One of the traps into which present-day scholars sometimes fall concerns the historicist fallacy: ascribing our own mores, views, and cultural markers to figures from the past. Henry Ford thus imagined the interstate highway system; Thomas Jefferson theorized about the electronic voting machine, and William Shakespeare spoke presciently about space travel (see here). While each of these arguments can be made through a sort of post hoc process, it is easy for most readers to recognize that Ford was not a proto-Eisenhower, Jefferson not a proto-Kathleen Harris, and Shakespeare not a proto-Werner Von Braun.
What, then, are we to make of Writing on the Image: Reading William Morris, edited by David Latham? Most of the contributors to this collection—Latham included—appear to make just such a case for the poet, craftsman, socialist, and book designer William Morris (1834–1896). Morris is held up throughout the volume as a fore-runner, early adopter, a “man ahead of his time” in the feminist, ecological, socialist, and aesthetic movements. Morris’s writing apparently even makes for “good television drama” (225).
Surprisingly, however, Writing on the Image emphatically does not fall prey to the historicist fallacy, primarily because its subject, William Morris, was indeed one of those rare thinkers and doers who continually stepped outside his own historical moment, reviving older traditions and anticipating future trends. Morris, as many have observed, gauged his own thoughts and efforts not against his own society, but against ideals of fellowship, utility, and pleasure. Because of this, Morris may be seen as decontextualizing his own work: his books, articles, crafts, and deeds reflect an originality of approach that unmoors Morris from his own times.
Morris also presents a unique microcosm for studying trends that continue to echo today. While not the first English feminist (witness the germ of that movement among the generation in the 1730s that included Mary Astell), Morris nonetheless was a strong voice calling for greater rights of self-determination and equality for women at all levels of society. Morris was likewise an original thinker and actor in the areas of social thought, historic preservation, ecological conservation, aesthetics, handcrafting, and poetry: all areas that are very much still “in play” today—for example, Morris helped to found the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), which is still in existence today; see http://www.spab.org.uk/.
Today, also, we are passing through the extreme limit of living memory that might connect us directly to Morris and his world. Small indeed is the number of people now alive who, in their youths, knew those who had known Morris, and the living-memory window is closing quickly. As historical figures pass out of living memory—going from “our Morris” to merely “Morris”—the range of ideas associated with them hardens into caricature and shorthand, replacing the memory, with all of its attendant messiness and variability, with study that neatly labels, defines, and delimits.
Latham and his contributors are not, in this sense, studying William Morris so much as rescuing Morris by showing him to have been more than the limited categories by which we traditionally approach historical figures (and, indeed, around which even this review must necessarily be structured). Of the sixteen essays in the collection, all but one (Janis Londraville’s contribution on “The Dream of William Morris: Marya Zaturenska’s Lost Essay”) frame Morris’s actions and writings through a perception that Morris was somehow extraordinary, in the most literal sense of the word. He did not “belong” wholly to his own age, and Morris’s contemporaries perceived this in him.
In 1868, an unsigned review in The Sphinx praised Morris’s work in The Earthly Paradise for its author’s not belonging to the present age or taking part in the shifting theoretical landscape at play even in the nineteenth century:
Mr. Morris, it has been well said, has revived the delightful art of dreaming the old dreary stories in verse. . . . He sees the world again as the old childlike poets saw it before the idea of ‘law’ had been brought forth with much travail into the world, or even the principles of art consciously developed; and the beauty which his poem has, is, therefore, the old fresh beauty, sketched without laborious analysis, due to a visionary eye and a lovely universe, not the beauty of metaphysic subtlety or artistic skill. (49)
Likewise, the short notice for The Earthly Paradise in the April 1870 Catholic World sums up a backward-looking Morris in one sentence: “we like Mr. Morris, because he is antique, classical, and pure, and it is refreshing to get away from the dusty, hot highway of recent literature into his pages” (144).
On the other hand, a reviewer for the Academy, Edward Purcell, opens a review of Morris’s Hopes and Fears for Art in 1882 by placing Morris outside the stream of his own age, but in a forward-looking manner:
If we turn from these bright pages with added despondency it is not because we hope against belief less doggedly than their author that very far ahead, beyond still deeper and more monstrous darkness yet to come, the lost lamp of beauty may one day be rekindled to shine upon the ways of toiling men. Rather it is this, that while fear and hope for the future remain unaltered, the present seems the drearier for this voice from the wilderness crying to a generation eager to accept whatever is beautiful or moving or original in its tones, but of its message,—nothing. (143, emphasis mine)
Near the end of Morris’s life, these two sides of his approach were beginning to be perceived by his contemporaries as oddly fusing. Especially telling in this regard is an article entitled “Modern Men: William Morris,” that appeared in the December 27, 1890 National Observer. The author’s polemic tone fits well with the conservative politics of the National Observer at the time, and the article attempts to cast Morris in the role of trying to uphold incompatible ideals of socialism and artistic genius:
There is not a more complex personality in the world than what is known as William Morris. It is indeed a magnificent achievement to have played the parts of poet, decorator, and pot-house politician. Moreover, Mr. Morris’s perversity is such that he is—and has been—at constant strife with himself. By temperament conservative and aristocratic, it has pleased him to enter into alliance with Social Democrats and adventurers; a middle-class capitalist and employer of labour, he has spent ten years of his life in the denunciation of his kind, and in a moment of inspired cant has even described an audience of artisans and himself as “we Workers”; the wielder of a sturdy, masculine style, he has fought the battle of sentimentality, and has dealt his blows with a petulance that is almost feminine. Though by profession an artist, he is never tired of proclaiming, as a devotee of Mr. Ruskin, that art is more intimately connected with social politics than with physical sensation; and, while he makes light of his true accomplishment, he believes the supreme object of his life to be the deliverance of harangues which Bill Sloggins does not understand and at which superior Fabians smile the smile of patronage. (142)
This last passage is all the more astute for being the introduction to an attack against Morris’s “deluded” (143) attempt to reconcile past artistic practices with future social ideals. While pointing out the supposed inconsistencies between Morris’s younger years and his mature thoughts and actions, the author also neatly demonstrates that Morris did not partake of the dialogue happening in his own day, but struck out on his own, bringing in bits and pieces of art, design, social thought, and theory where they suited, supported, or challenged his own thinking. Thus, Morris’s contemporaries recognized that Morris was an original, one who pointed out new ways of thinking and doing, rather than one who reacted to the events and thoughts around him. He was, in many ways, outside of his own times, and he often found that creating his own way was preferable to following others’ lead, a course he took repeatedly. In book publishing, Morris’s continuum moves from writing the text alone to assisting with the book design to ultimately taking over the entire process. In manufacturing, Morris began with studies in architecture and his time with the G. E. Street firm and ended with the establishment of “The Firm” that became Morris and Co. Even in socialist organizations, Morris joined the Socialist Democratic Federation but eventually split off to form the Hammersmith Socialist League. In all of these areas, Morris realized his own ideas, becoming increasingly proactive, and blazing a trail for his own thinking, his own theories, and his own Weltanschauung (“world outlook” doesn’t quite encompass the notion, here). Hence, Morris was a man whose ideas are especially resistant to the changing views of academic and social theory, and against whom the historicist fallacy is difficult to apply.
The essays in Writing on the Image also capture well this timeless quality of Morris’s many endeavors. The volume is arranged in rough chronological order, “starting with this early poetry . . . in the 1850s and ‘60s, as a decorative artist in the 1860s and ‘70s, as a socialist in the 1880s, as an author of prose romances in the 1890s, and as a printer and book designer also in the 1890s” (13). Such a reduction to basic categories, however, cannot encompass the multivalence of Morris’s approach, and Latham takes pains to point out in his introductory chapter that
we need some explanation for why Morris scholarship appears to have undergone little of the post-structuralist upheaval that overturned literary studies thirty years ago. The shift simply made Morris more fashionable since Morris scholarship long ago had shifted its focus from the literary to the political, from the novel to the romance, from the lyric to the narratological, and from the text to the image. Instead of experiencing a paradigmatic disruption, Morris Scholarship is remarkable for the continuities extending from the work of E. P. Thompson and Raymond Williams in the 1950s to the interdisciplinary work of the 1990s and the 2000s. (3)
Further, Latham notes that the dichotomies that he has set up reflect a “split between the academics and the artisans” (4) who study Morris, with the current collection intended as an exploration of the liminal space within these pairings that Morris seems to inhabit. In Writing on the Image, Latham has selected contributions from writers new to the field—like Matthew Beaumont, Wanda Campbell, Yuri Cowan, Janet Wright Friesen, Chris Jones, Frederick Kirchhoff, and Charles LaPorte—as well as scholars familiar to the readers of the Journal of William Morris Studies—like David M. R. Bentley, Florence Boos, David Faldet, Isolde Karen Herbert, Ruth Kinna, and Janis Londraville. It may be instructive to group the essays in the volume thematically, rather than chronologically.
D. M. R. Bentley writes on “(Dis)continuities: Arthur’s Tomb, Modern Painters, and Morris’s Early Wallpaper Designs,” and Janet Wright Friesen contributes “William Morris, Shaper of Tales: Creating a Hero’s Story in ‘Sir Peter Harpdon’s End.’” Both of these essays help to demonstrate Morris’s early leanings toward the Pre-Raphaelite model of medievalism, simple pattern, and didactic content. Bentley outlines a comparison of Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s image of Arthur’s Tomb, seeing echoes from the visual space and composition of that image in the early wallpapers Fruit (or, Pomegranate) and Trellis from Morris. Similar patterns and allegorical elements in both compositions help Bentley to show Morris founding his early work on Pre-Raphaelite ideas while simultaneously abstracting them, modifying them, and making a new thing all his own. Likewise, Friesen’s essay shows how Morris frames a tale within a tale within another tale. Peter Harpdon’s execution is told by Lady Alice, whose own telling is shaped by Morris’s knowledge of the structure of the story of Hector in the Iliad and in Froissart’s Chronicles:
However, readers are not solely dependent on an ability to recognize allusions to appreciate the reflexive nature of ‘Sir Peter Harpdon’s End.’ . . . Lady Alice’s ruminations on Launcelot’s heroic legacy suggest the prominent theme of shaping interpretation. They further suggest that Sir Peter’s tale is framed within his lady’s tale. . . . [Lady Alice] has integrated her message with her medium and shaped her story of a hero. (40)
Again, the idea borne along is that of Morris creating new ideas and new art while remaining true to history and looking forward to an audience in the future. Although many of the historical figures with whom Sir Peter Harpdon interacts appear in one of Morris’s source texts, Froissart’s Chronicles (35), Sir Peter himself does not feature there, and is apparently an invention of Morris’s that drives his narrative device. Lady Alice and Queen Guenevere present strong female characters whose control of the narrative and control over their persons and actions also place Morris in the camp of the feminist movement.
Morris’s treatment of women in his writing and in his social activism makes up another block of essays in Writing on the Image. Florence Boos’s “Medea and Circe as ‘Wise’ Women in the Poetry of William Morris and Augusta Weber” points to Morris’s re-shaping of the role in Morris’s The Life and Death of Jason for Medea and Circe, which are very different from those assigned to these women in Homer’s Odyssey and Appolonius’s Argonautica. In these source texts, Circe is a fated oracle whose counsel to Jason is presented as willed by the gods. Jason’s betrayal of his wife Medea with Creon’s daughter Glauce provokes Medea into the murder of their children. Boos argues that Morris’s and Augusta Weber’s treatments of Circe and Medea humanize them, give them responsibility for their actions and words, and thus empower them and increase the sense of their personal tragedies in the narrative. Both characters are shown in Weber’s and Morris’s versions to be more self-aware and to experience inner lives as fully feeling and thinking beings, rather than being mere mechanisms through which the gods mete out the fate of the male characters. Indeed, Boos cites Henry James in the North American Review, who noted that “from the moment that Medea comes into the poem, Jason falls into the second place, and keeps it to the end” (qtd. in Latham, ed., 44). Boos recognizes that “Morris did not characterize the figure of Medea in feminist terms, but her (relative) sexual autonomy and canny powers of uninhibited action were unconventional in their time” (57). The revisions that both Morris and Webster made to the source narratives reveal the innovative thinking about gender that was to become a key part of socialist thinking later in the nineteenth century.
Likewise, Jane Thomas, known best for her gender-studies work on Thomas Hardy and on the Pre-Raphaelite sculptor/poet Thomas Woolner, contributes “Morris and the Muse: Gender and Aestheticism in William Morris’s ‘Pygmalion and the Image.’” Thomas’s study of Woolner’s sculpture (and her actually having studied Woolner’s saccharine and nearly-unreadable long poem Pygmalion) stand her in good stead to make the claim that Morris’s version of the Pygmalion myth opens new ways of seeing the relationship between the artist and his art. Seeing Galatea as a way of sublimating the male “insecurity, uncertainty, and nostalgia” (71) about the ongoing “Woman Question” of the day, Thomas argues that Morris replaced “the quiver and the bow—signs of masculine potency in the natural word [with] the chisel, the tool of art which functions here as a phallic signifier rendered impotent by the image’s refusal to respond to her signification” (69). Thus, even in Morris’s early writing, the crux of the “Woman Question” is addressed by giving agency and power to the traditionally female aspects of the male nature: the creature teaches the creator.
Ruth Kinna’s “Socialist Fellowship and the Woman Question” demonstrates how Morris, although not a feminist in the current sense of the term, advocated strongly for increased rights and respect for women in his own times. Kinna argues that
Morris believed that the woman question revolved around two evils: exploitation in the labour force and subordination in bourgeois marriage. He believed that the resolution of these issues required socialists to recognize that women were naturally different from men. Work and romance were the two principal realms of this difference and he matched them to the problems of capitalist exploitation and marital oppression respectively. This pairing led him to argue that the emancipation of women required a dual liberation, through the implementation of a natural division of labour and the realization of free love. (183)
Kinna insightfully distinguishes from the idea of male-female equality, which Morris did not advocate, and male-female fellowship based on the “natural spheres” of the sexes: “The most controversial aspect of Morris’s solution to the woman question was his desire to counter what he saw as the destructive attempts of some feminist to emancipate women from motherhood” (196). For instance, Morris argued that women are naturally suited to domestic pursuits, but their tendency to be better organized and more morally attuned than men makes them the equals of men, while not identical to them. As part of their natural stewardship of sexual and family relationships, women, for Morris, played an active role in gender construction, and should be accorded respect and freedom to pursue their own aims.
Writing on the Image also addresses another idea of natural stewardship: Morris’s advocacy for environmental sensitivity. David Faldet’s “The River at the Heart of Morris’s Ecological Thought” and Frederick Kirchhoff’s “History Becomes Geography: Tracing Morris’s Later Thought” offer early and later examples, respectively, of how Morris mapped English geography onto his work, whether his writing or his wallpaper designs. Faldet’s research into the state of the Thames during Morris’s lifetime helps to metonymize the river to stand in for the health of both the environment and society in general. The contrast is seen most explicitly in the opening of News from Nowhere, when the “wetland, forests, and meadows that have replaced the hard urban landscape of the crowded nineteenth-century population have allowed the natural purification systems, the green cells, of the environment to clean the waters before they enter the river” (80). Faldet also notes how the future Thames, freed of its man-made constraints, echoes the human society under communal living: the river reverts to its natural characteristics, as do the inhabitants of Nowhere:
Ellen seems to recognize that she is like the land and the river. She tells Guest, once they arrive at Kelmscott, that in a past age, “I should never have bought pleasure from the rich men, or even opportunity of action . . . I should have been wrecked and wasted in one way or another, either by penury or luxury.” Society under capitalism would have used her as it had the river. . . . In the system of capitalism, viewed from the Marxist perspective Morris had adopted by the time he wrote News from Nowhere, ownership and economic privilege grant agency and freedom on the one side, but take it away on the other. Poor but pretty women and a useless but pretty river suffered similar fates under the industrial capitalism of the nineteenth-century London in which Morris made his home. (81)
Like Faldet, Kirchhoff traces Morris’s ideals of questing in The Roots of the Mountains as one in which “Morris depicts a society that has adopted—even improved upon—[previous] technology without compromising its primitive . . . culture, one that has become medieval (or quasi-medieval) without becoming Christian” (176-177). The moral value that replaces Christianity is a respect for the earth and the environment. It is this earth-sense that holds together the social community, as well. What Morris “really wants turns out to be a kind of fixed anteriority: a primal relationship to the earth, and the seasons, and weather” (179). Or, “when history is replaced by geography, time loses its power to dominate human activity” (179).
Karen Herbert demonstrates how well current theories of post-colonial narrative may be stood on their heads by applying them to the native country in “News from Nowhere as Autoethnography: A Future History of ‘Home Colonization,” where she argues that, by adopting the stance of a visitor from the future (either a nineteenth-century man who has traveled back to the thirteenth century, or as a nineteenth-century man who has returned to the 1800s from a visit to the future) who communicates with the past, Morris is able to frame his own times from outside them. Herbert recognizes that “in his lectures, letters, and Commonweal notes, Morris reiterates the need for a change in perception, desire, and expectations in order to allow for the recognition that domestic and colonial ownership of ideas, people, and landscape is neither the natural nor the inevitable condition of society that imperialist propaganda would have it to be” (103).
Although I will not examine them at length, other themes are also treated in Writing on the Image. The Rational Dress movement and the Pre-Raphaelite focus on costume as social determinant receive an insightful treatment from Wanda Campbell in “Clothes from Nowhere: Costume as Social Symbol in the Work of William Morris.” In order to demonstrate how differently Morris’s ideas about future utopias were from those of his contemporaries, especially Edward Bellamy’s well-known “from the year 2000” book Looking Backward (1888), Matthew Beaumont contributes “To Live in the Present: News from Nowhere and the Representation of the Present in Late Victorian Utopian Fiction.” The opposite pole of Morris’s thought, medievalism as a model for social fellowship, is well expressed in Yuri Cowan’s “‘Paradyse Erthly’: John Ball and the Medieval Dream-Vision” and Chris Jones’s “The Reception of William Morris’s Beowulf.” Writing on the Image ends by pulling back from Morris himself and taking a broader perspective, situating Morris at the end of his career as the kind of caricature figure against which others would later react, compartmentalizing Morris into neat categories that make possible sweeping summative statements. Charles LaPorte writes on “Morris’s Compromises: On Victorian Editorial Theory and the Kelmscott Chaucer,” and Janis Londraville takes the reader beyond Morris’s own lifetime into “’The Dream of William Morris’: Marya Zaturenska’s Lost Essay.”
One small aside about the physical design of Writing on the Image is appropriate to note. As a physical object, Writing on The Image is well made and well laid out, as a volume about a book designer ought to be. The only challenge for this reviewer was that the illustrations were bound out of order into the middle of the book, so one has to hunt for the images that accompany the texts—an ordinarily minor drawback that is the more noticeable for its comparison against Morris’s own exacting practices, although it is a fault that can be laid at the feet of the binder and not the authors.
In sum, the combination of established scholars and fresh perspectives in Writing on the Image forms a compelling analysis of the life and output of William Morris, a man whose talents themselves spanned several fields, encompassed (and often surpassed) many theoretical approaches, and spilled beyond temporal categorization. Latham’s stated aim in collecting the essays in the volume was to create “a collection of interdisciplinary essays that showcases a significant progression in [the] evolutionary pace of Morris scholarship,” and Writing on the Image demonstrates that the different approaches to studying Morris that have come and gone over the past century and a half—starting when Morris was still alive and continuing to the present day—represent a panoply of voices from among which we can reconstruct an image of William Morris that goes beyond a historical caricature and embodies a living mind whose ideas resonate even today.
“Modern Men: William Morris.” National Observer 5.110 (27 Dec. 1890): 142-143.
“Morris’s Earthly Paradise.” Catholic World 11.61 (Apr. 1870): 144.
“Passages from the Earthly Paradise.” The Sphinx 1.6 (29 Aug. 1868): .
Purcell, E[dward]. “Fine Art: Morris’s Hopes and Fears for Art.” Academy 21.512 (25 Feb. 1882): 143-144.
Elizabeth Helsinger has written numerous outstanding books and essays and brings to this latest undertaking considerable knowledge and insight. She begins by outlining several areas of concentration, which she calls acts of attention, repetition, and translation and their interaction in the works of William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
The beginning chapter zeroes in on the significance of strangeness or estrangement to her approach. Strangeness was a decided trait of early Pre-Raphaelite painting―evident in awkward poses and unidealized faces―and this has already been investigated by other scholars. But Helsinger instead probes "the newly strange, dominating presence of 'things' [that] is striking in Pre-Raphaelite poems and pictures of the very early 1850s" (11). In this she is on target and innovative, as is her assertion that "Thinking of poems and pictures as objects with design and production that should be no less controlled by the artist or poet enabled the Pre-Raphaelites to project alternative ways of conceiving temporal and spatial relations among persons and things" (11).
The first chapter valorizes the importance of sensory intensity, aligning this in part to the heightened use of color in both Morris and Rossetti's poetry. Repetition, a guiding tenet throughout Helsinger's arguments, is sustained on various levels, including as a quality evident in the power of patterns in wallpaper and poems alike. But perhaps the author's most intriguing focus is on how both Morris and Rossetti composed multiple kinds of art objects and texts for themselves and others, along the way controlling their designs carefully. Helsinger is highly aware of the paradox that despite their preference for previous eras and styles, the two artists actually embraced the modern world in some respects in order to regulate the results: "... Experimenting with alternatives to the way objects were made, sold, and used gave Rossetti and Morris a keener sense of those aspects of poems that modern life did not easily accommodate: the value of materials ('thing-ness' grasped through visual, aural, and tactile or somatic senses); an awareness of the collaborative and collective aspects of the making of poems into books; and an appreciation for the shaping craft of skill ... as sources of other forms of knowledge worth defending in the making of poems and books no less than paintings and other objects" (15).
In "Acts of Attention," the second section, Helsinger chronicles how Rossetti's passion for detail escalated his deployment of sensory perception in numerous poems. This chapter showcases the author's dazzling ekphrastic talents: surely one of Helsinger's most trenchant insights underscores Rossetti's relationship with Renaissance art and how in his poems on pictures by other painters he constructed a "kind of historical otherness an object of desire" (28). Accordingly, Helsinger tackles Mantegna's painting Parnassus, Mars, and Venus and the poem Rossetti wrote for it. A similar recharging and recombining of meaning occurred vis-a-vis Giorgione's Concert Champêtre, which inspired Rossetti's "For a Venetian Pastoral". As she probes Rossetti's sensory perceptions, Helsinger provides some of the most profound exegeses ever of these poems and their relationship to original works of art. She understands as well Rossetti's attraction to the topic and aura of the Virgin Mary, not only in Hans Memling's The Mystical Marriage of St. Catherine but also in his own works. She also offers a sensitive reading of Rossetti's "Hand and Soul," a poem to which Helsinger returns repeatedly because of its subject of an artist (in this instance, a Renaissance one) who paints the soul as a female figure. While all of Helsinger's commentary is cogent, including her reminder that The Girlhood of Mary Virgin was created before Rossetti saw the Memling painting, the author in her discussion of Ecce Ancilla Domini might have drawn a parallel with the "cowering" or "shivering" madonna that was an earlier pictorial tradition in art.
Morris emerges as the focus of the third chapter entitled "Lyric Color and The Defence of Guenevere.” In addition to noting how he created poems for three Rossetti watercolors, Helsinger investigates how vital coloristic expressiveness is to The Defence and notes how challenging and modern these sensations were for a Victorian poet to attempt. Unlike earlier scholars, Helsinger discerns how the color elements in Morris' poems relate to his use of actual hues in dyes and painting pigments. Citing the influence of medieval illuminated manuscripts along with John Ruskin's beliefs about color, she compares the twisting poses in the The Defence with Holman Hunt's Claudio and Isabella canvas, thereby bringing new dimensions to each work/medium. And her linkage of the strong colors of clothing worn by some Pre-Raphaelite characters with those of everyday laborers is also brilliant and new.
Chapter 4, "Chromatic States," might also refer to the states of mind that color could induce, whether transporting Keats or affecting Morris, who brought color to all his artistic endeavors, whether wallpaper designs, poems, printed books, or textiles. In part this chapter offers a useful mini-history of the status of color (including Goethe and Chevreul) in theory and in art criticism in the 19th century. The only part of this chapter that does not work very smoothly is the coda, which discusses the Green Dining Room design Morris did with Philip Webb (and Edward Burne-Jones).
Portraiture, along with Gothic or supernatural subjects as manifested in Rossetti's oeuvre, are treated in the ensuing chapter, and although such visual examples as Rossetti's “How they met Themselves” and “Saint Agnes of Intercession” are explored, overall this chapter does not seem to fit as readily with the rest of the book. The best part nonetheless reflects upon Rossetti's Dantean choice of subject in Beata Beatrix and its relation to his poem "The Portrait".
Chapter Six, "Portraits and Poesie," posits a helpful new appellation--or reminder of Rossetti's terminology--for some of the paintings he created between1859-66 and named "picture sonnets" (144). These paintings, influenced by Titian's portraits like Woman with a Mirror, blended "decorative commodity and embodied thought" (144). Helsinger makes an excellent case for how Rossetti's psychological portraits in paint and lyric poetry are connected, as well as how his "intellectual beauties" (146) served both as "... highly decorative objects avidly collected by a small group of connoisseur-clients and as difficult thoughts embedded in shifting webs of historical and literary reference" (146).
This chapter is probably the most valuable from an art historical perspective, analyzing many of Rossetti's "material girls" and their material goods. Bocca Baciata, Regina Cordium, and Fair Rosamund are convincingly situated as small non-portraits replete with autobiographical meaning. In time Rossetti's stunners or decorative beauties became larger in scale, more expensive, and less portrait-like. These are all new points, as is Helsinger's splendid assertion that some of these works were created as "room decoration" (150) for affluent clients like Frederick Leyland. Rossetti disliked public exhibition of his works and adamantly avoided this, but in the case of Leyland's drawing room, Rossetti enjoyed having his works shown together in a certain manner. The repetitive nature of Rossetti's seemingly endless production of beauties was mirrored in how they were displayed. In the Leyland drawing room, the intimacies of the artist's life and the faces of his lovers materialized in a virtual procession of "stunners" around the walls, like musical notes rhythmically positioned on a page. Rather than apologize for any "embarrassing repetitiveness" (152) implied by such arrangement, Helsinger views this tendency as a deliberate strategy, "a dominant aesthetic" (152), and a "rhythmic series" (153) that is still perpetuated, e.g., in the 200-3 installation of Rossetti's works at the Fogg Art Museum. She furthermore states that Rossetti achieved financial success and "a niche market for his attractive picture objects among a self-selecting group of wealthy, discriminating patrons with whom he could deal on a more or less personal basis. By repeating his portrait-like female figures, Rossetti gave to what are sometimes less than great paintings ... much of their considerable impact on contemporary and future public consciousness. His variations on a theme then and now have been seen collectively as 'the Pre-Raphaelite woman' or 'the Rossetti woman’ " (153-4).
The final contribution of this multivalent chapter explores how often Rossetti wrote poems for his decorative pictures, sometimes inscribing them on the frame or even onto the canvas. Such double works of art (being both pictures and picture-sonnets) as Lady Lilith, Sibylla Palmifera, and Astarte Syriaca celebrate the principle of beauty above all and invited contemplation and sensuous pleasure from the spectator, orchestrating what Helsinger calls a return to "a primarily decorative aesthetic art to portraiture"(161). In her ruminations on other works like Persephone, Pandora, and The Day Dream, Helsinger perceives both ambiguities of meaning and an amalgam of portraiture and self-portraiture: "The picture-sonnet makes the painting a form of self-portraiture for the viewer, the collector, and the artist" (162) as well as "... makes the relationship of a male artist ... to a female model―and the male poet-artist's response to differing incarnations of Beauty as a woman―the explicit rather than the unacknowledged problem for study" (162).
The author in the seventh chapter shifts her scrutiny to Rossetti and the art of the book. Both Morris and Rossetti broke through the barriers of traditional fine arts to innovate novel and tangible decorative forms in books, rooms, and pictures. The notion of frames and framing is one that also concerned Rossetti, e.g., in his negotiations with Leyland on the size and framing of all the works by this artist Leyland owned. Rossetti's frames were unique in their constructed look, an oddly flat and abstract effect that affirmed their special value and helped "to entice the eye and to make the images stand out from the backgrounds" (184). The first scholar in many years to expound upon Rossetti's frame-making, Helsinger posits that Rossetti made new frames for some objects "to designate the difference in the pictorial objects, its owner, and its relation to its setting" (185). She also points out how Rossetti developed a "house" or family style for the typically spare book covers he designed for his sister and brother as well as himself. In the end Rossetti "... designed books or framed pictures or assembled rooms that convey a distinctive sense of presence, compelling attention and producing effects that exceed the linguistic or iconic aspects of text and image" (198).
The penultimate chapter, "Designing The Earthly Paradise," examines how Morris turned to decoration and design in the early 1860s on myriad surfaces―walls, pages, rooms, and books, and embedded these into everyday life and usage. The historical background on the Great Exhibition of 1851 confirms how horrified he was by the manufactured goods on display there, feeling so strongly that he aspired thereafter to create designs that projected soothing qualities.
The last chapter shifts back to Rossetti and his "House of Life" poems, demonstrating in a new way his transformations of the "non-narrative functions of the sonnet collection or sequence ..." (328). In addition, Helsinger suggests a recursive reading and states that Rossetti creates a "... context that incorporates poem objects and picture objects into more ambitious explorations of lyric art's relations to a modern world ..." (217). To some extent this chapter seems somewhat out of balance with the preceding one, requiring the reader to keep shifting gears to understand the countless often subtle yet substantive points the author makes. In the end, this series of poems is revisionary, and like the chapter itself, remains densely populated with examples of how repetitiveness combines with other traits to prove that "Rossetti's sonnets, like all his poems, are written for both the eye and the ear, creating an extraordinarily dense texture of patterns in both registers ..." (245) Like the rest of this book, this finale also penetrates myriad complex issues and rhythms and testifies to Helsinger's skill and perceptiveness in illuminating all these elements and more.
Susan P. Casteras
Theodor Adorno, History and Freedom: Lectures 1964-1965. Edited by Rolf Tiederman, translated by Rodney Livingstone. Cambridge, Polity Press, 2006. ISBN 9780745630137. Originally published in German as Zur Lehre von der Geschichte und von der Freiheit (1964/65) Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 2001.
Adorno’s 1964-1965 lecture course is a preliminary version of the chapters on Kant and Hegel in Negative Dialectics. These chapters are “models” of the philosophical method implied by Adorno’s investigations in the earlier sections of that work. This lecture course thus deals, as those chapters did, with the highly interrelated problems of history in philosophy and human freedom, taking Hegel’s and Kant’s systems of philosophy as sites for negative dialectical analysis. As usual with Adorno’s philosophical output, the presentation of the material renders its content far from transparent. In the lecture format, however, Adorno is more careful to give his listeners at least some signposts for his line of thought, at times even adopting a conversational tone. The main value of these lectures for an audience interested in aesthetic topics is thus the more narrativisitic alternative they provide to the relentless “constellations” that characterize Adorno’s written work. Adorno’s reflections on the philosophy of history and freedom are motivated by a concern for the dislocation between theory and practice, between the abstract and the concrete. These lectures are thus amply filled with examples, many from the domains of art and culture that illustrate his analyses of historicity and freedom.
In his discussion of the philosophy of history, Adorno engages with Enlightenment thought, using its own concepts, as well as his own thorough knowledge of its history, to perform an immanent critique of that tradition. Adorno ranges over the entire corpus of Kantian and Hegelian philosophical production, but regards Kant’s essay on universal history and Hegel’s pseudo-realization of that programme in the Phenomenology of Spirit as milestones of central importance. Adorno’s engagement with this tradition is unique in that he salvages out of it a sense of historicity. This is an unusual stance given the preponderance of neo-Hegelian postmodernist assertions that history as such has come to an end. As Rolf Tiedermann notes in his Forward, such assertions signal not the end of history, but simply the end of historical consciousness, something that Adorno sees as an obstacle to the recognition of human suffering. Thus, rather than simply criticizing the conception of a grand progressive “master narrative” as dominating and identifying (which of course he grants it is), Adorno emphasizes the legitimacy of constructing universal narratives. He is quick to point out against the naïve criticism of universality that the universal and the particular are only ever meaningfully defined in relation to one another, that it is the universal that creates the particular, and that the universal needs the particular in order to perform the function of its dissolution.
Adorno’s recognition of the necessity of the universal, in the midst of his striving for a philosophy that can liberate the particular, exemplifies his negative dialectical method. This is an essentially paradoxical style of thought, one that tolerates ambiguities and contradictions rather than attempting to resolve them, and is therefore well suited to a paradoxical society in which “even the most highly placed are merely functions of their function.” (167) If we think of Adorno’s thesis that humanity dominates nature, as well as itself, by means of instrumental and subsumptive rationality, the negative dialectic recognizes this as a master-slave relationship, but one in which the contradictory status of the master as the slave of the slave goes unrecognized, and the revolutionary action hoped for by the Marxists goes unrealized.
It is apparent in these lectures that Adorno’s paradoxical mode of thinking constitutes his major contribution to philosophical discourse, and comprises his “solution” to the problems of history and freedom. The notions that he elaborates of the particularity of the universal, progress in the suspension of progress, and freedom in unfreedom, are the positive results of his negative dialectic. For example, in his discussion of continuity and discontinuity in history, Adorno cautions against the prevailing tendency, which may even result from a hasty reading of his own work, that discontinuity should be emphasized at the expense of continuity, in order to stall the dominating effects of universal reason. Instead, Adorno insists that “the task of a dialectical philosophy of history … is to keep both these conceptions in mind—that of discontinuity and that of universal history.” (92) Universal history is always constructed in response to, that is to say, against the complex and contingent particularity of events. Likewise, such particularities can only be thought by the means of universal concepts. To combine these opposed ways of interpreting history in a single thought is to uncover Adorno’s real critical insight. Again, whereas readers of the Dialectic of Enlightenment may have been tempted to label universal reason as the source of all social disaster, Adorno actually identifies the violence and subjugation of cultures with the relation between universal reason and particular events: “the responsibility for the threats that the advancing sciences unleash on mankind lies not with reason or science, but with the way in which reason is entwined with very real social conditions.” (166) Adorno thus paradoxically seeks to salvage something of the Enlightenment notion of universal history in an attempt to understand its effects. The ways in which he salvages it always involve him, again, in paradoxical lines of thought, which for him are indicative of the real complexity of history.
Progress in the arts, for instance, “both exists and does not exist.” (167) Adorno opposes Oswald Spengler’s teleological notion of cultural morphology, but emphasizes that, while this universalizing conception is not viable from the externalist point of view of the historian who is distanced from the phenomena that he seeks to explain, the notion of art’s progress is always active in the moment of artistic creation, an epistemic point of view that the historian can no longer access. For example, Adorno says, “it is questionable whether the discovery of perspective means that the painting of the High Renaissance is intrinsically superior to the works of the so-called primitives.” (166) From the point of view of the Renaissance painters themselves, however, such a doubt concerning the validity of technical progress in the art would have been “contrary to what its own logic called for.” (167) The technical mastery that art took as the condition of its progressive momentum for long periods of its development is recognized as having a dual effect on what Adorno thinks of as the true progress of art (a progress which, for Adorno, is nonetheless always the same). Does technique improve the value of an artwork? According to Adorno, in the case of Mozart, the answer is yes; in the case of perspective painting, no. Aesthetic value is instead attached to novelty, not of the merely amusing kind, but the kind of novelty that somehow gets outside—or hints at what is just beyond—the prevailing worldview. Mozart’s novelty was achieved through pushing the logic of the musical forms of his predecessors to their limits, whereas in the case of Renaissance painting, the new techniques were, Adorno suggests, at their most powerful when they were in a crude but highly anticipatory state. What remains consistently valuable in the history of art, and carries over with each re-writing of that history, are those moments of unthought newness. Novelty is thus a central concept for Adorno, as it encompasses the mutually contradictory ideas of sameness and difference. When novelty appears in the cultural domain, in innovative works of music or visual art, for instance, it shows its dependence on traditional categories, even while breaking free from those categories.
For Adorno, the abstract logic governing history and freedom can be witnessed most clearly in the concrete subject matter of aesthetics. He suggests that the extremely abstract and at times nearly unthinkable problems that philosophy wrestles with can somehow be concretized, and therefore understood, in studying real phenomena of cultural production. “Through the medium of aesthetics,” Adorno says, “questions concerning the philosophy of history and even metaphysics become legible.” (125) Works such as Georg Lukacs’s Theory of the Novel and Walter Benjamin’s The Origin of German Tragic Drama exemplify the possibility of grasping the essentially contradictory nature of the problems of historical progress and human freedom by reading off the “truth content” of artworks, that is, the quality that some artworks have of capturing their particular historical conditions of possibility, even while appearing to the subject as something completely novel. We know this already from Aesthetic Theory, but in these lectures the aesthetic is re-contextualized by Adorno’s overriding concern with more “philosophical” problems, a fact that allows us to see his thinking about aesthetic matters outside the often labyrinthine constellations of his later work in aesthetics. It is quite obvious here, for example, that the truth content of artworks constitutes a thoroughly contradictory status, but also a highly significant juncture of universal and particular, dominated and free. Truth content appears in artworks throughout history, always defined as such in relation to the particular historical contexts in which they are produced, and as such counts as a universal truth about art (and cultural production in general). At the same time, however, artworks constantly betray their own self-imposed narratives of historical progress, rewriting the very art-historical traditions of which they are a part, whenever they succeed in exhibiting content that escapes the reigning universal notions. That the historical dialectics of art production provide a more “legible” expression of historical dialectics in general is seen in these lectures through the fact that the role of aesthetics is marginal, and appears only by way of example.
Another of Adorno’s paradoxical conclusions is that of the concurrent stifling effect and evident need for interpretation. Since the historical moment of the intensification of self-reflective thought, represented in the dramatic form by Hamlet, interpretation has absorbed “all the energies that were formerly concentrated in attempts to bring about a novel state of affairs.” (128) This need for interpretation is a form of false consciousness, initiated by Hegel’s positing of the end of history, which nonetheless steers the course of critical reflection back into itself, and prevents positive political action. The interpretive pursuits—art and philosophy—are complicit parties in this, but also embody the only avenues of real critique. This critique, in what is a truly ironic paradox, can only take the form of the recognition of the eddied state of affairs within historical consciousness. Philosophy and art thus go on interpreting, because it is at once their fate and their privilege to do so. Adorno’s comments on interpretation in these lectures show that Adorno’s philosophical project, far from a narrow-minded pessimism, is in fact an impassioned attempt to make a virtue of necessity. “If thought finds itself locked into a situation in which practice is blocked so that interpretation is the only activity left open to it,” he says, “it would be an illusion and pure self-deception for philosophy to react otherwise.” (128) Adorno even suggests that the philosopher arrives at a kind of Kantian sublimity when so necessarily confronted with the “joys of interpretation.” (137) Interpretation is a flimsy implement, but it is the only means by which we may approach the non-identical.
The lectures on human freedom, although ranging over a wide array material, focus on Kant, and especially on his Third Antinomy in the Critique of Pure Reason, in which reason falters between the opposed theses of freedom and unfreedom. Adorno discovers in this tension an expression of the bourgeois tendency to deny freedom to those they depended on, while also providing freedom with a philosophical justification based on human essence, and therefore applicable to all. It was an imperative, according to Adorno, that at the beginning of the “bourgeois age,” the bourgeois class find some way of grounding the material liberation it was beginning to experience in the facts of human nature. The fact that the bourgeois class depended for its freedom on the unfreedom of the dominated class could be covered up by pointing to a deeper, perhaps transcendental, case of the necessity of human freedom. The attempt to provide an absolute proof of this freedom resulted, fittingly as Adorno sees it, in Kant’s grounding freedom in the will, but defining the will as obedience to universal law, thus making freedom subservient to the demands of rationality. There is thus a paradoxical “freedom in unfreedom” in the relation between the Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason, which has found expression in modern society, in the various forms of freedom that Adorno has famously revealed elsewhere to be instances of false consciousness: freedom of expression, artistic freedom, political freedom, and so on. As Adorno says, “the more theory urges the need for freedom, the more theory insists that human beings are essentially free, that their will is absolutely free and that they have absolute responsibility for themselves, then the more readily theory lends itself to repression.” (197) It is thus that criminal law adopts a “Kantian” spirit in modernity, identifying freedom with individual responsibility, thereby justifying any regime of punishment. In societies that operate under such a universal notion of freedom, freedom reverts to mere punitive ideology. The paradox here is that the most obvious road to human freedom has shown itself in practice to contain its own negation: to establish absolutely that we are free has led to the societal assumption that we are absolutely free, and therefore absolutely beholden to legal authority. Real freedom, therefore, must be sought by some other means than trying to establish itself philosophically. Thus rationality, which is seldom more than rationalization, is both the obstacle and the only means of overcoming the obstacle, to a free society.
The lectures on freedom, like the ones on history, are fragmentary and restless, but nonetheless offer some profound insights into Adorno’s way of thinking. On learning to think dialectically, for example, he instructs that “you need to free yourselves completely and utterly from the idea that everything that has ever existed is able to preserve itself in a form identical with what it once was.” (236) Adorno’s thinking is not as deterministic as that of Hegel, for example, whose notion of aufhebung obeyed a universal logic. Instead, Adorno advocates a kind of slippery version of universal history, in which even the most secure concepts and ideals are continuously transformed by their appearance in contexts of irreducible particularity. Universals weaken; they spend themselves in their confrontation with the particular, and emerge transformed, in a way that can only after the fact be once more subsumed under a universal history. Adorno gives the example of Viennese classicism in music, which, although it “arose from the society of the absolutist courts and their need for entertainment,” nonetheless developed to produce the mature works of Haydn, Mozart, and especially Beethoven, works that transcend the category of the “divertissement.” (236) A new category appears, that of the genius composer, who, in his profound acts of individual creativity, is nonetheless fated to become circumscribed by his classification as a representative of a style.
What is most special about these lectures is that they capture Adorno lending universal history and human freedom an enormous amount of credit. This is not just because he wants the most sophisticated reconstructions of these concepts in order to provide an in-depth critique. Adorno clearly wants to recapture the promise of these ideals, while recognizing that it is thoroughly paradoxical to do so. Adorno is keenly aware that in his role as a philosopher he is criticizing the bourgeois ideology from within, and must therefore defend an ambiguous standpoint: although he can trace the various ways in which the Kantian and Hegelian systems undermined themselves (sometimes disastrously) in practice, it is clear to Adorno, from his meta-theoretical stance, that it would be folly to attempt to resolve the contradictions they have left behind. A negative dialectic only describes, it does not act, nor does it recommend action. Thus the philosophy that ultimately emerges from these lectures is a powerfully insightful, yet impotent one, a philosophy that abstains from prescription because, as he famously asserts at the beginning of Negative Dialectics, “the moment of its realization was missed.”
Rachel Zuckert makes a significant contribution to Kantian studies in this brilliant and compelling analysis of the Critique of Judgement. Through an extended analysis of the principle of purposiveness, she defends the coherence of Kant’s text, integrating its three concerns (with empirical concept formation, teleological judgements of organisms, and aesthetic judgements of beauty, treated here in this order). Purposiveness is an a priori, transcendental, and subjective principle of reflective judging, which, she argues, establishes the unity of the diverse, or the lawfulness of the contingent. While all concepts for Kant function to unify the manifold, the categories of the Critique of Pure Reason differ fundamentally from the synthesising judgemental activities governed by the principle of purposiveness. The categories of pure reason grasp phenomena as spatio-temporal objects to be assimilated under general determinations or forms of thought. In linking empirical concepts, organisms, and beautiful objects through purposiveness, Kant, on Zuckert’s reading, supplements the Critique of Pure Reason by attending more closely both to the particular character of objects, and to their places within larger systematic wholes. He thus initiates a move beyond formalism which influences subsequent developments in German idealism.
For Kant, the faculties of theoretical understanding, practical reason, and judgement are each governed by an a priori principle. For judgement, this principle is purposiveness, as the projection or anticipation of a whole not given in experience, ‘an indeterminate future end’ (p. 10). Purposiveness introduced in the Critique of Judgement is not a concept in the sense of the CPR’s table of categories (which Kant had claimed to be exhaustive), but a distinctive structure or activity of judging. It is a principle of reflective and not determinative judgement. Here we do not ‘legislate to phenomena’, subsuming them under a given concept as in cognitive experience, but rather we start from the particular and seek a corresponding universal. In Kant’s transcendental account, the principle of purposiveness that guides reflective judgement is not to be understood as objective: it is not a dogmatic assertion that objects in nature have purposes or are oriented toward conceptually identified perfections or ends (as in the Leibniz-inspired rationalism of Christian Wolff); nor that they are engendered through purposive action (though they may be: insofar as human and not divine agency is involved, such production is technical, and is governed by processes of external teleology explicable in purely mechanical terms, as Zuckert also shows). Rather, we may (indeed, must) construe some ranges of objects as conforming to the subjective principle of purpose. Their parts are ordered as if purposively, though without a specific, conceptually-defined end. They can be seen under the regulative idea of articulated unity, an (anticipated) whole made up of discrete particulars, whose interactions harmoniously effect the unity of the object. Such an intrinsically teleological account differs from a mechanistic one, as warranted by the CPR, in at least three ways: it is oriented toward a future end, it admits reciprocal causality rather than the mere alternation of efficient causes, and it views parts as linked in relations of mutual interdependence, not as merely aggregated.
Though Kant stresses the subjective character of purposiveness, Zuckert insists that this limitation should not be interpreted as a radical divorce from objects. Reflective judgement involves a specific manner of relating to objects which is sensitive both to the empirical diversity of their elements, and to the specific ways in which this diversity can be thought of as unified. Thus for example the heautonomy of aesthetic judgement is not to be understood as subjective self-containment, or attending only to subjective states in the experience of beauty, but involves the regulative idea that, as Schiller puts it, the outer form of an object is determined by inner essence. Though we are dealing only with external determinations of objects, we treat these (reflectively) as though produced by an inner cause. We cannot, however, apply this principle directly to objects, or assert that they are so caused, because the future orientation of purposiveness is incompatible with the objective time order upon which, as the CPR shows, the cognition of objects depends. Unlike the concepts of pure reason, Zuckert explains that purposiveness cannot be schematised, and so is inapplicable to sensibly-intuited objects in time. In characterising the subject’s judging, however, the principle of purposiveness, while not yielding knowledge of objects, offers a glimpse into the movement of subjectivity itself, as activity and openness to an indeterminate future. The Critique of Judgement thus heralds the innovations of German idealism.
Zuckert masterfully applies the principle of purposiveness to the three central areas of the Critique of Judgement. The formation of empirical concepts, treated by Kant in the introductions (and in lecture series), is shown to depend on purposive judgements which anticipate a whole which is still to be identified, and constantly rethought in light of natural profusion. Empirical concepts ideally form a system of co-ordinated and subordinate marks, defining species and genus through disjunctive judgements which mark off a sphere of being and the relations among its components. These concepts and their systematic relations are never definitive. While particular empirical concepts are applicable to objects, their systematisation and revision depend on processes of purposive judging without a purpose which are regulative in character, since the whole, the natural order of which they are a part, is not itself available to us as an object of experience. The question of empirical concept formation in Kant is of special interest here, and recurs in Zuckert’s justification of aesthetic judgements.
Zuckert next turns to the latter part of the CJ, the ‘Critique of Teleological Judgement’, in order to show that organisms can be judged as having unity effected by specific, heterogeneous parts in interaction. Organisms are characterised by intrinsic purposiveness wherein heterogeneous parts are seen to contribute, precisely in virtue of their diversity, to the reproduction of the whole; but because organic (as opposed to mechanistic) reciprocal causality violates the objective linear time sequence, such judgements must be deemed merely subjective or regulative, and do not preclude the quest for mechanistic explanations. Zuckert offers an illuminating discussion of the difference between the CPR’s third analogy and the CJ’s principle of purposiveness (pp. 139-41), showing how the former relies on the successive operation of mechanical causes, while the latter implies reciprocal interactions as simultaneously cause and effect.
In the third part of her text, Zuckert examines Kant’s ‘Critique of Aesthetic Judgement.’ Judgements of beauty evoke the harmonious integration of diverse parts into a whole which we anticipate, attending to the contrast and complementarity of its aspects. Kant modifies the Leibnizian view of the unity of unity and diversity by distinguishing between beauty and perfection (p. 213ff). The latter relies on the conceptual definition of an end which a phenomenon realises, while judgements of beauty operate without a concept, representing purposiveness without a conceptual purpose. Judgements of dependent beauty, including works of art, do contain some conceptual content (genre, conventions, etc.), but on Kant’s account these determinations remain subordinate to the conceptless judging of the work as a whole. Unlike (reflective) teleological judgements of organisms, the elements of aesthetic judgments are taken to be formally, not materially or causally connected (p. 212). Aesthetic pleasure is successive upon judging purposively without a purpose, or is the consciousness of such judging. Against overly subjective readings of Kant, however, Zuckert contends that aesthetic pleasure does not consist in awareness of the free play of our cognitive faculties, but is pleasure in the representation of the beautiful object (p. 313). The primacy of judgement to pleasure highlights the activity of the subject in apprehending beauty, in contrast to the agreeable, where pleasure arises from empirical psychology or external causes (p. 333).
For Zuckert, the central question of the Critique of Judgement is the subjective necessity and universality of aesthetic judgements (pp. 321-22). Here the universal endorsement sought in aesthetic judgement is of the principle of purposiveness, not of its application; what is essential is not the content of the judgement, but its status (p. 332 n. 18). On her reading, what requires assent is not the specific judgement that an object is beautiful, but the indispensability of the reflective principle of purposiveness itself: namely that we, in virtue of our discursive intellects, must engage in purposively judging without a purpose if we are to have a coherent experience of nature, without succumbing to the threats of unmanageable diversity or mere contingency. Vindicating the coherence of Kant’s arguments in the CJ, Zuckert stresses the links between processes of aesthetic judgement and empirical concept formation, which, with some noted qualifications, is an analogous form of purposive judging.
The argument is ingenious, but fails to do justice to the distinctions Zuckert has at least implicitly made elsewhere between singular and particular judgements. Aesthetic judgements establish the individuality and uniqueness of the object deemed beautiful (e.g. pp. 226-7 and 294), whereas empirical concepts conceptually mark “the object as a unity, as one of its kind” (p. 286). Aesthetic judgements are thus singular judgements, which (if we may employ Hegel’s classification), posit that the singular is universal, or possesses universality in a specific form; whereas empirical concepts are formed from particular judgements. Even where these latter operate reflectively and not determinatively, they seek not the uniqueness of the object, but its exemplification of an encompassing universal. The particular is not the universal, but is contained within it. It remains unclear in Zuckert’s account how these two distinct processes converge in the justification of aesthetic judgements.
Among the many merits of Zuckert’s book is the concise and elegant treatment of other interpretations which she presents in the footnotes, masterfully clarifying disputed points. She shows that Kant in the CJ makes a decisive advance on his earlier formalism, achieving a closer determination of subjective activity, and a closer specification of the object. He thus sets the agenda for German idealism as the fulfilment of the transcendental programme.
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