I have chosen this very strange claim located inside and almost at the very beginning of the Preface in my current reading of Karatani’s book Transcritique as the very interpretative method of reading that work, by positing it as a basic necessary presupposition held by Karatani in order to even be able to launch the very project of Transcritique as a form of reading Kant via Marx and vice versa itself.
So what specifically can and does this precise claim even mean in its concrete sense?
Is not applying in such a direct way a specifically Marxian term, something which, when understood inside the field of philosophy, without a doubt relates directly to the name of Marx and the technical lexicon as concretely applied in his very own writing and later also by his Marxist followers, that is, to use the entire logic of either someone to be determined as a bourgeois, or even to consider applying the very opposite designation to someone as a proletarian, to simply use the two terms which are by the very function of their use, very directly, that is, without any sort of special mediation, employed by in a relation to one of the most crucial and central concepts ever developed by Marx in his writing, the very idea of there being class struggle in every society, a very specific concept the understanding of which is in itself a matter of a profound interpretative struggle.
Let us just briefly remember via a detour at this point and point out the recent vulgarity of a very reductionist reading on the entire meaning of the concept of class struggle by the alt-right ideologist Jordan Peterson in the so-called “debate of the century” he had staged with Slavoj Žižek in Toronto, together with the sad fact that Žižek chose to not in any way respond to that precise provocation attack made by Peterson, which had occurred already at the very beginning of the debate, although I know beyond any doubt that Žižek not only has an understanding of class struggle, his own very specific interpretation of the term being by itself quite radical, his variation of it thus having a lot of many different important consequences in philosophy already in its own grounds.
But don’t we risk the entire concept of class struggle itself in some literal way becoming completely nonsensical in itself in this very direct literal application to of it onto Kant through the very procedure of Karatani’s very specific claim that “Kant was not a bourgeois philosopher!”?
This is what this text attempts to question. So what exactly does happen when we apply the logic of class struggle on an object I hereby designate as “Kant as a name?”
“Kant as a name”: Two Variations on the Concept
A proper singular name designating “Kant the individual”.
A very specific person named Immanuel Kant undeniably did live in a certain very specific social context in a certain defined historical moment, where there were of course without a doubt also precise class differences at work in that specific society. So his own social position, thought and action, was of course in some way correlated to all of those specific class differences, something which can actually be determined with a concrete historical analysis of him as a concrete individual person — and here I can quite easily see the Marxist term historical materialism somehow suddenly popping up in the middle of discussion, as if purposefully crashing a party uninvited — an analysis of him as a specific case of a singular personality which thus bears a certain character, a unique persona, a particular psychological profile of a man, the entire attempt to pinpoint the specificity of his personal identity and it’s specific features…
The very sole accuracy of the description of him being a white European male being put forward, the underlying idea of the claim being that this entire designation of him is then the ultimate proof of the false nature of the entire conception of universality as such, a way in which this procedure supposedly undermines universality from within, proving that every form of this notion of universality is thus a proven form of false universality, especially when applied to the ultimate figure of Enlightenment thinking himself.
By taking some biographical developments during the course of his life as an interpretative procedure and the main guideline of analysis, which should without a doubt include all of his own specific kinks and idiosyncrasies which can discerned from historical writing, like the description of him of forever living in that backward, uninteresting place called Königsberg, not bothering to travel much around, as if someone has glued him there.
We shouldn’t forget to mention the myth of his unique specific way of walking, of him literally calculating the length of his individual steps while taking a daily stroll, supposedly in the effort of maximising efficiency, with the additional detail that he was always taking these daily walks precisely tuned to the clock, so that locals actually set their own watches when seeing him pass by, this pointing to the belief of those local that these walks must always have been so precisely tuned to the hours that he can’t possibly ever have been early or late.
The idea here is to make him somehow more interesting as an individual character with his specific quirks, thus to present him as far more human, familiar character, to which an average person can in some way in a personal sense relate, that this very apparent personal absurdities of the details provided mainly function to point towards the perception of him also being a mere mortal who also quite often held various unreasonable beliefs which he followed in his daily life. The primary underlying motive here being the procedure of humanising him as an individual, of thus providing a kind of a point of identification with the reader.
The point of very personal and intimate details of his life should then also be justified by pointing out its specific function of those details having as an analytic tool when trying to determine in what precise way these and other specific biographical details of the thinker in question may be related to the very society within which he lived as a whole, the norms and customs of that society, in a sense to do a precise contextual analysis of that specific period of history in that specific geographical area and thus figure out via conducting a retroactive reading of the social situation what was the place of that specific individual in question within it.
At this juncture I can also quite clearly picture the perversely happy and satisfied grim of the figure of Michel Foucault lurking somewhere in the background, eager to quickly start applying his varied readings to the author who is here now designated as Kant the individual, to read him with the help of specific historicist concepts, genealogies, and varied other concepts taken from his own postmodern theoretical toolbox. I’m not particularly familiar with Foucault’s work to the extent of knowing what exactly he went to write actually about Kant, but I can already imagine he probably did commit such a reading at some point in his writings.
In continuing this line of thinking we can very easily entertain a in imagined scenario of three examples of fictive academic works appearing on the book market bearing the various following titles:
1) Kant and the Wolf-Man: New Perspectives in Psychoanalysis, which would contain a brand new interpretation of Kant as an obsessional case study, probably also at the same time giving advice in applying various quick techniques of therapeutic practices for today’s new challenges in the clinic.
2) Kant and His Everlasting Love of Watering Flowers, which would be a collection of varied short phrases with the intended purpose of making one feel good or at least a bit better generally in life, perhaps containing certain fictive stories on how to make the best practical use out of any given day, even under unfavourable situation of bad weather conditions, and one-liners of practically applicable daily wisdom which should in principle at least appear profound, a book to be primarily marketed towards the retired, elderly, and also the often demented reader.
3) Or the very effort to make him more hip, as in making him appear a lot less outdated and more in tune with current social times and its trends, primarily to be more interesting to a potential wider younger contemporary audience, which is indeed a very important nieche of the book market. The ultimate all time bestseller books in its biographical role here would be, as one can quickly presume, titled as Kant and His Mistresses, a book where one could read about the secrets of the techniques and mysteries of seduction with the help of the philosopher’s own experiences and the chance to learn from his own included personal advice.
Moving away from this scenario of imagined fictive works, considering biographical and contextual analysis focusing on Kant of course automatically reminds me of seeing the 1992 French film directed by Philippe Collin titled Les derniers jours d’Emmanuel Kant (The Last Days of Immanuel Kant). In passing let me mention that unlike the previous fictitious books the movie actually existists and is available for viewing if you care to search for it online. The way in which we see Kant biographically portrayed in the film itself is as a very grey, old, boring, I’d even dare to call it an especially aristocratic image of the philosopher.
All of what I’ve managed to describe so far thus in under the starting umbrella term of Kant the individual, which in its essence points towards a specific portrayal and procedure of analysis whose final end result and outcome are that which I here designate as the Kant of nominalist reason, a form of thinking leading to the logic of finitude set up against the very form of universal reason.
The quite abstract and particular name designating “Kant the philosopher”
We can presume at this point without much risk, through purely being familiar with the description of Kant as the most prominent philosopher of Europe in the Enlightenment era, without the actual need so far of being actually directly familiar with the concrete textual details of his work beforehand, that in various times through the course of his life he must have held very specific and very probably carefully developed philosophical concepts along with certain general convictions by which he guided his behaviour and actions, and in the same way also necessarily held at least a few political opinion and reflections regarding the more prominent events that took place in the course of his life, and some specific sense of what he took to be the proper way of acting as an active member in a society, at least when considering his very own person if not always also that of others in general.
At this point the task of considering the contents of the philosophers very own writings themselves, the specific procedure of engaging in a direct textual analysis of the source material, the specific primary literature that forms the essence of the entire philosophy which was developed by the philosopher in question… of those specific texts forming that philosophy and the various other forms of writing authored by that philosopher which are accessible to the reader, who is performing the entire work of analysis itself, especially and specifically the texts which can be said to be particularly important and most relevant for the inquiry into the details of the various beliefs and personal convictions which that philosopher takes to be true within that philosophy, the specific concepts he has developed there, the political stances he has taken, together with any possible form of an ethical theory possibly developed. This entire task described thus at this very point …logically becomes an absolute necessity as the primary form of conducting the very course of the work of interpretation itself, especially if the reader has a sincere interest to form the correct and proper understanding of the philosopher through his work of interpretation.
The various beliefs, convictions, concepts, political stances, ethics, etc. which form the entire corpus of the various aspects of the philosopher’s thinking can be then carefully analysed through the specific philosophical procedure of interpretation. One common example of a contemporary way of conducting an interpretation is taking the entire author’s theoretical framework, then to throw it into, mulch it through, the theoretical machine of another theorist to whom he is compared, and by doing this mutual cross-reading and thus making a precise comparison and in this way conducting the engagement of the thought of one philosopher with the other and vice versa. So as an example let’s say that in our current specific situation we decide to read our primary author, Kant, through the second one, Marx, or maybe choosing a conceptual apparatus of a third author instead, a common conceptual pair to Kant himself very often being Hegel himself, and also doing the same work of interpretation in the reverse, that of reading the second author back through the first one. This of course is not the only possible way of interpretation within philosophy, but it is without doubt one which is very often employed by contemporary authors of philosophical texts.
In this precise way it can be philosophically demonstrated that a specific thinking of Kant, certain precise ideas that he personally held to be correct and true, when isolated from their overall system, taken by themselves on their own ground, and read through Marx’s specific concepts of our choice, the example in our case being Marx’s entire precise understanding of class struggle, to therefore do a precise analysis of Kant’s own ideas, to read them ideally in the exactly the same way that Marx has applied his class analysis to his objects of his own inquiry, would then be the entire logical goal of our current philosophical project and its procedure, the specific way the work of interpretation is done. To achieve this we must thus be able to fully understand the chosen ideas of both Kant and Marx in their precise detail as they were conceived by their own authors and when in a situation of a concrete personal engagement within a very specific social situation of class struggle all the while having the full capability of correctly applying these specific concepts and to conduct the procedures of interpretation provided by both theoreticians at the same time, in the correct manner, within class struggle itself, a feat which in no doubt requires great intellectual effort to actualise.
In our concrete case therefore we should ideally be able to, through the use of Marx’s own method of interpretation, more specifically the precise procedure of his specific way of doing a concrete form of class analysis, though the use of which to perfectly discern if a certain idea developed by Kant is therefore either of a bourgeois, or perhaps on the contrary that of a proletarian character by analysing the precise way in which the concepts follow their inner logic of functioning in a concrete situation of actual realisation.
This can itself be achieved in far less abstract and more specific terms by doing a an analysis of the precise way in which the given abstract philosophical systems of ethics, which would in our situation specifically referring to the one developed by Kant in his own philosophical texts, how that specific abstraction or an entire system consisting of abstractions, then applies, manifests, actualises, materialises itself in directly concrete way in some specific social engagement within and through class struggle, situations in which these abstractions themselves are applied in a very concrete way, for example in the exemplary act of conducting an explicitly personal form of political engagement within one’s society.
There is also the interpretative procedure in which an analysis points towards the final outcome of the application of what was formerly perceived as a purely abstract system of notions by primarily logically following the precise line of the inherent conceptual logic of those notions up to the very end point and the culmination of its logic and thus achieving its inherent logical conclusion, in this way thus being able to discern the end result as seen in practice of following the precise given logic of what was a formerly perceived as a wholly abstract system, thus by going through the procedure of the very application, actualisation, manifestation, materialisation… of those seemingly abstract ideas we thus become concretely aware of the logical structure of necessity at work within that specific theory of former pure abstraction.
In our specific case thus the very actualisation of the specific ideas of Kant’s ethics into concrete social situations is then at the very same time also to be seen through the specific lenses of Marx’s own theory of performing the interpretative work of class analysis, which means that when Kant’s ethics are applied and actualised in a very concrete social situation of engaging in class struggle through the use of the very precise practice as prescribed in Kant’s ethics, then the situation can then also be read as always already being a specific situation of class difference itself, discerned by using and applying as our own the specific procedure of conducting the work of class analysis in the same way as originally done by Marx himself, making it the main method of our own form of interpretation which is being employed within that situation to discern the specific logic of class struggle at work in its precise and concrete ways of functioning and manifestations of that social situation.
The end result of this work of interpretation, which by the inner necessity of its entire internal logic of applying these very ideas of the interpretative procedures in a specifically systematically correct and precise manner into the given concrete situation of engagement within class struggle, then in principle becomes the entire ability to concretely provide answers the following two seemingly completely abstract questions:
1) When Kant’s system of ethics is concretely applied and those who are performing its application are themselves directly engaged in the process of class struggle waged within the frame of a given society, which one among those classes that are defined to be the concrete different classes of that specific society defined solely by a way of conducting the precise interpretative work of class analysis within and through engaging the logic of class struggle of that society, which class does Kant’s system of ethics in the end result actually favour and serve in its concrete form?
2) If its true that concepts themselves can be, and are always used as “weapons in the situations of engaging class struggle within a given society”, whom among the specific and concrete classes which are discerned by the interpretive work of class analysis done while being within class struggle itself, in and of that very society, do those concepts developed by Kant’s ethics which are themselves directly applied as a part of that very same struggle in the very same process, really benefit the most in the concrete actuality of their realisation through their application?
Depending on the outcome of the very work of the interpretative procedure of class analysis done upon a specific society, specifically the very precise way the terms bourgeois and proletarian are concretely applied and have a specific interpretative function within our concrete and specific understanding of the class structure of the society in question, the course of action which is achieved solely through conducting the interpretative work of class analysis within and through our direct engagement and involvement in very processes of class struggle in that same society while at always being in the complete correspondence of the direct application of Kant’s ethics while in that very same engagement within the class struggle, we should thus in principle be able as an end result of our practical engagement of interpretative work being done within class struggle thus be able to provide a very precise and concrete answer to these questions which might at the beginning to us appear to as purely abstract and theoretical questions.
In this precise logical way the use of Kant’s ethics is therefore placed in a very concrete form of practical direct engagement in class struggle of a given society itself, in this way being directly and fully placed in a concrete politically partisan position and practice inside a very heated and specific concrete political arena.
The entire logical development of what I have performed through the specific work done under the starting designation of Kant the philosopher, in its very essence arrived to the logical conclusion of a specific portrayal of Kant and in a precise procedure of analysis, the final end result and outcome are that which I here designate as the Kant of dialectical reason who I read as occupying the position of universality.
So was Kant in any form a “bourgeois philosopher” or wasn’t he?