The stars below

Kant observed that there is, in experience, an ineliminable subjective ground for the differentiation of space (e.g., it makes little sense for us to speak of the stars “beneath” us). But there is also, he says, “the right of reason’s need, as a subjective ground for presupposing and assuming something which reason may not presume to know through objective grounds; and consequently for orienting itself in thinking, solely through reason’s own need, in that immeasurable space of the supersensible, which for us is filled with dark night”. Kant prioritizes the practical needs of reason in this regard (not because we “want” to judge but because we “have to” judge). Yet is not the theoretical need exactly the same, i.e., that it’s not the incommensurability between reason and the understanding that is the source of our struggle against finitude but the right that reason claims over nature for the sake of its own consistency? Elsewhere, Kant explicitly notes that the fall into reason, leaving the “womb of nature” is “fraught with danger”. But as Nietzsche would later remind us, the danger is immanent to reason itself in the temptations of a double consistency. On the one hand, reason must regulate its own needs; on the other, reason must “make sense” of experience within the subjective unity of time.

And yet there is also the free play of the imagination, by which the aesthetic law within rebels against the practical (in the Kantian and the usual senses) demands of life. Bergson calls this oneiric impulse of thinking the “pure duration” of life in which the implosion of time into a creation ex nihilo collapses the distinction between past, present, and future. Memory, Bergson notes, does not merely preserve but, because of the vital movement of time, repeats experience infinitely in each moment through its diffraction in practical necessity. The artist’s daring, then, is to suspend necessity, perhaps even to tarry with death, so that we may touch the non-sense at the heart of sense (in Deleuze’s formulation), and to give us a vision of ourselves not beneath the sky above but as containing the stars below.

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