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"Exemplary Originality": Kant on Genius and Imitation MARTIN GAMMON 1. INTRODUCTION ACCORDINGTO ERNSTCASSIRER,Kant's discussion of genius in the Third Critique stands "at the crossroads of all aesthetic discussions in the eighteenth century," in that he tries to accommodate the neo-Classical demand that artworks follow determinate rules to the Romantic insistence that aesthetic creativity be free from such rules? In the Third Critique itself, Kant defends both of these criteria through the doctrine of "exemplary originality." For Kant, the genius combines two qualities: on the one hand, "a talent for producing that for which no rule can be given," so that "originality must be its primary property"; however, "since there may also be original nonsense, its products must at the same time be models, i.e., be exemplary; and consequently, though not themselves derived from imitation, they must serve that purpose for others , i.e., as a standard or rule for estimating."' On the basis of this exemplary originality, then, a genius puts "freedom from constraint of rules so into force in his art, that for art itself a new rule is won--which is what shows a talent to be exemplary" (Mer. i 81). Recently, some commentators have puzzled over the "air of paradox" surrounding Kant's union of originality and exemplarity in works of genius. "If such works," Timothy Gould conjectures, "make advances on what is familiar and gain new ground, their very success makes the new ground familiar. The very fact that the works of genius must, as Kant says, be exemplary, leading the way for others, suggests why the works of genius must leave open routes of 'Ernst Cassirer, Kant's Life and Thought, trans. James Haden (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981), 3~o-~1. ' Immanuel Kant, Kritik der Urteilskrafl, in Kants gesammelte Schriflen, ed. K6niglich Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: Reimer, 19o8), V: 3o7; hereafter "Ak." English translation in The Critique of Jndgement, trans. J. Meredith (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991), 168; hereafter "Mer." [563] 564 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35:4 OCTOBER 1997 comprehension which compromise the very element of genius."s Paul Guyer has also commented upon this "paradox," arguing that Kant is committed both to the free imagination of the individual artist, and to the continuity of artistic creation before the audience of taste. For Guyer, these two demands must "inevitably conflict," and "cannot be expected to be satisfied by a stable canon of classics." Rather, these demands "can only be expected to produce a history of artistic revolutions, efforts to break the grip on society exerted by the very works which are the models of those efforts."4 The problem of canonical succession is perhaps brought out most explicitly in the opening of w of Kant's text: "Everyone is agreed on the point of the complete opposition between genius and the spirit of imitation [Nachahmungsgeiste]." If genius is completely opposed to this spirit, then how can it, by definition, serve as a "model" for "imitation" by later artists? Behind these seemingly paradoxical claims, however, lies some thirty years of detailed reflection on the relation of genius and imitation in Kant's earlier writings. In particular, this background helps to discriminate between the different kinds of genial influence which are addressed in Kant's account in the Third Critique itself.5 Although Guyer and Gould have highlighted Kant's distinction between "imitation" and "following," there has been no systematic attempt to clarify the different species of genial influence in light of the forcefield of concepts Kant has employed to characterize it: Nachfolge, Nachahmung, Nachmachung, and NacMiffung. While Peter Lewis has noted the diversity of expressions Kant employs for "imitation," he suggests that this results partly from the complexity of the reception of genial productions, but also "partly [from] a lack of clarity in his thinking about that relationship. ''6 On the con3Timothy Gould, "The Audience of Originality: Kant and Wordsworth on the Reception of the Genius," in Essaysin Kant'sAesthetics,ed. Ted Cohen & Paul Guyer (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 189-9o. 4Paul Guyer, "Autonomy and Integrity in Kant's Aesthetics," TheMonist66 (1983): 18x. 5Gould, for example, refers to those who can "receive"the artwork "appropriately...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 563-592
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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