The Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought, Goldsmiths University of London

Research Centre run jointly between the Departments of Sociology and English and Comparative Literature at Goldsmiths University, London

Rebecca Comay (Toronto) on Hypochondria and its Discontents, or, the Geriatric Sublime

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Rebecca Comay (Toronto) discusses Kant’s presentation of hypochondria as a revealing parody of his own transcendental programme.

10 Jun 2016
4:00pm – 6:00pm
137a, Richard Hoggart Building

In the third Conflict of the Faculties, virtually the last text published within his own lifetime, Kant runs through a catalogue of (his own) hypochondriac afflictions and offers a panoply of philosophical prescriptions for alleviating these — the “power of the mind to master its sickly feelings by sheer resolution.”  Some readers seize on this scenario as an unwitting parody of Kant’s own transcendental project: the comedy seems to stage an empirical dress rehearsal of the systematic opposition between the empirical and the transcendental and suggests the structural contamination of the very ideal of purity by the pathology it wants to master. A well-trodden dialectical approach, from Hegel and Nietzsche through Freud and Adorno, discerns in this tizzy of stage-management the perfect case history of the dialectic of enlightenment, ascetic ideology, or the return of the repressed: the very success of the will would be the measure of its failure, the obsession with pathology the ultimate pathology — the return of mythic nature in the most strenuous efforts to control it.  This dialectical approach is compelling but it underplays both the perversity of the scenario and its strange theatricality.  It also overlooks the startling practical implications — at once biopolitical, ideological, economic, institutional, and aesthetic — of Kant’s peculiar experiment.  A strange note on which to end a treatise dedicated to the pedagogical imperatives of the Prussian state.

Rebecca Comay is Professor of Philosophy and Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. She is the author of Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution (Stanford 2011), editor of Lost in the Archives (2002) and co-editor of Endings: Questions of Memory in Hegel and Heidegger (with John McCumber, 1999), as well as the author of numerous articles on 19th century German philosophy, Marx, Benjamin and Adorno, psychoanalysis, contemporary French philosophy, and contemporary art and art criticism.

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