Friday, October 23, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 5)

Caspar David Friedrich, Tageszeitenzyklus, Der Morgen (1820–1)

On we plow. I'm discovering that our friend John Ruskin wasn't being as facetious as he might have imagined when he insinuated that one should expect to commit a decade to studying Kant and the German idealists before achieving the comprehensive enlightenment they advertise. I've been rereading chunks of the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–87) every day or every other day for the last few weeks, and I feel the progress of my understanding approaching a sheer wall. Before too much longer I'm going to have to put the damn thing away and let what I've gleaned simmer in me for a few months before I revisit it again.

I can't tell you how much I regret the title of this series. "Twelve rounds" was an extempore choice, an obvious and serviceable cliche. But sometimes, somehow, a flippant remark is hoodwinked into affirming itself. Having declared "twelve rounds," it's as though I unwittingly signed a pact wherein I've consented to writing twelve blog posts about Kant or else must live with the ignominy of welshing on an obligation to the universe.¹

My bizarre guilt complexes can be a topic for another post. For now, I think I've only got the wherewithal for another three rounds (including this one). The remaining five posts...well, there's still the Critique of Practical Reason (1788) and the Critique of Judgement (1790), and I don't suppose there's any escaping them now. From what I understand, they're both shorter and more pertinent to mundane workaday experience than the Critique of Pure Reason, and I have reason to hope they'll be be easier to get through. Even so, I'm really not in any hurry to get started right away.

Today I'm going to spend a little more time trying to dislodge the tenets of transcendental idealism from my craw. Our visual garnish for this session comes from Caspar David Friedrich, peerless painter of Romantic landscapes. The reason for his inclusion may shortly become transparent.²

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Twelve Rounds with Kant (part 4)

Charles Demuth, Machine (1920)

The operation was a success: after writing more words about X-Men comics than a grown man should be permitted to exhibit without opprobrium, my brains are more or less de-wormed, and we can resume our extemporaneous study of Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787). I won't ask if you're as avid as I am to dip back into transcendental idealism and the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge—surely everyone's answer is a spirited HELL YES!

Hmm—but I'm finding that putting aside Kant for a few weeks is like reneging on an exercise regimen: you don't return to it with quite the same spryness and stamina you could muster before going idle. Maybe we should keep today's session relatively short, and begin by stretching our ganglia a bit. We'll also stimulate our eyes between blocks of text with some paintings by Charles Demuth, whose precisionist sensibilities are not inappropriate to a discussion of one of philosophy's most renowned (or infamous?) Order Muppets.

Saturday, September 26, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 2)

Picking up from where we left off...

#5: MESSIAH WAR (2009)
Titles involved:
Cable, X-Force

In brief: Bishop travels through time and destroys the world to kill Hope, the mutant messiah. Cable and X-Force fight Stryfe like it's 1991. Deadpool boosts sales.

Friday, September 25, 2020

X-Men X-Overs: The ten best of 'em (part 1)

Oy. I have at least three more posts' worth of hoi polloi Kant commentary to compose (after which I'll be able to honestly say to myself that I've "engaged" with the Critique of Pure Reason), but I've got to tell you: after that last one, I find myself suffering from acute proto-German Idealism fatigue. The cure: putting an inordinate amount of effort into writing something about pop-cultural feelgoods so I'll be desperate to think about Kant again. This is one of the benefits of a having a freeform blog—though perhaps in the drunk-man's-walk scatterplot of Beyond Easy's topics, the emergent rhythm is one of bingeing and purging.

So! Let's talk about X-Men comics for a while.

This week saw the release of the X of Swords: Creation one-shot, kicking off the first crossover story of the new and very much improved line of X-Men comics. Given the grand slam Jonathan Hickman hit with House of X/Powers of X and the generally high level of quality across the current line of X-books, I expect good things from this. (Drama! Schlock! Betrayal! Inspired retcons! Eldritch magic and weird science!)

Back in July, we observed the launch of a new volume of X-Factor with an overview of the best moments of the title's earlier volumes. Today, as X of Swords begins to unfold, we'll be looking at the ten best X-Men crossover events up until now.¹ What fun!

HONORABLE MENTION: AGE OF APOCALYPSE

Mentioned on the basis that there's probably an off-the-books but strictly enforced law against talking about the best X-Men events without including everyone's favorite grimdark alternate-timeline epic. However, Age of Apocalypse is disqualified from this list because an event is not the same as a crossover (though most every crossover is an event). You can read each miniseries comprising Age of Apocalypse by itself without ever missing anything because you went from Generation Next #2 to Generation Next #3 without reading Factor X #2 in between. For it to be a crossover, you need to follow the "what to read next" instructions at the end of each book in the story, or else risk getting lost and confused. It's an imprecise rule, and there are exceptions (particularly during those bullish periods where the editors assume readers are already buying every X-book that comes out), but it works well enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 3)

Artist unknown, but found on as excellent a layman's
introduction to Kant as I've ever seen
.

Today, as a third step in my effort to better understand Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (1781–7), I will attempt to find fault with it.

Using a simile from a sphere I'm more at home in, this is going to be like trying to compete with Daigo or Sonic Fox through haphazard button-mashing. To confront someone like Kant, who's armed with a comprehensive homebrewed epistemology, one must either find fatal inconsistencies within his conceptual apparatus (which I doubt I'm qualified to do) or otherwise counter it with a proximately comprehensive alternative scheme—which I do not possess. I have inklings and opinions, yes, but these are insufficient to put a dent in something so densely armored by internal substantiation.

I won't be snatching at the low-hanging fruit for the Kant critic—his insistence on the ideality of space and time. This position was controversial during Kant's own life, and has become veritably indefensible since the development of non-Euclidean geometries and of Einstein's theory of relativity. To sum up the difficulties these present: contrary to Kant adducing Euclidean geometry as evidence of a priori concepts of space, geometry contains more than just a kernel of empiricism, and as it turns out, non-Euclidean geometries may be more useful to us when we're talking about the trajectory of a photon over trillions of miles (since the curvature of spacetime will bring parallel lines toward convergence or divergence when they're traced across supercluster-scale distances). And if time, as the pure form of inner sense (as Kant claims), has no independent existence, then how do we explain the necessity of correcting for relativistic dilations in GPS satellites' computations?

Responding to non-Euclidian geometry as a "gotcha," Kant might just shrug and say that Euclid's Elements remains a catalog of the a priori concepts which make possible our coherent experience of life on planet Earth. And he might say that whatever's going on with orbiting clocks doesn't displace time from is position in his scheme as the pure form of inner sense. He might also dare to venture that time, as we experience it, might not be identical to the physical process that makes a satellite's clock run a few microseconds slower than a terrestrial timepiece. My guess is that these new facts would compel Kant to make some relatively minor emendations to the Critique, but he wouldn't find in them sufficient cause to demolish his edifice and start over.

So what now?

Thursday, September 3, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 2)

Vasily Kandinsky, Examination (1930)

Okay.

What we're going to do today is take an uncritical look at the ideas Kant devises and attempts to substantiate in the first half of his Critique of Pure Reason (in the Transcendental Aesthetic and Transcendental Analytic sections). I am doing this, firstly, because I'll never understand Kant's theories unless I try to articulate them for myself. And secondly, I do it in the hope that maybe somebody else will find it useful.

Even before reading the Critique, I found Kant frustrating because people who write about him on the internet usually provide a either summary that's too vague and too abbreviated to communicate much of anything at all, or commentary that's far too technical to be of use to anyone who isn't already sitting with Kant's book in their lap. I'd like to imagine this could be a serviceable middle ground between "Kant says we make our reality iirc" and any given Kant page on plato.stanford.edu: useful to somebody who wants to dip in more than just one toe, but isn't yet ready to get his ankles wet.

Please bear in mind that I am a mere layman trying his best; anything I say here is subject to error.

The bullet points will be interspersed with pretty paintings by Kandinsky in order to break up the visual monotony of the text and refresh your mind. (I know they help me.)

Monday, August 31, 2020

Twelve rounds with Kant (part 1)

Twenty-six years later, I finally know what book Hobbes is reading from.

Today I'd like to ruminate on the work of Immanuel Kant because, hell, it's not like I ever wanted readers anyway.

I began reading the Critique of Pure Reason (1781–1787) in April. What prompted me to take the plunge was something I puzzled over back in March: if mathematical entities have no real existence, and if numbers and geometrical forms are merely abstractions whose referents are those ineffable elements of reality that are present in all conceivable experience, what precisely are those elements? I understood that Kant was very much concerned with this sort of thing, and decided I ought to consult an expert who'd given the problem much more thought than I, and who was reportedly very systematic in his approach to it.

Well, I finished reading the Critique back in July. Or, I should rather say I arrived at its end—I'm not nearly at the point where I can shelve it just yet. It is without a doubt the most difficult book I've ever read, and as I review what I believe I've gleaned from it, I find myself consulting the index and flipping back through its pages seeking clarity on some obscure point or abstruse principle. I've read both the B and A versions of the Transcendental Deduction more than once, and I'll admit that I haven't yet fully assimilated Kant's reasoning. I wondered if perhaps fluency in German is required to parse his thinking, even in translation, but Ruven (librarian, wearer of florid shirts, native son of Deutschland) suggests that's not the case:
It so happens that a friend of mine here has a degree in German studies and philosophy and received very good grades, and I remember him saying some years ago that he'd very much like to travel back in time to witness Kant writing. Specifically, to stand behind him with a baseball bat as he wrote, make him read each finished sentence to an uneducated worker, and give him a good swing every time that worker didn't immediately understand it.
So it's not just me. But I don't think I'll be consoled until I get my goddamned head around this goddamned book. (I expect a long wait.)