Kant on his deathbed

Kant should not be understood as ‘transcendental’: really, throughout history, ‘ideas’ have been an attempt to get at the very low, to get beyond the pretension of those who claim that they are dealing with real things in the world.

If Kant’s effort is therefore not really atypical (but rather the way it has always happened), what’s really interesting is his emphasis on non-violence or his attempt to deal with the world ‘as it is’ rather than explicitly seek to change it. Yet I think there is certainly an implicit radicalism to Kant.

This sounds cynical, but this would mean that a great deal of Kant’s power comes from a deep cultural (I’m thinking of philosophy, not German) familiarity, which is what makes his (apparent) non-violence or conservativism all the more striking and perhaps his most notable stylistic feature.

Let me relate an anecdote, I’ve gone through that phase when thinking felt like a hammer. It gave me a sense of power, the way in which I can denaturalize everything through concepts.  Concepts weren’t there to describe the world but rather they seemed to destroy whatever they described. In a sense, one can only bring the unnatural, the wrong, the human (and not truth) into light, whatever patterns one found were really like impasses, mechanisms for rediscovering the same thing repeatedly. I’ve been kicked out of reading circles before for being too critical (in both senses of the word), for emphasizing that literature was there to aid in self-reflection and not to discover new worlds.  Literature is medium par excellence for identifying errors — as is (over?)
dramatized in this blog — the closer one reads the more one realizes that one is not what doing one claims. To formulate this more paradoxically, the closer one reads, the more deeply one understands the human, the farther away the human deviates from the material.

The paradox of literature is that, on the one hand, it’s a stage for judgment (like, say, a ballet recital), the more experienced on is, the closer, more dramatically, and more accurately one reads. But one draws closer to the ‘material’ of the dance only by bringing the dance farther away from the ‘material’ that she hopes to reach (ie, some essence of dance, some spirit of the age, etc.).  But on the other hand, the *performance itself* is in a sense the very ‘material basis’ of the dance, but in the sense that it is what establishes the hopes that the dance has and the entire culture of the dance.  This is a vague formulation, but we will return to this point in the conclusion since we’re really talking here about the way in which close reading will eventually reveal how the dancer is in fact ‘right’.

So here, Kant takes the opposite stance (but the same approach) in the sense that he does not really criticize the dance (‘with a hammer’) but rather, in a sense, almost panders to it or celebrates it, his conclusion is not that the dance has failed but that the very order which the dancer seeks organizes the dance – that hope organizes the dance if you will.  The significant destructive violence of Kant is combined withan unwillingness to destroy the particular practice but in the process the underlying mechanisms are transformed almost beyond recognition.

So Kant (of course we’re talking about the Kant that we are familiar with, ‘Kant’ being used here almost like an adjective) never makes the second argument (the ‘on the other hand’) that we talk about above, where the dance is ‘right’ because the dance is reflexively about one’s failure, about how one’s hopes are ordered by the medium of dance (and therefore ‘wrong’ about the original effort to reach some more naive goal). Kant recognizes the naivete or the destructibility of the original goal but makes the argument that, since it is so, since there is truth to the present if you will, there *must be* some underlying structure that organizes everything in this manner. It’s like a proof by contradiction with the final line torn off.

But, as we remarked somewhat cynically in the beginning, Kant’s success probably had a lot to do with his deep familiarity with the ‘culture of philosophy’. We argued that every attempt to ‘go down low’ is really an *anti*-material or dematerializing effort. Kant’s critique of the culture of philosophy would then have to be ‘deeply familiar’ because it relies on a close (but surprisingly non-destructive, at least in the usual sense) analysis of philosophical culture.

Kant on his deathbed would have to be well aware of this cynical attitude towards his life. On the other hand, philosophers, so the saying goes, can’t die happy knowing their life hadn’t been in vain – but in a glorious way, not in the cynical way we describe above. I mean, a better way to put this is that some can’t die happy unless they knew that their life had been *violence* rather than useful to the world, this itself is a point of pride or vanity.

But this violence cannot simply be conceived of as countless technical manipulations (‘cynicism’), but rather — well, success almost doesn’t matter at this point. What matters was that one was able to endure and to persist — the lonely dance — and this is possible only because one, personally, saw the possibility of the *medium* of literature. That is, if Kant, on his death bed was forced to critique his own life or the holistic violence of his own life, then —

1) the dancer would have to be conceived of as dealing with ‘dark figures’
2) Kant and ‘carried’

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