Readers, in my last post I took us through Edmund Burke’s definition of Beauty in his Philosophical Inquiry. I showed how he arrived at the notion that we find those things beautiful that appear as if they would “submit” to us. That his examples of beautiful “objects” over and over again include whole or parts of the female body, I argued, implicitly works against his stated intention of elucidating a “logic of taste” universally shared by all humans.
Readers, in my last post I began showing how examples in texts of aesthetic philosophy often betray universal human subjectivity to be limited to European white males. Last time I shared some examples from Kant. Today I’d like to go to one of Kant’s influences, Edmund Burke’s A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful from 1757. Should you ever be tasked with teaching aesthetics, I highly recommend this text. It will make your students irate and nothing is better for class discussion.
I believe I am a few days late for my fourth post, the post in which I am finally to take you to the pyramids with Kant as our guide. My apologies. I haven’t neglected this expedition in thought, though perhaps in type. In fact one might say that I have been preparing for it at a somatic level for several weeks now by visiting Florida, a place that is not exactly Egypt, though no doubt a site in which European colonialism grappled with the dynamic sublime, and New York City, where one seemingly experiences the mathematical sublime of capital on every corner.
What I want to call attention to in this post is the telling nature of examples in philosophical texts, especially in a text like Kant’s. Unlike Hegel, Marx, or other nineteenth-century philosophies dependent on narratives of socio-historical development, Kant’s critiques are on the surface ahistorical.
So if you were to flip through my personal copy of The Critique of Judgment and land on § 49 “On the Powers of the Mind Which Constitute Genius,” the most important pages to me as an undergraduate and graduate student, you would see that some classmate rudely crossed out the words “A poet” and replaced it with “Maggie” so that the sentence in my edition reads: “[Maggie] ventures to give sensible expression to rational ideas of invisible beings, the realm of the blessed, the realm of hell, eternity, creation, and so on.” (183) What does this mean?
I cannot say that I am not apprehensive about today’s post. In my letter of introduction I promised you a discussion of aesthetics, one that would begin and end with notions of poetry as “freedom,” but as I am sure you know, all freedoms are not the same. I specifically promised you the story of how I fell in love with Kant’s conception of “freedom,” but then eventually left his notion for a new kind of “freedom.” Hurston’s freedom. I am leaving Immanuel for Zora. This commentary is to make the move official, public.
My reflex, since we are dealing with philosophical concepts, is to stay cerebral and abstract, to begin and end in the text.