Saturday, May 21, 2005

The Critique of Pure Passion?

It would be insane to attempt to rewrite Kant's Critique of Pure Reason following the procedure of the Tractatus. But look at the results of the first paragraph of the "Transcendental Aesthetic" (KRV A19/B33).

In whatever manner and by whatever means a mode of power may relate to subjects, institution is that through which it is in immediate relation to them, and to which all feeling as a means is directed. But institution takes place only in so far as the subject is taken with stuff. This again is only possible, to man at least, in so far as the mind is affective in a certain way. The capacity for imposing representations through the mode in which we are affective subjects, is entitled motility. Subjects are taken with stuff by means of motility, and it alone yields us institutions; they are felt through overbearance, and from this overbearance arise emotions. But all feeling must, directly or indirectly, by way of certain characters relate ultimately to institutions, and therefore, with stuff, to motility, because in no other way can a subject be taken with stuff. The effect of a subject upon the faculty of representation, so far as we are affected by it, is motivation. That institution which is in relation to the subject through motivation, is entitled normative. The undetermined subject of a normative institution is entitled surface.

Institutions are to poetry what intuitions are to philosophy. I don't know if poets will find this news liberating (i.e. the idea that intuitions are none of their business). Roughly speaking, I think when poets talk about intuitions or intuitive aspects of poetry they are talking about what I want to call institutions.

I'll leave it here for now. I like to think of intuition as the immediate meaning of what is seen and of institution as the immediate meaning of what is done. While these are distinct moments of experience (given sufficient grammatical exertion) they are, of course, ordinarilly conflated, owing to their synthesis in the imagination, which is the third moment and is the fulcrum or pivot with which we interupt the inertia of immediate experience, the moment of the transfer of momentum, where how our stuff appears on the surface can be "made new".

The fourth moment, as ever, is stillness.


Thomas said...

It is difficult to distinguish between intuitions and institutions, and in ordinary life they go together. In seeing a door immediately as a door, we are preparing to do specific things with it, i.e., deal with it as a door.

But consider various examples. The way you see your own front door, the door of a friend, the door of a grumpy neighbour, the door of a professor. All these comprise(intuitive) systems of reference and (institutional) systems of deference, which precede how we procede, as it were, to open them, close them, avoid them, knock on them, etc.

They determine what it would be "appropriate" to look at (and from what we must avert our eyes) and pick up (and what we must let lie). What is appropriate may not always be beautiful (or not beautiful enough). So the difficulty here may be beauty . . . as ever.

Intuition is the fact that stuff is given to us in experience "as" partiuclar things.

Institution is the act of our being taken with stuff in experience "as" particular people.

Intuition assigns a thing a place in the world, institution assigns people a course through history.

Thomas said...

"sort of"????

I must be more precise next time.

I agree with you about your blog (esp. your debate coverage, as I recall), and the Egret party, and your poems also. You play your hunches, but they are not intuitive.

Democracy is a not a belief in your responses, it is a desire. But we've already talked about that.

Intuition is a cognitive operation, not a conative one.

I wouldn't worry about the trail of digressions; they may be balanced out later on. (Though I'm not sure I get your meaning.)

Thomas said...

I suppose the poet might need to philosophize in order to ensure that that the poem does not function as a philosophy.

T. S. Eliot: "Goethe's demon inevitably sends us back to Goethe. He embodies a philosophy. A creation of art should not do that: he should replace the philosophy. Goethe has not, that is to say, sacrificed or consecrated his thought to make the drama; the drama is still a means." ("The Possibility of a Poetic Drama", The Sacred Wood, p. 66.)

Drama is a mixed medium. I'm not sure about "replace" in our context, but the basic stricture here is dead on. It is not the function of a poem to illustrate a philosophy.

But again, poets may engage with philosophical issues long enough to rid themselves of them for the purpose of writing a specific poem, thus cleansed of philosophical content.

Here the best sort of philosophizing, as Matt Hart has recently pointed out in a letter to Ron Silliman, is probably Wittgenstein's who, not incidentally, said, "The real discovery is the one that makes me capable of stopping doing philosophy when I want to." (PI§133) This may also be a sense worth giving to Pound's reply to Mussolini. "Why do you want to get your ideas in order?"--"For my poem."

Thomas said...

The philosopher-poet is a sad figure, a tragic destiny, and a kind of relic from more romantic times. Kierkegaard and Hölderlin probably count as examples.

The basic problem here is to confuse the poetic and the philosophical projects, construing them as one art, and often conflating them with the "art of living".

Poets who want to write poetry may need to philosophize in preparation.

Likewise, philosophers who want to write philosophy may need to "compose themselves" (dichten = condensare).

Some philosophers may also want to be poets, but they should never write poetry AS philosophers. (I think my own struggles with these crafts fall into this category.)

Thomas said...

"Moderation in all things"


Jay said...

This comment is long, long overdue. I apologize.

To your example of the tragic philosopher-poet, I'd like to offer a kind of inverse (and not, in my opinion, tragic) figure: the philosopher who composes thoughts in a beautiful, artful, or passionate way.

Frankly, Thomas, I think you provide many striking examples on this blog of poetically-arranged thoughts (e.g., the four moments so mentioned above). But, to broaden the discussion a bit, it seems to me that the thoughts of the great philosophers, Wittgenstein included, are no less passionate and full of feeling than any great work of art. Here, perhaps, I stumble a bit, for I'm sometimes even tempted to think of philosophy AS art in the medium of thought.

Thomas said...

I'm always glad to have you stop by, Jay. The last part you say, I agree with entirely. Philosophy is the art of thinking--an art in the medium of thought.

But I still say that the moment a philosopher gets passionate about his work (rather than remaining reasonable) he is embarking on another journey, practising another art.

One can be dispassionately artful, can one not? (Crafty?)