Constituting Critique

Kant’s Writing as Critical Praxis

Constituting Critique

Post-Contemporary Interventions

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Book Pages: 256 Illustrations: Published: December 1994

Author: Willi Goetschel

Translator: Eric J. Schwab

European Studies, Literature and Literary Studies > Literary Criticism, Theory and Philosophy

Kant’s philosophy is often treated as a closed system, without reference to how it was written or how Kant arrived at its familiar form, the critique. In fact, the style of the critique seems so artless that readers think of it as an unfortunate by-product—a style of stylelessness. In Constituting Critique, Willi Goetschel shows how this apparent gracelessness was deliberately achieved by Kant through a series of writing experiments. By providing an account of the process that culminated in his three Critiques, this book offers a new perspective on Kant’s philosophical thought and practice.
Constituting Critique traces the stages in Kant’s development to reveal how he redefined philosophy as a critical task. Following the philosopher through the experiments of his early essays, Goetschel demonstrates how Kant tests, challenges, and transforms the philosophical essay in his pursuit of a new self-reflective literary genre. From these experiments, critique emerges as the philosophical form for the critical project of the Enlightenment. The imperatives of its transcendental style, Goetschel contends, not only constitute and inform the critical moment of Kant’s philosophical praxis, but also have an enduring place in post-Kantian philosophy and literature.
By situating the Critiques within the context of Kant’s early essays, this work will redirect the attention of Kant scholars to the origins of their form. It will also encourage contemporary critical theorists to reconsider their own practice through an engagement with its source in Kant.


“Goetschel’s stimulating reading of Kant is a must.” — Michael T. Jones , Colloquia Germanica

“This assiduously researched and convincingly argued monograph is a welcome contribution to the growing body of literature on Kant concerned with questions of rhetorical and literary form. The book is particularly valuable for its concentration on Kant’s earlier writings, both in their own right and as precursors for the Critique of Pure Reason. . . . A compelling and revealing portrait of Kant’s career and development as a writer.” — David Martyn, German Quarterly

"Providing a sense of the complex intellectual and historical context in which Kant functioned, Constituting Critique calls attention to the concern with language that pervades not just the three Critiques, but the earlier writings as well." — Samuel Weber, University of California, Los Angeles

"This is a study that anyone seriously interested in Kant will have to take into account. Goetschel’s writing is intellectually compelling. His interpretation enriches our understanding of Kant, bridging the gap between the literary and systematic aspects of Kant’s writing." — Claudia Brodsky Lacour, Princeton University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Willi Goetschel is Assistant Professor of German at Columbia University.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments vii

Introduction 1

1. Project Career Trajectory 15

2. Cosmological Family Romance 23

3. Short Essays 37

4. System Crisis 43

5. Observation as Indirect Literary Strategy 58

6. Wit as a Formal Principle 79

7. Double Satire and Double Irony 89

8. Toward the Form of Critique 115

9. Publicizing Enlightenment: Kant's Concept of Enlightenment 144

Bibliographic Essay 167

Notes 187

Bibliography 225

Index 237

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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-1543-8 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-1534-6
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