Friday, March 27, 2009

Notes On Immanuel Kant's "Critique of Judgment" (1790), for Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi


Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi sends me this:
Beholdmyswarthyface,

I'm supposed to give a lecture tomorrow on Kant's "Critique of Judgment," but I have a plane to catch and won't have time to read it, so I was wondering if you could provide me with a summary of the work.

Thanks,
Nabil al-Tasnimi

Well, here's what I had time to put together. Hope this helps:

First Book: Analytic of the Beautiful

In his first critique, Critique of Pure Reason (1781), Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) lays the empirical foundations for a comprehensive theory of knowledge. In the second critique, Critique of Practical Reason (1788), he presents a moral philosophy built upon the theoretical foundations laid in the first work. The third critique, Critique of (Aesthetic) Judgment (1790), is his critique of the aesthetical, or “judicial,” in which he seeks to accomplish two major tasks: first, to bridge the chasm between the theoretical knowledge of the first book and the practical knowledge of the second book through a third, intermediary legislate, which he calls “judgment”; and, second, to reconcile the subjectivity of aesthetic experience with a priori, communal standards of taste (sensus communis), which are based predominately on feelings of pleasure and displeasure. Before we jump into the argument, let me first clarify some of Kant’s more important terms.

First, there are the two kinds of judgment: determinant judgment and reflective judgment. Determinant judgment belongs to the understanding, and refers to a given universal concept. Reflective judgment belongs to the faculty of judgment, and refers to no given universal concept. In reflective judgment, the imagination is required to invent any corresponding universal concept.

The latter type, reflective judgment, is further divided into three kinds: systemic (dealing with a priori systems such as mathematics), teleological (dealing with end- and purpose-related judgments), and aesthetical (dealing with purposeless judgments). The aesthetic type is further divided into two kinds, the beautiful and the sublime.

There are also the mental faculties, which Kant divides into knowledge, feeling and desire. The first, knowledge, is regulated by the understanding, which, as mentioned above, is “the faculty of cognition under universal rules.” The second type of mental faculty, feeling, is regulated by judgment, which is “the faculty of thinking the particular as subsumed under the universal.” The third type is desire, which is regulated by reason. Kant defines desire as “the faculty of determining the particular by the universal.”

The terms purpose and purposiveness appear frequently in Kant’s argument, and are defined thus: purpose is “the concept of an object so far as it contains the ground for the existence of the object,” while purposiveness is “the agreement of an object with the arrangement that is possible only according to purposes.”

As stated above, there are two kinds of judgments, determinant and reflexive, the former having a fixed concept to which it refers, the latter having none. Of the reflexive type, there are four possible judgments: the agreeable, the beautiful, the sublime, and the good. The agreeable involves only sensory perception. The good involves ethics, and therefore is limited to moral judgment. The remaining two― the beautiful and the sublime― are the two aesthetic judgments, and exist somewhere in between the two polar coordinates, the agreeable (a posteriori) and the good (a priori). Kant oxymoronically calls these two aesthetic judgments “subjective universals.” Because they are neither teleological (i.e., concerned with ends or purposes) nor bound to logical reasoning or fixed aesthetic notions, they are subjective; and because the judgments are formed within the sensus communis (or community of taste), they are, to some extent, universal.

The beautiful has the three following characteristics: a wholeness of design, a creative intent (which is to be distinguished from teleological “purposefulness”), and a “form of finality.” By contrast, the sublime, which Kant elaborates on in the second half of this critique, lacks this wholeness, possessing instead an infiniteness of degree. Being infinite, the sublime is therefore beyond the bounds of our finite comprehension, and thus evokes in us a kind of fear or awe that is not experienced through the observation of beauty.

As Raman Selden points out, Kant’s argument marked a shift away from the reader’s response and subjectivity toward a “concern with the internality of the work itself” (377). To my mind, however, it seems that Kant is more concerned with the experience of art as noumenal phenomenon (i.e. the processes of the perceiving mind) than he is with the internal components and structure of the art itself.

To review, for an object to be beautiful, the following conditions must be met: the work must not have any corresponding concept or preconceived notion; each judgment must be treated as particular and singular (i.e. no logical generalizations); the work is not to be judged “in terms of an external purpose” (though it may have internal purposiveness, or what he calls “purposiveness without purpose”). By this logic, then, Selden concludes, “all neoclassical external canons of beauty are likewise of no value, for they posit an external standard on purpose” (377). In essence, Kant is liberating the work of art from the classical idea of mimesis, which holds that the representation is to be judged, at least in part, by its likeness to the object of imitation. (To be continued . . .)

[For an English translation of Kant's essay see J.H. Bernard’s 1931 translation (second edition), which is included in The theory of criticism from Plato to the present : a reader / edited and introduced by Raman Selden. Imprint London ; New York : Longman, 1988.]

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Sally Suzuki Plucks More Fruit


Beholdmyswarthyface,

You might also want to take a look at this TV special from the mid-90s about novelist Yoshiyuki Junnosuke (1923-1994) and the women he loved, in five parts. Yoshiyuki, aka Ginza no tatsujin, won the Akutagawa prize in 1954 and Noma Literary Prize in 1978.

-Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Just in from Sally Suzuki


Beholdmyswarthyface,

God bless the Internet, she beareth for us more fruit. Her latest: this groundbreaking work from 1993 by James Fujii. (Unfortunately, huge chunks of the text are missing, so if you want to read the whole thing, you’ll have to get it from your local library.)

Here’s the publisher’s description:
In Complicit Fictions, James Fujii challenges traditional approaches to the study of Japanese narratives and Japanese culture in general. He employs current Western literary-critical theory to reveal the social and political contest inherent in modern Japanese literature and also confronts recent breakthroughs in literary studies coming out of Japan. The result is a major work that explicitly questions the eurocentric dimensions of our conception of modernity.

Modern Japanese literature has long been judged by Western and Japanese critics alike according to its ability to measure up to Western realist standards--standards that assume the centrality of an essential self, or subject. Consequently, it has been made to appear deficient, derivative, or exotically different. Fujii challenges this prevailing characterization by reconsidering the very notion of the subject. He focuses on such disparate twentieth-century writers as Natsume Soseki, Tokuda Shusei, Shimazaki Toson, and Origuchi Shinobu, and particularly on their divergent strategies to affirm subjecthood in narrative form. The author probes what has been ignored or suppressed in earlier studies--the contestation that inevitably marks the creation of subjects in a modern nation-state. He demonstrates that as writers negotiate the social imperatives of national interests (which always attempt to dictate the limits of subjecthood) they are ultimately unable to avoid complicity with the aims of the state.

Fujii confronts several historical issues in ways that will enlighten historians as well as literary critics. He engages theory to highlight what prevailing criticism typically ignores: the effects of urbanization on Japanese family life; the relation of literature to an emerging empire and to popular culture; the representations of gender, family, and sexuality in Meiji society. Most important is his exposure of the relationship between state formation and cultural production. His skillful weaving of literary theory, textual interpretation, and cultural history makes this a book that students and scholars of modern Japanese culture will refer to for years to come.

-Sally Suzuki, Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Nagai Kafū, A Parallax View: Whoremonger or Kōshoku Otoko?


Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi responds to this recent post from Avram Moskowitz, defense lawyer in Duluth:
Avram Moskowitz,

And so we have these two very different versions of the same Nagai Kafū: to Westerners like Jonathan Crow and Edward Seidensticker, he’s a “whoremonger” incapable of love, while for most Japanese he’s the archetypal kōshoku otoko, or “amorous man of leisure.” With a quick shift in perspective, loveless whoremongery becomes playful dalliance, or vice versa.

These differences in perception become even clearer when one examines how each language deals with, for lack of a better word, “Kafū-esque” male sexual behavior. In Japanese, the words that come to mind are onnazuki (“lady-loving”), onnagurui (“girl-crazy”), irogotoshi (“love doctor”), sukimono (“gallant”), sukebe (“lusty”), uwaki (“playboy”), irogonomi (“amorous”), and so on, each of which is either positive or neutral in connotation.

This isn’t to say, however, that connotatively negative words don’t exist. They do. There’s midara (“lewd”), hiwai (“obscene”), inpon (“wanton”), tajō (“lustful”), inran (“lecherous”), and gyoshoku (“debaucherous”), to name a few. But such terms of disapprobation are usually reserved for sexually unreserved women or reprobates, and are rarely if ever used to describe the more esteemed kōshoku male.

Like Japanese, English too has an abundance of both neutral/positive terms (e.g., amorous, amatory, ardent, randy, etc.) and negative terms (e.g., rakish, lecherous, libidinous, lascivious, concupiscent, prurient, salacious, etc.). Yet for some reason observers writing in English more often than not draw from the set of disparaging terms when describing this Kafū-esque male. (Examples abound, but I’m afraid I haven’t the time right now to dredge them up.)

Wherefore, I ask, is this? What is to account for this radical difference in perception? Why have the Japanese managed to retain a general tolerance for asobi, or play, while such tolerance seems to have eroded in the West? What’s to blame for this erosion? Protestantism? The Puritans? Certainly it wasn’t the Jews. Or was it Marx and Engels and their gender-equality-seeking legions who left us with no room for asobi? I don’t pretend to know, so I’ll conclude with this rather acerbic and not-entirely-related quote from Mr. Kafū:

“Equality of the sexes is all very well as an ideal, but in practice American women are not very desirable. When a woman has really awakened, there is nothing for a man to enjoy dallying with” (Kafū the Scribbler, 22).

Best,
Nabil al-Tasnimi

Monday, March 9, 2009

Two More Videos from Sally Suzuki


The indefatigable Sally Suzuki, recently promoted to Beholdmyswarthyface Media Director, sends me these:

1. This 2004 video interview with Mushanokōji Saneatsu, in which he discusses his fiction and his famed utopian commune, Atarashiki Mura:

2. And this documentary about early Meiji Japan.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Two Lectures


Sally Suzuki sends me these two videos:

The first is a lecture given by Katō Shūichi in 2006 at the University of Tokyo about war, peace, and the future of the planet.
The second is a talk by Komori Yōichi about Article Nine of Japan's Constitution.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Announcement from Beholdmyswarthyface


I will be arriving in Phoenix in precisely 48 hours. I expect to be greeted by a parade of one hundred lions.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Nagai Kafū, Noted Rake and Whoremonger


Avram Moskowitz, defense lawyer in Duluth, responds to the previous post from Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi:
Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi,

Nagai Kafū, noted rake and whoremonger . . . Not a very flattering epithet, I must say. But we can forgive Jonathan Crow; he’s a movie critic. Harder to forgive are the specialists who engage in such self-righteous moralizing.

Take for example the following from Kafū the Scribbler, Edward Seidensticker’s classic literary biography of Kafū. After a brief fling with an American prostitute named Edyth, the young Kafū is described as a “cold and unaffectionate person, [who is] quite prepared to enjoy Edyth and move on, in the name of art.” According to Seidensticker, his callousness only increases with time, and “one follows the long parade of women through his life—most of them, like Edyth, of doubtful reputation— feeling that they were more used than loved.”

“Love,” Seidensticker solemnly concludes, “is an element wanting in both Kafū’s life and his work” (20).

But what kind of love, exactly, did Seidensticker have in mind, because it seems to me that Kafū’s entire oeuvre can be read as a profound and ongoing meditation on the very nature of love and desire? My guess is that Seidensticker, like many Americans of his generation, remained somewhat captive to the old bourgeois notion of love— l'amour bourgeois— which regards eros as something separate. Kafū’s life and art brims with eros, but is dry of “real love,” these critics say. Kafū, I suspect, would have responded by arguing that the distinction between romantic and erotic love is only illusory, that they are in fact two faces of the same head.

But back to Crow’s phrase, “noted rake and whoremonger.” Certainly, there’s some truth to his statement: Kafū did spend much of his life mongering whores. But my problem isn’t with the statement’s veracity; it’s with the implied value judgment.

[I’m afraid I have a client waiting for me in the lobby; I’ll have to continue with this in my next letter.]

Regards,
Avram Moskowitz, defense lawyer in Duluth

Monday, March 2, 2009

Strange Tale from East of the River (Bokutō Kidan 濹東綺譚)


This just in from Dr. Nabil al-Tasnimi:
Ryan,

Watch this if you haven’t already. It is Kaneto Shindō’s 1993 film Bokutō Kidan, which, as you know, was based on Nagai Kafū’s 1937 novel of the same name. You can read here Jonathan Crow's rather fatuous review/summary of the film. I'm not so sure if it's fair to call Kafū a "noted rake and whoremonger."