Matters of Spirit

Matters of Spirit: J. G. Fichte and the Technological Imagination

F. Scott Scribner
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Matters of Spirit
    Book Description:

    This book offers a radically new interpretation of the entire philosophy of J. G. Fichte by showing the impact of nineteenth-century psychological techniques and technologies on the formation of his theory of the imagination—the very centerpiece of his philosophical system. By situating Fichte’s philosophy within the context of nineteenth-century German science and culture, the book establishes a new genealogy, one that shows the extent to which German idealism’s transcendental account of the social remains dependent upon the scientific origins of psychoanalysis in the material techniques of Mesmerism. The book makes it clear that the rational, transcendental account of spirit, imagination, and the social has its source in the psychological phenomena of affective rapport. Specifically, the imagination undergoes a double displacement in which it is ultimately subject to external influence, the influence of a material technique, or, in short, a technology.

    eISBN: 978-0-271-05512-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    The monster in Mary Shelley’sFrankensteinis monstrous because it is an act of blasphemy. By attempting to generate life by means of profane technological innovation, by attempting to generate spirit through profane matter, Frankenstein taints and perverts the sacred. Technology’s attempt to reach the metaphysical level of the god-like is surely hubris. According to Walter Benjamin, Baudelaire, like many others, found the precursor to photography, daguerrotypy, to be “profoundly unnerving and terrifying” for much the same reason.¹ While we all may be playfully amused by stories of so-called primitives worrying that picture-taking would steal their souls, Baudelaire should make...

  6. 1 An Introduction to the Crisis of Spirit: Technology and the Fichtean Imagination
    (pp. 5-29)

    J. G. Fichte is widely regarded as the first to articulate intersubjective recognition (Anerkennung) as a theory of right, and thus offer the notion of intersubjectivity as a significant social principle.¹ While Fichte’s version of a theory of right is complex, the core principles of the notion are that one’s rights end where someone else’s nose begins. While such a gross simplification does little justice to Fichte’s thought, in schematic form this account of individual right nevertheless sketches the essential intent of any reciprocal theory of right: it demands intersubjective recognition. It demands one individual recognize another individual as a...

  7. 2 Technology and Truth: Representation and the Problem of the Third Term
    (pp. 30-50)

    In the end, Fichte recognized that the success of his philosophical system, and transcendental idealism more generally, would require a mediating third term between spirit and matter. What is at stake in this mediating third term is truth itself: and his search for this term must therefore be developed within the context of his philosophical and historical search for truth. I propose that Fichte’s own difficulty in coming to terms with subtle matter as a possible proof for his metaphysics can be understood on the model of Plato’s own difficulties with mimesis inThe Republic.

    The issue of mimesis highlights...

  8. 3 Spirit and the Technology of the Letter
    (pp. 51-67)

    Late eighteenth-century German thought revived and transformed the classical debate surrounding mimesis and imitation. It did so primarily through the discourse ofDarstellungandVorstellung. NowVorstellungdesignated a representation, a product of the reproductive imagination, that likeNachahmung, was a type of copying or a degraded form of imitation. By contrast,Darstellung, like mimesis, arose as a productive creation, a creation whose liminal nature appeared as a representation that nevertheless disavowed its own representational status in order to present or at least indicate a truth that was somehow beyond it.¹

    It is not truth in some abstract sense that...

  9. 4 The Spatial Imagination: Affect, Image, and the Critique of Representational Consciousness
    (pp. 68-100)

    If communication is to take place, the intelligible realm must somehow be communicable across the divide of the sensible world. Spirit must be given a material form. While the discussion of the spirit and letter arose from a predominantly aesthetic paradigm, the issue it engages is certainly not limited to an aesthetic of communication. In fact an investigation of the sensibilization (Versinnlichen) of spirit and its communicative power of the imagination, which the question of the spirit and the letter had merely broached, is fundamentally an inquiry into the constitution of consciousness and the world-constituting power of the original ego....

  10. 5 Subtle Matter and the Ground of Intersubjectivity
    (pp. 101-129)

    This book began with the historical observation that the transcendental account of the social sphere (as defined by the transcendental account of intersubjectivity and the intersubjective recognition of right) was profoundly transformed and threatened by a growing predominance of the technology of reproductive media. Reproductive media, I argued, transformed the very medium of human interaction in such a way that the transcendental account no longer seemed to describe one’s actual, everyday experience of it.¹

    Recognizing that, for Fichte, the self/other relation was largely constituted through the unifying power of the imagination, I suggested that what reproductive media’s technically produced power...

  11. 6 The Aesthetic of Influence
    (pp. 130-156)

    Since Fichte claimed he was the only true Kantian, I turn to Kant’s Third Critique and his account of the aesthetic of the beautiful for help in developing the dynamic at work in the phenomenon of subtle matter as a key term in understanding intersubjective influence and its account of intellectual influence as an aesthetic power. Fichte’s account of the ground of intersubjective influence in subtle matter is best articulated through Kant’s paradigm of aesthetic judgment.

    Such an aesthetic reading fits well—that is, coherently—with my two earlier claims, despite some clear differences from Kant. First, subtle matter stands...

  12. 7 The First Displacement: From Subjectivity to Being
    (pp. 157-179)

    Fichte references the paradigm of subtle matter as an empirical proof for the last Wissenschaftslehre. The problem is that this empirical proof threatens to overshadow that which it was intended to prove: the social ontology of Fichte’s metaphysics of imaging. Here if the technique of magnetic rapport overshadows the very metaphysics of imaging it was intended to prove, then Fichte’s metaphysics of the imagination, and in short, spirit, may well be relegated to the function of human technique and technology. The crisis of spirit at hand, as Heidegger was well aware, is revealed in technology’s attempt to complete metaphysics.¹ Now...

  13. 8 The Second Displacement: From a Metaphysical to a Technological Imagination
    (pp. 180-197)

    The second displacement of the imagination is marked by a shift from a strict metaphysics of imaging to an account of the imagination in terms of material technique. If the first displacement of the imagination showed a shift in the very site of the productive power of the imagination as a process of externalization, whereby it moved from the transcendental subject (as a faculty) to Being, the second displacement of the imagination continues to affirm the paradigm of an externalized imagination, but further shows how what was once the exclusive domain of the metaphysics of spirit is readily appropriated by...

  14. Bibliography
    (pp. 198-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-206)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-207)