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  • Kant's Dog
  • David E. Johnson (bio)

In a certain way, it is always too late to pose the question of time.

—Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy

It is well known that Kant was notorious in Königsberg for his strict adherence to routine; he was so regular, Ernst Cassirer reports, that the citizens of Königsberg were able to set their clocks by his movements.1 The most public articulation of this regularity was his daily walk through the city. It is doubtful Kant took a dog along on his constitutional; nevertheless, at the moment in the Critique of Pure Reason that he determines the possibility of the conceptualization of sense perception, which Heidegger considered the very heart of Kant's critical project and which ultimately turns on the regulation of the synthesis of time,2 Kant trots out man's best friend. Although he needs this dog in order to demonstrate the trick of temporal synthesis that makes any sensible conceptuality possible, it is also clear that he needs to keep this dog on a tight leash; he cannot afford to let it run off or go astray. On one reading, then, the Critique of Pure Reason institutes a sort of philosophical leash law. Indeed, Kant holds the dog so tightly that it is always already a dead dog—philosophical roadkill.

In literature there is perhaps no more memorable instance of the problem of conceptuality than Jorge Luis Borges's "Funes el memorioso." Within that text, the key moment is the unforgettable example of Ireneo Funes's particular observation of the manifold that others reduce to a dog: "Not only was it difficult for him to see that the generic symbol 'dog' took in all the dissimilar individuals of all shapes and sizes, it irritated him that the 'dog' of three-fourteen in the afternoon, seen in profile, should be indicated by the same noun as the dog at three-fifteen, seen frontally" [Collected Fictions [End Page 19] 136].3 For Funes the inability to synthesize the manifold of experience under a general concept also contaminates the possibility of self-recognition: "His own face in the mirror, his own hands, surprised him every time he saw them" [Collected Fictions 136].4 His surprise at his face and hands as much as his frustration at the generic concept "dog" must be read within the context of Funes's rejection of Locke's suggestion of a rigorously particular language: "In the seventeenth century, Locke postulated (and condemned) an impossible language in which each individual thing—every stone, every bird, every branch—would have its own name; Funes once contemplated a similar language, but discarded the idea as too general, too ambiguous" [Collected Fictions 136].5 In Funes's account, the untenability of Locke's language does not lie in the impossibility of a language grounded upon absolute singularity; he does not argue, for example, that even the most radical empiricism must ultimately depend upon the possibility of ideality. Rather, he argues that insofar as it does not account for the temporal difference of the same from itself, such a language is always already too general.6 In short, "every individual thing, every rock, every bird, every branch," in Funes's eyes, are each and every one more than one. The dog at 3:14 seen in profile is not the same dog when seen at 3:15 in full frontal view. For Funes, the possibility of identity conceived as self-identity and, accordingly, as self-possession over time, is suspended. My face and hands are always different from themselves; they always surprise me; thus they are not mine. In Signs of Borges Sylvia Molloy remarks that Funes's attempt to construct a rigorously particular language can only be "sustained by Funes' attention" and that the words of such a language "finally make sense only to him. Indeed, all that holds them together . . . is Funes himself" [118, emphasis added]. On Molloy's account, the singularity of Funes's language, grounded as it is only in Funes himself, explains "the narrator's inability to reproduce" it [118]. Yet, Molloy fails to read the maximal effect of Funes's radical empiricism: namely, the...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 19-39
Launched on MUSE
2006-04-13
Open Access
No
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