our body and mind. I conclude my brief exploration of Spinoza’s concept of wonder as aesthetic interruption by applying it to two concrete responses to a performative event: Normand Berlin’s response to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and my own response to Thom Luz’s When I Die.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)93-97
Number of pages5
JournalPerformance Research
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Visual Arts and Performing Arts


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