Printer-friendly versionSend by email

"Romantic Hybridity: Theoretical Crossings Then and Now"

From Restricted to General Economy:
A Kantianism Without Reserve

Tilottama Rajan , University of Western Ontario


This is a slightly longer version of the paper I read at the last session of the nassr conference. Unfortunately I don't have a programme for getting on the web, and my computer probably isn't capable of it, so I won't be able to participate in any discussion developing from this panel. Since that is the case, I do want to clarify that this is not a paper about defending "the canon" but a paper about methodology. From one comment I've heard, this paper may have been conflated with comments made at the business meeting, not necessarily by myself. I did talk at the business meeting about the "Victorianisation" of the Romantics (which I also take up here), but those comments had to do with how we study Romanticism, and not with a shift from poetry to the novel. _Someone else_ commented on generic shifts associated with this Victorianisation, but my own paper in fact uses two novels as its only literary examples (which is not to downplay the poets, but simply to emphasise that I'm not concerned with the what but the how of Romantic studies).

In the past decade Romantic studies have moved from an overemphasis on the linguistic and philosophical to an equal and opposite stress on the sociopolitical. This shift of capital, moreover, has coincided with a "Victorianisation" of the period informed by complex demographic pressures and ideological fantasies. As Romanticism is absorbed into the nineteenth century, the master themes of Romantic studies are increasingly set by a later telos, in a "colonisation" of the period that comes from within English studies itself. This internal colonisation has moved on two fronts. While the first turn of the cultural screw portrayed the male Romantics as poetic idealists who repressed history, the second turn sees them as socially aware but engaged in disciplinary projects that prefigure the later nineteenth century. On the other hand, insofar as we posit an opposition to this proto-Victorianism, it is often through the work of women writers who reject ambition and "imagination" for an ethic of care. Thus resistance too proves to be Victorian, correcting one conservatism with another, imperialism and nationalism with domesticity and localism.

The gendering and containment of Romanticism within these separate spheres has produced a criticism empirically diverse but often unidisciplinary in approach. Put differently, much current practical criticism considers Romantic texts only from a social or political viewpoint, while reducing the social to an arena for the moral classification of characters and authors. I emphasise the term "practical" criticism, since my object today is not cultural studies or even more broadly cultural "phenomenology," but the _application_ of cultural theory to literary and social texts in the form of "criticism." From deconstruction onwards, the Anglo-American academy has tended to apply theory to texts, thus domesticating "critique" as a "criticism" assimilable through a set of pedagogic paradigms constituting what John Guillory calls an "imitable discourse." As the term "practical" indicates, the aim here is to put theory to "use," and what is involved is thus a certain instrumentalisation. This criticism provides my starting-point today, in that it goes against the grain of a multidisciplinarity that the best exemplars of cultural studies, such as Jon Klancher, recognise in Romanticism.

As a convenience I shall call the synthesis of identity politics and morality characteristic of this criticism by the Kantian term "pragmatic anthropology," bearing in mind also the resonances between "pragmatic" and "practical." I shall suggest, moreover, that Kant is his own best critic, and that pragmatic anthropology suffers from an overprivileging of what he calls determinant as opposed to reflective judgment. Kant's philosophy has been radicalised by French theorists such as Lyotard and Deleuze, who sees his late work as "the foundation of Romanticism." Deleuze argues that if Kant allows for a contest of faculties under the rule or regulation of one faculty at a time, then "it must follow that all together [the faculties] are capable of relationships which are free and unregulated." Deleuze thus posits what I shall call a "Kantianism without reserve," for which he borrows Rimbaud's phrase: "un dreglement de tous les sens." But Kant's thinking on culture marks him very much as a figure of the Enlightenment, anxious to close off the Romantic openings that his philosophy creates. In this double identity Kant, for my purposes, will provide both an entre into "Romantic multidisciplinarity," and an allegory of cultural criticism's tendency to make Romantic studies a restricted rather than a general economy.

Much of Kant's work is concerned with judgment, a faculty whose functioning as "determinant" or "reflective" has to do with the very relationship between thought and discourse (in Foucault's sense). Briefly, determinant judgment interprets objects in terms of existing concepts or discursive formations. But reflective judgment generates a rule from a particular case for which there is no rule, opening knowledge to new epistemic material. Reflection, which is pervasive in the aesthetic sphere, is thus our only way of accommodating the unfinished and the unthought, the material that Schlegel had in mind when he defined the "romantic" as what is still becoming. Among the materials with which reflection deals, as Kant explains in the Analytic of the Sublime, are rational ideas in which an intellectual content has yet to attain concrete presence, and aesthetic ideas in which an intuition grasped as material shape has not yet found conceptual representation. In a typically Kantian equivocation, reflection is said to be inferior to determination because it knows nothing with certitude, although through the double entendre which Kant continually uses to evade cultural censorship, it is also superior to determinant judgment because it is not tied to what we already know from experience or prejudice. This equivocation in turn organises Kant's two major encounters with disciplinary crossings: his 1799 analysis of the structure of the university, and his 1798 text on cultural behaviour, entitled Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View.

In The Contest of Faculties, Kant describes the university as divided into four faculties: the higher faculties of theology, law and medicine, and one lower faculty, formerly called arts, which he renames philosophy. This division in turn corresponds to the division between determinant and reflective. For the higher faculties regulate areas with which the government is concerned--namely the spiritual and legal well-being of its citizens as executed by the clergymen and doctors Kant classifies as businessmen. The lower faculty, by contrast, is so named because as a faculty of reflection it "use[s] its own judgment about what it teaches" and is thus not of much interest to the government. The lower faculty is in fact dangerously heterogeneous. It comprises both the "department of pure rational knowledge" that we normally associate with philosophy, and the "department of historical knowledge (including history, geography, the humanities [and] the empirical knowledge contained in the natural sciences." Kant keeps this potential unruliness under control, first by not theorising the lower faculty in detail, and then by placing it in a lower position. That its lower status is an equivocation which curtails and not simply an irony that mobilises the radicality of reflective judgment is evident from Kant's definition of "Enlightenment" in his 1784 essay on the subject. Here Kant distinguishes between the public and the private use of reason, and once again equivocates between the reflective and the determinant. On the one hand in our "public" role as scholars he advocates reflection or intellectual freedom. On the other hand this freedom must not affect social life, since in our "private" role as members of civil society we must obey laws, and be determined by received discourses.

Kant's placement of philosophy introduces certain problems having to do with the changing nature of thought in the Romantic period. For his use of the term begs the question of what philosophy's role is in relation to the various historical or empirical knowledges which it represents (as a faculty) and excludes (as a particular form of knowledge within the faculty). In an attempt to bridge the aporia between general and restricted uses of the term "philosophy," Kant's successors formulated philosophies of various other subjects. This development may at first have been imperialistic: an attempt to contain epistemic diversity within the master-discipline of philosophy. In the end, however, it changed the very nature of philosophy, by introducing a perpetual revisability of the whole through its parts. We already have a philosophy of agriculture, Schelling complains in 1805, and "we can expect ...a philosophy of vehicles as well. Finally there will be as many philosophies as there are objects, and the sheer quantity of philosophies will make us lose philosophy itself entirely."

Kant's second encounter with the crossing of faculties occurs in his Anthropology, which he tries to segregate from philosophy by placing it in the realm of popular knowledge. These lectures are concerned not with thought but with behaviour. Correspondingly the concept of "faculty" refers less to its restricted use as a division of the university than to its general sense of "ability," wherein a faculty, as Heidegger says of Schelling, is "a being able to relate itself to a possibility of itself." The Anthropology deals with faculties such as judgment, understanding, memory, and imagination, as well as with various sub-versions thereof. Because it deals with the cognitive and social forms produced by these faculties, it also describes an array of behavioural phenomena not previously studied at the university, from boredom and courtesy to the taking of drugs and tobacco. As the study of man, anthropology opens up knowledge in ways Kant avoids confronting in The Conflict of Faculties. Moreover, his text itself is a strange hybrid of the popular and the philosophical, an open crossing in which new forms of behaviour constantly risk generating new forms of thought. Kant's response to this threat is "pragmatic anthropology," or the study of "what man as a free agent" ought to make of himself, where physiological anthropology is the study of what "nature" makes of man. Pragmatic anthropology uses knowledge as a means to an end, that "end" being man who "is his own final end." As a form of mental and social hygiene, it regulates anthropology by judging deviance whether in the form of behavioural aberrations such as drunkenness or cognitive errors such as the use of symbols rather than concepts. Pragmatic anthropology, in other words, determines rather than reflects on human behaviour so as to make us better "citizen[s] of the world," although, since Kant concedes that anthropology is not a science (5), these determinations can have no more than the regulative status of prejudices. At the same time it is clear that Kant is fascinated by the way a general anthropology opens up the disciplinary system, and that he often uses the pragmatic restriction as an alibi, defining it a contrario in relation to phenomena such as dreaming which are "beyond the scope of pragmatic anthropology" (63).

The presence of anthropology in the philosophy faculty is the most egregious example of a disciplinary contamination for which Husserl in The Crisis will later berate postKantian thought. The result is that philosophy in the early nineteenth century increasingly becomes a name for hybrid thinking. The lower faculty was not simply a building housing an array of departments; its professors actually lectured on a range of subjects unimaginable today. Kant taught geography. Hegel lectured not only on the philosophy of mind, but also on that of religion, aesthetics, and even madness. Kant himself distinguished cleanly between his lectures on "pure" philosophy and his more "popular" lecture courses on anthropology and geography, arguing for a contest and not a mingling of faculties, a contest and not a mingling of intellectual and empirical life. But as philosophies of various subjects developed, these subjects in turn modified philosophy, and modified each other. One example of the disciplinary crossings in which Romantic thought becomes implicated is the work of Schopenhauer, who develops a psychoanalysis of philosophy as a representation of the will--granted that psychoanalysis does not yet exist as a named discipline. Another example is the late work of Schelling, which considers evil metaphysically as a kind of energy (in Blake's terms), a force of individuation and difference. It is not that Schelling approaches evil philosophically instead of morally; rather he allows it to be rethought and unsettled within a multidisciplinary framework.

By hybridising psychoanalysis with philosophy, ethics, and the study of matter in the natural sciences, Schelling creates a space for rethinking fictions of radical evil such as Shelley's Zastrozzi, in such a way that they become sites for a reflection upon aesthetic and rational ideas that have yet to be formulated, and not simply objects of moral determination. Such a reading is legitimised by the romantic development of forms like philosophy and the novel as general economies which allow for reflection upon an idea from more than one disciplinary perspective. Romanticism from Schlegel to Bakhtin defines the novel less as a genre than a mode of thinking, a bricolage that can include poems like Prometheus Unbound. For Schlegel the "Roman" is the major form of a "Romanticism" that is perpetually becoming. Godwin's St Leon exemplifies this kind of novel which, rather than being a carceral and institutional form, opens itself to "the new." One could well read this tale of a sixteenth-century aristocrat who gambles away his inheritance and unexpectedly acquires the philosopher's stone and the elixir of life according to a pragmatic anthropology that condemns him for choosing ambition over domestic care. But such an approach would judge new forms of knowledge and behaviour according to existing norms, whether they be Enlightenment norms or our own. It would neglect the novel's experiment with a cultural phenomenology in which gambling is a kind of potlatch, or a game with history's radical contingency. Godwin himself constructed more than one "general economy" for the asystematic reading off his work, by using metaphoric transfers between the disciplines to rethink them. In writing Lives of the Necromancers as well as an account of Cromwell, he raises the question of what constitutes history or even intellectual history. In his essay on "History and Romance," which provides a frame for the world-historical project of St. Leon, he rethinks "history" through "romance," thus radically deregulating the relations between imagination and the faculties Kant calls "reason" and "understanding."

Pragmatic anthropology was Kant's way of disciplining the unruliness of Romantic knowledge, and in this sense Kant's restriction of anthropology mirrors our own disciplining of Romanticism through the reduction of cultural phenomenology to certain forms of practical criticism oriented to civic usefulness. Parts of Kant's lectures stand as an early form of cultural analysis, as is apparent from his comments on the role of history, novels and traveling in "expanding the range" of anthropology (4-5). It is unlikely that today's practitioners of the genre would welcome association with Kant, particularly with his discussions of gender and race in the last section. These variations of content, however, should not obscure the deep-structural similarity between Kantian and postmodern Enlightenment, produced by the determinant use of knowledge for social goals. If anthropology is simply the knowledge of man, its pragmatic version consists in the cultivation and management of man's natural powers, with the aim of making him an effective member of civil society (xxi). That the nation-state of academe now defines civil society differently from Kant does not preclude its agreement with his statement that "the aim of every step in the cultural progress which is man's education is to assign this knowledge and skill he has acquired to the world's use" (3). The "world's use" means our own use, since pragmatic anthropology studies the other in order to use her for our own purposes (xix), as for example we now study the postcolonial to avoid dealing with the persistence of colonial structures in transnationalism. Though drawing on diverse materials, pragmatic anthropology is in effect a unidisciplinary approach. For as Kant says, "the most important object in the world to which" man can apply his knowledge "is man, because man is his own final end" (3). Within this positivist model, critiqued alike by Hegel and by postwar French Theory, such other knowledges as psychology and metaphysics are irrelevant because we cannot draw from them "rules about how to behave" (63), and because their contents are not accessible in terms of sense-perception, common sense, and spatialisation.

There is of course another Kant, Deluze's Kant, whose Third Critique is the foundation of Romanticism. And it is perhaps through this Kant and his successors that we can rediscover a Romanticism without reserve.


Published @ RC

November 1996