Sometimes authors are among the last to comprehend what they’ve written. For Michel Chaouli, author of Thinking with Kant’s Critique of Judgment, insight came from his friend Eyal Peretz, whose sense of the book helped clarify Chaouli's own. What follows here is something of a belated Afterword, reflecting that new clarity. “If you have read the book,” Chaouli explains, “compare your own sense of its trajectory with the one sketched here. If you haven’t, then these last words will be your first taste; with luck you will want to keep reading backwards.”
A few hundred pages ago, we set out fresh and full of resolve, like mountaineers at their base camp, so brimming with vigor that we felt we might dash all the way to the top. Things turned out differently of course. We soon found ourselves slowing down. Here and there, we got stuck, and when we did move again, it was sometimes in circles. Even now, we remain in doubt if we ever managed to scale the summit. Why, then, are we not weighed down with disappointment? Whence the elation we feel?
It may be a good time to admit to something that we—you and I—have long known, but have left unspoken: when we set off, we had no more than a rough map, no worked-out route to the peak, nor any certainty that there even is a point affording a view of the totality of the Critique of Judgment, revealing its truth. The paths that others have taken did not tempt us. We sought to understand what we read neither by the lights of Kant’s philosophical oeuvre nor in the shadows that his words cast on his thoughts—no reconstruction, nor a deconstruction. We followed neither the orderly trajectory of concepts nor the tangle of tropes and figures of speech. We brushed the text neither along nor against the grain, and saw in it neither pure philosophy nor pure literature.
But this neither-nor does not testify to indecisiveness or confusion; if we failed to follow an established method of interpretation, we were also not casting about aimlessly. Rather, we sought to learn from the text how to behave in the company of its ideas, gaining a closeness with its world. This did not require us to submit to its every demand, nor did we work to establish mastery over it. Rather, we practiced moving with its movements, thinking with it as we picked up its way of thinking.
This form of engaging the text is itself not a strategy we had settled on at base camp, but a behavior we learned as we explored the book’s terrain. “Thinking with” is what it teaches, what it taught us. But is it not true of every book worth our attention that it asks us to think with it? Perhaps, yet to have a grip on us, that truth needs to be felt anew every time. In making our way through the third Critique, it took us a while to sense how it urges us to think with it. Its early sections behave as though they belonged to a systematic philosophy, careful to remain within the grid of concepts. Soon, though, we took note of textual oddities—addenda, remarks, examples—for which we failed to find a place on the conceptual map.
But the decisive, irreversible shift occurs in the sections on art, a shift that changed not only how we thought of the earlier parts of the book, but also our very attitude as readers. There philosophical thought comes face to face with a mode of making—poetic making—that occasions a different form of thinking—call it poetic thinking. We saw that art “stimulates so much thinking that it can never be grasped in a determinate concept,” that “it gives more to think about than can be grasped and made distinct in” reason, that it elicits “representations, which let one think more than one can express in a concept determined by words,” and that these representations “animate the mind by opening up for it the prospect of an immeasurable field of related representations” (§49, 315). And we said that this surplus—this more—does not simply add further instances of the kinds of thoughts with which we are at home. Rather, it alters the very texture of thinking, for the glut in thinking that we come to feel in the experience of art reveals to us something we know and feel, yet for which we lack adequate words: something that remains alien to us in our own thinking. “Thinking with” is what happens in our aesthetic encounter with the world.
It is a source of wonder that it should give us joy to experience what surpasses the horizon of our thinking. In thinking with Kant’s Critique of Judgment we have come to gain an intimacy with this wonder and this joy.