A constitutive obligation of critical practice, albeit often unacknowledged at present, is to sustain at all times an acute awareness of its historical origins. As we have seen, the moment when a critical response to the phenomenon of "pleasure" and the aesthetic came to play a seminal role occurs in those decades taking us from the late Rousseau of the Reveries to Kant's third Critique. Part of that struggle, especially in the Critique of Judgment, meant properly locating the voice of critical thought itself. Kant conceives of that voice as the expression of a balance between our intuitive and our rational faculties, between our idiosyncratic orientation toward the uniquely material textures of the empirical world and the crucial, if comparatively mediated, obligation to render that world more permanently inhabitable, or rational. To recognize that there ought to be balance between these two stances—which is the basic ethical demand of the Critique of Judgment—is to recognize that aesthetic production and critical knowledge are rooted in the same impulse. Sensibly, Kant chose to leave undetermined whether the voice of critique ought to be understood as an integral component of aesthetic experience or merely as one of its epiphenomenal effects. He did so not because he did not know how to answer the question but because he felt, perhaps intuitively, that it would be the wrong question to ask or, in any event, a fateful one to answer. For any attempt to resolve the issue by pronouncing the work of critique to be wholly isomorphous with the contingent material experiences that gave rise to it or, alternatively, as sublating (aufheben) aesthetic experience into pure abstractions invariably forecloses on the ethical implications of critical practice.
For such an embrace of a theoretical solipsism or, alternatively, a mystical or hedonistic materialism, severs the dialectical ties between experience and cognition, either by eclipsing the unique material qualities of aesthetic experience or our capacity for articulating its significance. Inasmuch as a reflection on aesthetic experience seeks to avoid either of these predicaments, it will necessarily have to tread the thin margin between epistemology and ethics. Indeed, a voice of critique so understood ought consider—though not resolve—the delicate boundaries between the social and spiritual dimensions of meaning and, correspondingly, its own precarious location between the spontaneous and the providential, the self-affirmation of its subjective intelligence and its responsiveness to heteronomous material signs and "hints." As Hölderlin had put it in his ode to "Rousseau":
[A]uch dir, auch dir
If "Rousseau embodies the tension between an isolated subjectivity and the imperatives of social life" (Nägele, 171), Hölderlin's strophic reflection on the citizen of Geneva shows how the development of one's own voice necessitates the cautious detour through an Other, even one as seemingly close as Rousseau. If the ode credits Rousseau with having been visited by the "rays" of the "distant sun," such semantic plenitude can be claimed figurallyin what Derrida has characterized as the quintessential philosophical "heliotrope" of light and illumination. Moreover, the knowledge to which Rousseau is said to have been privy can be imagined only a posteriori, not by Rousseau himself but only transferentially, with Hölderlin speaking for Rousseau. Thus mediated through its own other (Rousseau), Hölderlin's voice establishes itself not in propositional form but, instead, motions toward a revelation that is itself perched between an unverifiable past and an anticipated future. Supported by its distinctly "paratactic" nature, Hölderlin's poetry here is presented as a type of scripture that expressly foregoes the desire for closure, as evidenced by the carefully open-ended reception of "the strangers' tongue" (die Sprache der Fremdlinge) that was "heard . . . comprehended . . . interpreted" (vernommen / verstanden / gedeutet). The revelation at issue may indeed have come to the "longing" man (Dem Sehnenden), but it did so only if we believe the Rousseau of the Reveries to have attained the perfect ratio of curiosity and restraint. For to discern meaning in a "hint" (Wink), that enigmatic sign of the gods, involves more than outright indolence and passivity. It demands a complex echowhat Hölderlin is to Rousseauwhereby the intimations of the Other's voice are being transfigured into the comparative specificity of a text. Hölderlin's aesthetic can thus be characterized as an ongoing attempt to fuse poetry and critique—to "grasp" (fassen) and articulate the otherness of his own voice in a provisional "text" (Fassung), and thus to achieve an instance of subjective "composure" (Fassung) for which Rousseau's repose had provided the archetype.
Hölderlin's poetry may be the supreme poetic refraction of Kant's critical project inasmuch as it articulatesin the necessarily transferential, figural recourse to an Other such as Rousseauthe tension between the material and intuitive and the formal-rational dimensions of knowledge. As his poetry ponders the interdependency between a material existence, past and future, conjured by the operation of tropes and images and the simultaneous reflection on the rational, or "critical" truth-value of those images, Hölderlin's voice appears genuinely informed by Kant's critical enterprise. For like the philosophical idiom of late-Enlightenment critique, his poetry shows the dialectic of intuition and concept, as well as the corollary tension between an imagistic and a propositional style, to be necessarily open-ended. Poetry so understood transcends (in a strictly non-teleological sense) the often arid and self-privileging claims of pure theory, yet at its best it also cautions against a hedonistic attachment to one's voice or, for that matter, against the epigone's blind worship of aesthetic tradition. We have yet much to learn from it.
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