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  • On Transcendental Fiction
  • Geoffrey Bennington (bio)

Let me suggest provisionally that fiction (or at least literary fiction), in its traditional (philosophical) determination, always has to do with a certain beyond.1 That it puts us in adventurous touch with something over the frontier, with other worlds, with ghosts (perhaps, as we shall see, with ghost ships). And that, reciprocally, any beyond always runs the risk of falling prey to fiction, so that as soon as philosophy ventures into it, it runs the risk of finding itself somewhere it never should be.

Jacques Derrida claims in Parages that it is on the frontier of philosophy and literature—or rather, where this frontier trembles—that philosophy is most called to thought (10). One imagines that such a frontier (especially if it were to turn out to be essentially unstable), has a complex structure that is difficult to pin down. My working hypothesis here, in what will be both rather elementary and rather dry (for which I apologize), is that this structure must have an at least analogical relation with the structure of the frontier as Kant presents it, and especially in the famous and obscure discussion in the Prolegomena of the distinction between limit and bound, bound and limit, border and boundary, perimeter and periphery, barrier and gate, Grenze and Schranke. Moreover, we shall see that analogy is also part of our problem and, as such, cannot solve the question of the frontier.2

I shall be trying to show, not that philosophy and literature are two domains with a frontier (even a vague or uncertain frontier) that separates them more or less successfully, but that where there [End Page 169] is a frontier (even a sharp or distinct frontier), or perhaps where there is an effort to think the frontier, there is something like literature. This "literature" can (as tends to be the case in Kant) be something from which one suffers, of which one bears the passion (as one says the passion of Christ), while enjoying it more or less secretly. "Something like literature" would then be (as Jean-Luc Nancy has brilliantly shown from a quite different point of view) Kant's passion, or at least the passion of a Kant re-read after Derrida—re-read, then, with a view to subjecting the Kantian transcendental (or finding it already subjected) to the strange kind of twist we have got used to calling the quasitranscendental.

And so, by way of an exergue, as an example of this double passion, this famous paragraph that I cite without commentary, in which the whole Critique of Pure Reason is at stake:

We have now traveled throughout the land of pure understanding and carefully inspected its every part, but have also surveyed it throughout, determining for each thing in this land its proper place. This land, however, is an island, and is enclosed by nature itself within unchangeable bounds. [Dieses Land aber ist eine Insel, une durch dir Natur selbst in unveränderliche Grenzen eingeschlossen]. It is the land of truth (a charming name), and is surrounded by a vast and stormy ocean, where illusion properly resides and many fog banks and much fast-melting ice feign new-found lands. This sea incessantly deludes the seafarer with empty hopes [den auf Entdeckungen herunschwärmenden Seefahrer] as he roves through his discoveries, and thus entangles him in adventures that he can never relinquish, nor ever bring to an end. But before we venture upon this sea, to search its latitudes for certainty as to whether there is in them anything to be hoped, it will be useful to begin by casting another glance on the map of the land that we are about to leave, and to ask two questions. We should ask, first, whether we might not perhaps be content with what this land contains, or even must be content with it from necessity [aus Not] if there is not other territory at all on which we could settle. And we should ask, second, by what title we possess even this land and can keep ourselves secure against all hostile claims.

(Critique of Pure Reason, A235-6/B294-5)3

Kant not...


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