Labors of Imagination: Aesthetics and Political Economy from Kant to Althusser

Labors of Imagination: Aesthetics and Political Economy from Kant to Althusser

Jan Mieszkowski
Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 240
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    Labors of Imagination: Aesthetics and Political Economy from Kant to Althusser
    Book Description:

    This book is a major new study of the doctrines of productivity and interest in Romanticism and classical political economy. The author argues that the widespread contemporary embrace of cultural historicism and the rejection of nineteenth-century conceptions of agency have hindered our study of aesthetics and politics. Focusing on the difficulty of coordinating paradigms of intellectual and material labor, Mieszkowski shows that the relationship between the imagination and practical reason is crucial to debates about language and ideology.From the Romantics to Poe and Kafka, writers who explore Kant's claim that poetry sets the imagination freediscover that the representational and performative powers of language cannot be explained as the products of a self-governing dynamic, whether formal or material. A discourse that neither reflects nor prescribes the values of its society, literature proves to be a uniquely autonomous praxis because it undermines our reliance on the concept of interest as the foundation of self-expression or self-determination. Far from compromising its political significance, this turns literature into the condition of possibility of freedom. For Smith, Bentham, and Marx, the limits of self-rule as a model of agency prompt a similar rethinking of the relationship between language and politics. Their conception of a linguistic labor that informs material praxis is incompatible with the liberal ideal of individualism. In the final analysis, their work invites us to think about social conflicts not as clashes between competing interests, but as a struggle to distinguish human from linguistic imperatives.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4806-3
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. INTRODUCTION: Production, History
    (pp. 1-12)

    Contemporary literary criticism is guided by the belief that a human act is best understood by considering the space and time in which it emerges. This idea is powerful in its simplicity, appealing to the notion that more background information is always better. It is less clear whether the assumption of a fundamental connection, if not an outright identity, between origin and purpose is sound for all social or aesthetic phenomena. Can and must the study oftextsproceed by situating them in their cultural and historicalcontexts? If we want to read a nineteenth-century novel, we may take it...

  6. ONE The Art of Interest
    (pp. 13-46)

    Throughout his oeuvre, Kant focuses on the uncertain relations between universal principles and singular events that threaten to confound the elaboration of a comprehensive model of the mind. One of the central concepts in his account of the (dis)equilibrium of the self is interest, a term that appears at crucial moments in the threeCritiques, but whose very ubiquity has tended to divert attention from its importance. “All my reason’s interest (speculative as well as practical),” explains Kant in theCritique of Pure Reason, “is united in the following three questions: What can I know? What ought I to do?...

  7. TWO Breaking the Laws of Language
    (pp. 47-74)

    The doctrine of productive imagination that informs Kant’s theory of art would appear to complement his discourse on freedom, the cornerstone of the threeCritiques. It is far from obvious, however, whether Kant’s efforts to develop a model of practical human autonomy are in any sense “clarified” by his statement that poetry “sets the imagination free.” A great deal of scholarship on Romanticism has relied, implicitly or explicitly, on the assumption of a substantive connection between creativity and liberty—if not their outright identity—but this position is rarely evaluated by trying to use it as a vantage point from...

  8. THREE On the Poetics and Politics of Voice
    (pp. 75-110)

    The vision of the self that emerges from Kleist’s reading of Kantian ethics differs sharply from the figure of specular self-determination generally associated with Idealist thought. In forcing us to reconsider the assumption that language can be a medium of rational activity, Kleist seems to part company from those inheritors of Kant who accord ultimate primacy to the authority of reason. At the same time, one could argue that Kleist shares with both Kant and the Idealists a sense of the volatile power of literary language and a more general concern with the historical dimensions of artistic creation. It is...

  9. FOUR Economics Beyond Interest
    (pp. 111-146)

    The last fifteen years have seen an explosion of interest in Adam Smith. In addition to the fact that the success of capitalism is often celebrated in his name, his oeuvre is increasingly heralded as the key to understanding the relations between politics, aesthetics, and economics in the eighteenth century. As research on Smith has moved beyondThe Wealth of NationsandThe Theory of Moral Sentimentsto include his writings on jurisprudence, belles lettres, and even astronomy, it is often suggested that his work is a unique example of an interdisciplinary thought attentive to the demands of both metaphysics...

  10. FIVE Ideology, Obviously
    (pp. 147-173)

    What Paul Ricoeur called the “hermeneutics of suspicion” has become the sine qua non of literary and cultural studies. Whether one thinks in terms of an unconscious, a superstructure, or a subtext, the analysis of intellectual and social phenomena begins from the assumption that things may not be what they seem, even where our most tangible intuitions and deeply held beliefs are concerned. From a methodological perspective, this has led to the emergence of what we might call “an archaeology of the presupposition.” An argument demonstrates its rigor by rendering its own aims and procedures as explicit and transparent as...

  11. Conclusion
    (pp. 174-176)

    In this book, I have argued that reading the texts of classical political economy together with post-Kantian literature offers us important insights into some of the central controversies of contemporary cultural theory. Ideological debates in the humanities will benefit immeasurably once we recognize that philosophical inquiry is not a hindrance to but an essential ally of empirical history. As Adorno frequently reminded us, the attempt to renounce all pretensions to subjective expression and surrender oneself to the objective authority of what exists (or has existed) is no less likely to lapse into idealism than the most detailed elaboration of self-reflexive...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 177-210)
    (pp. 211-222)
  14. INDEX
    (pp. 223-226)