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Title: The Power of judgment: Aesthetics and Politics in Kant, Hegel, and Kleist
Authors: Johnston, Walter
Advisors: Heller-Roazen, Daniel
Contributors: Comparative Literature Department
Keywords: Aesthetics
German Idealism
Subjects: Comparative literature
Germanic literature
Issue Date: 2012
Publisher: Princeton, NJ : Princeton University
Abstract: Abstract This dissertation demonstrates the fundamental importance of Kant's theory of judgment for Hegel and Kleist. While the work of these three authors has generated an immense scholarly literature, the theory of judgment they jointly articulate has remained inadequately understood. I argue that Kant's move to make the power of judgment fundamental to the practical use of reason transforms the relationship between aesthetic, epistemological, and practical concerns in the work of all three authors. In the midst of revolutions in France and elsewhere, I furthermore contend, Kant, Hegel, and Kleist each struggle to articulate forms of reflective practical judgment capable of accounting for freedom's existence in the world. Isolating this shared problem of reflective practical judgment clarifies the complex relationship between these closely interrelated and yet strongly divergent author's views on a range of different topics. Tracing the development of a theory of reflective practical judgment throughout their works also shows how standard accounts of the relationship between French politics and German letters around 1800 frequently err. By interpreting this relationship as that between concrete action, on the one hand, and passive contemplation on the other, or rather between actual politics and mere aesthetics, these accounts fail to appreciate how Kant's thought undoes the opposition between judgment and action upon which they rely. They accordingly miss the specific way in which Kant not only establishes the terrain upon which Hegel's and Kleist's works unfold, but also arguably ushers in the historical epoch within which we still think and act today. In Chapter One, I show how Kant's occasional writings on history and late work on politics at once parallel and refract the development of the theory of judgment in his major critical works. Kant's writings on history and politics are, I contend, shaped by the tension between reflective and determinant judgment he develops in his major works. Though he does not resolve this tension in these lesser known writings, he does elaborate the historical and political dimension of his theory of judgment, and gestures toward the radical reworking of the concepts of both history and politics that a full synthesis of his practical philosophy and theory of judgment might entail. Such a synthesis would take place, I suggest, on the basis of the concept of time upon which Kant builds the notion of practical reflective judgment one finds nascent the writings I analyze. In Chapter Two, I show how Hegel's early writings on the "fate" of Christianity and Phenomenology of Spirit contain a profound historicization of the division between reflective and determinant judgment as it is articulated in Kant's major works. In Kant's move to restrict the palpable synthesis of freedom and nature to the subject's reflective judgment of its own presentative faculty, I suggest, Hegel sees as a fateful dereliction of objectivity and politics alike. I furthermore maintain that it is the Kantian division of reflective and determinate judgment that Hegel attempts to reconcile with the power of forgiveness in the final passages of the Phenomenology, and that his manifest failure to do so reinscribes the "fate" that forgiveness would overcome as judgment's insuperable and historically generative difference from itself. Chapter Three reads Kleist's early epistolary reflections and literary meditations on the experience of aimlessness as responses to Kant's discovery of non-teleological judgment as key to the reflective synthesis of nature and freedom. I begin by showing how a preoccupation with Kantian aimlessness subtends Kleist's reflections on travel and on the prospect of study abroad; his confessions regarding his turn to writing literature; his development of a theory of tragedy; and his description of the nature of artistic creativity. In the chapter's second section, I read Kleist's Penthesilea as an allegory of the author's failure to discern a higher purpose animating the apparently purposeless capacity for literary creation. By depicting his heroine's aimlessness as the enemy of all, I furthermore maintain, Kleist's play sheds light on hitherto unexplored political implications of the palpable purposelessness of freedom in Kant. In Kleist's hands, the peculiar power of purposelessness simultaneously blocks Hegel's attempt at a dialectico-historical incorporation of freedom's negativity and interrupts Kant's own move to motivate purposelessness as the sublimely negative pleasure attending conscience's call.
Alternate format: The Mudd Manuscript Library retains one bound copy of each dissertation. Search for these copies in the library's main catalog
Type of Material: Academic dissertations (Ph.D.)
Language: en
Appears in Collections:Comparative Literature

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