Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Black Milk of Enlightenment We Drink You at Gotterdammerung

Maggot: “Hey fellers-- you over there-- you guys in the black hoods, come on over here… Loosen my strait jacket, won’t you? I want to lecture these good people who have wandered on in to the Enlightenment Underground…”

Black-hooded Man: “Lecture them about what? You stupid prick!”

Maggot: “Not so harsh, not so harsh!

[Maggot faces away, whimpers-- tears and sweat covers his face and brow… He looks as bravely and as directly into the eyes of the black-hooded man as he is able, but it isn’t very convincing at all, as he’s trembling and his eyelids and lips quiver violently…]

Maggot: “I’m gonna lecture the good people about how by my bravery and hard work I overcame my “self-incurred tutelage.” I can’t do that so well when these laces are cutting into my sides so hard. I can’t breathe, and when I can’t breathe, I can’t enunciate clearly or correctly.”

Black milk of daybreak we drink it at evening we drink it at midday and morning we drink it at night
we drink and we drink
we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too cramped
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Marguerite
he writes it and steps out of doors and the stars are all sparkling
he whistles his hounds to come closehe whistles his Jews
into rows has them shovel a grave in the ground he orders us strike up and
play for the dance (A)

Black-hooded Man: “Hell you cain’t… We’re always as free as we choose to be… Even Sartre said that. Strait-jacket or no, you can have your say… As long as your mind is free, as long as your soul is free-- YOU ARE FREE…NO MATTER WHAT!”

[Author’s note: “no MATTER what!” Get it?]

Maggot: “Exactly, man! Exactly! We see eye to eye, and I am only supporting you… I am right here next to you and all I want to do is make sure that your ideas are broadcasted far and wide, and have the imprimatur of a certified, a bonified, intellectual smart-guy like me, who speaks sixteen different languages, has a PhD, and who copiously praises the Mr. BigBigBigBlack-hooded-MAN, your boss! I praise him for his ENLIGHTENMENT! That’s all I want to do… I WANT TO PRAISE HIS ENLIGHTENMENT… I want to do it NO MATTER WHAT (except for the small matter of this strait-jacket.) Now let me go! Let me out of here!”

Black-hooded Man: “NO!”

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightwe drink you at morning and
midday we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
A man lives in the house he plays with his vipers he writes
he writes when it grows dark to Deutschland your golden hair Margeurite
your ashen hair Shulamith we shovel a grave in the air there you won't lie too crampedHe shouts jab this earth
deeper you lot there you others sing up and play
he grabs for the rod in his belt he swings it his eyes are blue
jab your spades deeper you lot there you others play on for the dancing

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at night
we drink you at midday and morning we drink you at evening
we drink and we drink
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margeurite
your aschenes Haar Shulamith he plays with his vipers
He shouts play death more sweetly Death is a master from Deutschland
he shouts scrape your strings darker you'll rise then in smoke to the sky
you'll have a grave then in the clouds there you won't lie too cramped (B)

[Maggot can’t disguise the whimpering any longer. He blubbers…]

Black-hooded Man (without remorse or compassion, with a chipper and life-affirming expression, hale and hearty and fellow-well-met): “This is for your freedom that we confine you, my brother, my equal, my co-partner in liberty. ( Moments ago he'd called Maggot a prick... That's forgotten now.) Do you ever think you’d have become so elevated above the rabble, above women, above Jews, above stinking nature and the stinking anus of your own body, if we had not strapped you in so that you could not, as you say, ‘ breathe, or enunciate clearly or correctly?’ Oh my brother, my equal, my co-partner in liberty, what you call breathing and enunciating clearly and correctly… is only the blathering of the woman, the Jew, of the weak in nature, of the anus farting…”

Maggot: “ Oh I know, I know, my brother…. Don’t you understand? I am only saying this, ‘ Think and argue as much as you like, but obey!(1)’” ( Maggot has forgotten the 'prick' epithet... indeed, Maggot has now forgotten the strait-jacket.)

Black-Hooded Man: “Oh I know, I know, my brother… But don’t you understand? You can think and argue as much as you like while wearing this tightened strait-jacket! For you, to obey is to wear this tightened strait-jacket! The strait-jacket is your obedience...”

Black milk of daybreak we drink you at nightwe drink you at midday Death is
a master aus Deutschland we drink you at evening and morning we drink and we
drink this Death is ein Meister aus Deutschland his eye it is blue
he shoots you with shot made of lead shoots you level and true
a man lives in the house your goldenes Haar Margarete
he looses his hounds on us grants us a grave in the air
he plays with his vipers and daydreams der Tod is ein
Meister aus Deutschland dein goldenes Haar Margarete
dein aschenes Haar Shulamith (C)

Maggot: “I can’t describe this to you, but I don’t feel so good… I hurt… I feel as if I am decaying…”

Black-Hooded Man: “That’s merely your body, my brother, my equal, my co-partner in liberty. It cries! Let it! Affirm that cry! When you know that your body is sick and in pain and that you are yet free, my brother, you will have known God! God is the bodies cry of pain! Of remorseless remorse! Know that! And then you will have REASON to thank me!

Maggot: “ If I do not, oh black-hooded man, and praise be to you for the sharpness of your reminder and of your wit – I know you have a ‘numerous and well-disciplined army to assure public peace’(2) that will remind me yet again, and will with sharpness yet again get me so that I can say ( and here with worthy praise I repeat your main point to me, oh black-hooded and enlightened man --) ‘ Argue as much as you will, and about what you will, only obey!’(3)”

(1),(2),(3) – Immanuel Kant, “ Was Ist Aufklarung.

(A),(B),(C)- Paul Celan, “ Death Fugue.”

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Multiplicity-Dialectic, Huh???

I am curious to know to what extent-- with what results and consequences-- conducting the GEDENKEN-EXPERIMENT of combining ( however and in however many ways,) the two terms highlighted below,yields understanding...

....In other words, I am curious to know what effect the combination-agencement of these two highlighted terms makes, or can be made to make, or if the combination-agencement of these terms can be made at all:


This isn’t thinkable, is it?

My opinion is that if one wishes to understand Gilles Deleuze’s antipathy to the dialectic and dialectical thinking, all one has to do is run this GEDENKEN-EXPERIMENT ( as many times and as many ways as one’s desire to understand dictates,) and record the results.

I think you can get a bookful-wealth of unfolding with this, (but I remain receptive to the experience of those who visit EU and are willing to share with me. What do you get?)

Monday, March 19, 2007


Immanuel Kant may have had an "uneventful" life, but he certainly did not "renounce" the pleasures of it, Yusef. It is true that his servant woke him up every day at 5 o'clock with the same words "Es ist Zeit!" But after having finished his morning studies and later his lectures, he enjoyed a hearty lunch with wine and friends before taking his walk and nap.

"In his early years Kant spent almost every midday and evening outside his house in social activities, frequently taking part also in a card party and only getting home around midnight. If he was not busy at meals, he ate in the inn at a table sought out by a number of cultured people." Kant gave himself to this mode of life in such an easy and relaxed way that even the most meticulous psychological observer among his intimates was occasionally puzzled about him; in 1764 Johann Georg Hamann says that Kant carries in his head a host of greater and lesser works, which he however probably will never finish in the "whirl of social distraction" in which he is now tossed. (Kant's Life and Thought, translated by James Haden, Yale University Press, 1981).

And his students adored him. Here's one of them, Johann Gottfried Herder:

"I have enjoyed the good fortune to know a philosopher, who was my teacher. In the prime of life he had the happy cheerfulness of a youth, which, so I believe, accompanied him even in grey old age. His forehead, formed for thinking, was the seat of indestructible serenity and peace, the most thought-filled speech flowed from his lips, merriment and wit and humor were at his command, and his lecturing was discourse at its most entertaining.

In precisely the spirit with which he examined Leibniz, Wolff, Baumgarten, and Hume and perused the natural laws of the physicists Kepler and Newton, he took up those works of Rousseau which were then appearing, Émile and Héloïse, just as he did every natural discovery known to him, evaluated them and always came back to unprejudiced knowledge of Nature and the moral worth of mankind. The history of nations and peoples, natural science, mathematics, and experience, were the sources from which he enlivened his lecture and converse; nothing worth knowing was indifferent to him; no cabal, no sect, no prejudice, no ambition for fame had the least seductiveness for him in comparison with furthering and elucidating truth.

He encouraged and engagingly fostered thinking for oneself; despotism was foreign to his mind. This man, whom I name with the utmost thankfulness, and respect, was Immanuel Kant; his image stands before me to my delight. (Johann Gottfried Herder, Letters on the Advancement of Humanity)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

DeKantstruction - Part Three

From the brave, open, vast, cosmopolitan forehead of “having the
courage to use your own understanding”
to the downcast, melancholy,
Preussian face of “gradually becoming increasingly able to act freely”.
From the battle cry of arrogance to the submissive hope of dignity. Or
is the pain in this visage the mark of hopelessness? Does courage just
reside in the mind, or is it only shown in behavior?

DeKantstruction - Part Two

Throughout his essay Kant can’t make up his mind whether to be an officer or a priest. Whether to rally the troops, brandish the sword, and charge ahead, or open his arms, pat the cross and stay humble.

He starts as a revolutionary and ends as a reformist.

The tension in the text comes from the concept of subjugation. The central motto is not sapere aude, but rather Don’t argue, get on parade! and Don’t argue, believe!

Subjugation demands authority. Guidance. But guidance is never exercised without power. And subjugation shows itself in many forms: the self-incurred version which we have thought a lot about on this blog in the question, Why do people desire their own repression? and the subjugation as a consequence of authority and power.

Etymologically, subjugation is “bringing under the yoke” and Kant refers to this in his phrase “the yoke of immaturity” and in his frequent use of farming imagery where the self-incurred immature, lazy and cowardly men are compared to “domesticated animals” and docile creatures on a leash”.

But the subjugators are also subjugated (as Kant himself is in his role
as officer and revolutionary)
it would be very harmful if an officer receiving an order from his
superiors were to quibble openly, while on duty, about the
appropriateness or usefulness of the order in question.
He must simply obey. But he cannot reasonably be banned
from making observations as a man of learning on the errors
in the military service, and from submitting these to
his public for judgement.
Likewise, as the priest and reformer
a clergyman is bound to instruct his pupils and his congregation
in accordance with the doctrines of the church he serves, for he
was employed by it on that condition. But as a scholar, he is
completely free as well as obliged to impart to the public all his
carefully considered, well-intentioned thoughts on the mistaken
aspects of those doctrines
But what of the philosopher?
Here Kant is acutely aware of hedging his bets. After first lavishing
praise n
Frederick the Great - We have before us a brilliant
example of this kind, in which no monarch has yet surpassed
the one to whom we now pay tribute.
- he humbly subjugates
himself to being satisfied with “a lesser degree of civil freedom”.
A high degree of civil freedom seems advantageous to a people's
intellectual freedom, yet it also sets up insuperable barriers to it.
Conversely, a lesser degree of civil freedom gives enough room
to expand to its fullest extent.
In the end he turns into a naturalist and sinks into ecological imagery
without a trace of the harsh dichotomies he proclaimed in the beginning
once the germ on which nature has lavished most care - man's
inclination and vocation to think freely - has developed within this
hard shell it gradually reacts upon the mentality of the people, who
thus gradually become increasingly able to act freely
(more to come)

Thursday, March 15, 2007

DeKantstruction - Part One

For those of you who want to follow this discussion here’s the text http://tinyurl.com/2bmcre

Kant’s essay is a contemptuous and emotional outburst of an answer to a scornful “question”.

But it has since been read as a lexigraphic statement, as a definition and manifesto of The Enlightenment, neatly following the tradition of the French Encyclopédie by Diderot from 1772.

Here is the polemic context – because it was indeed a part of a heated argument.

The question Was ist Aufklärung? was originally asked – as an aside - by the Berlin theologian J. F. Zöllner (1753–1804).

In December 1783 he published an article in the Berlinischen Monatsschrift with the following rhetorical question as the title Is It Advisable No Longer to Sanctify Marriage Through Religion?

He was responding to a previous piece in the paper where an anonymous writer had advocated the possibility of a civil union between a man and a woman outside the Christian church.

As a strict guardian of morality the preachy Zöllner bemoaned the lowering of standards brought about by the “prevalent thinking of the times” which unter dem Namen der Aufklärung die Köpfe und Herzen der Menschen zu verwirren‹. (under the name of enlightenment confuses the heads and hearts of people).

In a note to his article Zöllner puts the question Was ist Aufklärung?. You can almost hear and see the sneer and spite: What IS this thing called Enlightenment? This new fashion? This stupid idea? Nothing more than blasphemy and corruption of public morality!

Kant’s triumphant answer was just as contemptuous, especially in this passage, religious immaturity is the most pernicious and dishonourable variety of all

But in his protestations isn’t Kant himself presenting a new liturgy?

And why is he so obsessed with priests, monarchs, authority and obedience?

(More to come)

The Enlightenment as Hypocrites' Hogs Wallow

Maybe I would be happier if rather than asking, “What is Enlightenment?” we had begun our inquiry by asking “Is Enlightenment?” (or to put it a little more explicitly: “ Is there such a thing as Enlightenment?”)

I want to know that Enlightenment exists before I begin to ask what Enlightenment is. We have jumped the gun by assuming we can ask "what" before we ask "is."

In asking the question of whether the Enlightenment is or not , I am not attempting to deny that men may consider themselves enlightened, and have happily called themselves enlightened ( or, more modestly, considered themselves on the way to enlightenment; or, more grandly, to be living in an “AGE ” of Enlightenment.) Certainly it delights men to think that they and their age are enlightened, and men will do what delights them, but thinking it so can’t MAKE it so, can it?

The question which I think needs to be asked is whether what we are looking at, both in the question of the Enlightenment, (and more broadly in the very question of philosophy itself,) is whether some quantitative elevation of thinking and human capability takes place, or whether all this STUFF/JUNK is an exercise in self-flattery… Do we do more than please ourselves when we believe that we “think for ourselves”, or do we indeed really think for ourselves? Do we even think? ( Thinking being considered as somehow “productive” – we can think that we think and therefore think and be thinking—but the thinking of infinite regress is not the kind of thinking—is not thinking in the productive or liberating sense Kant or Foucault presuppose in either’s questioning of Enlightenment.)

Do we really believe that there have been quantitative or qualitative increases, in some positive sense, in human capacities or potentialities, of an opening up of some sort of arena of reality, based on “human” activities of thinking or understanding, and that one of the biggest such increases happened around the time of Immanuel Kant’s lifetime in the eighteenth century?

The question of the Enlightenment can be taken as a question of the potential of philosophy. Did these men of the Enlightenment learn to use their own understanding? Did Immanuel Kant? Did the change in the organization of society at this time, reflected most importantly in the overthrow of the Church and the clerics’ hold on the range available for intellect and imagination, have anything to do with what Kant calls “a true reform in ways of thinking”? Things were changing, and changing rapidly, but was “thinking” truly to be said to have a part in that, as either cause or effect? I don’t think the answer is obvious one way or the other.

For reasons I hope I will be able to elaborate later on I want to continue to pursue these questions using the broad and nebulous gerund, “thinking.” What I will not do, however, is mix up the more limited but perhaps just as nebulous term “rationality” with “thinking” and treat them as synonyms in the way Kant appears to consistently do.

Kant says this,

"The public use of one’s reason must always be free, and it alone can bring about enlightenment among men.”

About what Kant understands as the public use of one’s reason, Kant says this,

“By the public use of one’s reason I understand the use which a person makes of it as a scholar before the reading public.”

Ah, yes... Kant's scholar ( or someone acting as scholar,) will have privileged access and discourse in public use of reason. This being so, it is the "scholar" who is the one who MUST ALWAYS BE FREE. And remind me: what was Kant? Ah, yes… He was a scholar. So maybe the only thing Kant is engaging in is self-pleading for privileges for himself and his own kind -- not " thinking"? This has not been well-cognized… perhaps because for us it would seem a natural privilege that “scholarship” informs the political realm. ( Just as for us it seems natural that "knowledge" and "information" are above all else valuable.) But what I wonder is how it can be that something can seem so natural and yet upon the slightest examination of what actually is be so rarely found--scholarship doesn't inform the public or the political very often or very well.

The relationship of scholarship to political action is so problematic that it seems fantastic that anyone, especially a philosopher, could have believed, except as a wishing for privilege, that it could be efficacious, exemplary. I don’t think it was, or will be, or should be. I don't think that the scholar deserves any political privilege of any type.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The Enlightenment as Moralistic Pig-Out

In the following two quotations from Was Ist Aufklarung?, Kant tells what Enlightenment is, and why many people fail to achieve Enlightenment,

“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.”


“Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction ( naturaliter maioernnes), nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay—others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.”

Here we see Kant emphasizing the importance of moral character in the ability to think independently-- and presumably—in becoming autonomous and free. Laziness and cowardice, defects of the moral character, are “reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction ( naturaliter maioernnes), nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage.” Laziness and cowardice are reasons why men are unable to become autonomous and free…. Good moral character is required to become truly autonomous.

The question I want to raise—and I don’t think I can answer it all at once-- is whether moral characteristics work as “reasons” in the manner Kant envisions.

First of all, I wonder whether it was either acute or accurate for Kant to characterize his comtemporaries as lazy and cowardly. He doesn’t try very hard to make that description of them stick… Perhaps then as now people were all too happy to think of “other” people in this derogatory manner. Kant observes that “a great portion of mankind” doesn’t have the ability to think independently, asserts that it is because they are lazy and cowardly, but doesn’t even bother to try to show why he is entitled to throw that insult at “ so great a portion of mankind” … Could Kant possibly have made such a case if he had tried?

Were Europeans or Americans of this time period lazy?

Well, I don’t think so. Even into the early twentieth century, large numbers of people in Europe and the Americas made their livelihood as agricultural workers, and it is grotesque to me to think that this way of making a living could be characterized as laziness. Working the land manually or with some animal power is grueling and difficult. If these are the people Kant is calling lazy, then he is calling people lazy who toiled and sweated from dawn to dusk. And that’s hideous. The time this essay was written, 1784, was at the beginning of the industrial revolution, so maybe Kant is thinking of lazy factory workers? But that’s just as hideous. Factory workers of this period were worked to death.

Even though I know that Kant himself worked very hard all of his life, there is something sad and even pathetic in this frail, skeletal little weakling of a man, with his powdered wig and his lace, who, even with his strict habit of a daily walk around the campus at Konigsberg never strenuously exerted himself physically, regarding his slaving and suffering fellows as lazy.

Note that it would be just as bad, or worse, if he had modified his slur by making it “intellectually lazy.” I’m not even sure what that would have meant, in this context. Anyway, I can’t buy, on the simple level of how people actually lived, that their “laziness” even existed, let alone explained in any satisfactory way, their intellectual status, or their political status, if thinking independently is the key to autonomy.

Were Europeans and Americans of this time well-described as cowardly?

I’m not going to entertain that seriously.

But even if Kant was correct to call his “unenlightened” fellows cowardly, that would have been only half of the task required of him in making the determination he needs to make. Again, he would also need to show that his “enlightened” fellows were brave.

What I found fascinating is the way that Kant characterizes what these putative cowards are thought to be afraid of and thereby hindered. The thing Kant identifies as fearful for these men in the exercise of their independent understanding is the making of mistakes, the misery of which would not even last long, on Kant’s view, because they would quickly learn from these, and would correct themselves.

“Actually, however, this danger is not so great, for by falling a few times they would finally learn to walk alone. But an example of this failure makes them timid and ordinarily frightens them away from all further trials.”

It isn’t entirely clear in Kant’s text, but it seems to me that he’s strangely associated thinking for oneself—reasoning—with simple skill acquisition. This seems to me to be a willful distortion by which Kant diverts attention from the clear and present dangers—the real dangers—accruing to men who think independently, even today. The clear and present danger: thinking for oneself, one may find oneself in disagreement with the powers-that-be, who regard those who disagree as adversaries, and who punish adversaries, sometimes severely.

If “falling a few times” meant only bungling a task, that would be one thing, but if “falling a few times” meant time in an 18th century jail, or worse, then that’s something entirely different. Grown men stronger and bolder and braver than either Kant or me have been “made timid” by punishments meted out by the powers-that-be… and that’s no surprise ( or shame.) Harsh punishment is scary stuff, and it’s real. Before Kant called anyone cowardly, ( if he ever needed to do that in the first place,) I wish he’d tried to make a fairer appraisal of the REAL dangers they were confronting.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

On the Very Idea of the Enlightenment

In a recent post, Yusef remarked that this blog was started by "two Nietzscheans." This struck a chord in me. In the time since the blog was started, while Yusef was continuing in a "Deleuzean" direction, I increasingly found myself more and more attracted to a much more "mainstream," even conservative orientation. For I have found that for me, as for Habermas, a critical social theory that is concerned with justice, or with freedom -- or even with happiness! -- needs to have something to say about rationality, justification, objectivity, and truth.

What has happened to me? Am I stuck inside "the Temple of Reason"? Or trapped within the "dogmatic image of thought"?

I don't know how exactly this happened . . . somewhere along the way I incorporated or accepted -- without so much as realizing what was happening to me -- that there is something right about Habermas' criticism of Nietzsche and of what takes its name from his (e.g. "Nietzscheanism").

Habermas insists that there is a distinction to be drawn between those who subject the Enlightenment to critical scrutiny from within it, and those who attempt to step outside of the Enlightenment by positing some standpoint that does not itself fall back into an Enlightenment problematic.

(I have come across similar variations of this criticism by Richard Wolin (The Seduction of Unreason), Joel Whitebook on Foucault vs. Freud, Charles Taylor on "Overcoming Epistemology," and more recently Espen Hammer in his Adorno and the Political.)

One curious feature of these criticisms is that the real target is almost always either Heidegger or Derrida. Nietzsche is assigned to this crew through "guilt by association" -- thus, he is either read as an anti-rationalist who appeals to mystical intuition a la Heidegger, or he is read as a frivolous punster a la Derrida -- in neither case, perhaps, is he really read at all.

On the other hand, what I have absorbed or accepted is the thought that the Enlightenment not only can but must be criticized from within the resources that are made possible by the Enlightenment itself. This is not to say that the Enlightenment owns a monopoly on critical self-reflection -- rather, that the Enlightenment can be read as a cipher for the attempt to democratize critical reflection.

It will be hard for me to say what I find in Adorno, Dewey, and the very late Foucault, what I don't find, or haven't yet found, in the Deleuzean discourse . . . which, for all its power and beauty, now strikes me as terribly limited.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Enlightenment as Idealist Feeding Frenzy

Commenting on the most persistent of the Enlightenment Underground’s thematic questions, Orla Schantz recently had this to say,

“The easy answer to “Why do people desire their own repression?” is, of course Kant's own in his essay: that it is the laziness of not being mature that seems appealing, letting others read the books and tell you what to believe, letting the doctors determine what your diet should be, etc.

But it is also appealing to us today to go all Freudian and/or schizoanalytical in our attempts to answer the question - which I don't really find that interesting.”

Orla’s comment refers primarily to these two passages from Kant’s essay, Was ist Aufklarung?

“Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another.”


“Laziness and cowardice are the reasons why so great a portion of mankind, after nature has long since discharged them from external direction ( naturaliter maioernnes), nevertheless remains under lifelong tutelage, and why it is so easy for others to set themselves up as their guardians. It is so easy not to be of age. If I have a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me, a physician who decides my diet, and so forth, I need not trouble myself. I need not think, if I can only pay—others will readily undertake the irksome work for me.”

It is clear that Orla correctly reported how Kant explains why people do not seek release from their self-incurred tutelage. As I am inclined to agree with Orla that what Kant was talking about when he spoke of “self-incurred tutelage” and what Wilhelm Reich was talking about when he spoke of “desiring one’s own repression,” is very similar, if not exactly identical, I am willing to accept that Kant’s answer might be entertained as an answer to Reich’s. What I want to probe further is whether this is a very good answer to Reich’s question, whether it exhausts the matter at hand, and whether we can use Kant's answer in any way to penetrate the political and social problems we face today.

Kant’s simple few words reflect the sea change – the revolutionary change—in the way that Enlightenment men (and yes, that is “men”…Let’s be clear about that—very few Enlightenment thinkers were addressing themselves to women, and I don’t think there’s much doubt that Kant wasn't,) view themselves, their relationship to society and to the cosmos, and frame what is important to them, and even how they will go about what’s important. I want to examine is what Kant is assuming here—what he is taking for granted, so to speak, and whether we do well, or poorly, ( or otherwise,) to follow suit. I then want to look again at the question of “ why people desire their own repression,” to see how much, if anything, we can learn about the constraints of the question itself.

The first and the most violent note I want to draw attention to in these words is their emphasis upon the individual and the individual’s responsibility for his own condition. Men are responsible for not making use of their own understanding – as they say, “ they’ve ( the "men" of Kant's time) got no one to blame but themselves.” There is no external oppression or force placed upon Kant’s contemporaries, he thinks, holding them down and keeping them from realizing this possibility that they have of thinking for themselves. They are released from the direction of nature, ( they have been “long since discharged from external direction ( naturaliter maioernnes )); even though Kant recognizes that there are some people who set themselves up as ‘guardians’ for others, Kant does not think that this ‘guardianship’ and whatever it entails are sufficiently befuddling or forcefully-oppressing to such an extent as to provide an excuse for one to “ not to be of age.” The onus is on the individual for that—failure and shame rightfully belong to those who have not successfully cultivated an ability to make use of understanding without direction from another.

Please note also that whoever it is that Kant is thinking of when he says “ man’s release” or “man’s inability” or “mankind” ( and as I’ve said, it definitely isn’t women he’s thinking of so much,) he feels no need to specify. He may really be thinking of European Caucasian males who own property and have received an education, but he speaks in the generic, as if he COULD BE addressing European “people of color” ( they did exist in Kant’s time,) rural or urban peasantry, the dispossessed, the disabled, or really anybody. Kant is speaking as if he is saying that ANYONE who has not achieved the ability to use their own understanding without external direction is responsible for this being the case. My opinion is that Kant is thinking in terms of some “universal” condition where no such “universal” condition is appertaining.

I don’t want to go into great detail about this, but what Kant is overlooking seems staggering to consider. Europe in 1784 ( the year Kant wrote his essay,) was a place of great upheaval and deprivation, a place of violence and exploitation. In many ways, conditions were not much better for many masses of people than they had been during the middle ages. There was great poverty -- many people didn’t have enough bread… And I mean “bread” – the stuff you bake in an oven—to sustain themselves. Certainly people in this condition can’t have been concerning themselves overmuch with whether they were thinking for themselves or not – or even if they were, how realistic would it have been for Kant to believe that they could achieve that goal on their own? Kant really proceeds to think as if these people – probably the vast majority of people alive at that time—don’t count. It is almost as if they don’t exist.

Even though I am trying to restrict myself to two small passages from one short essay, I cannot comment completely in one post. I am sorry – I guess there will need to be several of these.

Thursday, March 01, 2007


The Sheep Child

Farm boys wild to couple
With anything….with soft-wooded trees
With mounds of earth…mounds
Of pinestraw…will keep themselves off
Animals by legends of their own:
In the hay-tunnel dark
And dung of barns, they will
Say… I have heard tell

That in a museum in Atlanta
Way back in a corner somewhere
There’s this thing that’s only half
Sheep… like a woolly baby
Pickled in alcohol…because
Those things can’t live … his eyes
Are open… but you can’t stand to look
I heard from somebody who…

But this is now almost all
Gone. The boys have taken
Their own true wives in the city,
The sheep are safe in the west hill
Pasture… but we who were born there
Still are not sure. Are we,
Because we remember, remembered
In the terrible dust of museums?

Merely with his eyes, the sheep-child may

Be saying… saying

I am here in my father’s house.
I who am half of your world, came deeply
To my mother in the long grass
Of the west pasture, where she stood like moonlight
Listening for foxes. It was something like love
From another world that seized her
From behind, and she gave, not lifting her head
Out of dew, without ever looking, her best
Self to that great need. Turned loose, she dipped her face
Farther into the chill of the earth, and in a sound
Of sobbing…of something stumbling
Away, began, as she must do,
To carry me. I woke, dying,

In the summer sun of the hillside, with my eyes
Far more than human, I saw for a blazing moment
The great grassy world from both sides,
Man and beast in the round of their need,
And the hill wind stirred in my wool,
My hoof and my hand clasped each other,
I ate my one meal
Of milk, and died
Staring. From dark grass I came straight

To my father’s house, whose dust
Whirls up in the halls for no reason
When no one comes…piling deep in a hellish mild corner,
And, through my immortal waters,
I meet the sun’s grains eye
To eye, and they fail at my closet of glass.
Dead, I am most surely living
In the minds of farm boys: I am he who drives
Them like wolves from the hound bitch and calf
And from the chaste ewe in the wind.
They go into woods… into bean fields… they go
Deep into their known right hands. Dreaming of me,
They groan… they wait… they suffer
Themselves, they marry, they raise their kind

James Dickey, “The Sheep Child” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992.