the donkey's enlightenment

There’s a very good post about literature and sociology at the American Stranger, followed by a comments section about the same. At the tail end of the comments section, Chabert and I engage in a little methodenstreit.

And there’s a very flattering post about Limited Inc up here. What Duncan says about the oscillation between a rhetoric of violence and a rhetoric of loss hits home. I’d like to write a little more about that in a post on News From the Zona.

… Now, on with the thread…

Between Bruno and Nietzsche, the ass goes underground. Bruno’s donkey, who is brother to Cornelius Agrippa’s ass – in a noble lineage going back through Apuleius all the way to Balaam’s steed – refuses to speak. Although there are indications, an underground asinine code, that the ass’s point of view hasn’t entirely lost its power. For one way of reading Kant’s project of reconstructing the interior human limit would be to highlight the cold cold shoulder he gives to the ass. Or to the animal kingdom, where instinct always finds its purpose – the happiness (Gluckseligkeit) of the creature. And where instinct reigns and no self-consciousness flares, we discover that the animal is always and will always be a means for the rational creature. Why is a little obscure. Kant, certainly unlike the caricature Cartesian, did not think of the animal as a clockwork – although the mechanic arrangement of the organism was, of course, a valuable way of understanding the living thing.

Now, myself, I find a certain anxiety here, about this instinctive creature, this all too means oriented means. If we are to reconstruct the interior human limit and strip out the superstition that erected Nemesis rather than freedom as its guardian and definer – a freedom that finds its essential expression in the universal form of our maxims - then here we are, in the city of sausages, with little choice but to send the non-universalizers to the abattoir.

Or such at least might be the tale being spun in the Great Tradition. However, while the ass’s partisans might have given in to the collapse of the exterior human limit, and gaze, now, on a world of means, they dug in their heels, a bit, on the interior limit.

One of the partisans of asinine philosophy in the 18th century is Swedenborg. This poses a problem for me, in as much as how does one approach Swedenborg? He was a graphomaniac’s graphomaniac. One doesn’t just dip in Swedenborg, anymore than you take a header into the mid-Atlantic from some ship – vast flows will drown you. The muchness of the man who conversed with angels and went through all worlds is too much muchness for me.

So I am going to take as my guide Jacques Matter’s book on Swedenborg, Emerson’s essay, and a few other bits and pieces.