Figures of Simplicity: Sensation and Thinking in Kleist and Melville (Intersections: Philosophy and Critical Theory)
Birgit Mara Kaiser
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A fascinating comparison of the work of Heinrich von Kleist and Herman Melville.
Figures of Simplicity explores a unique constellation of figures from philosophy and literature—Heinrich von Kleist, Herman Melville, G. W. Leibniz, and Alexander Baumgarten—in an attempt to recover alternative conceptions of aesthetics and dimensions of thinking lost in the disciplinary narration of aesthetics after Kant. This is done primarily by tracing a variety of “simpletons” that populate the writings of Kleist and Melville. These figures are not entirely ignorant, or stupid, but simple. Their simplicity is a way of thinking, one that Birgit Mara Kaiser suggests is affective thinking. Kaiser avers that Kleist and Melville are experimenting in their texts with an affective mode of thinking, and thereby continue a key line within eighteenth-century aesthetics: the relation of rationality and sensibility. Through her analyses, she offers an outline of what thinking can look like if we take affectivity into account.
emancipate sensibility from its “expulsion” from thinking by a too narrowly framed logic, the precise manner of this emancipation has always been under contention. Baumgarten's claim of a cognitio sensitiva, translated perhaps best as sensate thinking, stresses the epistemological dimension of the sensate and aesthetics as the field of inquiry into such a widened concept of thinking. Rather than seeing aesthetics as a philosophizing on art as subjective experience, and on the mind's limits
model sensate thinking according to rationality, without considering that a completely different conception of rationality itself is required, if the analogy is supposed to gain plausibility. In other words, such readings misconstrue the process of analogy as a unidirectional assimilation, and not as a reciprocal relation that is in itself not a logic but an analogic relation, that is, a relation that is not predetermined by or subsumable under the rule of reason. Baumgarten's aesthetic
the tale precisely because it perpetually withdraws from being grasped, is that Claggart was down on Billy for no apparent reason, except the only one necessarily to be assumed “in its very realism”: a spontaneous antipathy. No gothic mysteries or sentimental secrets implied, no psychology behind it—we only hear that this antipathy drives Claggart to orchestrate the petty troubles Billy runs into. When learning that it might perhaps be for “the good looks, cheery health, and frank enjoyment of
same time, at the limit “between automaton and allomaton” (as Neumann noted in regard to the essay On the Gradual Fabrication of Thoughts While Speaking), suspending both emotions and rational calculation. The incident at Erlabrunn might strike us as a moment of particular determination and force, but we will see that it is not. After Kohlhaas fails to catch the Junker at Tronka Castle, he is certain that he will find him hiding at the convent at Erlabrunn, where the Junker's aunt holds the post
the sense in which Kleist's essay On the Gradual Fabrication of Thoughts While Speaking spoke of a “successful” conversation. What they succeed to do, however, is to insist upon their preference to remain silent, to keep their enigmas until and beyond the end, as Kommerell states. And they achieve this precisely by lingering before consciousness, in a zone prior to the differentiation between sensation and thinking, as we will see. In that sense, these two simpletons might be the most successful