The systematic aesthetics of Kant

«I believe the system of the Critique of Judgment, in its first part, can be reconstituted in the following manner:

1) The Analytic of the BEAUTIFUL, exposition: this is the FORMAL ESTHETICS OF THE BEAUTIFUL in general from the SPECTATORS point of view. The different moments of this Analytic show that the UNDERSTANDING and the IMAGINATION enter a free agreement, and that this free agreement is constitutive of the judgment of taste. This defines a spectator’s esthetic point of view of the beautiful in general. Such a point of view is formal, since the spectator reflects the form of the object. But the last moment of the Analytic, i.e. modality, poses an essential problem. Free indeterminate agreement must be a priori. Moreover, it is what is most profound in the soul; every determinate proportion of the faculties presupposes the possibility of their free and spontaneous harmony. In this sense, the Critique of Judgment must be the genuine ground of the other two Critiques. Clearly, then, we cannot be satisfied with presuming the a priori agreement of the understanding and the imagination in the judgment of taste. This agreement must be the object of a transcendental genesis. But the Analytic of the Beautiful is unable to secure such a genesis: it points to the necessity, but it cannot on its own go beyond mere “presumption.”

2) The Analytic of the SUBLIME, exposition and deduction: this is THE FORMLESS ESTHETICS OF THE SUBLIME from the SPECTATORS point of view. Taste did not call reason into play. The sublime, however, is explained by the free agreement of REASON and the IMAGINATION. But this new “spontaneous” agreement occurs under very special conditions: pain, opposition, constraint, and discord. In the case of the SUBLIME, freedom or spontaneity is experienced in boundary-areas, when faced with the formless or the deformed. In this way, however, the Analytic of the Sublime gives us a genetic principle for the agreement of the faculties, an agreement which the Analytic puts in play It follows that it goes much farther than the Analytic of the Beautiful.

3) The Analytic of the BEAUTIFUL, deduction: this is the MATERIAL META-ESTHETIC OF THE BEAUTIFUL in nature, from the SPECTATOR’s point of view. The judgment of taste demands a particular deduction because it relates in the very least to the form of the object: furthermore, the judgment of taste in turn requires a genetic principle for the agreement of the faculties which it expresses, namely UNDERSTANDING and IMAGINATION. The Sublime furnishes us with a genetic model; the equivalent must be found for the beautiful, using other means. We are looking for a rule according to which we may by rights suppose the universality of esthetic pleasure. As long as we are satisfied to presume the agreement between the UNDERSTANDING and the IMAGINATION, the deduction is simple. What is more difficult is making the genesis of theis agreement a priori. However, precisely because REASON does not intervene in the judgment of taste, it can furnish us with a principle according to which the agreement of the faculties in this judgment is engendered. There exists a RATIONAL PURPOSE connected with the beautiful: this meta-esthetic PURPOSE concerns the aptitude of NATURE for producing beautiful things, as well as the materials which nature uses for such “formations.” Thanks to this PURPOSE which is neither practical nor speculative, REASON gives birth to itself, expands the UNDERSTANDING, and liberates the IMAGINATION. REASON secures the genesis of a free indeterminate agreement between the IMAGINATION and the UNDERSTANDING. The two aspects of the deduction are now joined: the OBJECTIVE reference to a nature capable of producing beautiful things, and the SUBJECTIVE reference to a principle capable of engendering the agreement of faculties.

4) Follow-up to the deduction in the theory of GENIUS: this is AN IDEAL META-ESTHETIC OF THE BEAUTIFUL in art from the point of view of the creative artist. The PURPOSE connected with the beautiful secures a genesis only by excluding the case of the artistic beautiful. GENIUS thus intervenes as the meta-esthetic principle proper to the faculties being exercised in art. GENIUS has properties analogous to those of PURPOSE: it furnishes a matter, it incarnates Ideas, it causes REASON to give birth to itself, and it liberates the IMAGINATION and expands the UNDERSTANDING. But GENIUS exercises all these faculties first and foremost from the vantage point of the creation of a work of art. Finally, without losing any of its singular and exceptional character, GENIUS must give a universal value to the agreement which it engenders, and it must communicate to the faculties of the spectator something of its own life and force;

Thus, Kant’s aesthetics forms a systematic whole, in which the three geneses are unified.


– Deleuze, “Desert Islands” (1963), p. 70


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