Speculative Realism: Quit While You’re Behind (Sort Of)


I will open with a personal note: I never really understood what most of the philosophical schools and their names stood for, I suppose I was educated to read texts and discuss ideas, not necessarily to come up with cool names that somehow encapsulate a whole school – maybe it’s the lack of analytical philosophy tradition in Russia, or rather the lack of zeal that it is characterized by in the West, you know, all that militant language and all. For example, when I read Steven Shaviro’s observation about speculative realism and Kant, I agree with it wholeheartedly and not only on some sort of an intellectual level:

Now, I understand that Kant is the godfather of what Harman calls “the philosophy of human access,” or what Quentin Meillassoux calls “correlationism.” Seriously, for all the speculative realists, Kant is the Number One bad guy. Nonetheless, as I have already suggested, it has long bothered me that Harman was (at least until now) unwilling to say about  Kant’s “things in themselves” what he says about Heidegger’s “tool-being”: that the concept is an important one, in underlining how things, or objects, cannot be reduced to our knowledge of them; that is to say, how things have a subterranean existence beyond whatever aspects of them we (or for that matter, any other entities that encounter them) are able to grasp. (Since Harman’s whole point is that there is no sense in privileging my encounter with a stone over, say, the snow’s encounter with that stone — the same problems of limited access arise in both situations). 

The issue of thing-in-itself is the most confusing one when it comes to explaining Kant and therefore it seems the most confusing one for those who subsequently attempt to get away with formulating Kant’s position in a couple of sentences. Now, I do enjoy a sort of a swift philosophical generalization that mentions names and implies that they stand for well-established and uncontroversial positions: Kant said that apples are bitter, yet Hegel developed this idea to talk about grapes, while Heidegger flips it upside down and talked about chairs – you know what I mean. I think it’s important to have a perspective like that, to have an ability to survey the history of philosophy and to make conclusions, but my problem has always been the kind of a nagging question: how can you say “Kant” and somehow signify the great complexity of Kant’s work and post-Kantian discussions? 

Let’s take (again) this strange thing-in-itself – Shaviro’s formulation is resonating with me because it points out a very important issue: thing as it is in itself is something we posit in order to deal with things as they appear to us, it is a horizon of sorts, but we have no knowledge of what it is yet we can think it. It’s a nuanced enough reading that I can see myself continuing the conversation were we sitting at a coffee shop or something. As an opposite of this come pronouncements that allow for no discussion, in fact, pronouncements that simply serve to fix a historical point of reference (Kant said X) and move on without much interest in the details. My main issues here is this: Why even bother then? Why not simply state your position without a sort of dismissive counterposition? Why make Kant into a “bad guy number one”? 

Shaviro continues: 

For Kant, noumena lurks inaccessibly behind phenomena, just as for Heidegger, the hidden tool-being of all entities lurks inaccessibly behind those entities’ presence-at-hand. But for Kant (unlike Heidegger?) the limitation which grasps of noumena only their reduced phenomenal profile is not only a loss or a reduction, but also a positive act, a construction, a bringing-into-relation.

I think I might be misreading Shaviro here, but I find it that Kant’s phenomena-noumena distinction is often taken as a kind of “two-world” metaphysics: things as they appear to us are called phenomena and things as they are in themselves are noumena. There are two realities then, the one we have an access to and the inaccessible reality out there. My first critique is at the office, but here’s a quotations from Kant’s 1794/95 lectures on metaphysics – discussing various figures in the history of philosophy, Kant summarizes: 

The defenders of the noumenon (or of the pure concepts of the understanding, i.e. that without experience we would be in the position to receive concepts which are called innate through the faculty of pure reason) maintained: knowledge is not given of phenomena or of sensible things. {i.e. the senses offer no stuff for the truth or certainty of cognition, that is, all a priori cognitions whose object is possible are called phenomena; noumena, on the other hand, are cognitions, or concepts beyond bounds, which have no object in possible intuition.} The defenders of the phenomena, on the other hand, declined the pure concepts of the understanding: there is certainty and truth only in outer things. [29:951] 

Now if we take a careful look even at this small fragment, it’s pretty easy to see that for Kant phenomena and noumena are words used to describe cognitions, not characteristics of things – is it reducing ontological to epistemological? I would argue that it is not, but see my point here: we use words like “thing in itself” or “noumena” often in a way that Kant did not intend us to – is it then his fault that we don’t take time to actually read and understand what he has to say? Steven writes: “Phenomena are generated out of the encounter between subject and object in Kant…” But so are noumena, or am I way off here? Of course, we can continue this conversation and arrive at what the quotation above states and I think we would agree that noumena and phenomena are to be used in a way that would make sense of Steven’s example, but again I wonder if we sometimes throw those terms around without really connecting them to complexity of Kant’s presentation?

What’s so energizing about Harman’s “object-oriented philosophy,” or about “speculative realism” more generally, is that it refuses to subordinate its arguments about the nature of the world (or about anything, really) to (second-order) arguments about how we can know whether such (first-order) arguments are correct. Kant endeavored to use the subordination of what we know to how we can be sure about the validity of what we know as a firm grounding for “any future metaphysics”; but of course this kind of meta-questioning inevitably leads to an infinite regress, or to an infinite argumentation that prevents one from ever making any  actual  arguments (this, I take it, is the witting or unwitting lesson of Derrida and of deconstruction). When we privilege epistemology, or the question of what we canknow, over metaphysics, or the question of what we do know, we fall into the abyssal rabbit-hole that Hegel called the “bad infinity”. 

Again, I think this is a reading I would generally consider a great conversation starter for one (of many) reasons: did Kant really intend that every single positive argument about reality infinitely regress into questions about the possibility to raise the question? I really don’t think so and again would argue that Kant actually considered his work in the first critique as one and only necessary critique of metaphysics, a kind of meta-questioning that once done is never to be done again – sorry I don’t have a reference again, but in the very end of the first critique there’s a nice sentence about how now that we’ve done all this work, science can finally stand on a firm foundation and go about its business without asking itself questions concerning the conditions of possibility. I think that sentence actually talks about an end of philosophy as a critical epistemological project, because the work that critique has done is enough. 

Preliminary conclusion: maybe all this interest in Kant as an archenemy will bring more attention to Kant’s complexity that has been reduced, it seems, to cliches and quick quotes to dismiss him. Maybe before this new and exciting philosophical movement makes too much progress it might take time to inquire whether its problems have not been already addressed and maybe even solved long time ago?

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22 thoughts on “Speculative Realism: Quit While You’re Behind (Sort Of)

  1. great post Mikhail! I’ve only been half-heartedly following the debates concerning Kant and Speculative Realism, but my general impression is, like yours, that proponents of Object Oriented Philosophy tend to present a radically foreshortened version of Kant’s thought/project that doesn’t match up to the extraordinary subtlety of his thought.

    To make matters stranger, the majority of Kant scholars these days (like Allison, Bird, and Longuenesse) advocate a reading in which Kant’s ‘Things in themselves’ are totally non-referential, non-ontological. On their view (as I understand it, or course), although our knowledge may be finite, their is simply no limit to knowledge acquisition (with the proviso I suppose that knowledge = justified true belief or some such thing). Paul Franks gives a nice summary of this interpretation — along with two other prominent interpretations of things in themselves — on p. 39 of his book All or Nothing: Systematicity, Transcendental Arguments, and Skepticism in German Idealism

    The Two Methods INterpretation. On this view, Kant speaks of things in themselves non-referentially and thus without any ontological commitment whatsoever. The point of this distinctionbetween things in themselves and appearances is not to pick out some realm of entities beyond the reach of knowledge. INstead, the point is to pick out a method for thinking of the very same objects that are accessible to our knowledge, a method for thinking of them as independent of the necessary conditions of our knowledge. But there is nothing metaphysical corresponding to this method of thinking, not even a nonphenomenal aspect of the objects we know. (my emphasis

    Franks call the slightly stronger version of this interpretation The Two Aspects INterpretation.

    In any event though, the point is clear: there’s nothing terribly limited about knowledge in the sense that the Speculative realists keep claiming (Meillassoux’s version of ‘the one reason too many’ argument applied to scientific knowledge), at least according to the predominant, post-metaphysical interpretation of Kant.

    And now that i think about it, isn’t the metaphysical impulse simply the impulse to create concepts in the first place? and how do concepts grab hold of “things in themselves” in their spooky metaphysical sense? Isn’t a concept without an intuition empty one?

  2. Thanks, Alexei – speaking of metaphysical impulse, I finally have the quotation I had in mind, a closed minded exegete that I am:

    If the reader has has pleasure and patience in traveling along in my company, then he can now judge, if it pleases him to contribute his part to making this footpath into a highway, whether of not that which many centuries could not accomplish might not be attained even before the end of the present one: namely, to bring human reason to full satisfaction in that which has always, but until now vainly, occupied its lust for knowledge. [A855/B883]

    That’s pretty clear – Kant thought that if his critical path is followed, many centuries of metaphysical speculation and frustration could be addressed and settled by the end of 18th century!

  3. Indeed, Mikhail.

    The problem, of course, for Kant as well as for the post-Kantians is finding the truly systematic — Encyclopedic — presentation of the potentials and limits of knowledge. Perhaps my favourite sentence from the 1st Critique runs as follows:

    Systems seems to have been formed, truncated at first but with time complete, by geratio aequivoca — like vermin [Gewürme, literally critters or creepy-crawlies] — from the mere melding of gathered concepts, although every one of these systems had its schema, as the original germ, in the reason that was merely unfolding. Hence not only is each system by itself structured in a accordance with an idea, but, in addition, all systems are in turn united purposively among one another — as members of a whole — in a system of human cognition, and thus permit an architechtonic of human knowledge. (A835/B863)

    (The German is even better — it’s one sentence that begins with creepy crawlies and leads speculatively to the architechtonic of all knowledge; it doesn’t get better than that!) The point, I guess, is that the architechtonic view of reason is always already implicit in each fragmentary claim to know; it’s just a question of immanent development. But (as the post Kantians seem to have clearly seen) that’s only possible on the basis of (1) a careful examination of conditions of possibility (Transcendental unity of apperception, Absolute I, intellectual intuition, Nature, Spirit, take your pick), and (2) a theory of historical development connected to, and explaining the ‘conditions of the conditions of possibility”.

    Paradoxically, then, I think Kant’s work actually inaugurates or makes possible truly speculative metaphysics (i.e. a metaphysics where the origin or object of thought lies in the future of thinking as something to be completed or fulfilled, rather than an object totally disconnected from the human faculties). Does that sound right to you? If it does, shouldn’t speculative realists love Kant and read lots of Schelling, rather than beating up on one notion in Kant?

  4. That’s a great quote, I think I’m with you here – I think most of what seems to be happening in “speculative realism” discussions – although to be fair, Harman himself points out that no one quite knows what that really is yet – is a sort of dismissal of Kant not as Kant, but as a representative of what Meillassoux labeled “correlationism,” a sort of a mascot as Harman phrases it. Fair enough, we all are mostly dealing with stereotypical presentations of thinkers for the most part. My issue is when a solution is proposed or a problem is articulated vis-a-vis someone like Kant and then an “original” formulation is offered when a more careful reading of Kant would offer a more interesting twist on the issue. Even the first critique has some brilliant discussions of physics and mathematics (conditions of possibilities of them), architectonic and more, but since Kant is the enemy, we can’t go and read him carefully, because that would be too old-style, too traditionalist exegetical work. Even the transcendental aesthetics which Kant worked on for a long time in terms of thinking the issues through gets a treatment like: “so mind imposes space and time on the world” kind of crude reading.

    I think I would agree that “the architechtonic view of reason is always already implicit in each fragmentary claim to know” – I’d love to hear more thoughts on it however, if you have time – I always thought that the most important discussions in the first critique, not because I have decided so myself, but because Kant clearly states it on my occasions, was the solution to the scandal of reason, the transcendental dialectic as both showing us the tendency of reason, the interest of reason, in unity and comprehensiveness, both it seems as a historical project of constructing a system and a metaphysical project of having resolved the issues of cognition seeing the future philosophy as a kind of disciplined effort to explore and to progress in theoretical and practical questions (cosmopolitan community being one theme that I’m interested in, but of course there are many others). My sense is that if you take all that talk in Kant of policing the reason, or disciplining the reason, it comes across as repressive closed-in philosophy that does not allow us to go out and enjoy “things themselves” while I think most of the scientific work done up to now would be totally fine with Kant because reason is very much within the limits here.

    By the way, thanks for that Franks reference, I read the chapter on “Kantian dualism” yesterday and I found it very lucid and insightful. I think the issue of thing in itself is presented in a way of making the issue complex enough to allow for several readings – not, as Harman stated in recent entry, because Kant scholars are “killing each other” over how to understand Kant’s thing in itself and noumena, but because Kant allows for several consistent readings that don’t necessary contradict each other.

  5. My issue is when a solution is proposed or a problem is articulated vis-a-vis someone like Kant and then an “original” formulation is offered when a more careful reading of Kant would offer a more interesting twist on the issue. Even the first critique has some brilliant discussions of physics and mathematics (conditions of possibilities of them), architectonic and more, but since Kant is the enemy, we can’t go and read him carefully, because that would be too old-style, too traditionalist exegetical work. Even the transcendental aesthetics which Kant worked on for a long time in terms of thinking the issues through gets a treatment like: “so mind imposes space and time on the world” kind of crude reading.

    I agree with you absolutely, Mikhail. And although I’m sympathetic to the worry that ‘continental philosophy’ has become little more than textual criticism (which is, I think, the strange legacy bequeathed by heidegger via Gadamer), I can’t imagine beginning an ‘original’ philosophical endeavor with a caricature of another thinker. So, shall we say, ‘boo to crude thinking, self-serving caricatures, and non-engagements’ together?

    Next:

    I always thought that the most important discussions in the first critique, not because I have decided so myself, but because Kant clearly states it on my [sic; nice slip Misha] occasions, was the solution to the scandal of reason, the transcendental dialectic as both showing us the tendency of reason, the interest of reason, in unity and comprehensiveness, both it seems as a historical project of constructing a system and a metaphysical project of having resolved the issues of cognition seeing the future philosophy as a kind of disciplined effort to explore and to progress in theoretical and practical questions (cosmopolitan community being one theme that I’m interested in, but of course there are many others).

    I emphatically agree (I suppose that makes us some kind of neo-[post]kantians). And, again, I blame Heidegger for making neo-kantian philosophy — in particular Cassirer — demodé before it even really got going, and for making people think that the Transcendental Logic (and in particular the Imagination and the Schematism) is the most important part of the 1st Critique. What strikes me as the real centre is the transcendental dialectic, followed by the speculative system-methodological considerations at the end. Everything else is simply spelling out the framework in which the dialectic and the architechtonic can be intelligently discussed.

    I’ll see whether I can’t think through what I meant by my claim, the architechtonic is always already implicit in every fragmentary claim to know. Maybe there’s a proper post in it. But for the moment, I suppose i tend to think, like Benjamin, of thoughts or discrete works as expressing — creating, giving rise to, bringing into being — an Idea that cannot yet be propositionally structured. The basic conception is Spinozistic, I think: a Pure Possitivity, the unity and Absoluteness of the Idea is the essence of that medium as such, rather than a propositional content that is formed by that medium as a mode of communnication. There’s a gap between the Idea implicit in a work, and the specific form that work possesses, and through which one can glimpse its Idea.

    Every thought says more than what its initial, immediate content suggests. and its this relationship between the Idea of given medium (it’s architectonic) and the possible contents that can be expressed by it that (1) imply an incompleteness or fragmentariness to each and every articulation within a given medium, and (2) indicate a speculative unity that remains to be grasped, etc.

    That’s just a first draft of a hazy intuition, though. And it’s not clear to me if it actually makes sense. Although I take it that the notion of Derivational Monism that Franks makes central to his account of German Idealism expresses the same idea. Anyway, I’m glad you’re enjoying Franks book. I’m quite impressed with it actually — I just wish he would have moved a bit further into Idealism; I would have loved to see what he has to say about Schelling in a more sustained manner.

    Oh, and as an after thougt: Do you want to form a (counter)reactionary movement against Speculative Realism with me? We could call it something like Speculative Textualism (L’idealisme sans frontiers).

  6. Alexei, the fact that we so whole-heartedly agree about everything and that this thread is nothing but a kind of self-congratulatory mutual encouragement already qualifies us to be the full members of some sort of new philosophical school. I think we should come up with some cool and arrogant name, but I think I already have the motto: To the things-in-themselves themselves! It’s confusing and therefore appropriate.

    As I’m sort of tired and lazy I would like to write up a longer response to your points, but I thought I’d mentioned that I was reading Kant’s lectures on metaphysics earlier and I came across a passage that might fit with your idea of systematicity and comprehensiveness – I’m too lazy to cite it now, but it’s 28:533 (it’s in Cambridge edition in English, I don’t think volumes of lectures in German are online). It’s basically an opening couple of pages of a metaphysics course from 1790s where Kant talks about how of all sciences only philosophy is systematic, it actually grounds the systematicity of all other sciences.

  7. the fact that we so whole-heartedly agree about everything and that this thread is nothing but a kind of self-congratulatory mutual encouragement already qualifies us to be the full members of some sort of new philosophical school

    I suppose I’m compelled to agree to this, out of solidarity and the need for self-congratulatory mutual encouragement. I agree, then.

    As for the motto, might I propose a slight modification? how about: From the Things-in-Themselves themselves andback. It’s at least as confusing as your version, and it has the added benefit of being totally circular (I tinkered with, ‘Not just a frictionless spinning in the void,’ until I realized that mottoes need to be positively phrased).

    Thanks for the Kant reference, Mikhail, I’ll take a look at the Lectures the next time I swing by the library.

  8. Hey Mikhail and Alexei,
    There’s a couple books out there (and coming soon) that do deal with speculative realism (whatever that might mean) and Kant and German idealism – and do so, on a pretty substantial level.

    Mikhail, you already know this one, but the others might be new to you:
    Iain Hamilton Grant, Philosophies of Nature After Schelling

    Alberto Toscano, Theatre of Production: Philosophy and Individuation between Kant and Deleuze

    Christian Kerslake, Immanence and the Vertigo of Philosophy: From Kant to Deleuze

    I’d add too that Ray Brassier’s doctoral dissertation on Laruelle has a pretty in-depth critique of Kant (especially check out Chapter 7). The PDF is here.

    And a suggestion for the name of your counter-movement: Speculative Criticism – it’s catchy and to the point, no? 🙂

  9. Architectonic – is this perhaps what Bayard is alluding to in the first chapter of How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read (which I now must admit I’ve mostly read, although I don’t remember it very well) in discussing Musil’s librarian who refuses to read particular books because he’ll lose his orientation to the big picture of knowledge as a whole?

  10. Thanks for the book references Nick. I’ll definitely check out Grant’s book. Deleuze remains pretty new to me, so I’m going to hold off on the secondary literature until I figure out for myself what’s going on in some of his texts. I really like what Deleuze has to say, for instance, in the Francis Bacon book — I wish I could get my hands on that beautiful 1st French edition — and then again in What is Philosophy. If you know of anyone who has a sustained account of Deleuze’s aesthetics, I would love to hear about it.

    I’m also quite taken with your suggestion concerning ‘speculative criticism,’ although it strikes me as already in use somewhere else. Howard Caygill, for one (who seems to be on the editorial boards of every publisher putting out ‘speculative realist’ books), labels Benjamin’s thought as transcendental, but speculative in his excellent book, Walter Benjamin: The Colour of Experience.

    Paraphrased (and maybe this answers Carl’s question), Benjamin’s criticism seeks out a particular field of conditions of possibility, i.e. a plane of inscription that makes possible a certain form of visibility or mark, and then interrogates how an empirical object, a work of art, is at once an elaboration of these conditions and a folding of a greater projected totality into them. This ‘folding’ leaves a trace, which becomes the toehold for Critique. And the liberation and actualization of this speculative totality, which remains not only immanent in a given work, but also deformed, or warped by the processes of inscription and folding (if an example helps, think of tracing the shape of a shadow cast by a sphere on a wall: the 3D sphere, along with the position of the light source, their relationship to one another, and to the wall are all somehow folded into a 2D representation: the shape one traces is oblong, rather than circular, and this warp is due to the folding of a 3D totality into a 2D plane of inscription), becomes the goal of Benjamin’s criticism.

    I’m not entirely convinced by Caygill’s account of the transcendental motif in Benjamin. I tend to think that, paradoxically, the mark creates the plane of inscription, rather than the plane of inscription being the condition for the possibility of the mark; Benjamin’s appeals to things like carpet weaving (where the ornament creates its space of appearance through its being woven), surrealistic montage (in which the detritus of life creates a space of value and presentation), and the mosaic (in which the tessera constitute both the possibility of a floor or ceiling and an image of religious revelation) seem to indicate a speculative register, but not a transcendental one. In this sense, I would probably say that Benjamin — along with Hegel, Lukács, and Adorno — are involved in speculative criticism, albeit in radically different ways. I’d be happy to associate myself with this tradition. Mikhail, what do you think?

  11. Nice post, Mikhail. I’ve been too busy and lacking the requisite energy to weigh in on the “kerfuffle.”

    Hi, Alexei. Don’t forget “soothsaying!” I’m glad you’re bringing Benjamin in..and his relationship to Kant is a rather interesting one. As I’m sure you well know, in some programmatic essays from the late teens Benjamin starts insisting upon rethinking of the Kantian system in order to open up a space for a speculative metaphysics while still remianing within the overlying “spirit” of Kantian metaphysics. More specifically, for Benjamin the demand for philosophy (and his disagreement with Kant) hinges upon how we understand experience. As you note, Benjamin’s challenge to Kant thinking a different concept of experience that pushes experience beyond the realm of “empirical consciousness” to accommodate the possibility of an experience of the absolute/ the infinite/the “unconditioned condition of all experience.” Lots of descriptors to choose from…

    Thus, the task of the philosophy is to figure out precisely which elements of Kant need to be cut loose, which concepts are to be reformulated and finally, which elements just have to remain in place. In this sense, it would appear to me that Benjamin thinks that it is feasible to reject Kant’s view of the structure/limits of experience while at the same time holding onto the synthesizing and “forming” function of the categories. No?

    Is what Benjamin finds most “yucky” the very system of categories? e.g.–too restrictive. The very potential for the categorical configuration of experience Benjamin likes because at bottom all experience is nothing more than the experience of both an active and categorical organization/presentation of appearances. I understand Benjamin as suggesting that Kant himself is simply unable to move beyond the limits of “Enlightenment thought.” In other words, Kant stuck to one set of categories that corresponds to empiricical consciousness.

    Yes, Caygill, as far as I can recall, argues that Benjamin’s reworking of Kant by opening categories up to other modalities actually transforms Kant’s transcendental philosophy, which tends to hone in on the conditions of the experience of empirical consciousness into a “speculative metaphysics of experience”. Such as it is, this speculative metaphysics would collapse the wall of Kantian experience to create an opening for the possibility of/for experiencing the absolute. From this vantage point it is undeniable that the Kantian account of experience is finite and in turn his metaphysics appears somewhat “deflationary,” but from Benjamin’s view, Kant only did part of the work, because Kant relegates experience to the parameters of empirical consciousness. Ultimately, doesn’t Benjamin redraw Kant’s structure by unlocking the doors that lie between Kant’s 3 faculties in a “speculative metaphysics of experience” in which the absolute is “embodied” in our experience of the finite, however fragmentary?

  12. Comrades, I have to say I am a bit overwhelmed with all these thoughtful reactions – I have to say I’d like to respond in detail to all but there seems to be so much going on here, I will inevitably be selective. But first things first, I think the issue of naming is as important as anything else so we should totally get cracking – philosophizing without an appropriate label and school affiliation is like that slightly embarrassing designation “independent scholar” you see in some conference programs… To be serious for a second, I think I do appreciate the fact that “Speculative realism” is really a kind of horizon and no one really quite necessarily aims to nail it down yet.

    Nick, thanks for the references, of three I only haven’t had a chance to read Kerslake book. Actually speaking of Grant’s book on Schelling – Alexei’s reference to Franks’ All or Nothing is interesting because Franks states in the introduction that most of the main characters of German Idealism are experiencing a revival since 1960s (Kant, Hegel and recently Fichte), yet there isn’t one for Schelling. I think Grant’s book maybe proving that Schelling is also coming back. In this case, I agree with Alexei’s statement that one would think that considering the expressed interests of “speculative realistst” they should love Schelling (and Kant by association).

    Alexei, your discussion of Benjamin’s “plane of inscription” as “the mark creates the plane of inscription, rather than the plane of inscription being the condition for the possibility of the mark” is interesting especially in light of my frustration with Levi’s misrepresentation of Kant’s transcendental aesthetics – I get what he is trying to say when he writes something like “mind imposes space and time on the objects,” but this phrasing is so misleading precisely because it obscures Kant’s careful attempt to balance between two simplistic presentations: passive mind and active mind. Transcendental aesthetics is of course all about how space and time are possible, not really what they are, but when addressing that question, Kant’s formula is that space/time cannot be determinations of things (both in terms of being a description of a thing like extension or a description of any relation between things), therefore they are determinations of subject. As I see it, it’s a subtle discussion that attempts to account for certain elements of aesthetics as analysis of sensation as “representation of the impression of the object on us” (29:829 – sorry this is from lectures again since it’s handy, but you can find similar language in the first critique) – that is, it’s not the mind that imposes itself on the world of objects, it’s the interaction between objects and forms of intuition and forms of understanding that produce a rather complex theory of sensation – I think we don’t need a “new transcendental aesthetics” we just need to take a closer look as the “old” one.

    So going back to mark and plane of inscription, I wonder if it has to be one way (Caygill’s way) or the other (your way) and cannot be both? Mark then creates a plane of inscription because the plane of inscription is a conditions of such creation yet it is not simple “there” for the mark – similarly to Kant’s discussion of space/time, as in space/time are forms of intuition before any sensible data is filtered though it and organized as spaced and timed, yet this “before” does not make much sense without space/time – not sure if I’m making much sense here.

    I would happily associate myself with any school as long as there is a significant scholar or an up and coming group of scholars associated with it, otherwise how can I get any significant street credit? With “book reports” and historical exegesis? I don’t think so…

  13. Carl, I always thought that “architectonic” is a kind of drink with tonic – something very old and trustworthy (“archi”), with some “tec” and of course “tonic”… I’m sure it’s delicious, I’ll try to ask for one next time I’m at a bar…

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  15. Some excellent remarks here guys! Thanks.

    Let me see if I can say something coherent in response to them. First off, viz. Benjamin’s relationship to Kant: I take it that Benjamin’s recasting of Kant’s critical philosophy amounts to trying to rearticulate the relationship between intuition and the transcendental Ideas by displacing the pure categories of the understanding. Kant himself points to something similar — the essential relationship between intuition and Reason as mediated by the intensisty of a felt need — in his little essay, ‘What does it mean to orient oneself in thinking?”, which is actually a contribution to the pantheism debate of the late 18th Century. Kant’s point: intuition plays a fundamental role in speculatively orienting thought towards an absolute, which is subjectively felt as a need, and whose immanence in a context of action becomes regulative.

    As I read Benjamin, it’s not so much the constricting character of the categories themselves but the ambiguity between orientation and judgment that becomes problematic and has to be rethought. This is why he criticizes Cohen’s brand of Neo-Kantianism: it dissolves the relationship between intuition and concept, thereby creating a starker difference between speculative orientation and Experience qua determinative judgment.

    Or so my nutshell version of Benjamin’s programmatic writings goes. Is that clear?

    Mikhail, you’re absolutely right: I set up a false dilemma between two complimentary forms of exposition. So when you said,

    I wonder if it has to be one way (Caygill’s way) or the other (your way) and cannot be both? Mark then creates a plane of inscription because the plane of inscription is a conditions of such creation yet it is not simple “there” for the mark – similarly to Kant’s discussion of space/time, as in space/time are forms of intuition before any sensible data is filtered though it and organized as spaced and timed, yet this “before” does not make much sense without space/time – not sure if I’m making much sense here.

    We can refer to Benjamin’s perspectivalism of what he calls ‘the task’ in his essay on Hölderlin (this is a weird notion that undergoes a series of transformations between 1914 and 1924). That is, we might be able to say that Benjamin (speculatively) affirms the ‘ontological’ inseparability of the two facets of explanation, while distributing them along the lines of artistic production of planes of inscription and the critical elaboration of them as conditions for the intelligibility of a given work of art.

    Does this sound more promising?

  16. Alexei,

    I unfortunately haven’t really paid much attention to the aesthetic aspects of Deleuze (at least not in any sustained way), so I’m not aware of any good books on the topic. Levi has a short piece on aesthetics in his book, but that’s all I can think of off-hand. As for getting into Deleuze, Toscano’s book may be a good entry-point as it’s more focused on the issue of individuation and how it operates as a problem from Kant to Deleuze. In that way, you can see how Deleuze is responding to some of the same problems Kant articulated. It’s one of my favourite Deleuze books, but it is rather dense, though. Definitely a book to work through patiently, since it’s packed with ideas.

  17. I kind of lost thread a bit of all the comments, I’m sure we’ll be able to play with these ideas further. As for a name, I think I would certainly not mind being called:

    (RELUCTANTLY SPECULATIVE) MORALIST

  18. Whatever you call this new grouping, I’m in! Seriously, we need a rejoinder to all of this materialist speculation… a moral or aesthetic speculation is well due: Major launch at the 2010 XI Kantian Congress?

  19. Pingback: #@%*! rainbows | Dead Voles

  20. “Maybe before this new and exciting philosophical movement makes too much progress it might take time to inquire whether its problems have not been already addressed and maybe even solved long time ago?”

    Said nicely.

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