Tag Archives: philosophy

We cannot know the thing in itself, because the thing is …

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During my holidays I read La vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant (1999) by Jean-Baptiste Botul (above), a small literary mystification on the non-existent (or undocumented) sex life of Immanuel Kant, which I’d bought in a ‘book shop/coffeeshop’ in a village, not far from where we were staying in Le Bar-sur-Loup.

I have a great interest in sex and ergo in the personal lives of authors and philosophers, about which I’ve written before[1].

Coming back home I did quite some research into this little book and Kant’s personal life.

La vie sexuelle d’Emmanuel Kant was written by French ‘Le Canard enchaîné’ journalist Frédéric Pagès.

The information on Kant’s personal life was probably taken from The Last Days of Immanuel Kant (1827) by Thomas de Quincey, which in its turn is based on Immanuel Kant in seinen letzten Lebensjahren by Kant biographer Wasianski.

Frédéric Pagès must have been both flattered and amused when in 2010, not realizing that the work was a hoax, French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, in his work De la guerre en philosophie, cites very seriously from this work and builds its argumentation around it.

It is incredible that Lévy did not notice the hoax when he read:

“La Chose, c’est le Sexe. C’est évident. Nous ne pouvons pas connaître la Chose en soi, nous avertit Kant : nous n’en sommes pas capables, mais surtout nous n’y sommes pas autorisés.”
“The Thing is the sex (vulva). That speaks for itself. We cannot know the thing in itself Kant warns us: we are incapable of knowing it, but moreover we are not allowed to.”

Ha ha.

See also asexualityhoaxvita sexualisKant and ErosMartin Lampe, historical examples of bachelors (men who never married).

Gaston Bachelard @130

Gaston Bachelard by Jean Philippe Pierron (2012) with illustrations by Yann Kebbi
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Happy birthday Gaston.

Gaston was a philosopher so sui generis that he is indefinable.

He would have turned 130 today had eternal life been possible.

His intellectual heir is Peter Sloterdijk.

Update: I accidentally posted this several days early.

On Hegel

Portrait of Hegel by Jakob Schlesinger [1]

Sometimes it seems I have no opinion of my own. And I’m not even sure if I should mind.

Take the case of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770 – 1831).

Last week I met with a philosophy professor who said that Hegel marks the dividing line between contemporary philosophy and modern philosophy and in the book I’m currently reading, Short History of the Shadow, Hegel’s Science of Logic is mentioned in the introduction.

So I’m wondering. What is my position vis-à-vis Hegel? Do I have a personal connection with him? I first check Jahsonic.com where, in 2006, I cited Hegel[2] with regards to the other, from a Simone de Beauvoir book.

Speaking of de Beauvoir, have you seen her gorgeous nude photo of Simone de Beauvoir?

I digress.

Next I try Google, I search for the string “Nietzsche and Hegel,”[3] because Nietzsche (1844 – 1900) is in my canon and I’d like to know what he thought of Hegel.


I find French philosopher Gilles Deleuze, also in my canon, who in Nietzsche and Philosophy says:

“There is no possible compromise between Hegel and Nietzsche” […]

Since I like both Nietzsche and Deleuze, must I conclude that I do not like Hegel? Or will have a hard time liking him?

Can I form my opinion based on the opinion of another person?

should do no such thing of course.

But I could if I wanted to.

And I can trust Nietzsche when he says Plato is boring, can’t I?

I finally hold a copy of ‘Short History of the Shadow’ in my hands

Photo (I accidentally mirrored it) of three books by Victor Stoichita. It shows (from left to right) The Pygmalion EffectVisionary Experience in the Golden Age of Spanish Art and Short History of the Shadow.

The photo was taken against the backdrop of the University of Antwerp library at the Prinsstraat.

I was surprised to find these books in the collection of the Ruusbroec Institute of all places. Not so surprising it would appear the following day after doing my homework, as on February 6th 2014 Stoichita gave a lecture at the UCSIA, on the visionary experience in art. John of Ruysbroeck (after which the Ruusbroec Institute was named) was a Flemish mystic and Stoichita has written on the visionary experience.

A pity I missed that lecture.

Victor Stoichita’s oeuvre very obliquely reminds me of David Toop‘s and especially his last work Sinister Resonance: The Mediumship of the Listener (which I have still to read, or better said, “hold in my hands”, as I’ve researched it already online), in particular the chapter Art of silence. As I’ve noted in a previous post[1], in that book Toop references Stoichita. Three times[2], to be exact, I just checked.

I started reading Short History of the Shadow and in the introduction I found Plato’s cavePliny’s shadow and Hegel on lightness and darkness.

Finding Nemo

This page May 29, 2014 is part of the comics series. Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

Illustration: Little Nemo sitting upright in bed

When we were children, there was a joke about three boys sitting in a boat. One was called biteme, another one pinchme and a third hitme.

Hitme fell out of the boat. Who remained in the boat?

You can guess what happened next.

In Rabelais and His WorldBakhtin describes a somewhat similar word game.

A 13th century medieval monk searched all biblical and patristic texts for sentences containing the word nemo, Latin for nobody.

He then interpreted phrases such as “nemo deum vidit” (“Nobody has seen God”), along with many other references to nobody, to mean that Nemo referred to a proper noun and thus was a certain person and that the phrase actually meant “Saint Nobody has seen God”.

That text, known as the “History of Nemo“, is now lost, but its story is not and it is easy to see why it so fascinated medieval everyman.

Bakhtin remarks: “everything impossible, inadmissible, inaccessible is, on the contrary, permitted for Nemo. Thanks to this transposition, Nemo acquires the majestic aspect of a being almost equal to God, endowed with unique, exceptional powers, knowledge (he knows that which no one else knows), and extraordinary freedom (he is allowed that which nobody is permitted.)”

I am reminded of another childhood memory. I have younger brother who is called Joost. There is a Dutch expression which says “Joost mag het weten,” (literally “Joost is allowed to know [it]”) meaning “heaven knows” or “God knows” (nobody knows).

When we were children, many people used to say jokingly to my brother “Joost mag het weten.”

One day — apparently fearing that some big secret was being kept from me — I asked my mother. “Mother, when am I allowed to know it?”

PS 1. If you like these word games, I recently posted on the medieval nonsense word blituri[1].

PS 2. Nobody is also a subcategory of the void and a sister category of nothing. I recently mentioned the void [2].

Tortured artists and beautiful losers

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe (1889) by Vincent van Gogh

Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe, the purest version of the two ‘bandaged’ portraits.

Vincent van Gogh‘s two Self—Portraits with Bandaged Ear are the most perfect visual expression of the concept of the tortured artist, an artist who in this particular case literally in an act of self-torture cut off his own ear.

Van Gogh was a beautiful loser unacknowledged during his lifetime and posthumously rewarded with success.

One other painting in the category ‘existential angst’ comes to mind, the far more famous The Scream, depicting an artist tortured by existential angst.

Ah … the ash heap of history, the memory hole … oblivion … silence

The sheet music you see above is one of these great moments in the history of art while no one was paying attention.

That is not quite true. People were paying attention but afterwards everyone forgot.

Ah, the ash heap of history, the memory holeoblivion.

But … What exactly are we looking at?

The first piece of silent music.

It’s called Funeral March for the Obsequies of a Deaf Man and was first exhibited in 1884 in Paris by a man called Alphonse Allais who lived from 1854 to 1905.

The sheet music was later published in the album Album primo-avrilesque, a collection of monochrome paintings on which I reported back in 2007[1].

Why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

Page from "Letter on the Deaf and Dumb" which illustrates Denis Diderot's take on medium specificity


There is one page (above, [1][2]) in “Letter on the Deaf and Dumb” on which Diderot illustrates the concept of medium specificity down to a T.

At the top of the page is a musical composition represented by musical notation. Below that is a drawing of a reclining woman.

Both represent a dying woman.

Diderot answers the question “why is it that what appeals to our imagination in poetry will not please our eyes when painted?

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

I have an aversion to Immanuel Kant, especially his aesthetics (that’s the only thing I actually know something about, I have to admit).

While in general I don’t ‘do’ negative criticism, I’m making an exception for the man from Köningsberg [the town where he was born and where he died and which he never left].

I first mentioned his incomprehensible concept of disinterestedness here[1].

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau: Both young children and lambs are symbols of innocence

Innocence (1893) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau

Today, while researching kitsch (most recently explored here[2]), I came upon another and similar of his dicta. This one warns us for charm and emotion in matters of taste:

“Any taste remains barbaric if its liking requires that charms and emotions be mingled in, let alone if it makes these the standard of its approval”.

I’m stumped.

Being charmed and moved, isn’t that what it’s all about?

Not for Kant it would appear.

And then I remembered one of my favorite definitions of aesthetics.

“Some of the meaning of aesthetic as an adjective can be illuminated by comparing it to anaesthetic, which is by construction an antonym of aesthetic. If something is anaesthetic, it tends to dull the senses, cause sleepiness and induce boredom. In contrast, aesthetic may be thought of as anything that tends to enliven or invigorate or wake one up.”

matter of life and death, so to speak.