Absent an even finer feeling: A commentary on the opening of Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime

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PREFATORY REMARKS Rarely is Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime viewed solely in its own terms. Sometimes, its final two sections are read as evidence of Kant’s acquiescence to contemporaneous views on the subordinate role of woman and the superior quality of Europeans – in which case his slim volume of “observations” is seen from a contemporary perspective that unambiguously disavows such views. As for its earlier sections, they are often interpreted in accordance with the image of a “precritical” philosopher whose early writings are so many stages through which he had to pass in order to write the Critique of Pure Reason. Thus Observations can be seen as a transitional document that points in the direction of the second Critique, the first part of the third Critique, or the Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View. With respect to the second section of Observations in particular, it is possible to develop a contrasting perspective that places its account of the four Hippocratic humors or temperaments in the context of the vast Renaissance and Baroque literature on the topic. A brief but memorable example of this point of view can be found in Walter Benjamin’s Origin of the German Mourning Play, where Kant is said to “paint the image of the melancholic with the colors in which they appeared among earlier theoreticians.” And in a similar yet inverted vein, Observations can be seen less as a preparation for the Critiques or a complementary anthropology than as a forerunner of later modes of theoretical inquiry, including Benjamin’s aforementioned treatise, which distinguish themselves from both Kant and his idealist successors by orienting their “phenomenonologies” around the analysis of certain fundamental feelings and by correspondingly emphasizing the “existential” character of their primary subject matter.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationKant's Observations and Remarks
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Guide
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages15
ISBN (Electronic)9781139028608
ISBN (Print)9780521769426
StatePublished - Jan 1 2012

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)

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