Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Heinrich von Kleist and the Origin of the Romantics

I suspect that much of the time when Objectivist mention that they believe Immanuel Kant to be the most evil man in history, they probably get stared at as some kind of lunatics. After all, Kant was not a violent man, but rather an "Enlightenment Philosopher." In an interesting post on the German Romantic Poet Heinrich von Kleist, Wolfgang of the German site Objektivismus Heute (Objectivism Today) writes of a book review (entitled, appropriately enough, "O the mind! The unfortunate mind!") in the German newspaper Die Welt, in which the author of the review notes that the origin of von Kleist's Romanticism can be traced to what he termed a "Kant-crisis" (in German, Kant-Krise). Wolgang quotes the review as follows:

Sieht man Kleist als Romantiker, dann ist das Urerlebnis die Kant-Krise. "Wenn alle Menschen statt der Augen grüne Gläser hätten", schreibt Kleist 1801, dann würden sie die Welt für grün halten. Da er aus der Kant-Lektüre schließt, dass unser Bild von der Welt nur ein Produkt der Werkzeuge ist, mit denen wir die Welt betrachten, da er infolgedessen Abschied nimmt vom Glauben der Aufklärung, dass wir die Welt begreifen und dann handelnd verändern könnten, muss er den Verstand entthronen. Der neue oberste Herrscher ist das Gefühl - das "herrliche Gefühl"...

<snip>

Here's my rough translation:

If we regard Kleist as a Romanticist, then the foundational experience is the Kant-crisis. "If all human beings had on green spectacles instead of eyes," wrote Kleist in 1801, then the world would be assumed to be green. Since, as a result of his Kant reading, he concludes that our picture of the world is only a product of the equipment with which we view the world, and thus departs from the Enlightenment belief that we can understand the world and then actively change it, he must dethrone the rational mind. The new highest ruler is the feeling -- the "magnificent feeling"...
Here we have the results of Kant's ideas clearly laid out for us. The idea that the mind cannot know reality means that the mind is impotent, so we might as well rely on our feelings. Ideas have consequences and as more and more 19th century intellectuals such a Hegel, Marx and Nietzsche pondered, rather than challenged, the implications of Kant's ideas, the 20th century culmination in fields far beyond poetry was not far behind. For details see Dr. Peikoff's book http://www.peikoff.com/op/index.htm.

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