Pfau, The Voice of Critique: Aesthetic Cognition After Kant

Romanticism and Philosophy
in an Historical Age

The Voice of Critique: Aesthetic Cognition After Kant

Thomas Pfau, Duke University


John Keats Immanuel Kant Beethoven Score

  1. The following, somewhat speculative remarks constitute part of a larger project concerned with the historical transformation throughout the nineteenth century of something frequently called interiority. More specifically, my aim is to explore how interiority during that period pivots on two fundamentally distinct models of aesthetic experience and, implicit in these, two opposed theories of aesthetic response. As I intend to show in some detail, the dynamics of interiority are dialectically bound up with the operation of aesthetic form, and perhaps nowhere more so than in German culture during the first half of the nineteenth century.[1] While exploring the sociological and political causes of the insistent aestheticization of subjectivity during that period seems tempting and potentially rewarding, this essay is generally limited to a theoretical account of the relation between interiority and form. It presents interiority as the effect of a complex relation between the psychological and formal-aesthetic values. The latter are those conventionally associated with the period's broad (preponderantly bourgeois) notion of "art," and the disciplinary institutions of criticism seeking to articulate the deeper epistemological and historical implications of aesthetic experience.[2]

  2. An observation perhaps most frequently made by readers of lyric poetry will help to throw the issues before us into sharper relief. It involves the seeming paradox that what we call voice, and as such often wish to regard as authentically expressive of an inalienable subjective state, usually turns out to be far more than that. For quite commonly we also experience voice, even that of the lyric, as something social and iterable, an articulate structure capable of producing a complex and potentially communicable response. Fundamentally, that is, such an experience suggests that voice is the specific form required by the balancing of individual against universal values. Figuratively speaking (and there really is no other way to speak about it) voice may be understood as a kind of formal half-way house between a basic propositional or expressive content and the exigency of a socially valid form. To the logician, it appears to be a paradox, whereas the rhetorician is likely to ponder its persistent oscillation between the inalienable status of the name and the as yet unrealized authority of the concept. However justified the scepticism of each, neither position quite addresses the most salient characteristic of voice. For in aiming to reconcile, however provisionally, the experience of a deeply significant interiority with an articulation of its social significance, voice itself manifests a unique form of desire. It is what Kant terms a postulate, a notion that entwines materiality and cognitive potential and that aims at redrawing the boundaries between subjective intuition and the discursive, public sphere.[3] For however plausible it may be to characterize voice as an outright paradox or as an irreducible trope, the very urgency and concentration with which it manifests itself as an articulate and sustained form gives evidence that what is being negotiated are always values rather than abstractions.

  3. Let me now develop further my introductory suggestion that during the first half of the nineteenth century the dialectical relationship between interiority and aesthetic form is conceived in two fundamentally different (and often opposed) ways. The first of these postulates a homology of the work of art's formal composition with that of its beholding intelligence. In this view, aesthetic experience inheres in an essentially dynamic interaction between the work's progressively more complex and reflexive morphological units and their evolving manifestation as a proto-conscious, disinterested pleasure. The other paradigm, by contrast, rests on the premise (already latent in later eighteenth-century aesthetic theory) of a categorical divide between the affective quality associated with aesthetic production and a post-lapsarian consciousness of the discursive world, a welter of discrete, often incompatible interests.

  4. This basic opposition in turn gives rise to the question concerning the relation between the form of the aesthetic and the possibility (or impossibility) of giving articulation to its experience: in short, the proposition of criticism as an official discourse/discipline of pleasure. Of seminal importance for so-called political readings of Romanticism, as well as for the recent, intense debate over new hermeneutic developments in musicology (to name only two discourses), the question may also be formulated thus: is the telos of aesthetic pleasure that of its critical articulation, its redemption by some kind of discursive intelligence?[4] And, if so, does the pleasure that is being held discursively accountable merely constitute the object of the critical practice involved? Or does that pleasure effectively prepare the ground for the subject's epistemological authority? Does pleasure remain inaccessible to the claims and purposes of discourse and signification? Or, conversely, does pleasure conceal from the very subject caught up in (and consumed by) its experience the critical and social values that so vicariously flow from its experience? Finally, is the (belated) articulation of aesthetic experience, what we call criticism, strictly the "Other" of pleasure, or is it but a more surreptitious strategy for partaking of that pleasure—namely, by continually professing to be on the other side of it (in the manner of Nietzsche's ascetic priest)?

  5. Long before (and ever since) Wimsatt's theory of a bipolar interpretive disorder of imitative and periphrastic fallacies, criticism had to confront these kinds of questions and, implicit in them, those of its own epistemological and institutional legitimacy. While concerns of this kind are hardly novel, it may be the case that every generation must redefine the basic relation between the forms of pleasure and the objectives of criticism. To reflect on such matters is to involve oneself in a genealogy of critical thought that seeks to name the specific historical moment when pleasure became a constitutive and official problem for philosophical aesthetics and its subsidiary critical disciplines (e.g. poetics, compositional theory and musical aesthetics). Once the point has been identified at which the idea of interiority became inextricably linked to a particular aesthetic paradigm (thereby becoming detached from older, overtly religious models of inwardness) other issues arise. We may then consider, for example, how aesthetic production itself began to respond to, or build upon, the growing institutional authority of aesthetic criticism.[5] Admittedly, the authority and the boundaries of the kind of critical reexamination here proposed are likely to remain uncertain. Indeed, we may be forced to conclude that critical thought—regardless of whether it is conceived as overcoming the aesthetic or as reaffirming its unimpeachable integrity—can never amount to more than a self-referential and self-confirming pursuit. As my preliminary distinction between the two paradigms of early nineteenth-century aesthetic theory suggests, criticism typically risks succumbing to one of two scenarios (with curiously indifferent theoretical consequences). Either it seeks to cultivate a type of knowledge likely to be perceived as incommunicable, unintelligible, and potentially irrelevant; or it aspires to a propositional style that is destined to fall short of aesthetic experiences, notwithstanding its insistence on their merely proto-articulate character.  


  6. Precisely this teleological conception of the aesthetic as proto-articulate is key here. For it simultaneously opens up the two paradigms of the aesthetic that I outlined above: that of its eventual redemption by criticism and the alternative possibility that critical intelligence, judgment, or cognition might be constrained by the irreducibly contingent grain of the voice that utters them. Both historically and conceptually, Kant's Critique of Judgment (1790) is the key text for any attempt to determine the basic coordinates for these concerns. As Kant argues in that text, the larger significance of aesthetic judgment inheres in its overall application to what he calls "cognition in general," as well as in its performativity as a distinctive type of utterance. By contrast, the propositional specificity and force of aesthetic judgments appears slight at best. For "in the judgment of taste nothing is postulated but . . . a universal voice [allgemeine Stimme], in respect of the satisfaction without the intervention of concepts, and thus the possibility of an aesthetic judgment that can . . . be regarded as valid for everyone" (§ 8, 50). The pleasure that attaches to aesthetic judgment is not the cause of it, for as such it would be purely sensual enjoyment. Rather, it is a pleasure growing out of the subject's reflexive understanding that its own "subjective condition" at the moment of aesthetic experience amounts to something "universally communicable" (allgemein mitteilungsfähig). The "proportionate accord" (proportionierte Stimmung) between the discrete faculties of cognition, Kant argues, constitutes both the cause and the substance of the aesthetic-reflective judgment (§ 9, 54). At its most general, all cognition (Erkenntnis) can thus be characterized as a way of being attuned to discrete phenomena, such that their contemplation will gradually "determine" (bestimmen) the subject via its affective experience of a "concord" (Übereinstimmung) or "conformity" (Zusammenstimmung) between the subject's sensory and discursive faculties:

    The subjective universal communicability of the mode of representation in a judgment of taste . . . can refer to nothing else than the state of mind in the free play of the imagination and the understanding (so far as they agree with each other [zusammen stimmen], as is requisite for cognition in general (§ 9, 52).

    For Kant, that is, the concept of pleasure stands for the manifestation of cognitive potentialities at the level of affect. Harkening back to Leibniz's "monads," the aesthetic is conceived as an encryption of the very intelligence that will constitute itself through its interpretive discernment.[6] And yet, Kant insists on the strict heterogeneity of the two faculties (viz., imagination and understanding) said to circumscribe any knowledge whatsoever, including all knowledge-of-self. Consequently, "th[is] subjective unity of relation" can never be objectified by consciousness as such but, instead, "can only make itself known by means of sensation" [Empfindung] (§ 9, 53).

  7. With this assertion, however, the Critique of Judgment performs an abrupt shift from the abstract, formal dynamic said to determine our feeling of the beautiful to an inherently empirical and material vocabulary of "sensation."[7] Indeed, the text's metonymic slippage from "feeling" (Gefühl) to "sensation" (Empfindung) imperils the entire transcendental structure of the third Critique, and not surprisingly some readers have suggested that Kant's argument (particularly his digression on music) exposes itself to an "intru[sion of] bodily pleasure into the space reserved for thought" (Kramer, Music as Social Practice, 4).[8] At the very least, the conceptual rupture alerts us to empirical contingencies that lurk within Kant's transcendental argumentation and, consequently, to the precarious balance of the "analytic of the beautiful." Other evidence (as we have already noticed) involves the text's often-critical reliance on various cognates of "voice" (Stimme).[9]

  8. What makes this shift from "feeling" to "sensation" so significant is the simple, albeit crucial fact that all pleasure demands the materiality of sensation. Only then can it appear for the consciousness whose epistemic authority it underwrites. Speaking about an analogous crisis in Kant's account of the sublime, Paul de Man goes so far as to characterize all transcendental discourse as a purely "tropological system" wherein conceptual advances of any kind are "conceivable only within the limits of such a system." Yet once such tropologically conditioned insight is being "translated back, so to speak, from language into cognition, from formal description into philosophical argument, it loses all inherent coherence and dissolves in the aporias of intellectual and sensory appearance" (de Man, 78). Given the sweeping nature of his conclusions, it is perhaps surprising that de Man should have never troubled himself to inquire whether a similar tropological strategy of generalization might also be at work in Kant's "Analytic of the Beautiful."[10]

  9. Clearly, there is reason to suspect a pervasive debt of Kant's transcendental argumentation to contingent empirical sensation. For inasmuch as the coherence of Kant's overall critical project depends on a unique feeling of pleasure, the feeling of such pleasure will have to prolong itself in the realm of appearance. Put simply, such a realm of (supposedly) pure affect cannot simply be claimed as a theoretical fact, since the overall coherence of transcendental thought stands or falls with the hypothesis of "feeling," and that always means: its potential detour through the social and material netherworld of appearance and representation. In short, pleasure will have to manifest itself as an appearance at once philosophically pure and materially authentic. Linking the idea of pleasure to the politics of exile, Rousseau had already argued, in the fifth promenade of his Reveries, that pleasure rests on an uninterrupted (albeit contingent) empirical sensation:

    I would go sit in some hidden nook along the beach at the edge of the lake. There, the noise of the waves and the tossing of the water, captivating my senses and chasing all other disturbance from my soul, plunged it into a delightful reverie in which night would often surprise me without my having noticed it. The ebb and flow of this water and its noise, continual but magnified at intervals, striking my ears and eyes without respite, took the place of the internal movements which reverie extinguished within me and was enough to make me feel my existence with pleasure. (Rousseau, 67)[11]

    Just as Rousseau contrasts "short moments of delirium and passion" with "a simple and permanent state . . . whose duration increases its charm to the point that I finally find supreme felicity in it" (68), Kant's third Critique aims to configure the punctum of empirical sensation with the durée of an interior feeling. The result of this critical negotiation is a subject capable of "knowledge in general" (Erkenntnis überhaupt) or experiencing what Rousseau famously calls le sentiment de l'existence—a state at once phenomenally distinct and transcendentally pure.

  10. It is important here to note how the language that asserts the contingency of sentiment and pleasure on "a uniform and moderate movement which has neither shocks nor pauses" does itself contribute to and prolong the experience in question. Such uniformity, Margery Sabin observes, manifests itself in "Rousseau's evident satisfaction with his own language of analysis" (113). Similarly, Kant argues that "'pure' in a simple mode of sensation means that its uniformity is neither troubled nor interrupted by any foreign sensation, and it belongs merely to the form" (§ 14, 60, translation modified). Consequently, the representation of knowledge (Vorstellung) in Kant's critical philosophy is not only founded on a basic "feeling of pleasure," but it effectively aims to prolong that pleasure even where (as in the Critique of Judgment) it had been proposed as the object of critical reflection. Inasmuch as the virtual beauty of "harmony" and "proportion" said to prevail between the intellect's discrete faculties is to prove vocal, audible, and lasting, the reflexive operation of critical writing is at least one way of producing that outcome. For the transcendental "disposition" (Stimmung) of our intellectual temper always strives to objectify itself through the formal-material continuity of a "voice" (Stimme).

  11. What renders the trope of the voice so pivotal for Kant is its potential for establishing communication between two otherwise opposed spheres, the contingent world of appearances and their phenomenal experience on the one hand, and the rational claims of formal-intellectual processes on the other. With these concerns on his mind, Kant now supplements "voice" with the further hypothesis that aesthetic experience, far from being something ephemeral, is in essence "contemplative" and therefore invested in its own prolongation:

    [T]he pleasure in aesthetical judgments . . . is merely contemplative and does not bring about an interest in the object. . . . The consciousness of the mere formal purposiveness in the play of the subject's cognition . . . is the pleasure itself, because it contains a determining ground [Bestimmungsgrund] of the activity of the subject in respect of the excitement of its cognitive powers, and therefore an inner causality . . . This pleasure [of the aesthetic reflective judgment] is in no way practical, neither like that arising from the pathological ground of pleasantness, nor that from the intellectual ground of the presented good. But yet it involves causality, viz. of maintaining without further design the state of the representation itself and the occupation of the cognitive powers. We linger over the contemplation of the beautiful because this contemplation strengthens and reproduces itself. (§12, 57-8; emphases in the original)

    In order to accommodate the almost instinctual desire of "pleasure" for self-perpetuation, "contemplation" seeks to recover from the spatio-temporal sphere of empirical sensation precisely those formal conditions that support Kant's basic transcendental argument about "cognition in general" (viz. as resting on the proportionate interplay of the faculties). What Kant ultimately requires is the seeming paradox of a pure form that shall become phenomenally distinct as empirical sensation: a "voice" untainted by the contingencies of interest, signification, and context. It is precisely this exigency that connects "voice" with "tone" and, ultimately, with music. For to the extent that the critical significance of pleasure depends on its temporal duration, the "voice" that gave rise to it requires formalization.[12] That is, prolonged experience of pleasure is best realized in aesthetic forms of a particularly high degree of internal differentiation. For by reconstituting, in a specific medium, the basic "harmony" (Stimmung) that undergirds all critical activity, aesthetic form lends support to the mere postulate concerning the rationality of our representations—that they be internally consistent, verifiable, and communicable.

  12. As it proclaims a basic continuum between the realm of pure form and the contingencies of empirical sensation, Kant's notion of voice appears to be indeed little more than a trope—desire masquerading as knowledge. However, given the pivotal role of voice for transcendental philosophy, as well as its palpable connection with music and lyricism, it would be imprudent to dismiss it on the grounds of an absolute, indeed self-privileging linguistic scepticism. Rather we ought to trace the role of voice in post-Kantian theory and take particular note of a possibly increasing emphasis placed on its musical connotations. Admittedly, Kant's own thinking about musical form seems erratic and revolves around exotic or parochial examples. Yet at the same time, the complex and altogether lucid deployment of Stimme and its cognates throughout the "Analytic of the Beautiful" contains all the seeds for the subsequent orientation of nineteenth-century aesthetics toward musical form. Thus we might take note of Kant's stress on the ability of "tone" to operate simultaneously as "sensation" and as a "formal determination of the unity of a manifold of sensations" (§ 14, 60; italics mine). Such a claim underscores the prescient, indeed foundational role of the Critique of Judgment for the subsequent aesthetic theories of Goethe, Schopenhauer, and Eduard Hanslick among others. Still, the intellectual bequest of Kant's aesthetic theory was almost immediately split up into two competing models of aesthetic production—and, by extension, into two competing models of aesthetic pleasure and criticism. Each of these is premised on its own distinctive, non-negotiable semiology of the aesthetic work, and each produces a response that—in sharp contrast to Kant's central hypothesis concerning the "universal communicability" of aesthetic pleasure—is alternatively conceived as strictly self-referential or as altogether ineffable.


  13. Let me now offer a fuller account of the first of these paradigms. Above all, it insists on the epistemological significance of aesthetic experience, that is, on its ability to "attune" the mind and thus prepare the ground for what Kant had called "knowledge in general." The aesthetic, in other words, is being conceived as a formal rehearsal of the subject's cognitive mobility. Thus the subject of aesthetic experience focuses at first on minimal units of observation—say, a musical motif in a Beethoven piano sonata or string quartet, a figure of perceptual or intellectual activity in Hegel's phenomenological narratives, or as a temporalized set of morphological differences emerging in Darwin's analyses of the geological record. In all these cases, a listening, reading, or otherwise observing intelligence reflects on the imitative, differential, and recursive relationships of these minimal units so as to extract a developmental pattern. What Kant had identified as the teleological nucleus of empirical "sensation"—viz. as anticipating the form of its eventual, interpretive re/cognition—thus unfolds as a process in which perception and analysis seem inextricably interwoven. Insofar as it gradually refines raw morphological data into narrative textures of increasing formal and semantic complexity, aesthetic experience develops an Enlightenment model of subjectivity whose intellectual and social authority are fundamentally vested in its interpretive competence. At the same time, Kant's decision to summarize the affect associated with that operation in the word "pleasure" also reflects his understanding that interpretive activity is fundamentally designed to "correct" sensation—that is, to redeem the materiality of being from its vagrant and unreflective drift through time.[13]

  14. Let me briefly exemplify. Remarking on the striking lack of thematic, much less melodic, substance in Beethoven's op. 31, no. 2 sonata (also known as "The Tempest"), Carl Dahlhaus notes how that sonata's gradual distillation of its central musical "concept" presupposes a strong dialectic bond between "musical form" and the practice of listening. Both have to be "reflective." In his words, the intelligibility of musical form hinges on "an awareness of the pattern from which it deviates, and through this deviation draws attention to the change in the central category of instrumental music—the concept of the theme. The 'theme' is both an improvisatory introduction and a transitional pattern; instead of being presented in standard exposition, it dissolves into an ante quem and a post quem" (14f.). Arguably, the dominant models of nineteenth-century musical aesthetics and analysis (Hanslick, Riemann, Schenker) are all premised on an active experience of music, one revolving not around the passive reception of sound but demanding the silent, listening isolation of recursive, imitative, antithetical, or otherwise differential patterns in a given composition.[14]

  15. Dahlhaus's notation of the musical "motif" in Beethoven as a purely cerebral, modular unit--"the mere substrate of a process which imparts meaning to the music by providing that substrate with formal functions"--curiously replays Charles Darwin's analogous dismantling of a putatively organic and timeless idea of "Nature" in his Origin of Species. "Nature," Darwin contends, is nothing but the "aggregate action and product of many natural laws," and these laws, in turn, are ultimately but a "sequence of events as ascertained by us" (Darwin, 55). As Darwin clearly understood, to take that view is to establish a teleological bond between the apparent narrative sophistication of his evolutionary theory and the hidden complexities of so-called primitive forms of life. Not only does his principle of Natural Selection confirm "the standard of high organisation, the amount of differentiation and specialization of the several organs in each being." It also institutes these axioms of "specialization" and "high organisation" as conditions for disciplinary and formal developments in the realm of human affairs, which eventually will yield highly reflexive theories, such as the account conceived by Darwin himself (Darwin, 83). Darwin's core-reflection has been provocatively extended in Richard Dawkins's now famous, post-Cartesian account of evolutionist thought. As is well known, Dawkins has argued that "the fundamental unit of selection, and therefore of self-interest, is not the species, nor the group, nor even, strictly, the individual. It is the gene" (The Selfish Gene, 12). On that premise, the morphological developments mapped by generations of evolutionary biologists and their geological counterparts can never actually be said to culminate in any particular form--not even in the particularly recent species of "rational" philosophers or evolutionist thinkers. Rather, each developmental stage is strictly characterized by a modification of inherited, physiological and intellectual traits that responds to prevailing conditions. The psycho-physical reality of the body is not the objective purpose of the development but only the temporary expression of the differential, transitional logic that undergirds all development. As such, the body is but a "survival machine" exclusively dedicated to the transmission/replication of unique genetic information.

  16. What biologists have long called morphé (in apparent analogy to what, in the humanities, commonly goes under the title of "form"--Grk. eidos) should be understood as encryptions of core-information that is distinguished by its capacity for self-replication. Given the self-replicating character of such "information" we may also call it "intelligence," and as such its embodied (formal) constitution aims to facilitate its transmission to those generations particularly suited for ("receptive to") its inheritance and, again, its future transmission. Not surprisingly, Dawkins draws our attention to how cultural processes unfold in strict analogy to patterns of genetic replication. Indeed, he suggests that the fundamentally imitative logic of culture, really a process of transmission-by-replication, may actually constitute a recent (i.e., over the last three million years or so) evolutionary leap. Speaking of "unit[s] of cultural transmission" (206), which he names memes, Dawkins anticipates Bourdieu's arguments about cultural reproduction by remarking on the "survival value" of such mnemonic or cognitive units ("cultural capital" in the widest sense). Compared to the slow and uneven evolution of genes over some three thousand million years, "memes" may be viewed as a dramatic improvement and, possibly, a paradigmatic change: "For more than three thousand million years, DNA has been the only replicator worth talking about in the world. But it does not necessarily hold these monopoly rights for all time. . . . The old gene-selected evolution, by making brains, provided the 'soup' in which the first memes arose. Once self-copying memes had arisen, their own, much faster, kind of evolution took off" (208). [15] It is my contention that nineteenth-century aesthetic theory and musical practice display the operation of self-replicating units whose progressive organization, combination, and reconstitution in/as cultural "work" pivots on correspondingly evolved, "constructive" patterns of reception. Among these rank prominently certain insistently collaborative reading and listening practices aimed at reconstituting the information contained in a specific aesthetic form and, in so doing, replicating the "intelligence" that produced that form.[16] In a similar vein, Roland Barthes characterizes "listening" in the proper, musical sense (as opposed to the mere physiology of "hearing") as "the exercise of a function of intelligence, i.e., of selection."[17] It is in that sense, too, that we may understand Kant's pointed remark on how "we linger over the contemplation of the beautiful because this contemplation strengthens and reproduces itself" (§12, 58).

  17. To return to musical aesthetics, the formal/morphological paradigm of the aesthetic as an encrypted intelligence emerges with full force in Eduard Hanslick's 1854 treatise Of the Musically-Beautiful. Premising early on that "composing is a work of mind upon material compatible with mind" (31), Hanslick formulates his conception of musical form as the development of an abstract intelligence, alternately engaged in its composition or in its reconstruction: "Music consists of tonal sequences, tonal forms; these have no other content than themselves. . . . The[se] forms which construct themselves out of tones are not empty but filled; they are not mere contours of a vacuum but mind giving shape to itself from within" (71, 30; italics mine).[18] Hanslick's formalist approach is succinctly captured by his much-quoted characterization of listening as "contemplating with active understanding," a process that compels us to "rigorously distinguish between the concepts of feeling and sensation" (3, 4). Unfolding in strict analogy to the compositional process, then, "listening" is generative of pleasure precisely insofar as it occasions reflexivity:

    To take pleasure in one's own mental alertness is the worthiest, the wholesomest, and not the easiest manner of listening to music. . . . The most significant factor in the mental process which accompanies the comprehending of a musical work and makes it enjoyable . . . is the mental satisfaction which the listener finds in continuously following and anticipating the composer's designs. . . . Without mental activity, there can be no aesthetical pleasure whatsoever. (64)

    For Hanslick, interiority no longer comprises any affective experiences in particular. On the contrary, any Romantic conception of "feeling" is quickly repudiated as a mere illusion, an unreflected verbal condensation (or trope) of the intricate structural effects that, in Hanslick's view, define the work of composing and listening. Far from positing some putative emotive or expressive content, Hanslick's post-classical theory conceives of musical composition as an increasingly complex encoding and replicating of formal possibilities said to have originated in the core datum of music—the motif.

  18. Eventually, such recursive and differential patterns reach a point where their organizational logic becomes self-conscious: replication yields to reflexivity, thus generating a subjective self-awareness that Hegel's Encyclopedia of 1819 had already described as the structural signature of subjective intelligence. Insofar as it merely furnishes the empirical substratum of all affect (11), but no particular affective content, music is pure temporality—"motion" but not "emotion." Like Kant, who had remarked on the tendency of pleasure to reproduce and strengthen over time, Hanslick predicates the "mental satisfaction" or pleasure of aesthetic experience on the complex, self-replicating morphology that allows the listening subject to distill musical form by retracing the temporal organization of all composition. Not surprisingly, the knowledge produced by such listening proves strictly non-propositional and ineffable. As Hanslick puts it: "if we want to specify the 'content' of a theme [Motiv] for someone, we will have to play for him the theme itself" (81). In Hanslick's proto-structuralist understanding of musical form, "pleasure" has been absorbed into the cognitive play of an attentively listening, analytic intelligence. Emptied of all affective content, and only incidentally attached to the materiality of sound and tone, musical experience has been pared down to an objective corollary of the analytic processes it sets in motion. What drops out of the picture, to overstate the case but slightly, is the music itself. No longer considered is the material and tonal specificity of music as "sonority" (Klangbild) as it is shaped by countless decisions in the area of orchestration, instrumentation, tonal color, to say nothing of the innumerable contingencies that shape a given musical performance. Here, then, Kant's purposely ambivalent conception of pleasure has been intellectualized to the point where the analytic aims of aesthetic experience have altogether erased its distinctive materiality—what Kant had carefully peserved under the heading of "sensation" (Empfindung).[19]

  19. Substantive differences now begin to emerge between Kant's original, cautious balancing of the formal organization and the material mode of appearance of the aesthetic—that is, our "feeling" of the potential determinability of appearances and their "communicability" in propositional forms. For Kant, configuring the material sensation of voice with the transcendental work of representation had always served an ethical purpose: namely, to define the conditions for (and thus work toward) the discursive production of knowledge and, by extension, of community. The Kantian "aesthetic" thus strives to reflect and represent the crucial balance between the subjective "intensity" of Gefühl and in its phenomenal origination as Empfindung. It pivots on the (ultimately paradoxical) notion of a "pure sensation," a materially concrete, determinate construct devoid of any contingent or discordant features that would compromise its formal compatibility with the postulated, beholding intelligence. For the purpose of this utopian object lies at all times with the "communicability" of our judgment of it. In Kant's argument, "pleasure" unfolds as a metonymic series leading from contingent "sensation" via its contemplative extension to purely formal inwardness of "feeling" to a para-practice better known as the discourse of taste. Some sixty years later, Hanslick's musical paradigm of the aesthetic as an objective and immediate correspondence between the physicality of sound and the psychology of a listening intelligence effectively abandons this Enlightenment objective of "communicability." Thus Hanslick pares down the dynamics of Kantian affect (Gefühl) to a purely reflexive formalism that construes music as a total homology between the quantitative notations of a musical score and the "attentiveness" of a listening intelligence: it is a paradigm at once irrefutable, incommunicable, and (almost defiantly) irrelevant.


  20. Let me now take up the second, in some ways diametrically opposed aesthetic paradigm. A first impression of it can be obtained by considering the work of the later Keats, particularly the great odes. Though these poems are profoundly intellectual, their emphasis arguably differs from the complex irony of narrative plot as it operates in "The Eve of St. Agnes" and "Lamia." Forever uncertain as to whether something by the name of interiority might ever be ascertained in that vast gallery of spectacles and commodities known as London, Keats vacillates between ironic abandon and melancholic longing. Indeed, to the author aspiring to a Shakespearean "life of allegory," either position may finally be nothing more than a way of acknowledging the impossibility of the other. Hence the intrinsically equivocal (figural) interaction between the distinctive Keatsian rhetoric of erotic and cultural desire—the prominent sensualism of his Romances, his Odes, and book III of "Hyperion"—and an equally characteristic rhetoric of despair often centered around the motif of vulgar Capitalist materialism.

  21. Particularly in the 1819 Odes, Keats appears in search of a sphere of virtual (and no more than temporal) refuge from the cognitive and emotive limbo that is the price of uncompromising radical (self-)irony. Interiority here is sought precisely not in the domain of intellectual agility. Instead, the trope of the "heart" is once more resurrected as the essential repository of an abiding, subjective truth. As he promotes that heart as "the Mind's Bible, . . . the teat from which the Mind or intelligence sucks its identity," Keats also seems to aspire toward an emphatically material aesthetic. Given the latter's incompatibility with any expressly propositional and self-consciously theoretical language, Keats collapses all historically determined reference into a voice at once richly sensuous and altogether beyond the reach (and taint) of propositional and discursive obligation. Often it seems as though the rich imagery of the great odes (capstones of Keats's so-called "objective" aesthetic) was designed to hypnotize the reader, and perhaps also the writer. Keats's elaboration of the material and synaesthetic richness of the image, and his correspondingly thorough elision of all narrative, appears preemptive of conscious awareness. Hence we are perplexed by a persistent, if equivocal, continuity between Keats's familiar idiom of erotic and cultural desire—extending from his earliest sonnets and Romances to the opening of the abandoned third book of "Hyperion"—and his equally distinctive rhetoric of askesis, even despair in the odes.

  22. We recall the pungent still-life of "To Autumn" with its opening imagery of "mellow fruitfulness," "ripeness to the core" and "clammy cells"—a scene suffused with tactile and olfactory sensation. By the third stanza, however, that potentially scandalous plenitude has been subtly assimilated to a chorus of voices whose gradual ascent from the "loud bleat" of lambs to the "treble soft" of the "red-breast" completes the distinctive Keatsian transfiguration of desire into autonomous form with that last, evanescent image of how the "gathering swallows twitter in the skies." "Voice" here serves as the latently embodied sanctuary for anthropomorphic desires whose gradual muting or transfiguration organizes the stanzaic sequence of Keats's odes. In Keats's unique textual and imagistic world, tropes suggestive of natural reference and the aesthetic distillations of a second-order Classicism often appear mutually reinforcing. The result is a poetry in which the physis and mnemosyne—rerouted through the Keatsian image—ventriloquize his (and, perhaps, our own) deep-seated desire for an existence unburdened by the rigors of philosophical discourse or by the unrelenting ironic awareness of its impossibility. Abandoning his intermittent ideal of a pseudo-Hellenic sobriety, the late Keats thus appears to embrace a palpably simulated interiority—a position referred to as a "system of Spirit-creation" and, somewhat extravagantly, praised by its inventor as "a grander system of salvation than the chryst<e>an religion" (Letters, II, 102-3).

  23. The most thorough instance of this intellectual position can be found in the writings of Schopenhauer. For him, the aesthetic experience is the capstone of all finite existence in that it facilitates the self-transcendence and transfiguration of subjectivity by means of contemplation. To contemplate is to submit to the mesmeric force of material appearances whose concision and presence leave "the entire consciousness . . . filled and occupied by a single image" (§ 34, 179). Already in its very title, The World as Will and Representation reacts to the deeply equivocal implications of Kant's "critical" project. For Kant "knowledge in general" (or, simply, "Enlightenment") pivots on a transcendental condition of a "feeling" (Gefühl), a strictly formal, harmonious interplay between the subject's intuitive and conceptual faculties that insures the a priori "determinability" and "communicability" of all experience. Precisely because of its exclusive, transcendental status, however, the affective condition of feeling could not be verified (or falsified) by the subject whose representations it was said to ground and authorize as genuine knowledge. For any attempt to authenticate the transcendental condition of "feeling" would have to scrutinize its contingent appearance in the world of empirical "sensation"—a world no longer defined by rational harmony (Stimmung) but by the grain, texture, and charisma of multiple styles, tropes, and voices (Stimmen).

  24. Rather than insisting on an analytic transcendence of such multiplicity, however, Schopenhauer affirms the potential uniqueness of all appearance. Far from qualifying some ultimate epistemological objective, "voice" to him constitutes a presence at once unsuspected, mesmerizing, and irreproducible. His aesthetic of contemplation thus demands an utter transmutation of the inchoate and narcissistic desires of the conscious intellect, or "will," into an aesthetically embodied idea. The Enlightenment ideal of the intrinsic rationality, or transcendental coherence of all representation here gives way to a (Buddhist-inspired) conception of transcendence, a metaphysical ideal that demands askesis (Ger. Entsagung) and promises ekstasis. Both the condition and the reward, however, imply that the subject of aesthetic experience entrust itself altogether to the mesmerizing, sonorous, and material presence of the aesthetic object, thus effectively surrending all the epistemological and moral objectives that Kant had struggled to balance in his third Critique.

  25. For Schopenhauer, the aesthetic functions as a sanctuary, a virtual sphere of refuge for the subject forever entangled in an inscrutable and inextricable nexus of pre-conscious motives, analytic claims, and conscious objectives. This inexorable causality—which Schopenhauer efficiently identifies as "the will"—is said to objectify itself exclusively in two forms, both supposedly immediate and hence authentic: music and the body. Arguing that the "will" manifests itself "through [everyone's] actions and through the permanent substratum of . . . his body, Schopenhauer reinstates the Kantian exigency (or paradox) of pure sensation. In its corporeal and musical objectifications, "the will constitutes what is most immediate in . . . consciousness, but as such . . . has not wholly entered into the form of the representation, in which subject and object stand against each other" (§ 21, 109). Reminiscent of the body in early Greek tragic ritual, music is essentially dithyrambos, the "immediate objectification and copy (Abbild)" (§ 52, 257) of the will. Such an apodictic definition notably forecloses on any accounts of music as generative of discursive meaning or as the transcendental (formal) prerequisite for the production of such meaning:

    Music expresses in an exceedingly universal language, in a unique [einartig] material, that is, in mere tones, and with the greatest distinctness and truth, the inner being, the in-itself, of the world, which we think of under the concept of the will. . . . Supposing we succeeded in giving a perfectly accurate and complete explanation of music . . . this would also be at once a sufficient repetition and explanation of the world in concepts, or one wholly corresponding thereto, and hence the true philosophy. (§ 52, 264)

    Not only is the materiality of "tone" posited as the true locus of aesthetic experience, but the passage also attests to the underlying desire of philosophy to escape itself by embracing the inalienable, positively mesmerizing aura of body and sound as its ultimate sanctuary. In its sheer sonority music is said to absolve us from the inchoate, rough-and-tumble world of conflicting representations. This desire of philosophy to secure absolution for its fallen subjects—at its core a deeply anti-theoretical fantasy—also accounts for Schopenhauer's overtly Platonist notion of the aesthetic "idea." Inasmuch as that "idea" requires ascetic self-transcendence, Schopenhauer sets it in direct opposition to representation (Vorstellung). For only that may qualify as an "idea" which is not afflicted by the partial, finite, and contestable quality of discursive representation. As he puts it, the idea lacks "plurality" or, rather, it precedes all plurality.

  26. The aesthetic idea and its embodied appearance thus have become fully homologous. Irreducible to logical propositions and irrefutable in ways that discursive representation can never be, the aesthetic idea, as conceived by Schopenhauer, is prima facie a presence: embodied, material, and irreducibly "sonorous." Realized as such by music and the body, this formulation of aesthetics allows post-Kantian theory to realize its most precious dream, that of materiality as "immediate representation." The materiality of the aesthetic thus no longer mediates any epistemological concerns, nor is it any longer restricted to the incidental status of "sensation" as had still been the case in the Critique of Judgment. Instead, the proclaimed isomorphism of materiality and idea opens up the last frontier of philosophical writing—namely, to transfigure contingent experience into outright revelation. A precursor of the New Criticism's concrete universals, Schopenhauer's conception of the body and music appears to challenge current critical techniques and hermeneutic methods that promise to restore to the aesthetic productions of the past the supposedly lacking consciousness of their own ideological determinacy. Yet precisely because of its ostensibly antithetical intellectual tendencies, Schopenhauer's magnum opus urges us to consider the cognitive and moral claims of our own critical moment (and possible limits to them). Does a theoretically inspired historical critique amount to authentic action, or does it merely seek to compensate for the deeper intuition that neither the antagonisms of the past nor those of the present can be resolved by any form of action?  


  27. Provided its metaphysical rhetoric is not simply being ignored or preemptively dismissed as a mere phase in the history of philosophy, Schopenhauer's account will be found to contain some important lessons for contemporary criticism. Perhaps it does so all the more because—again like most critical writing today—it altogether lacks the saving grace of Keatsian irony. Above all, there is his extraordinary claim that we may immediately access a world beyond "will and representation," a world of wholly authentic (if mostly tragic) insight that can be reached only through the expressive inroads of the body and music. If such a metaphysical credo lies at the very heart of Schopenhauer's writing, it also seems uncannily prescient of the self-privileging, not to say hedonistic, forms of autobiographical and confessional critical writing that have taken center stage in the humanities during the past dozen years or so. Only very recently has this phenomenon of an "Intimate Critique" and of "Thinking through the Body" (to appropriate but two of the titles in question) begun to receive proper theoretical attention. Thus, in his polemic on The Illusions of Postmodernism, Terry Eagleton offers a blunt indictment of a professionalized hedonism at the very heart of confessional and autobiographical critical writing. Eagleton here appears to follow David Simpson's slightly earlier thesis that such flamboyantly stylized critical voices are symptomatic of a pervasive methodological uncertainty and a flagging of genuine political commitment across the humanities.[20]

  28. Of particular relevance for present purposes is Eagleton's insistent questioning of what he calls the "new somatics," specifically the current fetishization of the sexualized and unfailingly "well nourished" body. Indeed, it seems increasingly axiomatic to argue that critical work in the humanities and literary studies can only advance insofar as it is cued by the obliquely glamorous aura of the body—its tantalizing promise of ever-new modes of transgressive and performative sexuality. Like Schopenhauer's twofold essence of body and music, the spectacle (or reality, as the case may be) of an anonymous, strictly physiological conception of the sexual subject thus finds its complement in the unwavering gaze and often sternly disciplinarian voice of postmodern critique. Such a model can presumably only advance by continually intensifying the closeness and reflexivity of its focus on the embodied subject, an approach that risks appearing coldly analytic, narcissistic-confessional, or as outright invasive. At the same time, the construction of the body as a subject of professional (if esoteric) critique effectively confounds the very values of a humane, liberal society in whose name such writing is being pursued. For the more insistent the "outing" of the sexualized body, the more that body—and indeed the voice of critique itself—appears interchangeable, remote, and anonymous. At the very least, that is, it has become increasingly hard to tell whether the soulless and abject appearance of the postmodern sexualized subject is merely the latest object of critical practice or, perhaps, its unwitting effect.

  29. Arguably, in a profession as particularized as the humanities at the end of the twentieth century—a scene Fredric Jameson describes as the "delirious nonstop monologue of . . . so many in-group narratives" (Postmodernism, 368)—questions like those raised above may quite likely never be settled. By comparison, it seems rather obvious that the recent view of the subject as almost exclusively determined by its embodied sexuality has eroded even the most basic criteria for verifying or falsifying intellectual claims. At the very least, the strenuously confessional approach to critical writing during the past decade has suspended any serious reflection on the basic conceptual and ethical questions that the Enlightenment (well before Kant) had considered integral to any pursuit of knowledge. Inasmuch as a crudely material focus on the body and a correspondingly self-privileging conception of voice have eclipsed the basic Enlightenment goal of articulating the fundamental connection between the (aesthetic) phenomenon of pleasure and the communicability of knowledge, much theoretical ground has been lost. Thus the postmodern vision of the body as the site of incommunicable, irreproducible, though nonetheless spectacular experiences effectively collapses "pleasure" and "sensation" into one another. In Eagleton's view, the body has become a self-privileging, "stubbornly local phenomenon . . . [that] offers a mode of cognition more intimate and internal than the much scorned Enlightenment rationality" (70-1).

  30. Against the Enlightenment paradigm of critical knowledge as the open-ended progression of an intersubjective conversation, this new fin-de-siècle idiom posits a different, overtly subjectivist or self-referential form of small-scale discourse that ventriloquizes critical knowledge in the minimalist form of subjective reminiscence extracted, in turn, from autobiographical experience. Thus, for example, the "Preface" to Marianna Torgovnick's Crossing Ocean Parkway already puts readers on notice that, however intense our assimilist and educational yearning, life "invariably . . . shows me that ethnicity matters." Read in conjunction with the author's preceding stipulation that her text issues "from my special cultural situation: that of a female Italian American professor of English who lives in North Carolina and writes about American society," the reference to ethnic victimization effectively immunizes the book as a whole against all possible dissent. For to take exception with the book's subsequent representation of what it means to be "White, Female, and Born in Bensonhurst" is liable to leave the dissenting voice exposed to charges of incompetence and/or insensitivity (Torgovnick, viii). As David Simpson notes in The Academic Postmodern, Walter Benjamin's essay on the "Storyteller" already offered a historical analysis of what can be described as the shift from a diegetic to a transferential logic of narrative:

    Story empowers its hearers as it--in Benjamin's phrase--lifts 'the burden of demonstrable explanation' from the teller and makes space for 'interpretation'. . . . Listener becomes teller in the act of retention for the purposes of repetition; interpretation is always deferred; and in the cycle of repetitions our own lives become the story. We voice ourselves into presence, against the grain of a critical-historical analysis--Adorno's or Derrida's, for instance--that tells us that we have no authentic access to such presence. The performed mode of storytelling, in which the burden of meaning is passed on for further passing on, then becomes an act of transference or self-projection as much as an effort at consensus.[21]

    Simpson's account of the transferential logic of postmodern storytelling reveals some striking continuities between post-Kantian aesthetics and the recent upsurge of a confessional and autobiographical critical writing—a genre less invested in the cogency of its propositions than in the performative recreation of its embodied subject(s) as a public spectacle. The transferential logic underlying what Bernstein calls "a species of narcissistic activism" is the result of a persistent shift away from public argumentation toward the subtly coercive dramaturgy of subjective reminiscence. Rather than retaining the conscious position of an addressee, that is, readers are being conscripted for an obliquely moral agenda that they may no longer contest without appearing to violate a covenant with the confessional subject. Inasmuch as it sentimentalizes, and ultimately privileges voice over text, disclosure over debate, the genre of confessional criticism reveals a fundamental "tension between a focus upon subjectivity and a construction of identity which is communal rather than individualistic."[22] Far from constituting some startling epistemological breakthrough, the authority of such affect-centered storytelling pivots on the "sweet enforcement" (to borrow Keats's apt phrase) of that unsolicited covenant with its audience. The ultimate objective, in other words, is not knowledge but a smooth and fully collaborative professional relationship between teller and addressee. Attempting to forge a significantly personal and critical voice, Jane Tompkins expressly foregoes argument in favor of transference: "I'm asking you to bear with me while I try, hoping that this, what I write, will express something you yourself have felt or will help you find a part of yourself that you would like to express" (Tompkins, 28). Yet to lay claim to personal experience in the supposedly unmediated, extra-disciplinary form of confession implicitly collapses cognition into performance and, as a further (and perhaps not unwelcome) consequence, forecloses all possibility of rational dissent. Thus freed from the methodological constraints of intersubjective discourse, the critical authority of the writer's voice now subsists solely on its ability to simulate or conjure the proton pseudos of ineffable, contingent experience—itself no longer represented to a discrete listener but, instead, transferentially reproduced through an identically situated addressee.

  31. Another consequence of this development involves the palpable aloofness of criticism when it comes to questions of class. Rather than demanding consideration of the political, social, and cultural antagonisms that variously impinge on a given subject, the confessional voice is accredited almost exclusively by its established or presumptive connections with an audience of materially identical status. These relations, in turn, can be understood as the products of an intrinsically narcissistic pattern of narrative transference and self-replication, an open-ended Lacanian dialectic in which speaker and addressee subsist strictly on the basis of affective claims and an inherently confessional rhetoric. The social (even moral) authority of such claims is typically secured by the speaker's peremptory rejection and indictment of any alternative modes of cognition, such as might still rely on certain principles of evidence, falsifiability, or motive.

  32. What we witness here is the final passing of the Enlightenment paradigm of intelligence—with its Kantian postulates of rational, dispassionate cognition and transparent representation. In its stead, we find a postmodern, self-interested, and highly adaptive professional voice whose critical authority depends on its ability to imbue its subjective (and putatively transgressive) subject matter with an aura of public urgency. As Jeremy Bentham observed long ago, to collapse the work of cognition into the spectacle of confession effectively misappropriates the reader's sympathetic potential for purposes of critical coercion. For in and of itself, affect "is not a positive principle itself, so much as a term employed to signify the negation of all principle." Consequently, attempts to predicate the authority of one's voice on a purely subjective state are but "so many contrivances for avoiding the obligation of appealing to any external standard, and for prevailing upon the reader to accept of the author's sentiment or opinion as a reason for itself" (Principles, 16-17). To indulge in such an approach for any length of time is likely to replace the inevitably provisional and often disputatious logic of principled discourse with a supple and fluid logic of affective manipulation. The result will likely be an intellectual environment where critical and social authority is almost exclusively vested in highly particularized forums and in obliquely circumscribed "in-groups."

  33. Here, then, any intersubjective and deliberative conception of knowledge has been supplanted by the critical exigency of elaborating a distinctive professional persona and adapting its voice to a carefully mapped discursive environment. The result, as Theodor Adorno notes, is a "mysterious activity that bears all the features of commercial life without there actually being any business to transact." Adorno's prescient 1951 account of a quintessentially postmodern interiority—one defined by the phony transactionalism of hyper-professionalized communities—is worth quoting at length. As Adorno remarks, the "nervous" subjects of this new order

    believe that only by empathy, assiduity, serviceability, arts and dodges, by tradesmen's qualities, can they ingratiate themselves with the executive they imagine omnipresent, and soon there is no relationship that is not seen as a 'connection', no impulse [that is] not first censored as to whether it deviates from the acceptable. . . . [T]hese murky connections are proliferating wherever there used still to be an appearance of freedom. The irrationality of the system is expressed scarcely less clearly in the parasitic psychology of the individual than in his economic fate. . . . Countless people are making, from the aftermath of the liquidation of professions, their profession. They are the nice folk, the good mixers liked by all, the just, humanely excusing all meanness and scrupulously proscribing any non-standardized impulses as sentimental. Indispensable for their knowledge of all channels and plug-holes of power, they divine its most secret judgements and live by adroitly propagating them. They are found in all political camps, even where the rejection of the system is taken for granted, and has thereby produced a slack and subtle conformism of its own. ("Fish in Water," in Minima Moralia, 23-4)

    In Adorno's account, which conceives postmodern professionalism as a thorough adaptation of the subject to its chosen discursive or interpretive communities, the ethical integrity of "voice" has been abandoned—one might say, almost as a matter of principle.

  34. Gone is the basic ethical imperative as it had found expression in Kant's master-trope of the "voice" (Stimme). The latter, we have seen, postulates an agency at once unmistakably "subjective" yet intensely committed (both in an ethical and teleological sense) to the objectives of cognition and community. Moreover, to the extent that this "voice" is said to manifest itself as the "sensation" and "feeling" of "harmony" (Stimmung) it also constitutes the most distinctive and articulate evidence for what the third Critique calls "communicability." Kant's ambivalent bequest to aesthetic theory had been to name—in the precise way that the act of "naming" hovers between the creative and the recursive, the tropological and the referential—"pleasure" and "voice" as the non-transcendable conditions for the operation of criticism itself. At the same time, the much larger stakes of Kant's critical enterprise strongly militate against an exclusive, indeed narcissistic reflection that would promote pleasure and voice from a necessary condition for representation to the sole object of knowledge. Arguably, this question of how to conceive of a "voice" (Stimme) capable of investing the irreducible experience of "pleasure" with greater social significance undergirds the cognitive and confessional authority of contemporary historicist and "experimental-critical" writing, respectively. As I have suggested elsewhere, these discourses often enough turn out to repeat the logic of their disciplinary object (e.g., Romantic "expressivism," the egotistical sublime), either by promising to overcome it in the supposedly autonomous modality of critical knowledge, or by emulating it in the ineffable dramaturgy of critical confession.[23]


  35. A constitutive obligation of critical practice, albeit often unacknowledged at present, is to sustain at all times an acute awareness of its historical origins. As we have seen, the moment when a critical response to the phenomenon of "pleasure" and the aesthetic came to play a seminal role occurs in those decades taking us from the late Rousseau of the Reveries to Kant's third Critique. Part of that struggle, especially in the Critique of Judgment, meant properly locating the voice of critical thought itself. Kant conceives of that voice as the expression of a balance between our intuitive and our rational faculties, between our idiosyncratic orientation toward the uniquely material textures of the empirical world and the crucial, if comparatively mediated, obligation to render that world more permanently inhabitable, or rational. To recognize that there ought to be balance between these two stances—which is the basic ethical demand of the Critique of Judgment—is to recognize that aesthetic production and critical knowledge are rooted in the same impulse. Sensibly, Kant chose to leave undetermined whether the voice of critique ought to be understood as an integral component of aesthetic experience or merely as one of its epiphenomenal effects. He did so not because he did not know how to answer the question but because he felt, perhaps intuitively, that it would be the wrong question to ask or, in any event, a fateful one to answer. For any attempt to resolve the issue by pronouncing the work of critique to be wholly isomorphous with the contingent material experiences that gave rise to it or, alternatively, as sublating (aufheben) aesthetic experience into pure abstractions invariably forecloses on the ethical implications of critical practice.

  36. For such an embrace of a theoretical solipsism or, alternatively, a mystical or hedonistic materialism, severs the dialectical ties between experience and cognition, either by eclipsing the unique material qualities of aesthetic experience or our capacity for articulating its significance. Inasmuch as a reflection on aesthetic experience seeks to avoid either of these predicaments, it will necessarily have to tread the thin margin between epistemology and ethics. Indeed, a voice of critique so understood ought consider—though not resolve—the delicate boundaries between the social and spiritual dimensions of meaning and, correspondingly, its own precarious location between the spontaneous and the providential, the self-affirmation of its subjective intelligence and its responsiveness to heteronomous material signs and "hints." As Hölderlin had put it in his ode to "Rousseau":

    [A]uch dir, auch dir
    Erfreuet die ferne Sonne dein Haupt,
    Und Stralen aus der schönern Zeit. Es
    Haben die Boten dein Herz gefunden.
    Vernommen has du sie, verstanden die Sprache der Fremdlinge
    Gedeutet ihre Seele! Dem Sehnenden war
    Der Wink genug, und Winke sind
    Von Alters her die Sprache der Götter.

    (Sämtliche Werke, 2:i, 13)[24]

    If "Rousseau embodies the tension between an isolated subjectivity and the imperatives of social life" (Nägele, 171), Hölderlin's strophic reflection on the citizen of Geneva shows how the development of one's own voice necessitates the cautious detour through an Other, even one as seemingly close as Rousseau. If the ode credits Rousseau with having been visited by the "rays" of the "distant sun," such semantic plenitude can be claimed figurally—in what Derrida has characterized as the quintessential philosophical "heliotrope" of light and illumination. Moreover, the knowledge to which Rousseau is said to have been privy can be imagined only a posteriori, not by Rousseau himself but only transferentially, with Hölderlin speaking for Rousseau. Thus mediated through its own other (Rousseau), Hölderlin's voice establishes itself not in propositional form but, instead, motions toward a revelation that is itself perched between an unverifiable past and an anticipated future. Supported by its distinctly "paratactic" nature, Hölderlin's poetry here is presented as a type of scripture that expressly foregoes the desire for closure, as evidenced by the carefully open-ended reception of "the strangers' tongue" (die Sprache der Fremdlinge) that was "heard . . . comprehended . . . interpreted" (vernommen / verstanden / gedeutet).[25] The revelation at issue may indeed have come to the "longing" man (Dem Sehnenden), but it did so only if we believe the Rousseau of the Reveries to have attained the perfect ratio of curiosity and restraint. For to discern meaning in a "hint" (Wink), that enigmatic sign of the gods, involves more than outright indolence and passivity. It demands a complex echo—what Hölderlin is to Rousseau—whereby the intimations of the Other's voice are being transfigured into the comparative specificity of a text. Hölderlin's aesthetic can thus be characterized as an ongoing attempt to fuse poetry and critique—to "grasp" (fassen) and articulate the otherness of his own voice in a provisional "text" (Fassung), and thus to achieve an instance of subjective "composure" (Fassung) for which Rousseau's repose had provided the archetype.

  37. Hölderlin's poetry may be the supreme poetic refraction of Kant's critical project inasmuch as it articulates—in the necessarily transferential, figural recourse to an Other such as Rousseau—the tension between the material and intuitive and the formal-rational dimensions of knowledge. As his poetry ponders the interdependency between a material existence, past and future, conjured by the operation of tropes and images and the simultaneous reflection on the rational, or "critical" truth-value of those images, Hölderlin's voice appears genuinely informed by Kant's critical enterprise. For like the philosophical idiom of late-Enlightenment critique, his poetry shows the dialectic of intuition and concept, as well as the corollary tension between an imagistic and a propositional style, to be necessarily open-ended. Poetry so understood transcends (in a strictly non-teleological sense) the often arid and self-privileging claims of pure theory, yet at its best it also cautions against a hedonistic attachment to one's voice or, for that matter, against the epigone's blind worship of aesthetic tradition. We have yet much to learn from it.


    1 Literature on the historical and sociological aspects of an aesthetically conceived interiority in nineteenth-century Germany is obviously abundant. Especially rich on the sociological structure of Germany during the pre-1848 revolutionary period known as Vormärz is Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Deutsche Gesellschaftsgeschichte, especially his account of the defensive constitution of the urban middle classes and of the origins of the bourgeoisie, 174-240, and his discussion of the expansion of the sphere of literary production, 520-46. See also Thomas Nipperdey, Deutsche Geschichte, 1800-1866, esp. his survey of social stratification, minorities, 219-270, and of religious and cultural identity-formation, 403-593. See also James Sheehan, German History, 1770-1866, 324-87 and 451-587. See also Jürgen Kocka's extensive collection of more specialized research on nineteenth-century bourgeois culture, Bildungsbürgertum im 19. Jahrhundert, especially the essay by Koselleck in vol. 2 and those by Kocka and Dieter Langewiesche in vol. 4.  

    2 On the supplementarity of such disciplines, see Tilottama Rajan, The Supplement of Reading and, from a more overtly material perspective, Theodor Ziolkowski, German Romanticism and its Institutions; my own Wordsworth's Profession takes up this issue in the context of Romantic ballad writing, 208-27.  

    3 Speaking of morality in the finite world as a matter of "infinite progress," Kant notes that the latter notion rests itself on a further hypothesis, that of the immortality of the soul. Such a hypothesis, he goes on, "inasmuch as it is inextricably linked to the moral law, constitutes a postulate of pure practical reason. The latter I define as a theoretical proposition, however incapable of proof, that is inseparably connected to the a priori valid practical law. " [Also ist das höchste Gut, praktisch nur unter der Voraussetzung der Unsterblichkeit der Seele möglich; mithin diese, als unzertrennlich mit dem moralischen Gesetz verbunden, ein Postulat der reinen praktischen Vernunft (worunter ich einen theoretischen, als solchen aber nicht erweislichen Satz verstehe, so fern er einem a priori unbedingt geltenden praktischen Gesetze unzertrennlich anhängt."] Kritik der Praktischen Vernunft, vol. 7, 252-53 (translation mine).  

    4 On political readings of Romanticism, specifically critiques of that period's widely noted tendency to encode ideological values in aesthetic forms, see Marjorie Levinson's "Introduction" to her Wordsworth's Great-Period Poems; Alan Liu's "The Power of Formalism: The New Historicism." Elsewhere I address the conceptual tensions of Romantic Historicism; see my Wordsworth's Profession, 120-24, 247-68, and "Reading Beyond Redemption." On the "new musicology," see Lawrence Kramer, Classical Music and Postmodern Knowledge, 1-32 and passim, and his "Tropes and Windows: An Outline of Musical Hermeneutics," in Music as Cultural Practice, 1800-1900.  

    5 In the context of mid-nineteenth-century German literature, some of these questions have been considered by Peter Uwe Hohendahl. See his chapter on "The Institutionalization of Literature and Criticism" in Building a National Literature, 104-39.   

    6 My conception of Kant's aesthetic form as a proto-articulate entity—or as the "encryption" of the discursive intelligence predicated on the "accord" (Stimmung) to which aesthetic experience gives rise—is echoed by Helmut Müller-Sievers. See his account of the epochal shift from theories of "preformation" to "epigenetic" accounts. See especially his accounts of the epigenetic deduction of the "categories" in Kant's first Critique and in the Critique of Teleological Judgment. Self-Generation, 44-64.  

    7 On the uniquely convoluted relation between pleasure and judgment in § 9 of the Critique of Judgment, see Stanley Corngold, Complex Pleasures, 48-58; Jens Kulenkampff, Kants Logik des Ästhetischen Urteils, 81-86; Paul Guyer, Kant and the Claims of Taste, 151-74; and Walter Biemel's still significant interpretation of the third Critique, Die Bedeutung von Kants Begründung der Ästhetik für die Philosophie der Kunst, 122-34. Guyer's scrupulously developed thesis that, in § 9, we witness a "confusion of the origin of aesthetic response with the condition of aesthetic judgment" (174; s.a. 152ff.) ignores, in my view, the dynamic role of aesthetic judgment as a predicative, linguistic act. That is, we may need to stress the hortatory, indeed performative character of the aesthetic judgment as generating—by means of its intrinsically positional rhetoric—a determinate, or at least measurable social effect. In other words, the value of "communicability" and, ultimately, that of community is realized through the persistently self-justifying character of aesthetic predication. Thus, what stands to be inquired into is not an ultimately inscrutable, "logical" ground but, rather, the intrinsically dynamic, sociological activity of "grounding" communicability and community via discursive practice. Similarly, Jens Kulenkampff views the Kantian aesthetic judgment as a type of linguistic proposition that is—by definition, as it were—not verifiable because its very occurrence only establishes the affective, and hence strictly virtual, "ground" for the Enlightenment values of rational discourse and intersubjective verification.  

    8 See also Carl Dahlhaus, who comments how the concept of "sensation involves the confluence of sensory quality and affect" ("Im Begriff der 'Empfindung' fließen Sinnesqualität und Gefühl ineinander."). Klassische und Romantische Musikästhetik, 295 (translation mine). See also his longer discussion, in that book, of Kant's remarks on the aesthetics of music, 49-55.  

    9 Manfred Frank also remarks on the proto-articulate status of the aesthetic: "The purposiveness opened up by the judgment of taste is by definition only that of an as if. In the presence of the beautiful our situation resembles that of Siegfried listening to the bird in the forest: 'I feel almost / as if the birds were speaking to me: / I distinctly seem to hear words'." Even so, the 'sweet stammering' refuses (at least for now) to resolve itself into articulate words—into concepts, that is—and thus we are left with the as if of a significant utterance, the conditional anticipation of a purpose whose reality continues to elude us." Einführung in die frühromantische Ästhetik, 77. Citing a number of Kant's Reflexionen (# 605, 288, 822, 712, and 715), Walter Biemel has also remarked on the centrality of Stimme and its various cognates for a determination of "pleasure" (Lust) in Kant. Die Bedeutung, 126-27.  

    10 "Contrary to the beautiful, which at least appears to be all of a piece, the sublime is shot through with dialectical complication." De Man, "Phenomenality and Materiality in Kant," in Aesthetic Ideology, 72. Speaking specifically to Kant's formalist account of the aesthetic, and of music in particular, Lawrence Kramer has expressed similar reservations about the restrictive nature of a transcendental knowledge that seems predicated on its incompatibility with linguistic signification (Music as Cultural Practice, 3-4). Kramer has since pursued this project of rethinking the rigorous formalist premises of much musicological argumentation and analysis, and he has done so to considerable acclaim. Perhaps as a result of his acutely programmatic approach, however, Kramer (among others) does not attend to Kant's far larger investment in developing a coherent account of epistemological and moral knowledge. To focus strictly on Kant's explicit references to the subject of music is thus to miss the far more subtle and wide-ranging suggestions, scattered throughout the third Critique, that all cognition is inherently practical, social, and therefore contingent on the polyvalence of the subject's voice and fundamental disposition (Stimme / Stimmung).   

    11 Margery Sabin's characterization of "sentiment" in Rousseau's Reveries strikingly anticipates the oscillation of Kantian Gefühl between a purely formal-transcendental and a phenomenal, material quality. "The word 'sentiment' . . . implies, as it did in the second Discours, both sensation and emotion, emotion reduced to the simplicity of sensation, and sensation as diffuse and pervasive as emotion." English Romanticism and the French Tradition, 113.  

    12 My argument about pleasure's quest for duration runs parallel to Stanley Corngold's recent account of a "circular temporality of self-reflection," which he sees at work throughout the third Critique. "The way we should proceed to rethink [temporality] is to recall the kind of analysis that Kant performs on the aesthetic judgment, and we are to endow the aesthetic judgment itself with the temporality that goes with this analysis." Complex Pleasures, 55-56.  

    13 Such a first, admittedly general description of (aesthetic) cognition as the isolation and retroactive configuration of imitative and recursive patterns also benefits, no doubt, from the entire phenomenological school of philosophy and aesthetic theory. For a particularly apposite instance, see Roman Ingarden, The Literary Work of Art, and, building on that proto-structuralist paradigm, Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading.  

    14 For an account of transformations in musical theory, specifically the rapid erosion of a traditional, mathematically founded concept of harmony, see Carl Dahlhaus, Die Musiktheorie im 18. und 19. Jahrhundert. As Dahlhaus explains, it is at the turn from the eighteenth to the nineteenth century that the concept of dissonance yields to that of notes whose presence in the score can only be legitimated by the unique, contextual logic of a given work. See, for example, his discussion of Kirnberger's distinction between "essential" and "accidental" dissonances, 9-13.  

    15 Arguably, both Dawkins and Bourdieu (to say nothing of Foucault) appear substantially indebted to Nietzsche's profound, if deeply conspiratorial, argument about the conversion of mnemonic potential into the pseudo-instinctual, compulsory logic of "conscience." Speaking of an epoch when "all instincts . . . turn inward--this is what I call the internalization of man," Nietzsche remarks how "man, from lack of external enemies and resistances and forcibly confined to the oppressive narrowness and punctiliousness of custom, impatiently lacerated, persecuted, gnawed at, assaulted, and maltreated himself . . . this fool, this yearning and desperate prisoner became the inventor of the 'bad conscience'. Thus began the gravest and uncanniest illness, from which humanity has not yet recovered." Like Dawkins, Nietzsche regards the intrinsically flagellatory, moral regime of Western Judaeo-Christian culture as an evolutionary leap—a very recent event on an evolutionist's time-scale. Above all, this shift is characterized by the mobilization of memory against its owner: ". . . the result of a forcible sundering from his animal past, as it were a leap and plunge into new surroundings and conditions of existence, a declaration of war against the old instincts." On the Genealogy of Morals, 84-5.  

    16 Elsewhere I discuss a particular instance of this formal dynamic in the context of the early-nineteenth-century ballad and its structural affinity with the then popular schemes of "monitorial" theories of elementary education.  

    17 The Responsibility of Forms, 247. As Barthes continues shortly thereafter, "morphologically, on the species level, the ear seems made for this capture of the fleeting index: it is motionless, fixed, poised, like that of an animal on the alert; like a funnel leading to the interior, it receives the greatest number of impressions and channels them toward a supervisory center of selection and decision . . . " (248).  

    18 For a nuanced reading of this famous remark, and of Hanslick's theory and "functionalist" accounts of musical form more generally, see Carl Dahlhaus, Musikästhetik, 291-318 and passim.  

    19 For a very lucid account of the ideology of strictly formal listening, see Lawrence Kramer, Classical Music, 63-6.   

    20 One of the more stylized transmutations of mid-career ennui with the demands of working in a discipline of continually evolving methodological positions and theoretical debates, can be found in Jane Tompkins's "Me and My Shadow." Suburban languor here masquerades as institutional insurrection as Tompkins informs us that "I'm tired of the conventions that keep discussions of epistemology, or James Joyce, segregated from meditations on what is happening outside my window or inside my heart. The public-private dichotomy, which is to say, the public-private hierarchy, is a founding condition of female oppression. I say to hell with it." I would argue that Tompkins's notion of the private is, if anything, only more naïve and narcissistic than the one whose disjunction from a (similarly unexamined) public sphere she so vociferously deplores. How else are we to take her catalogue of wishes: "Would always be in some way a chronicle of my hours and days. Would speak in a voice which can talk about everything, would reach out to a reader like me . . . " (Tompkins, 25, 28). As Susan Bernstein notes: "Although the confessional mode does offer politically transgressive possibilities, its interrogative, even transformative potential is often undermined by critical neglect of the very categories it employs." In Bernstein's words, "Tompkins rehearses a retreat into sameness—"a reader like me"—and an aversion to difference." "Confessing Feminist Theory," 121, 129. See also David Simpson, The Academic Postmodern.  

    21 Simpson, The Academic Postmodern: A Report on Half-Knowledge, 65. See also his account of recent "autobiographical literary criticism" by Jane Tompkins, Alice Kaplan, and others; ibid., 72-91. Other instances of this kind would include Marianna Torgovnick's Crossing Ocean Parkway and Eve K. Sedgwick's Tendencies, or the anthologies by Diane P. Freedman, The Intimate Critique, and by Aram Veeser, Confessions of the Critics. As I have argued elsewhere, this recent surge of supplanting an intersubjective and methodologically reflexive type of discourse with extr/overtly autobiographical ruminations may have grown out of the intense, eighteenth-century debates over the limits and social legitimacy of "self-interest" as it was being waged, for example, in the writings of Shaftsbury, Hume, and Burke (Wordsworth's Profession, 263-302).  

    22 Rita Felski, quoted in Bernstein, 131. See also Ann R. Jones, who remarks on the "phonocentric emphasis" of autobiographical and critical writing, particularly as it restyles more traditional feminist concerns (quoted by Diane P. Freedman in Veeser, Confessions of the Critics, 4). See also Ellen Brown's forthright assurance of her unimpeachable critical authority as a reader of Jane Eyre: "The fact is, I'm doing here what I can't do elsewhere: I am speaking in my own voice(s). I am admitting that it is not Bronte's narrative complexity or linguistic skill that attracts me to her book again and again. I am confessing that one of the reasons I keep reading Jane Eyre, one of the reasons I like it, one of the reasons I teach it is that it has continued to speak so powerfully to me as a girl, as a woman, as a teacher. . . " ("Between the Medusa and the Abyss: Reading Jane Eyre, Reading Myself" in The Intimate Critique, 233). Most revealing, perhaps, is Brown's refusal to consider that the ability of Brontë's novel to "speak so powerfully" might have anything to do with its "narrative complexity or linguistic skill."  

    23 See my "Reading beyond Redemption" and Wordsworth's Profession, 263-70.  

    24 [translation:]

    Your crest too, though but once, yours too
    Is gladdened by the light of a distant sun,
    The radiance of a better age. The
    Heralds who looked for your heart have found it.

      You've heard and comprehended the stranger's tongue,
    Interpreted their soul! For the yearning man
    The hint sufficed, because in hints from
    Time immemorial the gods have spoken.

    (Poems and Fragments, 125)

    25 See Theodor Adorno, "Parataxis: On Hölderlin's Late Poetry." While rejecting a strictly "philosophical" reading of Hölderlin's poetry, such as the one offered by Heidegger, Adorno focuses on the tension between voice and silence that can be noted throughout the later elegies and hymns. "The alien quality [of that poetry] stems from something objective, the demise of its basic content in expression, the eloquence of something that has no language. What has been composed could not exist without the content falling silent, any more than it could without what it falls silent about" (112). The self-reflexivity of the poetic voice—a reflexivity, however, no longer obligated to an overarching System—finds its expression in paratactic structures that render "Hölderlin the master of the intermittent linguistic gesture" (119). In so extending the abstract notion of non-closure via the spatiality of a sustained lyric voice, Hölderlin imagines an altogether different type of "genius," one that, as Adorno remarks (146f.), is intimately connected.