Mary Wollstonecraft and the "reserve of reason".
IN A RECENT STUDY OF THE "DISCOURSE ON ENTHUSIASM," JOHN MEE HAS described Wordsworth's Prelude as "an extended attempt to demonstrate that a continuity of subjectivity could survive and benefit from the transports of enthusiasm and remain grounded in the world without dissolving into it." (1) Current British studies of the intellectual culture of the 1790s, and of Romanticism and beyond now abound with attempts to rediscover a lost relation between affect and reason, to examine the rational self's embodiment in the world and to suggest that the self remains "grounded" by resisting visionary transports through regulating emotion. The classic feminist endeavor to "include affect under the sign of cognition," as Isobel Armstrong recently put it, (2) has been supplemented by the view of poetry, in Mee's useful formulation, as a kind of "regulatory discourse" that determines the circumstances under which the rational self may be "transported" with enthusiasm without losing its contours in the "wild" enthusiasm of the crowd or of the religious visionary. Such revisions have in turn challenged a pat view of the archetypal male rationalist of the late Eighteenth Century. The view of William Godwin as a kind of "cold fish" inhabiting the "frozen zone" of the radical Enlightenment that Wordsworth supposedly set forth in The Prelude has been significantly revised, (3) while the stock view of Immanuel Kant as a dry formalist in the metaphysics of morals has been challenged by recent studies of the "anthropological applications" of his thought, and his alleged "embodiment of reason." (4) Many of these studies serve to historicize affect, to look at specific and significant moments of transaction between sensation and thought, rather than to describe a decontextualized sensation either as under the tyrannical sway of reason, or as escaping it in the anarchic and unregulated impulses of popular politics and dissenting extremism. (5) And far from figuring a transcendental authority that is inattentive to the differential life of embodied experience, this increasingly historicized power of reason shows itself, both for Godwin and for Kant, to foster its own dangerously excessive species of enthusiasm in its combined activity with an ambivalent and untrustworthy power of imagination. The worrying capacity to "rave with reason" that Kant encountered in a number of his contemporaries (notably J. G. Herder) required that reason itself be regulated or, as I will suggest below, that it be oriented with reference to sensibility.
But what can these revisions to our understanding of the intellectual culture of the 1790s and its attitudes to emotion, this closer attention both to the structure of reason and the structure of feeling through an account of their significant interactions, tell us about female participants in the culture of radical Enlightenment? (6) Are not accounts such as Mee's in danger of reproducing a traditionalist view of the transcendentalizing effects of poetry in the Romantic period, by describing poetry's overcoming and regulating of an embodied particularity which for feminists such as Cora Kaplan long represented a form of resistance to the canon? (7) Shouldn't we after all be celebrating the capacity of sensibility and the life of the body to escape rational predication, to embody an eternally differential experience that escapes the domineering formalizations of reason? Yet it is not only canonical male poets who seek to regulate emotion in the revolutionary decade. As Mee reminds us, part of Mary Wollstonecraft's polemic against Burke in the Vindication of the Rights of Men serves to attack his "romantic enthusiasm," his attempt to make sentiment serve the ends of a nationalist and hierarchical domesticity against the revolutionary "cold mathematicians." (8) Even so, the breathless animation of the Vindication of the Rights of Men struggles to articulate a type of passionate resistance of reason to Burke's enthusiastic and irrational counter-revolutionary rallying call. Reason is shown to have its own emotional content here, as the appeal to the "rational religious impulses" advocated by the dissenting circle to which Wollstonecraft belonged suggests. (9) And as the examples of Burke and Rousseau go to show, for Wollstonecraft, as much as for Godwin and Kant, this sensualized reason shows itself to be in dire need of regulation in its engagements with an increasingly mobile power of imagination.
Part of the appeal of reading reason and sentiment as antithetical at this period surely derived from the way in which the antithesis allows for an orderly and traditionalist subordination of sentiment to reason, the kind of subjection of enthusiasm to intellect that would suggest that enthusiasm made manifest without the guiding hand of reason will always lead to irrationalism. But recent studies of the historicity of affect and the embodiment of reason suggest that rather than seeking to dominate an inherently irrational emotional life, reason is enabled through emotion, it takes on an expressive capability that allows it to be responsive to the embodied particularity of its context. Mee's study has suggested important ways in which a presentist view of a largely cold and disembodied Enlightenment rationalism in a figure such as Godwin, a view of reason as seeking to transcend the contexts of its expression and to restrict the life of the body, may obscure our understanding of what for Godwin's contemporaries was a species of "Enlightenment enthusiasm." Far from being antithetical, and thus allowing for a neat historical alignment of "enthusiasm with Romanticism as part of a binary opposition with, say, Reason and Enlightenment" (Mee 5). the relation between reason and sensation is highly equivocal during this period.
In a close parallel to readings of Godwin, Wollstonecraft was long read as a would-be rational formalist who denied that conditions of embodiment are constitutive to reason, and as a woman who struggled unsuccessfully to reconcile her commitment to reason with a torrid emotional life. This deeply patronizing view has recently been countered by studies of the imagination as a space within which reason is reconciled to sensibility, notably by Barbara Taylor and John Whale. (10) Both studies, but Taylor's in particular, restore to Wollstonecraft the religious teleology which is central to her thought, by reconciling Wollstonecraft's rationalism to an understanding of the Platonic eros, a sacralized form of erotic love which Wollstonecraft inherited through the commonwealth tradition. Wollstonecraft is thus re-placed in an historical context which is no longer understood to be grounded in an implacable conflict between reason and sensation and that describes the emergence of a liberated romantic enthusiasm out of the rationalist restrictions of the Enlightenment, but that rather recognizes complementary manoeuvers and productive contradictions between the two. It is my purpose in this article to discuss these negotiations, and to place them in a wider context of Enlightenment rationalism, both local and European, that is attentive to the interactions rather than the opposition between reason and sensation and that neither seeks to castigate nor defend reason, either in its embodied or disembodied form. In practice this means attention to the way in which emergent forms of literature, and the use of particular literary devices and tropes in philosophical discourse, take on constitutive roles in a cultural debate about sensation and what was often understood as its dangerous capacity to expand the public sphere.
2. "Mistakes of Conduct": Literature and the Regulation of Reason
John Mee understands The Prelude as a representation of a mature self that emerges unscathed from youthful transports of enthusiasm that it retrospectively recognizes to have been excessive and yet contributory to the formation of a regulated subjectivity. This is matched by Wollstonecraft's description, in the fictional Wrongs of Woman, of "mistakes of conduct":
There are mistakes of conduct which at five-and-twenty prove the strength of the mind, that, ten or fifteen years after, would demonstrate its weakness, its incapacity to acquire a sane judgement. The youths who are satisfied with the ordinary pleasures of life, and do not sigh after ideal phantoms of love and friendship, will never arrive at great maturity of understanding; but if these reveries are cherished, as is too frequently the case with women, when experience ought to have taught them in what human happiness consists, they become as useless as they are wretched. (11)
Wollstonecraft's feminism articulates an ambivalent role for the imagination in personal development. The imagination is a condition of our attaining a "maturity of understanding" that those who "do not sigh after ideal phantoms of love and friendship" would never attain. Yet this arrival at maturity is equally determined by our ability to let go of this erotic idealism fostered by the imagination. Failure to recognize the productive "mistake" in the imagination, its capacity to idealize objects that later turn out not to have merited the idealization, would forestall the formation of a sane judgment. Even so, failure to let go of the ideal means that it would have been better never to have sighed after the ideal in the first place.
Mee's suggestion that poetics in the 1790s are "regulatory," in that they attempt to memorialize states of passion that are retrospectively recognized to have been productive to the formation of the subject (but only insofar as they are later sublimated into the literary imagination) raises the question of the disciplinary function of the literary. Literature, after all (and particularly literature, like Wollstonecraft's novel, that is under the influence of Rousseau's La Nouvelle Heloise) serves to represent individuals engaging with and struggling to overcome these ideals of the imagination. But are these excesses or mistakes of conduct experiences that the reader is licensed to go through, or is the experience of reading intended to be a safe stand-in for the experience itself? Perhaps, as Wollstonecraft suggests, it is only certain individuals who will succeed in converting the mistaken conduct or the transports of enthusiasm into the anticipated reasoned self-awareness. But this would suggest that literature is a self-defeating type of discourse, in that the individual who has found his or her way to the disciplinary lesson has in a sense already shown the necessary intellectual refinement that would make the literary lesson precisely superfluous. By this reading, either the imagination will harm or improve us, but literature has no specific role to play in managing idealism. In John Guillory's terms, the regulatory effect of literature falls prey to an interrelation between representation and distribution in the production of cultural capital, between the literary representation of social interests and the dissemination of social values through literature. This issue cuts across the question of canonicity, and the vexed question of the status of The Prelude, to examine the production of social value in both "high" and "low" literary forms in the period. (12) How far do Wordsworth and Wollstonecraft represent and validate a certain type of subject's capacity to regulate and to benefit from the excesses of passion, and how far do they seek to instruct subjects who have not yet regulated youthful passions into a type of self-control through the experience of reading? If literature is indeed a regulatory, pedagogic discourse, then it may be in danger of only instructing those who have precisely no need of the lesson.
Wollstonecraft and Wordsworth both, by this reading, fall foul of a version of the paradox that Rousseau found in the mid-Eighteenth Century debate over the ethical status of the novel. It is not, Rousseau argues in the preface to La Nouvelle Heloise, the reading of novels that is corrupting, but rather the intention to read them. Any maiden who opens a novel has already had her heart corrupted, and the act of reading is merely a sign to society and the self of this corruption. In a sense it is the fact of literature's existence that fulfils its sociological purpose, the reader's cultural awareness of literature as a form of cultural capital and of the figure of the reader as an ambiguous signifier of cultural value or moral degradation, rather than any expressive inwardness in the experience of reading itself. Yet La Nouvelle Heloise was Rousseau's own attempt to offer a type of discourse of regulation, to re-imagine the literary as representation or distribution of social value in the way of Wollstonecraft and Wordsworth. The novel depicts the overcoming of a doctrine of transparence with which Rousseau has been associated since Coleridge's The Friend. Julie's experience of an immodest youthful love affair, her enthusiastic and blasphemous assumption of a transparency between herself and her lover St Preux, produces virtue later in life. In Wollstonecraftian terms, Julie's early mistake of conduct proves to nurture adult virtue; by allowing the youthful individual's reason the freedom to make mistakes, the individual ultimately finds her way to the duties of virtue. But this freedom is not, as Barbara Taylor reminds us, "the ability to do what one pleased--which [Wollstonecraft] would have called license--but to act rightly, according to God's design" (12). The experiential freedom that allows the enthusiastic individual to learn from her mistakes is authorized by the higher freedom of a religious teleology; and as such, it was perhaps never in danger of succumbing to vice through surrender to the "wild" freedom of a libidinous nature. The transport out of themselves in the two lovers, their wrongful assumption of a transparence to one another, is productive in that it allows them ultimately to draw a line between themselves and the type of Godly mind for which this type of transparence is reserved, and to come to a realization that any anthropomorphic imagining of the Supreme Being is a permissible (and virtuous) mistake only insofar as it remains conscious of the imagination as a condition of the failure of enthusiastic transparence. A youthful, blasphemous passion is what engenders adult piety, and so it seems that the literary is a vehicle for the expression of this truth in personal development by representing the excesses of the imagination. Such attachments are the first stirring of reflection, through which man comes to consciousness both of a higher nature than appetite within himself, and of the teleological design of external nature.
Another example of how the literary imagination validates the developmental productivity of what are mistakes before reason is found in another of Rousseau's readers, that most unliterary of writers Immanuel Kant. While Kant is famous for his dry prose, in his attempt to defend the principles of critical reason against the enthusiastic [Schwamerei] Sturm und Drang of Herder, he was prone anxiously to allow literary "mistakes" into his critical work. His 1783 attempt to popularize the Critique of Pure Reason, the Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, undoes the first Critique's suggestion that our attempt to think a first cause of nature can only be satisfied by reason's journey beyond the realm of experience by proposing that we can think a first cause of nature by analogy with the love of a parent for his child. This "symbolic anthropomorphism," as Kant describes it, comes close to a type of transparence that critical reason proper would avoid. (13) Kant's "mistaken" symbolic cognition of the deity may be intended to distinguish between the knowing Aufklarer who recognizes its transgression of the critical method and the popular audience that Kant hoped to wrest from Herder. (14) But this raises once again the question of the pedagogic or regulatory function of literary devices in philosophy, since the ironic distance between a populist description of reason's "symbolic anthropomorphism" and the dialectic of pure reason suggests that, for Kant too, social distinctions are assumed among his readership. Perhaps Kant's symbolic anthropomorphism is intended, like Rousseau's narrative of transgressive transparence, to cultivate an understanding in the popular, enthusiastic reader that the transports of imagination are ultimately curtailed by the transcendental (or holy) conditions that limit human knowledge; but it seems unimaginable that he would leave open the possibility, as he appears to here, that critical reason might be a type of theism.
What all of these "mistakes of conduct" in philosophy and literature can be taken to show is an anxiety about the expansion of the public sphere, and the role played by sensation and imagination in that expansion. They popularize a difficult formulation about personal or philosophical authenticity and veracity in a sentimental way under the pressure of a burgeoning Romantic Popularphilosophie, and suggest that literary devices or tropes can be used to regulate experience by encouraging a readership into the pragmatic management of extreme emotions which would otherwise threaten a loss of self-identity or critical proof. In the process, they open up questions about the social dimensions of an imagined readership, and about the different social functions that reading might be intended to serve in relation to a reader's social status or gender. But to suggest that reason merely makes room for a "mistaken" world of sensation is only to tell half the story, and a story that valorizes the supremacy of an abstract reason at that. Rather, with this incorporation of populist literary descriptions into philosophy (in Kant), or the integration of romance into reason (in Wollstonecraft), or the curtailment of transparence through the reformation of romantic attachments into friendship (in Rousseau), reason discovers a significant new expressive capability.
I have suggested that one of the major values of recent historicist work such as John Mee's and Barbara Taylor's is that it replaces a presentist view of sensation that has dominated more polemical readings of 1790s literature with an understanding of the complication of the discourse on enthusiasm by the philosophy and theology of its moment. Sensation is no longer celebrated as a liberation from a dominating and formalized "dialectic of Enlightenment," but is rather recognized to embody and participate in significant cultural anxieties and debates. In terms of our understanding of a figure like Wollstonecraft, this increased critical sensitivity to context means that she can be understood once again as participating in a version of the philosophy of the Enlightenment which no longer seems quite so villainous. A reflection of her growing canonical status no doubt, the overtly philosophical reading of her is nevertheless what many critics in the 1980s and '90s were writing against, since it allegedly showed her collaboration with a masculinist discourse of reason.
By challenging a contradictory view of reason and sensation, recent historicism, then, enables a revised reading of Wollstonecraft's participation in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment, both in regional terms (her participation in Newington Green rational dissent) and in a European context, because the interests of reason, as the recent readings of Kant suggest, are now understood to engage with culture and physiology rather than to transcend them. What I will offer in the remainder of this article is an attempt to revise previous efforts to place Wollstonecraft in the Enlightenment by suggesting some of the ways in which an understanding of her by analogy with her contemporary Kant forwards our understanding of the relation between reason and sexual difference in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman. Kant and Wollstonecraft can be read productively alongside one another through attention to their common engagement with the ambivalent power of the imagination in Rousseau, and its significant dealings with reason. I will suggest that for Wollstonecraft modesty is the behavioral notion that depicts an elaboration of a socially-embodied power of reason out of coercive anthropological paradigms. In particular, I will suggest that Wollstonecraft reforms the notion of female modesty that she found in Rousseau's Emile. Wollstonecraft replaces Rousseau's understanding of modesty as a regulation of the erotic male imagination fostered by civil society with a vision of communal life governed by critical distance and respect for the rational other, or what Wollstonecraft describes as a "reserve of reason." Modesty is used by Wollstonecraft as a trope that figures the obscurity of the other, but it strives to cultivate a respect for this obscurity rather than attempts either to eroticize it or to penetrate it with enlightenment. As such, it furnishes an example of the genuinely new role played by literary language in philosophical and political argument that I have been describing. Modesty attempts to regulate and transform gender relations, but to do so through a notion of reserve or critical distance. It points towards the imagining of a new life in sensibility and the body precisely by playing with tropes of rational distance and disengagement, which I will describe below as the social "orientation" of reason.
3. Modesty as a Form of Orientation
Attempts to read Wollstonecraft's feminism through the prism of Kantian critique usually get no further than drawing surface analogies between the two. Such analogies may define an active dialectical reason as synonymous with the gender stereotyping that Wollstonecraft urges her age to overcome, or conversely they may describe her attempt to think her way out of restrictive gender roles as a bit like the scene of dialectical reason. On the former reading, the "negative virtues" (15) that women are expected to cultivate may seem like the restrictions that reason imposes on the understanding, so that women's role is always to limit the expansion of male power and knowledge to hidden conditions that pertain to the nature of that knowledge. Just as Kantian reason investigates limitations on the activity of the understanding that inhere in human nature, limitations to which the understanding is productively blind, so women's role is to manage masculine society with the private language of an essentially feminine discourse. This feminized space has cultivated knowledge and power over male society that exceeds its self-understanding, and so can manage it with a natural, and potentially tyrannical, ease. Another version of this analogy might describe how the aesthetic, in Kant's philosophy, "takes on power without responsibility, joining his scientific to his moral philosophy through a kind of judgement itself somehow excluded from this otherwise mutually exclusive pair." The result, one critic has argued, "looks strongly analogous to feminization within patriarchy." (16)
Efforts to read Wollstonecraft's political philosophy as analogous to Kantian critique scarcely get further. Timothy J. Reiss has argued that "the basic principles of humanity" for Wollstonecraft are reason, virtue and knowledge, and that these "look extraordinarily like the three Kantian Critiques." (17) These direct analogies leave themselves open to the accusation that they attribute to Wollstonecraft values and ideals that she shared with the historical Kant (values that modernity has, of course, long overcome), and that she is therefore complicit with the type of gender stereotyping that has often been taken to characterize Kant's concept of civil society. Wollstonecraft's work has been read as complicit with a masculinist discourse as often as Kant has been decried as a petit-bourgeois misogynist. Mary Poovey, in her analysis of the ideology of female propriety in The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer, makes what is perhaps the classic case for Wollstonecraft's "falling hostage to the very categories she was trying to escape" in her attempt, in the first and second Vindications, "to delineate--and disengage herself from--masculine definitions of women." (18) Poovey's analysis of Wollstonecraft can be shown to involve another development that seems Kantian. On the same page as she sets out this perceived failure in the two Vindications, Poovey states that "Wollstonecraft's career virtually documents the way one woman moved from the status of unreflecting, passive object to that of a self-conscious, articulate and vindicating subject." The unreflecting early Wollstonecraft is characterized in Poovey's argument by her failure to renounce the sentimental ideals into which her political ideas keep regressing. Once she accepted "the primacy of her own feelings and the power of those feelings to engage and persuade" (83), Poovey argues, Wollstonecraft's use of reason could move forward in a way that seems to provide a paradigm for a much wider development in the history of philosophy:
In the Letters [Written during a Short Residence in Sweden, Nonvay and Denmark], Wollstonecraft no longer conceives of reason as a Lockean, essentially passive, receiver of objective "clear truths." Rather, she now defines reason's primary function as reflection--not the reflection a mirror might yield but the mediation of an active agent. Reason is an inward-turning faculty that allows the individual to examine his or her own prejudices ... and to empathize with others as a consequence of heightened self-knowledge. (86)
This account of the growth of Wollstonecraft's rationalism sounds like the historical development of Kantian philosophy in reaction to British empiricism. Wollstonecraft is to overcome the contradictions of her early sentimentalism by accepting that the only proper use of reason for her is sentimental. Even so, the "passive" Lockean objectivism of the first and second Vindications is replaced with an active principle of reason, which integrates the psycho-sexual life into rational thought and thereby allows a fully rounded reflective self-consciousness to engage in sympathetic identification with other minds. This identification of Wollstonecraft's biography and a sense of historical progress rests on an evaluation of Wollstonecraft's later narrative works, in particular the Letters, over her earlier philosophical works. Janet Todd has argued that through narrative "Wollstonecraft anatomizes the process by which gender oppresses in a specific historical time," (19) thereby escaping the false transcendence of historical truth found in the male poets of the Romantic canon, or the "dialectic of Enlightenment" in which, Todd claims, the second Vindication becomes caught. Such assessments unwittingly put Wollstonecraft's work back into the ideological position that she was attempting to reason her way out of. Todd's argument re-identifies the novel form as almost a natural space for women to voice their concerns and to circumvent male Romantic poetics. She argues that the narrative form allows Wollstonecraft to achieve the expression of a truth that bodies forth the contradictions of historical conditions, and thereby circumvents both the transcendentalizing gesture of male Romantic poetics and the mimicking masculinism of the first and second Vindications. But the lack of sophistication in the thinking of history in this position reveals, once again, complicity with masculinist stereotypes of women. Their failure to transcend the particularity of their moment has become, in Todd's argument, a source of narrative resistance to the male poetics of disengagement. (20)
I want to question this implicit view of narrative as the resistant responsiveness of an essential femininity firstly by paying attention to the dependence of Wollstonecraft's most influential political work, the Vindication of the Rights of Woman, on literary tropes, and secondly by understanding these tropes to play a regulatory role in her argument, by managing a difference between the definition of the human as a social and as a natural being. I have suggested that understanding reason, as does more recent criticism, as socially embodied, and as co-opting literature into its attempt to manage sensation, opens up questions about how literature is intended to be read in the 1790s. Is it to function as a pedagogical, regulatory discourse, or to operate as a type of cultural capital which validates the individual's claim to have managed his or her sensations and entered into a polite public sphere? Faith in reason, as the example of Godwin goes to show, did not automatically liberate the individual from a dangerous anarchic life of the body; rather, reason registered its own species of enthusiasm, its own capacity to transcend the bounds of embodied experience. This led to an inversion of the paradigm of a coercive (masculine) reason dominating recalcitrant (feminine) sensation, because reason demonstrated its own need to be regulated through concepts of sensation that are socially conditioned through literary devices. Below, I will suggest that for both Kant and Wollstonecraft, literary tropes and devices aim to regulate the relation between reason and sensation, and that these acts of regulation suggest ways in which (or open questions about how) reason becomes self-conscious or reflecting in the rational and embodied subject.
According to a received anthropology of sexual difference in the Eighteenth Century, female modesty is a social practice which fires a male imagination that is already capable of liberating itself from sexual desire. According to Rousseau, man, unlike woman, does not depend on sexual gratification for his survival in the civil state, due to his superior physical strength. Woman's capacity to survive in a social world, by contrast, is tied to her ability to attract and retain a man. Modesty is then a social device with which a woman struggles to gain control of the free male imagination, by regulating her physical charms in such a way that enslaves his desire. Man's sexual desire for an eroticized modest woman then forms an ideal training ground for the sublimation of his erotic desires into rational desires. (21) The imagining of a hidden sex-object is then the anthropological precursor to the imagining of the hidden, transcendental object of perfection. And as Kant describes in his playful essay "Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History" of 1786, the fig-leaf in the Garden of Eden represents how "Refusal was the device which invested purely sensuous stimuli with an ideal quality." (22) This transcendentalizing effect of desire through the withdrawal of the desired object from the senses is an effect of the male gaze; women are the objects through which the erotic imagination begins to transcend its own limitations and to imagine a greater transcendental object which exceeds the senses, but women themselves are systematically foreclosed from this sublimation of desire. Due to their physical weakness, their dependence on men for survival in the social state, they are incapable of wresting their desires and interests out of the realm of need.
It is precisely this naturalization of sexual inequality that Wollstonecraft's fictional examples of woman as "romantic enthusiast" (Taylor 115) aim to legislate against. By representing "mistakes of conduct" in women, by struggling to depict women's capacity to idealize objects of desire as equal to men's, and then representing women's struggle to learn to live with this idealization as a "mistaken" move that is yet productive for female subjectivity, Wollstonecraft inverts this dominant anthropological paradigm. It is no longer simply the male imagination which is a priori free of conditions of need and therefore obliged to liberate itself from sexual desire through the action of a transcendental imagination; women now demand to participate in this management of an idealized eros. In the process of this representation, a cultural restriction on the ideal of rational freedom is foregrounded (that is, restriction to the biological condition of being male, and hence at a further step of liberation from the primitive realm of need). An important aim of Wollstonecraft's fictional and political work is then to represent this ambivalent power of imagination insofar as it exists in a common male and female capacity to idealize the objects of desire. In the process Wollstonecraft is able to participate in an enlightened discussion about the role played by imagination in social development. The same ambivalence about whether the power of imagination improves or degrades humanity found in the "mistakes of conduct" passage quoted earlier also appears in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman:
To see a mortal adorn an object with imaginary charms, and then fall down and worship the idol which he had himself set up--how ridiculous! ... Would not all the purposes of life have been much better fulfilled if he had only felt what has been termed physical love? And, would not the sight of the object, not seen through the medium of the imagination, soon reduce the passion to an appetite, if reflection, the noble distinction of man, did not give it force, and make it an instrument to raise him above this earthly dross, by teaching him to love the centre of all perfection, whose wisdom appears clearer and clearer in the works of nature in proportion as reason is illuminated and exalted by contemplation, and by acquiring that love of order which the struggles of passion produce? (217-18)
The problem of imagination, for Wollstonecraft as well as for Rousseau, is that we cannot decide whether it ultimately improves and enlightens our view of things by sublimating erotic love into love for the rational and perfect Supreme Being, or whether it finally leads us to a greater debasement than the pure satisfaction of animal desires would have left us in. Does imagination make us superhuman by forging a conduit between eros and love of "the centre of all perfection," or worse than bestial in our idealization of pure instinct? The undecidability derives from the fact that our approach to the ideal will always be mistaken or broken. Where mistakes of conduct may lead to moral maturity (although they will prove retrograde if they cannot be overcome), it is the "struggles of passion" that ultimately lead us to "love of order." The imagination functions through excess, and through the fostering of a false and passionate consciousness that is only productive insofar as we come to recognize it as false. The relation between reason and passion, then, would seem to be dialectical, and in making this argument Wollstonecraft suggests that the dialectic itself is not gendered, even though it concerns the elaboration of reason out of mistaken states of passion. A female imagination which has been engineered in order to arouse male desire remains obscure and inscrutable; yet Wollstonecraft's fictional and political examples go to show that it grapples with the same fundamentally human problem of coping with the aftermath of an erotic idealism. To this extent, it is structured exactly like the male imagination.
In the Rights of Woman Wollstonecraft engages with what might be described as the predicament of human embodiment. Through their embodiment, virtues which may be properties of the human character as they appear to the "centre of perfection" have been gendered through history, such that our embodied encounter with virtue is always understood in sexual terms. This has led commentators to assume that there are separate virtues in nature that belong to men and women. Wollstonecraft's attempt to deduce the real and human character of virtue out of the conditions of its embodiment accords with what Howard Caygill has described as the "aporia of judgement" involved in Kant's attempt to formulate a transcendental distinction between sensibility and intellect. Caygill describes this as the problem of "making the transcendental distinction of sensible and intelligible elements of knowledge from within the predicament of their combination," a distinction that tellingly must be made in order that metaphysics be "preserved from the 'enthusiasm' of both rationalists and mystics." Caygill describes Kant's formulation of a notion of "distinction" in the 1786 essay "What is Orientation in Thinking?" which Caygill understands as a type of knowledge about our position in the world (or orientation) that precedes our capacity to locate ourselves in an intuitable environment. Distinction is the obscure faculty that allows us to find our way home on a dark night with only meager intuitable coordinates, which capacity for spatial awareness then provides an analogy for our ability to orient ourselves using reason in the "immeasurable and for us dark night of the dense space of the supersensuous." Caygill goes on to describe how Kant in his essay "postulates a metaphysical subjective capacity for distinction, a metaphysical need (Bedurfnis) which, like the elementary distinction in space, allows us to orient ourselves." (23)
Kant's method allows him to slip free of the characteristic restraints imposed on the human understanding (the combination of sensibility and intellect) in order to imagine a supersensible perspective outside of the predicament of human embodiment. Kant transcends the restraints of human embodiment, but in a peculiarly embodied way. The imagining of a supersensible perspective on human knowledge proceeds by analogy with an anthropological capacity to orient ourselves in empirical space; it is then by analogy with the anthropological concept of need that reason is able to orient itself in the immense void of the supersensible. It is in such apparently marginal moments in Kant's critical reflections that a type of "linguistic turn" to his argument can be detected, in the dependence of dialectical reason on analogy and metaphor in order finally to legislate conflicting claims about (in Caygill's argument) the status of human judgment. Orientation in thinking, then, offers a kind of regulation of reason, a restriction of its transcendental activity to conditions of human embodiment that is intended to forestall the wild rationalist claims of Christian Wolf's ontology and the enthusiasm of Herder's mysticism. Below, I will suggest that in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman we witness a similar process of orientation in Wollstonecraft's argument, whereby her claim that virtues which have been gendered throughout history attest instead to a fundamentally human character under reason is enabled through her use of modesty as a type of "catachresis," or as an analogy for the problem of subjective identity that she uncovers. Modesty, which historically has regulated an eroticized human conduct, will regulate an activity of reason that is held in common between the sexes. It will redefine the eroticized contours of epistemological obscurity and display that Wollstonecraft claims to find in Rousseau and Burke, in favor of an activity of reason that grounds intersubjective relations on respect and partial exposure of the self to the other.
4- Modesty and Critical Reason
A number of recent anthropological studies of Kantian reason show a tendency to recycle terms which are more commonly associated with the Eighteenth Century code of female propriety in order to describe the proper procedure of a self-aware critical philosophy. Kant's method, which would balance skepticism about our knowledge of the cause of the existence of nature with a reflection on our characteristic ways of imagining this cause, suggests a need philosophy has to ground its own methodology in anthropological notions of propriety and conduct. Critical reason, as Susan Meld Shell has suggested, demonstrates a type of "modesty" before the spectacle of nature. This modesty is taken to distinguish the Kantian rational subject from the subject's absolute intellectual appropriation of the object in later idealism. What distinguishes Kant's thought from Naturphilosophie for Shell is "above all the rigor of his modesty (in both senses of the word), as shown in his 'reflective' deference to the veil of nature" (259). Shell's position inherits Ernst Cassirer's defense of critical reason, or what he was describing in the 1930s as "critical idealism":
Critical idealism puts itself a different and more modest task than the absolute idealism of Hegel. It does not pretend to be able to understand the contents and the scope of culture so as to give a logical deduction of all its single steps and a metaphysical description of the universal plan according to which they evolve from the absolute nature and substance of mind. But in spite of this critical reserve, it does not think that the single stages and processes by which the universe of culture is built up lack true and real unity, that they are nothing but disjecta membra--scattered fragments. (24)
Cassirer carefully avoids both a Spenglerian view of cultural physiognomy, a type of right-wing defense of cultural embodiment that inherits Herder's organicism, and an equally reactionary pessimism about the fragmentation of contemporary culture. Cassirer argues instead that culture is neither fundamentally unified in the way of an organism nor irretrievably disarticulated, without specifying how culture is finally to be understood in an historical sense. The language of modesty, a final veiling of the ultimate ground of culture orients Cassirer's endeavor. Whether as a tool used in the investigation of nature or human society, critical reason is often described as taking on a skeptical modesty or reserve vis-a-vis its objects, a refusal to claim insight into their ultimate ground (which claim, for defenders of Enlightenment, characterizes the false insights of its idealistic children). For Kant, our ability to get on terms with nature is defined by the final veiling of its ultimate ground. This congenitally human inability to know the supersensible ground of things then enforces on philosophical method an attentiveness to what has recently been translated as its own conduct of thought [Denkungsart], whereby rational speculation makes room for a consideration of the embodied position of the thinker in the world, such that the speculative activity proceeds by analogy with pragmatic human needs and wants. (25) Kantian reason overcomes an aporia between the transcendental conditions that pertain to reasoning and the relative cultural or biological position of the thinker through the use of analogy. Reason proceeds by comparing its self-awareness to the modest or reserved conduct imposed on Eighteenth Century women. In a similar way, Rousseau's sense of humanity's alienation from a state of transparence is governed by the image of the veil. In discovering that "we must live in opacity," Jean Starobinski writes that Rousseau understands adulthood as a condition "in which the 'veil' of separation is lowered and the world turns dark, in which minds become opaque to one another and mistrust makes friendship forever impossible." (26) The kind of modest veiling of herself that Rousseau celebrates in his Sophie also defines the tragic condition of man's homelessness in the world, his dwelling with appearances.
Critical reason, then, describes its procedure by analogy with the conditions of female propriety, modestly veiling a feminized nature and registering a "reserve" and anthropological self-awareness in the "conduct" of its thought. This language of conduct symbolizes, in a popular and communicable form, critical reason's failure to gain insight into the absolute ground of nature, or its failure to validate a religious teleology. But can the metaphor be inverted, such that the inclusion of this language of female conduct in the description of a critical reserve of reason might be taken to involve women in the pursuit of reason's modest goals? The veil, in Wollstonecraft's critique of Rousseau and Burke, symbolizes the failure of politics and epistemology to cleanse themselves of an erotic gendered content. What Starobinski understands as a kind of phenomenology in Rousseau, then, is still predicated on the male sexual imagination for Wollstonecraft, since the concept of a veiled truth allows the eroticized Burkean and Rousseauan imagination to speculate on what might lie behind it. It is a kind of false epistemological move for her, a hiding from what is really known in order to fire the imagination through artifice. But this is not to suggest, however, that Wollstonecraft opposes an unwavering faith in revealed truth to what she deems to be an eroticized discourse. Rousseau fails, by her reading, to liberate the grandeur of his philosophical insights from a perverse sexual imagination as revealed in the Confessions. Yet she does not propose a puritanical counter-discourse of disembodied reason, nor does she seek to offer a hitherto unimagined appropriation of reason from the position of "the feminine." Rather she advocates a position on passion and modesty that can seem close to Rousseau's vision and its counter-Enlightenment skepticism about the benefits to mankind of a socialized power of imagination.
Wollstonecraft's redefinition of modesty includes women in the communal imagining of a version of reason that is cleansed of its erotic bias. This act of communal imagining simultaneously uncovers and reflects on the cultivation of a specifically female modesty in the interests of the male sexual imagination. But if modesty, in both Kant and Wollstonecraft, is to become an ideal rationalized praxis, then the interests of women must be tied to the interests of society at large. This is to be achieved precisely through a feminist appropriation of the regulatory effect of the literary imagination that I have sketched out with reference to Wollstonecraft, Rousseau and Kant. The regulation of female conduct through modesty is to be transformed into a regulation of a universally human character; tropes of female propriety will provide analogies for the imagining of an inter-subjective respect between the sexes that exists under reason. As Paul Hamilton has recently argued, following Jurgen Habermas' notion of "discursive ethics," ideological dispute "yields up more secrets of its workings" if we look for a "contemporary refiguring of individual difference from an absolute otherness into a discursive reserve necessary for communication between different individuals to be possible." (27) Any attempt at imagining a rational language of the future that might exist between the sexes will form analogies from this side of the veil in order to imagine what lies beyond; but within the transaction there exists a discursive reserve, a type of unimagined difference which forms a radical surplus to our attempts to imagine the difference by analogy with what is known. And with the development of literary language as a regulatory discourse in the last decade of the Eighteenth Century, Wollstonecraft recasts the discourse of female conduct into an analogical and orienting description of the fictive ends of reason, such that a coercive and gendered vocabulary for the successful and eroticized regulation of female behavior is converted into a paradigmatic vocabulary for the self's integration into a public sphere under reason. In a similar way, as John Mee describes, the mature self in Wordsworth performs its poetical reflections on its past with a type of "chastened enthusiasm" (214-56). We are no longer led to focus on women's "foreclosure" from reason (and then to posit a space of essentialized femininity), since the procedure of reason identifies itself with an anthropological notion of woman's behavior. Our focus will now be on the social construction of knowledge through tropes of feminine conduct that call, unwittingly perhaps, for a reassessment of the place of women in an expanding public sphere.
In Book 5 of Emile Rousseau claims that one must not confound what is natural in the savage state with what is natural in the civil state. He proposes (and Wollstonecraft and Kant arguably both follow him in this) a distinction between two types of human nature, a nature which is preeminently biological and that refers to the unsocial natural individual, and a nature that emerges through the condition of living in a society with others. Rousseau was able to show the contradictions that the birth of this second social nature, which ideally would tend towards reason, engenders in its relation to the egoistic nature of the individual (a contradiction between the needs of the individual and the needs of the species that Kant was one of Rousseau's first readers to perceive, and to use as a basis for his attack on the enthusiastic Schwarmerei led by Herder). (28) It is in the realm of this contradiction between a natural nature, where the individual would satisfy his needs without resistance or self-consciousness, and the social nature of contractual society, whereby the socialized individual must forego the immediate gratification of his (socially-engendered) desires in the interests of the social group and, perhaps, in order to disclose a rational nature, that Wollstonecraft's revisionary use of modesty as an orienting metaphor for reason operates. In the Rights of Woman, Wollstonecraft is in fact writing against a social concept of modesty that is still grounded in an anthropological account of woman's sexual nature that gets disclosed as she exists in a social world, and that has been perpetuated by a common interest among men in continuing to gratify their erotic desires by overcoming a false form of resistance. Woman is, according to Rousseau, artful by nature, thus undoing a binary opposition between nature and culture, but Wollstonecraft claims in the Vindication of the Rights of Woman that the development of her reason has been systematically forestalled in society in order that she remain infantilized and dominated by sensibility, "a sickly hot-house plant" (238). It is this play between social and natural concepts of modesty that has led commentators to diagnose a puritan resistance to sex in the text, a view that is now being happily revised (i.e., Barbara Taylor describing the Vindication as almost pornographic in its obsession with scenes of sexual disclosure). But Wollstonecraft's aim is to re-imagine woman's sexual nature as a forerunner for the disclosure of her rational nature, in the same way as male erotic desire is transformed, in Kant, Rousseau and Wordsworth, into rational interest.
Modesty serves as a placeholder for this rationalized nature of the future, an important trope because within its own structure it performs the logic of obscurity and disclosure that it would like to see rationalized in society. Wollstonecraftian reserve at all points separates itself from its debased social counterpart in contemporary female conduct. It is, importantly, an active virtue of the understanding (rather than a condition of woman's social passivity), that tends towards an intersubjective expression of mutual respect and rational self-esteem. The "reserve of reason" is distinguished from "rustic shyness and wanton skittishness" in that it is never seen in any degree "unless the soul is active." Echoing the faint blasphemy of Kant's "Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History" and its paradoxical association of the withdrawal of the object from the senses and the evolution of moral consciousness, Wollstonecraft writes that "so far from being incompatible with knowledge," the reserve of reason is "its fairest fruit" (233). These references to the first parents suggest a type of modesty which, again, refers to the Supreme Being as the ultimate veiled object that gets partially disclosed, in a "mistakenly" anthropomorphic form, through eros. The social practice of modesty will be engendered by the modelling of knowledge on an equal reserve between different participants in discourse, rather than the eroticized situation of maintaining women in sublime ignorance through an over-cultivation of their sensibility while men play out their epistemological and erotic fantasies. Reserve signals an Enlightened respect before the difference of objects of knowledge, its role as anthropological metaphor of reason significantly relativizing the position of the thinker while declaring that the rational knowledge itself is an a priori. Let women only acquire knowledge and humanity, writes Wollstonecraft, and love will teach them modesty. The language of modesty is then a placeholder for a theoretical impossibility. Just as with the Kantian supersensible, we do not have a language to describe what rationalized relations between the sexes would look like. Reserve functions as a type of anthropological stand-in for the failure of our imagination, a catachresis which defines, in its metaphoricity, our lack of knowledge. (29)
Entangling reason with anthropological concepts in Wollstonecraft and Kant (reserve and need respectively) demonstrates an important platform from which sensation, anthropology, and the life of the body is not foreclosed from reasoning but regulates and enables it. While this new approach has engendered important studies which clarify the cultural politics of the era and the immersion of figures like Kant and Wollstonecraft in them (both of whom had been significantly dencontextualized by a previous generation of critics), it also suggests important philosophical implications. It does this by demonstrating how rational speculation comes to be conceived of in the period in terms of an interplay between activity and passivity, what is known and what remains unknowable, and the relation between a relative position of embodied particularity and transcendental conditions on human knowledge. The period witnesses an increasing orientation of these opposites in relation to one another through analogy, the transformation of anthropological notions of human action into conditions on thought that register an anxious attempt to manage the expansion of the public sphere through the regulation of forms of popular and rational enthusiasm. The understanding of modesty as a concept-metaphor that regulates critical reason in relations between the sexes, that aims neither at total disclosure nor sublime obscurity but a rational reserve, then forms a significant contribution to the study of regulated enthusiasm recently described by John Mee. Modesty no longer regulates an overly-eroticized female nature, but rather serves to moderate the potential flights of reason, aided by an increasingly prominent power of imagination, towards a dangerous enthusiasm. The dangers involved in reason's flights of imagination, and the consequent need to regulate it, could be seen clearly for Kant in Herder's fanaticism, and for Wollstonecraft in Rousseau's eroticism. This regulation of reason is achieved through the literary. Not only, that is, through literary examples (such as Wollstonecraft's two novels) which represent women's capacity to use their imagination to idealize love in a way that is comparable to men, but also (in her political work) through the use of modesty as a concept-metaphor that persistently reminds us of what it is defining itself against (notions of essential female conduct) and thereby through its metaphoricity, strives to overcome coercive depictions of femininity. Through metaphor, Wollstonecraft defines a use for the literary imagination that is not limited to an imitation of the transference of erotic impulse into spiritual devotion found in Rousseau, but that causes the subject to reflect on her position within a social horizon, that elaborates rational concepts out of coercive anthropological paradigms.
University of Leeds, UK
(1.) John Mee, Romanticism, Enthusiasm and Regulation: Poetics and the Policing of Culture in the Romantic Period (Oxford: Oxford UP, 2003) 216.
(2.) Isobel Armstrong, The Radical Aesthetic (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000) 59.
(3.) Mee 109. Mee challenges this claim that Wordsworth in The Prelude characterized Godwin as disengaging from a concern with the human heart; for Wordsworth, argues Mee, Godwin was a prophet of Enlightenment, offering a type of rational enthusiasm. Another significant revision of the view of Godwinian rationalism as emotionless is found in Chris Jones, Radical Sensibility: Literature and Ideas in the 1790s (London and New York: Routledge, 1993).
(4.) Important recent studies include Allen W. Wood, Kant's Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1999) on Kant's "impure ethics" and the "anthropological applications" of his moral theory, and Susan Meld Shell, The Embodiment of Reason: Kant on Spirit, Generation and Community (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996) on the relation between Kantian reason, physiology and philosophy of history.
(5.) In terms of sensation's ability to "liberate" itself from reason, John Mee discusses the projection of a peculiarly modern positive valuation of enthusiasm back onto the historical culture, such that "most literary critics have implied that it had come to be regarded as no bad thing by the late Eighteenth Century" (4).
(6.) I am of course following Raymond Williams in referring to a "structure of feeling." His term is also the starting point for Chris Jones's and Cora Kaplan's analyses, discussed below.
(7.) See in particular Kaplan's "Pandora's Box: Subjectivity, Class and Sexuality in Socialist Feminist Criticism," in Gayle Greene and Coppelia Kahn, eds, Making a Difference: Feminist Literary Criticism (London: Methuen, 1985) 146-76.
(8.) Mee 60, n. 124. Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Men, in Marilyn Butler and Janet Todd, eds., The Works of Mary Wollstonecraft (London: William Picketing, 1986), vol. 5: 15.
(9.) See Barbara Taylor, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2003) 103.
(10.) John Whale, in Imagination Under Pressure, 1789-1832: Aesthetics, Politics, and Utility (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2000), claims that Wollstonecraft's writing "engages in a thorough-going reconstruction of the psychic economy of the individual which renegotiates the relationship between enlightened reason and refined sensibility. Within its proclaimed rationalism it re-imagines the value of emotions. Imagination lies at the heart of this ambitious project" (68).
(11.) Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary and The Wrongs of Woman, ed. Gary Kelly (Oxford: Oxford UP, 1998) 99.
(12.) See John Guillory, Cultural Capital: The Problem of Literary Canon Formation (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1993).
(13.) See Immanuel Kant, Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics That Will Be Able to Come Forward as Science ed. Gary Hatfield (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) III/Ak.4:357.
(14.) On this struggle between Kant and Herder over the leadership of the Aufklarung, see Frederick Beiser, The Fate of Reason: German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte (Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP, 1987).
(15.) Mary Wollstonecraft, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, ed. Miriam Brody (Hannondsworth: Penguin, 1992) 150. Further references will be included in the text.
(16.) Paul Hamilton, "'A Shadow of a Magnitude': The Dialectic of Romantic Aesthetics," in Beyond Romanticism, ed. Stephen Copley and John Whale (London: Routledge, 1992) 11-31 (13-14).
(17.) Timothy J. Reiss, "Revolution in Bonds: Wollstonecraft, Women, and Reason," in Gender and Theory: Dialogues on Feminist Criticism, ed. Linda Kauffman (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989) 11-50 (44)(18.)
(18) Mary Poovey, The Proper Lady and the Woman Writer: Ideology as Style in the Works of Mary Wollstonecraft, Mary Shelley and Jane Austen, (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984) 48. Further references will be included in the text.
(19.) Janet Todd, Feminist Literary History: A Defence (Cambridge: Polity, 1988) 115.
(20.) There is little sign that more "theoretical" approaches to Wollstonecraft's feminism show any sign of reforming their view of reason. Ashley Tauchert's recent study of Wollstonecraft pays particular attention to the relation between female embodiment and rights and citizenship, but still takes its direction from Simone de Beauvoir's notion that rationality is founded on a "historical privileging of the purely conceptual or mental over the corporeal," which Tauchert interprets as demanding "a simultaneous dependence on and disavowal of the body." Enlightenment philosophy is understood to focus a primarily biological attention on women's place in culture, leading to "foreclosure of definitions of equality and citizenship, epitomised by Kant's distinction between active and passive citizenship." Feminism is then understood to have "inherited" Kant's contradiction. Ashley Tauchert, Mary Wollstonecraft and the Accent of the Feminine (Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2002) 2. I will suggest below ways in which the literary (and the presence of literary tropes in philosophical and political texts) can enable an understanding of the embodiment of reason in physicality and culture, which challenges the view that reason is predicated on the foreclosure of the body; in particular, the definition of a "passive" citizen allegedly enforced on women can be turned inside out to provide the conditions for her activation within culture. Woman's "foreclosure" from political equality, the anthropological preconditions of her "passive" behavior, come to define wider problems in human self-understanding.
(21.) On Rousseau's version of this anthropological narrative in Emile, see Joel Schwartz, The Sexual Politics of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1984).
(22.) Immanuel Kant, "Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History," in Kant: Political Writings, ed. Hans Reiss (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1991) 224.
(23.) Howard Caygill, Art of Judgement (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989) 198-99.
(24.) Ernst Cassirer, "Critical Idealism as a Philosophy of Culture," in Symbol, Myth, and Culture: Essays and Lectures of Ernst Cassirer 1935-1945, ed. Donald Philip Verene (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979) 89-90.
(25.) See G. Felicitas Munzel, Kant's Conception of Moral Character: The "Critical" Link of Morality, Anthropology and Reflective Judgement (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1999). Munzel points out in a note on translation that Denkungsart has not been rendered consistently in English:
At stake in Kant's concept of Denkungsart is an activity of thought informed by certain principles (moral law plus principles of reflective judgement). The translation "conduct of thought" attempts to capture this essential aspect of activity, that is, the term "conduct" conveys the general sense of activity consciously informed by guiding principles. (xvi)
The growth of interest in ideas of orientation and philosophical anthropology in Kant studies demonstrates that for Kant, the anthropological analogy that legislates reflective acts of judgment also determines the proper procedure for philosophical method.
(26.) Jean Starobinski, Jean-Jacques Rousseau: Transparency and Obstruction, trans. Arthur Goldhammer (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1988) 11.
(27.) Paul Hamilton, "The New Romanticism: Philosophical Stand-Ins in English Romantic Discourse," Textual Practice 11.1 (1997): 109-32 (113).
(28.) In the "Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History" (225-26), Kant describes this contradiction as existing between the needs of the individual and the needs of the species (to which the needs of the individual are always sacrificed), characteristically ignoring Rousseau's discussion of the ambivalences of the imagination brought about through the onset of desire in socialized man. Kant's target, then, in the following passage, is Herder and the Herderian reading of Rousseau, which focuses on the losses the individual undergoes through coming into society, rather than extolling a culture achieved under reason as an aspiration of contemporary life:
In his essays On the Influence of the Sciences and On the Inequality of Man, [Rousseau] shows quite correctly that there is an inevitable conflict between culture and the nature of the human race as a physical species each of whose individual members is meant to fulfil his destiny completely. But in his Emile, his Social Contract, and other writings, he attempts in turn to solve the more difficult problem of what course culture should take in order to ensure the proper development, in keeping with their destiny, of man's capacities as a moral species, so that this [moral] destiny will no longer conflict with his character as a natural species. Since culture has perhaps not yet really begun--let alone completed--its development in accordance with the true principles of man's education as a human being and citizen, the above conflict is the source of all the genuine evils which oppress human life, and of all the vices which dishonour it.
(29.) In my use both of the terms "catachresis" and "placeholder," I am following the methodology of Gayatri Spivak's deconstruction. See, in particular, Outside in the Teaching Machine (New York and London: Routledge, 1993).
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|Publication:||Studies in Romanticism|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2006|
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