Printer Friendly

Kant with Michael Fried: feeling, absorption, and interiority in the Critique of Judgment.

While the greater part of criticism and reflection on Kant takes the question of aesthetics in the Critique of Judgment to center on the subject's relation to art, art is not actually Kant's model of aesthetic experience in the text. (1) Niether is it simply nature. The Critique of Judgment, in other words, cannot simply be understood as Kant's engagement with the realm of what we understand by aesthetics. Rather, it is the case that in the third Critique, an aesthetic object for Kant constitutes itself as aesthetic object only in relation to a particular kind of subject or unique experience of the subject. Aesthetic experience for Kant is an economy between subject and object rather than an encounter with what we understand by beauty. Aesthetics, then, rather than being the division of Kant's philosophy concerned with art or the beautiful becomes, instead, a mode or a displaced way of his posing questions about subjectivity more generally.

The fact that Kant does not understand aesthetic experience, or the power of judgment, to be primarily "of" art or to be limited to the experience of art has great consequences for how the third Critique can be read and for what its implications are for Kant's philosophy as well as for literature and philosophy following Kant. How an aesthetic object constitutes itself as aesthetic object, for Kant, cannot be understood simply in terms of the object's formal features. The question of the constitution of an aesthetic object in the third Critique is neither a formal nor even an epistemological one. Because Kant conceives aesthetic experience as an economy, Kant's aesthetic object must work to achieve an ontological shift in itself, one through which too a different kind of subject is brought into existence. It is an economy that, as I hope to show, bears a striking resemblance to the shift between artwork and apprehender that Michael Fried claims transpires at about the same period in the history of art and conceptions of aesthetic experience.

Kant famously terms the aesthetic a "separate" sphere of experience in the Critique of Judgment. The "separateness" of aesthetic experience for Kant is grounded in the difference and division of this kind of experience from other kinds of experience--moral, intellectual, sensible, everyday, and so on. One of the implications of the fact that Kant does not take aesthetic experience primarily to be the subject's experience of art is that the "separateness" of aesthetic experience in the third Critique is not a function of the difference of the art object from other kinds of objects. That art is somehow "different" does not for Kant take care of the distinctness characteristic of aesthetic experience. If aesthetic experience is different or separate, then, this difference becomes in the text a question of the subject's very capacity for this "separation"--Kant calls it "disinterest"--that is, the subject's capacity for a kind of experience distinct and in a particular sense disengaged from the moral, practical, sensible, intellectual, or everyday. Kant does nothing short in this text, in other words, of giving explicit articulation to a wholly new capacity of the subject, in effect a new dimension or aspect of what he at one point calls the human: the capacity to be disinterested, neither ethically nor practically driven, one which grants and requires a new relationship to the self, to others, and to the natural world. The third Critique, then, is not only a seminal text in the emergence of aesthetics as a division of philosophy. It also recasts the question of the nature of experience generally in light of the fact that for Kant something like aesthetic experience or the exercise of the power of judgment is possible.

Kant measures the difference or distinctness of aesthetic experience not according to the kind of object the subject encounters--art, or the beautiful in nature--but instead by what he very specifically calls the "feeling"-Lebensgefuhl--engendered in the subject. It is that feeling that makes aesthetic experience different and distinct. The task of the analysis below is to trace and examine the nature of this "feeling" as well as the attendant concepts in the third Critique of "reflection" and "disinterest." The first stage of my analysis, then, traces the emergence of the concept of feeling within the context of the course of Kant's critical philosophy, for aesthetic "feeling" provides Kant's subject with something that the earlier critical works, implicitly, had both opened the need for and left unfulfilled. My emphasis on the Critique of Judgment as a stage in the course of Kant's critical philosophy is meant not only to elucidate the text's relationship to the earlier critical works but also to underline that Kant's holding up reflective judgment as a subject of critique constitutes a true pivotal moment and that it is characterized by a radical rethinking of the organization of subjectivity vis-a-vis the question of aesthetic form. His topic--aesthetic form--forces a change in Kant's subject, and perhaps vice versa--the internal pressures of the critical system on the question of subjectivity and self-knowledge lead Kant to the themes of aesthetics and form. Until 1790, Kant had allowed for only two parts to the critical philosophy--theoretical and moral--and correspondingly had conceived of two primary dimensions to human experience. Given the utter rigor of the critical system, which from the moment of its inception was to have been fundamentally already complete, it is significant that Kant's frame both calls for and can accommodate such a basic amendment. Again, it is my contention that this amendment is not simply Kant's way of allowing art or beauty into philosophy but that the subject's capacity for what Kant terms reflective judgment recasts the question of the nature of experience--the capacities and horizons of the subject, a "new subject"--generally, and that, furthermore, the change is necessitated by Kant's reflections on the ontological status of an aesthetic form. The questions of aesthetic form and subjectivity in the Critique of Judgment cannot be separated. There is no aesthetic form for Kant prior to the establishment of a particular economy of disinterest with the subject.

The second stage in my analysis explores the convergence in Kant's notion of "feeling" of the subject's sense of self and his or her ability to be what Kant calls disinterested. What makes Kant's theorization of aesthetic judgment so interesting and instructive is that at the same time that the disinterested subject of reflection for Kant withdraws and retreats inward with such intensity, immersed in "feeling," he or she at the same time enters into a particular relation with others. Interiority and intersubjectivity enter Kant's critical philosophy as part of one and the same moment. In the creation of and immersion in an inward space, the subject for Kant in aesthetic judgment finds his or her way to or toward a relation with others. The "feeling" subject in an act of aesthetic judgment is precisely not "self-contained," and his or her interiority for Kant is constituted not by a private but by a common interest. Intersubjectivity actually plays a much larger role in Kant's theory of reflection than it does in either his ethics or in his understanding of dialogue in what he calls in his explication of the concept of enlightenment "the public use of reason." Reflection for Kant is essentially social, even in the decidedly "unsocial" form it appears to take. In an act of aesthetic judgment, the establishment of a relation to others is the very condition, as Kant argues it, of the subject's inward retreat. This is the apparent contradiction of the antimony of taste, that my judgment is rooted entirely in a feeling that takes place within me and that at the same time I attribute that same judgment to the whole sphere of judging persons. What I hope to show, then, is that in the third Critique, Kant redraws the bounds of subjectivity not according to a set of principles or independently conceived powers but according to a particular economy--an economy between subject and object and, mediately, between the subject and others.

Architectonic Integrity and the Role of the Power of Judgment

The power of judgment occupies a truly unique role within Kant's larger vision of the landscape of pure reason. When he introduces the power of judgment in the introduction to the Critique of Judgment, Kant himself appears vexed about assigning the "strange and different" power of judgment (Urteilskraft) the status of a proper faculty like reason (Vernunft) and understanding (Verstand). Judgment does have an a priori principle of its own and thus appropriately receives the corresponding analytics, deduction, and so on--in other words, a proper "critique"--but Kant writes in the introduction to the text that the power of judgment has only a "kinship" with the faculties proper (1987, 31, 16).

Kant's metaphor of kinship to describe the power of judgment in many ways nicely captures the transformation the very notion of a faculty undergoes in the third critical work. The dominant metaphor in the Critique of Pure Reason through which Kant had conceived the cognitive powers was largely topographical. The cognitive powers were brought into view in that text through a series and network of spatial metaphors through which each was pictured a "part" with corresponding territorial bounds. Those "bounds" were precisely Kant's concern: The labor of critique uncovered each one's internal principles of "legislation." The metaphor of kinship--affinity or resemblance--between the faculties that Kant invokes in relation to the power of judgment really would have been disallowed by the methodological strictures laid out in the first Critique. For the Kant of that text, it was "of the utmost importance to isolate cognitions that differ from one another in type and origin, and to keep them carefully from melding into a mixture" (1996, 763). He pictured the faculties there as self-contained actors whose identity in a sense was wholly grounded in the exclusion of the occupations of the others. Furthermore, the points of contact, or "borders" between territories, in that topographical landscape clearly had posed conceptual difficulties for Kant at times, as he conceded, for instance, when in the schematism he described the imagination's work of bringing sensibility and understanding into communication as "a secret art residing in the depths of the human soul" (1996, 214). We should recall, too, that Kant's project of critique initially is premised precisely on this idea of the intrinsic isolation of the faculties from one another: transcendental philosophy uncovers the regularity of--or what Kant calls the "organon" or "canon"--of pure reason to the extent that the manifold and ordered parts of the system of pure reason have proper bounds of use (1996, 64-65).

In the Critique of Judgment, Kant's emphasis contrastingly falls singularly on the bridging and linking of faculties by the power of judgment. Judgment thus has a "kinship" with the faculties, that is, its function depends on its being able to bring them into relation, to come into exchange with and, so to speak, communicate with each and all of them. The metaphor here is important: judgment has to know the ways of, be "of" each of the other cognitive powers in some way in order to do the work Kant designates for it. This is a key methodological shift in the trajectory of Kant's critical works: it is no longer possible to understand the cognitive power at issue in the Critique of Judgment as a self-subsistent unity. The power of judgment for Kant is solely a power of relation.

This conception of the power of judgment as a faculty of relation that comes forward in the third Critique is very different from the conception of judgment Kant had put forward in the Critique of Pure Reason, where he had already introduced the power, though only in name. The function and definition of judgment changes radically between the two works. Judgment in the context of the first Critique is simply the application of concepts and, as such, is more or less identical with thought or cognition generally; Kant writes there that our ability to judge is our ability to think (1996, 132). The a priori principle of lawfulness, however, no longer dictates judgment's work in the Critique of Judgment; rather, judgment now works in accordance with its own a priori principle, what Kant terms "purposiveness." In this way, judgment gains a freedom from the sovereignty of the other cognitive powers. It now moves about freely. Something interesting emerges here: In its new reflective capacity, judgment finds a freedom and thus acts with a kind of independence, but as we briefly noticed, this freedom is not the same as an autonomy from the other faculties, because the form of judgment is of the other cognitive powers. The metaphor of a "part" is thus no longer an apt one for the figuring of this new cognitive power, because judgment doesn't have a substance outside of the occupation of relation. It destroys the parts of the system qua "parts" and gives the subject access to a portion or a temporal fragment of a totality. The landscape of metaphors through which Kant had asked us to picture or conceptualize the structure of pure reason--a field of sovereign actors, boundaries, lines, territories, legislations, sometimes battles, and so on--thus no longer holds. Both the set of metaphors and correspondingly Kant's own thinking about the constitution of a cognitive power have changed.

Kant had drawn the outline of the system of pure reason in the first Critique "with full guarantee of the completeness and reliability of all the components that make up [the] edifice" (1996, 66). The edifice was one of Kant's primary metaphors for the architectonic system. The other he invoked frequently was often a body or an organism. Both metaphors highlight the fact that the system for Kant stands or falls as a whole: an edifice, like a body, can collapse under the pressure of the introduction of a foreign member. What Kant's metaphors dramatize is that the parts of the critical system as Kant conceived it could not be accumulated; they are structured. Amendment of the fundamental form of the system was not a possibility. Critique is binding, a science and no longer "a mere groping about" (1996, 66). The organization and program of the first and second Critiques was dictated directly by the division of the basic components of the architectonic system of pure reason that Kant had derived in the first Critique. The components of the system did not simply name various capacities of the apparatus of rationality as discrete functions, and it is in this sense that they are not to be conceived as an aggregate. Rather, they emerged together to form Kant's vision of human reason in all of its necessary bounds and reaches, and in this way, too, they determined the divisions, duties, and possibilities that he charted for the project of philosophy, a project that until the Critique of Judgment was to have two parts, a theoretical (of the realm of nature over which the understanding legislates) and practical (of the realm of freedom or ethics, the domain of the faculty of reason). Kant's vision of human knowledge and capacity, furthermore, too stemmed directly from these strict divisions. As it enters the system belatedly, then, reflective judgment does not--in principle--disrupt the system's standing integrity, as Kant's definition of the architectonic might have predicted that it would, because judgment as we saw does not disclose itself as an "addition," a new part or actor or set of boundaries in the system. Reflective judgment has a different relationship to the system altogether.

Rather than disrupting the system's integrity, the belated introduction of reflective judgment in fact both sets the architectonic into motion and animates it. The cognitive powers play in an act of aesthetic judgment. As the term suggests, it is almost as if the system were exercising itself or in some sense coming to learn of itself as structured and as capacious: it is playing. The system in an act of reflective judgment thus becomes not only dynamic but also cohesive. Kant's emphasis has shifted from rigorously marking out the discrete role of each faculty to exploring their coherence and relation. More precisely: Because of judgment's unique status within the system, the task of marking out its role entails a shift of emphasis to the system as a structure of parts felt to work and subsist as a unity. (2)

Gilles Deleuze provides a strong version of this line of argument when he writes in his reflections on aesthetic judgment that because the third Critique in this way establishes relation and proportion between the faculties, it does not complete the critical philosophy, as is often argued and as Kant himself argues, but that reflective judgment in fact grounds it. "This, in effect," Deleuze writes, "is the meaning of the Critique of Judgment: beneath the determinate and conditioned relation of faculties, it discovers a free, indeterminate, and unconditioned accord. A determinate relation of the faculties, conditioned by one of them, would never be possible were it not first of all made possible by this free unconditioned accord" (2000, 68). Kant had argued clearly in the earlier critical works that our faculties differ from one another essentially in nature. Deleuze's claim highlights the Critique of Judgment's role in establishing how it is, then, that they can at all or in the first place (his topic is "genesis") enter not only into harmonious but more fundamentally coherent relationships--how they connect and coexist as part of one and the same working system. Thus, he writes that a free accord of the faculties of the kind Kant finds operative in the third Critique in judgment's reflective use is the condition of the faculties being able to carry out any purposeful or directed activity. The ability to "play," in other words, precedes and grounds the ability to work and think. The belated introduction of the new cognitive power of reflective judgment thus does not modify the system of pure reason but precisely sharpens and reposes the question of its structure and working as a totality--or, in fact, its coherent working at all. This is our first glance into the significance of the term Kant uses--Lebensgefuhl--to describe the feeling the subject experiences in an act of reflective judgment (1987, 44). It is a feeling of or for life--in what is experienced as it entirety, in other words. The parts work and harmonize together; the whole is engaged. It is a unique moment in Kant's critical philosophy, which hitherto not only had barred the faculties from "melding into a mixture" but also was in some sense premised on the thought that they work in isolation, that each finds its application in its own territory--understanding in the realm of experience and reason in the realm of the unconditioned--and should not transgress those bounds.

The Form of Feeling and the Structure of Absorption

Until the Critique of Judgment, then, Kant had laid out a picture of the subject based on a topographical and thus what often amounted to a mechanistic model. The "parts" of the system of pure reason "functioned," and the whole had been conceived as the structured sum of those parts. The experience--the existential experience--of coherence or wholeness is one Kant explicitly had denied the subject until this point. Because reflective judgment engages the parts of the system of pure reason in unison and in harmony with one another, the Critique of Judgment through the notion of "feeling" opens up for Kant's subject the possibility of not simply functioning but also of having an intuition of itself as "whole"--as "subject," in other words. This means too that it gives the subject access to a particular kind of self-knowledge.

In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant first had posed the question of self-knowledge or self-consciousness thus: "How can a subject inwardly intuit himself?" (1996, 100). He was led to the conclusion that insofar as self-consciousness--the subject's inward intuition of itself--cannot but be an intellectual act, and insofar as any object of the intellectual powers comes to be known as appearance and not in itself, the subject can only know himself as he "appears" to himself and not "as he is." The subject cannot give itself to itself "directly" or "self-actively," he writes (1996, 101). As long as the question of self-knowledge was posed as a question of intellectual or cognitive knowledge, then, Kant's subject could not know itself, because the self "as it is" cannot be for Kant an object of consciousness or experience. Kant's argument in the Critique of Judgment that aesthetic judgment is not an act of the intellect but precisely a form of feeling answers precisely to this need. It opens up for the subject a site where self-knowledge becomes accessible, a form of inward intuition that grants the subject something like access to itself or a particular kind of knowledge of itself. In an act of reflective judgment, the subject "feels" itself.

Kant marks the existential mood of fullness that accompanies this "feeling" in an act of reflective judgment with the term Lebensgefuhl--a feeling of vitality, of or for life. We should note at the outset that the "fullness" of the experience in an act of reflection does not follow for Kant the economy of the more familiar affect of empathy. It is not in that sense that Kant's subject in aesthetic experience becomes "full." The fullness is not an excess or a saturation, and it does not follow a logic of the subject's "having" the feeling. Furthermore, the passions, emotions, and sensibility are actually uninvolved. The logic of "agreement," furthermore, called for in aesthetic judgment is likewise of a different kind than that entailed in empathetic identification. What we should note, therefore, is that Kant's "feeling" is never a feeling. It is always the same feeling of life. "The subject feels himself" (my emphasis), writes Kant, when he stands before the object of reflection; "the mind ... feels its own state" as well as "the entire presentational power" (1987, 44). The subject, in short, is not full "of" something (other) in Kant's form of feeling. As the term suggests and as Kant's elaborations here make clear, the feeling is of the subject's own sense of itself, and the term Lebensgefuhl implies precisely this self-reflexivity. For Kant, in other words, to have a feeling of "life" is to have a feeling of it not as given but as authored, as made up of the capacities that give it form. To have a feeling of life is thus ultimately, for Kant, to have a feeling of the self. And although it strictly remains a feeling, to have a feeling of life would also, for Kant, have to mean: to have a sense and thus a kind of knowledge of what structures a form of experience. Lebensgefuhl thus constitutes for Kant what I have been loosely calling a kind of "access" to the sell or a particular kind of self-knowledge or self-intuition.

Kant's concept of "feeling," however, has more in common with intellectual activity than any form of emotion or desire, although it is crucial to Kant's setting up the concept as a site for the subject's access to a kind of self-knowledge that the experience not be conceived as an application of the intellect but precisely a feeling. In order to begin to get a better grasp on Kant's notion of feeling, we can recall Kant's repeated insistence that aesthetic judgment is disinterested insofar as it is not dictated or swayed by the emotions in any way: "any taste remains barbaric if its liking requires that charms and emotions be mingled in." Emotion for Kant "does not belong to beauty at all" (1987, 69, 72). "Feeling," then, is not related for Kant to the passions. True feeling, in fact, famously precludes the involvement or interference of emotion. Feeling is also not related to the senses. Here we can recall Kant's making clear at length in the Critique of Judgment that a judgment of the beautiful is not a judgment of what agrees with me or appeals to me or of what I like. A feeling for Kant is not an intuition, an application of the senses. It does not have that kind of particularity to it; again, it is not a feeling "of" some thing. When Kant writes of the pleasure the subject takes in the beautiful and of what he calls the negative pleasure the subject takes in the sublime, he is careful to underline just this point, that the pleasure is not a pleasure taken in the object: "Judging of the object ... precedes the pleasure in the object and is the basis of this pleasure, [a pleasure] in the harmony of the cognitive powers" (1987, 62). Or similarly: "Through this pleasure or displeasure I do not cognize anything in the object of the presentation" (29). That judgment precedes the feeling of pleasure means just that the pleasure is not one taken in the object but rather pleasure taken in the accord of the faculties elicited by the exercise of judgment. In both of these ways--the form of feeling being neither of the passions nor of the senses--it might be said that feeling for Kant is irreducibly intransitive, because it is not directed anywhere outward. Its substance is not of anything other than itself. It is in this way intransitive, an activity that doesn't go or head anywhere as the passions and senses might be said to--a pure process.

That Kant employs the term "pleasure," Lust, however, to describe the sensation of the pleasure taken in "feeling" already alerts us to the fact that the experience of feeling, though distinct from the senses and the passions, is ultimately an experience of the body. Kant thus takes the sense of self-understanding involved in this experience out of the sphere of self-consciousness and makes it deliberately existential. Ernst Cassirer, for instance, gives the following description of the subject's existential experience of Lebensgefuhl: "The work of art in one stroke presents that unity of mood which is for us the unmediated expression of the unity of our ego, or our concrete feeling of life and self" (1981, 316). Cassirer's term "concrete" suggests that there is an almost physiological dimension to the experience. Although it is--descriptively--an activity of the intellectual powers, in other words, the pleasure of the attuned play of the faculties is brought into awareness as a material sensation--"concrete." The subject registers the play of the faculties with an immediacy and a certainty, like pleasure or pain in the body. The subject, writes Kant, becomes conscious of his or her intellectual powers "when it feels [fuhlt] its own state." The attuned harmony of the faculties "can reveal itself only through sensation [durch Empfindung]" and can "be sensed [empfunden] in the effect it has on the mind" (1987, 44, 63). (3) Kant's images here for the form of the subject's awareness of the play of the cognitive powers are entirely and emphatically sensory. Kant's system mandates that the capacity of the subject for feeling as a unique kind of self-knowledge remains distinct from his or her intellectual capacity.

Kant repeatedly describes the quickened and invigorated play of the faculties that elicits this feeling in the subject as a bare circulation, a repetition the point of which is to replicate itself. In the passages in which he actually offers descriptive images of the free play of the faculties involved in reflective judgment, "lingering" and more importantly keeping [Erhaltung] arise as central images. The aesthetic object elicits pleasure from us so as "to keep [us in] the state" (1987, 68). The subject is stuck in some sense, and the activity of reflection itself might be described as the ability to protract its own circular activity: "We linger [weilen] in our contemplation of the beautiful" (68). Unlike an application of the intellect or deliberation of the moral sense, whose workings can be thought of as events, the activity of judgment is not based on succession. It has a different relationship to time. Both sequentiality and change are suspended in the activity of reflection. The image of "keeping" indicates precisely this and already suggests that a formal labor on the part of the aesthetic object is entailed. Crucially, the subject does not unfold, act, or move in time and in the world in the state of reflection.

"Reflection," however, is not mere pause. As Kant's term "keeping" suggests, there is an aspect of not simply idly lingering but being held back that constitutes the activity. Here, the aesthetic object--in order to constitute itself as an aesthetic object, for Kant--carries the burden of precisely not distracting or pausing but keeping us. If we compare Kant's term "reflection" with the related term "absorption," which emerges in Michael Fried's analysis of eighteenth-century French painting, this distinction becomes clear. Fried emphasizes in his analysis in Absorption and Theatricality that the representation of absorption and absorbed states (reading, writing, listening), which become dominant subject matter for painting in the time, only becomes convincing if a painting can formally give the beholder the idea that the absorbed state is sustained (1980, 49). The representation of subjects that are arrested by something before them--absorbed--thus must involve more than a contrast with the bustle or activity around them. The painting has to do the formal work of protracting the still image, and Fried traces the approaches and techniques through which this effect is variously achieved. Of Chardin's ability to convey actual duration when representing subjects that are absorbed, Fried writes, for example, "Images such as these are not of time wasted but of time filled" (51). That the subject's attention to or immersion in the surroundings has been broken is indicated not by a pause in activity but by an active filling of time with inactivity. Something is happening, but that happening is not part of the surroundings, is not what is "apparent" in the image, and the formal burden of the painting is to convincingly convey this sustained internal movement--this "feeling"--in the subject. Obliviousness, self-forgetting, reverie, and the suspension of usual (professional, everyday) affairs is thus not sufficient to convincingly portray such a state. The painting itself must suggest, argues Fried, that activity or action will recommence any moment in the same way that Kant's state of reflection can only transpire as pause or momentary suspension of thought generally. In Chardin's Soap Bubbles, for example, a young man is pictured centered in the frame blowing lightly into a blowpipe while leaning out of a window. His fixed though abstracted gaze falls on the just-full soap bubble, which "swell[s] and tremble[s] before our eyes," threatening to burst (Fried 1980, 51). The figure in Greuze's Portrait de Watelet leans against a window sill, relaxed, and holds two papers in his hands, one which he reads and by which he is clearly taken and arrested, and another that waits to be read in the other hand which has fallen somewhat thoughtlessly to the side--not quite limp, however, but somewhere in between held up and forgotten, just about to be taken up again. Here our prior distinction between Kant's "feeling" and the passions, emotions, and senses becomes clear: the representation of passion or of sensuality would involve no such separation from the surrounding world that waits on the verge of recommencement. The passionate subject is not held back but precisely impelled forward. In Fried's analysis of absorption, we see that the absorbed subject, contrastingly, is not pulled in by the object of reflection but precisely pulled away. Like Fried's absorption, Kant's "feeling" rests on a break with the world--in the realm of representation and painting, this means a protracted yet discrete break with the implicit or explicit raise en scene--in Kant's terms, a break from the determinative and purposeful activity of the intellect, the passions, the senses, and moral feeling.

Fried's reading of Diderot's conception of painting, which stands at the center of his argument in Absorption and Theatricality, bears a resemblance to and shares a commonality of themes with Kant's account of Lebensgefuhl worth noting. Fried writes, for instance, of the conception of painting that comes forward in Diderot's varied critical responses to particular works of art thus:
   Diderot seems to have held that an essential object of paintings
   belonging to those genres was to induce in the beholder a
   particular psycho-physical condition, equivalent in kind and
   intensity to a profound experience of nature, which for the sake of
   brevity might be characterized as one of existential reverie or
   repos delicieux. In that state of mind and body a wholly passive
   receptivity becomes the vehicle of an apprehension of the
   fundamental beneficence of the natural world; the subject's
   awareness of the passage of time and, on occasion, of his very
   surroundings may be abolished; and he comes to experience a pure
   and intense sensation of the sweetness and as it were the
   self-sufficiency of his own existence. (130-31)

Like Kant's account of pleasure in the apprehension of the aesthetic object, Diderot's account of painting emphasizes what Fried here terms the "psychophysical" aspect of the experience of apprehension and absorption. In the same way that the subject for Kant "feels" it own state in the activity of reflection, the subject for Diderot experiences an "intense sensation" of his own existence when absorbed before a painting. And although it is clearly a sensation in the subject that Diderot here is after, the state, Fried writes, is importantly one of "mind and body," like Kant's "feeling," which is importantly at once of the body and of the intellectual powers. Most notably, in the same way that for Kant "feeling" results from a particular kind of apprehension--judgment of the something in the world--yet is not directed outward, is not "of" that thing, and is ultimately a feeling of the subject's own sense of self, for Diderot, as Fried here writes, the kind of "receptivity" entailed in absorption engenders an intense sensation in the subject but not a sensation of the painting but of what Fried here appositely calls "the self-sufficiency of his own existence."

The Structure of Noninvolvement and the Antitheatrical Impulse

At the same time that aesthetic judgment arouses all of the faculties of the system of pure reason and brings them into harmony and relation, arousing a feeling of life and self in the subject, there is another sense in which it precisely forces their withdrawal, and the faculties cease to be engaged at all. The faculties are set into motion in an act of aesthetic judgment, but they move in idle. They are animated, captured, or kept in some sense as we saw, but they are engaged in a way that precludes their acting in the capacities they normally serve, engaging in the roles Kant hitherto had designated for them in the course of the critical philosophy. Kant's term for this particular form of nonengagement in the Critique of Judgment is of course "disinterest." They withdraw their interest-their grip-on what comes before them. If we conceive of a faculty--as Kant did--as a power, that is, a power to act on or apprehend or affect what comes before it, we can say that things come before the faculty of understanding as things, things to comprehend or know. Analogously, the object for the faculty of reason can be thought of as something upon which to act or deliberate. Before the power of judgment, things might be said to appear as pure images, to be solely and exclusively beheld. To the extent that thought and moral deliberation must be thoroughly excluded from an act of reflective judgment, the maintenance of the subject's position of noninvolvement for Kant in this way both grounds and enables reflection. Disinterest is the name Kant gives it.

The capacity of the subject to be and remain what Kant calls disinterested is thus the condition of the possibility of reflective judgment, and judgment in this way depends on the subject's suppression (holding back) of the inclinations and impulses that dictate his or her usual orientations. Reflective judgment entails the retreat of everything that hitherto for Kant had given the subject in the world a purchase on the terrain of that world--the senses, the capacity for conceptual thought, and ethical feeling. The very familiarity of this argument of Kant's should not keep us from sensing both its strangeness and radicalness. The demand for the subject to be engaged wholly in reflective judgment, then, is offset by the curious demand for the subject to in a sense absent himself or herself in the experience: to be, as Fried has written, removed from before the aesthetic object.

The withdrawal of the faculties demanded by the power of judgment is thorough, and the retreat of the subject--what I above termed his or her absence--must be absolute. For Kant, any symptom or sign of aesthetic pleasure betrays that pleasure as an inauthentic aesthetic pleasure. The particular pleasure of the aesthetic cannot be for Kant, let us say, made present, or it cannot be presented in any way, externalized, unfolded. The subject of reflection can be neither an agent nor, immediately, an expressive being. The disinterested character of the subject's judgment dictates that while she is taken in by the aesthetic object, she can at no point actually be taken in. All immediate symptoms and affects (betrayals of the body) are strictly barred as Kant has it. In short, aesthetic pleasure as pleasure for Kant constitutively has no symptom. It is tangible, a feeling of the body, as we saw, but it remains irreducibly interior. "Pleasure can only be perceived inwardly," he writes, and "what matters is what I do with th[e] presentation within myself" (1987, 154, 146; my emphasis).

To call this aspect of Kant's aesthetics his asceticism misses the point, for Kant's task in the Critique of Judgment is precisely to establish that there is an orientation the subject can take toward the world different and separate from the one he or she takes as a natural or ethical being. Kant carves out the space of that orientation inward. Judgment and absorption require a position of complete noninvolvement ("pure perceivers," Zarathustra will charge of Kant's subjects) from which the subject does not act, does not move, but just looks--looks not at the world but "out at" it. (4) The glance is cast as if from afar (with "drunken moon eyes," mocks Nietzsche). An interior has been hollowed here (or burned, as Nietzsche would later put it). It is the place within from which one looks out.

In the Critique of Judgment, the metaphor of spectatorship structures Kant's elaboration of the notion of disinterest throughout and makes tangible the mode of this kind of seeing or "looking out at" in the text. The metaphor unfolds first in relation to Kant's presentation of the concept of purposiveness, and here the parallel with Fried's expositions of form becomes strong. In the perception of form or purposiveness, writes Kant, the sense in the subject is that something has been staged so as to excite the play of his or her faculties--so as to arouse us to reflect, contemplate, and ultimately find pleasure in the presentation. The feeling is that something has been crafted and that we are its audience, created with us in mind so as to stir us--thought we are obligated to "know" that greater perceptions of form is only "for us" and not actually present. Form for Kant is always form for the subject. Purposiveness, as Kant argues, is not a quality of the aesthetic object but of the object's affecting the cognitive powers. In the introduction to the text, where Kant first presents the notion of purposiveness, he writes that purposiveness is always "the purposiveness of nature for our cognitive powers" (1987, 22; my emphasis). Kant does not speak of a purposiveness of form in the "Critique of Aesthetic Judgment" at all; perceiving actual form and "design" in the world belongs for Kant to fanaticism and superstition. In each instance, then, the term "purposiveness" is supplemented by the qualification that the apprehension of the purposiveness of form does not attribute anything to the object except for a concern with or an attunement to our cognitive powers. That purposiveness is a purposiveness of form only for the beholder is constitutive for Kant of the notion of purposiveness: nature appears to have a purpose "insofar as this [purposiveness] is directed to cognition" or "with regard to the subject's cognitive powers" or "in relation to the subject's reflective power" (1987, 26, 30, 32). The form of nature does not have a purpose in itself; in the moment of aesthetic reflection, we perceive that it takes on a purpose for us. Purposiveness, in a sense, is a metaphor itself in the text for the condition of beholding form.

It is also constitutive of the notion of purposiveness for Kant that form only coalesces for the subject through a disinterested mode of seeing. Disinterest is what enables this particular economy in the first place. In his analysis of the concept of tableau and Diderot's critical writings on that topic, for instance, Fried emphasizes--in the same way that Kant emphasizes that purposiveness is a unity of form only for the subject--that the tableau exists only from the beholder's point of view. The grouping of characters and arrangement of shapes in tableau is constituted outside of the action itself which the artwork represents. Fried puts this point succinctly when he writes that the characters in the tableau are themselves unaware of the tableau; the formal world in which they participate diegetically is different from the formal world the beholder perceives (1980, 95). It is as though, Fried writes, they are unaware of the beholder's presence, continuing their engagement in whatever activity or scene lies before them--yet all the while they are subsumed in a compositional arrangement which is clearly meant for no one but the beholder. The originality and insight of Fried's analysis--and what is relevant for us here in the parallel with Kant--is that Fried understands this technique of ignoring or renouncing the beholder's presence before the scene precisely as a way of ensuring enthrallment and absorption in the painting. What we see in tableau is a complex formal structure at once visible only from the beholder's point of view yet reliant on the characters' active dramatization and declaration of their unawareness of the beholder's presence. This is true for Fried not only of tableau but of many other techniques whereby mid-eighteenth-century French painting comes to secure "the supreme fiction that the beholder [does] not exist" (1980, 95). We can recall Chardin's young man here, for example, blowing carefully and abstractedly into his soap bubble, placed in the double frame of window and painting so as to face us and thus precisely dramatize that in his world of engrossment in the bubble before him, we are forgotten and immaterial. It is as if the painting disavows us, like Kant's object of reflection, which refuses the subject's entry or access into its presence, refuses to be appropriated, understood, "thought," or desired. Neither do not and cannot-qua aesthetic objects--allow us "in." Like the characters in these paintings who, as Fried puts it, the beholder almost threatens to bring out of their reverie by his or her presence before the painting, before the scene, Kant's object of reflection is threatened by the immanent return of the determining (bestimmend) movement of the intellectual and moral powers, a movement which would threaten to dissolve the object's form as aesthetic object and which would mark the return to its status as a merely "real" thing. By analogy, it would be as if we had distracted Chardin's young man from his concentrated blowing or ruined the tableau with a cough; it is the painting's-the aesthetic object's-burden to communicate that its form is precariously held together by the sustaining of the illusion of that possibility. In the same way, then, that the spectator before such paintings is not asked to empathize or is not moved to excitement, identification, consideration, or any symptomatic affect but is instead in effect negated, as Fried puts it, from before the painting, the subject for Kant before the object of reflection must renounce all liking, passion, deliberation, ethical feeling, and must in a particular sense take himself or herself away from before the object--or must remain what Kant in the text calls disinterested.



Cassirer, Ernst. Kant's Life and Thought. Trans. James Haden. New York and London: Yale UP, 1981.

Cavell, Stanley. The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film. New York: Viking P, 1971.

Chardin, Jean-Baptiste-Simeon. Soap Bubbles. 1733-35. Oil on canvas. National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, U.S.

Deleuze, Gilles. "Genesis in Kant." Trans. Daniel W. Smith. Angelaki 5.3 (2000): 57-70.

Fried, Michael. Absorption and Theatricality: Painting and Beholder in the Age of Diderot. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1980.

Gasche, Rodolphe. The Idea of Form: Rethinking Kant's Aesthetics. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2003.

Greuze, Jean-Baptiste. Portrait de Watelet. Ca. 1763-1764. Oil on Canvas.

Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Judgment. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1987.

--. Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. Werner S. Pluhar. Indianapolis and Cambridge: Hackett Publishing Company, 1996.

(1) I am indebted to Rodolphe Gasche's The Idea of Form: Rethinking Kant's Aesthetics (2003) in this line of argumentation.

(2) Kant's discussion of the possibility of combination and synthesis of the manifold of presentations (Vorstellungen) in the "Transcendental Logic" of the Critique of Pure Reason (1996, [section] 15-27) is related to but is also importantly different from the question of the coherence of the faculties raised in the Critique of Judgment. The question addressed by Kant's principle of the synthetic unity of apperception, the principle whereby a manifold of presentations comes to belong to a single subject, is how a manifold of presentations can belong "one and all to me" (179; my emphasis), how uncombined presentations are brought under a single self-consciousness in the faculty of the understanding and the "I think" comes to accompany each of my presentations (177). This question for Kant in the first Critique names the possibility of understanding at all, since the activity of the understanding for him is the very ability to combine and synthesize a priori the manifold of intuitions given through sensibility. The principle thus designates the form experience must take; it is a formal requirement of theoretical cognition. The question of the interrelation of faculties in the third Critique, on the other hand, addresses how each of the cognitive powers belong to me at once, how they are of the same mind, so to speak. One could say the first question is of the unity of consciousness or thought and the second, perhaps, of the unity of experience or, loosely conceived, of the self.

(3) See also Kant (1987, 75).

(4) My reference here is to Stanley Cavell's reflections on the significance of viewing and looking in relation to the ontology of cinema, but more generally in relation to the constitution of modern subjectivity in The World Viewed: Reflections on the Ontology of Film (1971). Cavell writes there: "To say that we wish to view the world itself is to say that we are wishing for the condition of viewing as such. That is our way of establishing our connection with the world: through viewing it, or having views of it. Our condition has become one in which our natural mode of perception is to view, feeling unseen. We do not so much look at the world as look out at it, from behind the self" (102).
COPYRIGHT 2010 University of Nebraska Press
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2010 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Immanuel Kant
Author:Ostas, Magdalena
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2010
Previous Article:Strange emotions in contemporary theory.
Next Article:Psychoanalysis as spirituality.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters