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  • Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx by Leif Weatherby
  • Jocelyn Holland (bio)
Leif Weatherby. Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 472 pages.

Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ is a truly impressive work of historical scholarship. Leif Weatherby demonstrates that he has a solid grasp of the German philosophical tradition, including both major figures (Kant, Fichte, Hegel, and Schelling) and those who are less well-known outside the field of German studies. As the title suggests, he takes the familiar concept of the organ and reveals it to be at the crux of a rapidly changing philosophical landscape, whose terrain encompasses metaphysics, the philosophy of the subject, the history of science, literature, and aesthetics. One of the strengths of this [End Page 790] project is the careful balance it maintains between unity and complexity. At the same time, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ is a very challenging book to read because it assumes that readers have more than a casual familiarity with German history and philosophy. The scope of its argument also precludes facile summaries, but this is precisely due to the number of philosophical discussions in which the concept of the organ played an important role. This review will therefore provide a brief glimpse of the whole before describing the chapter breakdown and focusing on one or two particular questions.

In terms of conceptual history, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ traces the transformation of the philosophical term organon into organ; the emergence of the term in late eighteenth-century life sciences; and its appropriation as a metaphor by different philosophical schools of thought around 1800 and afterward. Weatherby does not shy away from the explosion of "semantic confusion" (22) that characterizes the competing appropriations of organ but rather exploits these moments as theoretically interesting for a larger tendency he refers to as "organology." He also shows how the philosophical discourse on the organ often served as a front for other questions, such as those of function (whether in a physical or theoretical sense), method, and other process-driven mechanisms that, particularly around 1800, tended to foreground intersections of traditionally heterogeneous discourses (literature and science being one familiar case). The notion of a "transcendental organ," which Weatherby discusses in relation to Schelling, is also relevant here because a significant component of organology is reflection on the conditions of an organ's coming into being. The prolonged focus on the organ allows Weatherby to analyze familiar institutions from a new perspective. For example, in the case of German Romanticism, he makes a strong argument that it is productive to reconsider such familiar projects as Friedrich Schlegel's and Novalis's encyclopedia from the point of view of organology. In his reading of Schelling, Weatherby shows how organology can be understood as a "metaphysics for dealing with the emergent properties of human creation(s)" (25) and reveals an artificial quality of the organ in Schelling's work that anticipates some technology-driven discussions of the organ in surprising ways.

Readers who keep the big picture in mind—that "the organ ties the question of being to the question of knowledge" and, in terms of function, both "unites and divides" (49)—will have an easier time navigating Weatherby's arguments as they unfold in the individual chapters. The first chapter, which focuses on "metaphysical organs and the emergence of life" (51), begins with a historical observation that lays the groundwork for future arguments when it claims that Leibniz does not use the term in a biological sense but gives it a metaphysical meaning "which could be extended to language, scientific apparatuses, and indeed the operations of the understanding," thus laying "semantic groundwork for the next century" (53). By the end of the chapter, Weatherby will have arrived at Kant and Herder's use of the term "organization" to create an analogy between mind and body (71). Readers can thereby witness the gradual emergence of the organ as a philosophical tool, a connection [End Page 791] that the second chapter, "The Epigenesis of Reason: Force and Organ in Kant and Herder," explains more clearly. There we learn how the theories of procreation...


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