“Islands of language” – On Lyotard’s Kant (Radical Philosophy 2010)

“Susceptibility”, Radical Philosophy 162 (2010), 57–59. A review of Jean-François Lyotard, Enthusiasm: The Kantian Critique of History, trans. G. Van Den Abbeele (Stanford 2009). An excerpt from the author’s typescript is copied below:

Lyotard in his study

In this slim volume, published in English translation more than a decade after his death, Lyotard reissues Kant’s call, in his preface to the first Critique, for a ‘critical tribunal’, and denounces ‘perpetual peace … by the death of the capacity to judge’. Critique, Lyotard argues, sets a limit to the pretensions of political, no less than metaphysical illusion.

The Kant-interpretation Lyotard sketches here, relative throughout to the question of ‘the political’ and to the name ‘Wittgenstein’, proceeds along several converging lines of enquiry: how it is that the critical is ‘analogous to the political’ (chapter 1); how it is that judgement, in Kant, is less a ‘faculty’ than a constitutively inconclusive ‘power of [finding] “passages” between the faculties’ (chapter 2); how it is that judgement retrieves a sign of ‘the Idea of freedom’ from the affect of ‘historico-political enthusiasm’ (chapter 3); and how it is that this judgement, as a critical sensitivity to what is ‘delivered up by our time’, serves to ‘sanction the coexistence of what is heteronomous’ (chapter 5). The ‘heteronomous’ is basically coterminous with Lyotard’s ideal of ‘ethical culture’ in this work, but that the word here has only a lexical relation to heteronomy in the second Critique is indicative of a radical shift in problematic. Lyotard seeks the ‘trace of freedom within reality’ in the wake of a ‘sublime feeling’, and not in practical reason as such. It is out of the formlessness of insurgency and the suspense of historico-political purposiveness, rather than respect for a pure ‘form of lawfulness’, that judgement comes to concern itself with the possibility of emancipation. A critical ‘discourse of emancipation’—whose precondition, here citing Kant, is an ‘Empfänglichkeit to Ideas’: and thus, ethical culture—takes a surge of purposive lawlessness as its inaugural sign. …


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