In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Reviewed by:
  • The Subject of Freedom: Kant, Levinas by Gabriela Basterra
  • Tania Espinoza
The Subject of Freedom: Kant, Levinas. By Gabriela Basterra. New York: Fordham University Press, 2016. 208 pp.

Universality, as Monique David-Ménard has shown, is a confusing notion in Immanuel Kant. On the one hand, Kant reduces the ontological scope that it has for Aristotle by claiming that the faculty of understanding cannot apprehend the totality of phenomena. On the other hand, universality retains its ontological weight in the unconditionality of [End Page 609] the moral law, valid for 'everyone' (see Les Constructions de l'universel: psychanalyse, philosophie (Paris: Presses universitaires de France, 1997)). It is in the midst of this confusion that we might place 'the subject' in question in Gabriela Basterra's book, a subject modelled on, and torn by, the third conflict of transcendental ideas in Kant's antinomy of pure reason, opposing freedom and determinism. Kant solves this conflict by postulating that causality through freedom need not contradict the causality of nature because the acting subject has both an empirical and an intelligible character. One and the same deed might, from an empirical point of view, be seen as determined, while, from a rational point of view, it seems free. Instead of depicting the subject as 'split between two viewpoints or references' (p. 8), Basterra depicts it as 'the site of the relationship between the series [of subordinated conditions] and its outside' (p. 48). Nevertheless, how or whether her gesture does away with Kant's distinction between the phenomenal and the noumenal remains unclear. This other subject, she writes, 'exceptionally', and retroactively, 'introduces a boundary, a fleeting moment of closure' (p. 51) into the indefinite series of causes and effects determined by nature, and is thus in a 'unique position' to 'play the exceptional role of the unconditioned' (p. 56). Even though we are asked to understand such intervention as 'a structural operation rather than as any willed action of a human agent' (p. 51), what comes to mind is the image of the artist as an exceptional personality, who through poetic constructions of meaning establishes a precarious stability in an otherwise chaotic existence. Here, a discussion of what, in his seminar on Joyce published as Le Sinthome (Paris: Seuil, 2005), Jacques Lacan called 'suturing' would perhaps have been relevant. Although Basterra's work presents itself as an attempt to bring Kant and Emmanuel Levinas into dialogue on the grounds that for both these thinkers subjectivity is marked by an excess, by 'a relationship to the otherness of the law' (p. 2), in my view the real conflict animating the monograph lies elsewhere. A complex history of psychoanalytical readings of Kant, from Jacques Lacan's to David-Ménard's (whose major works await translation into English), Joan Copjec's, and Kiarina Kordela's, underpins Basterra's presentation of Kant's antinomy. These readings, furthermore, mostly address the question of sexual difference. Cut off from this background, the echo of that 'other relationship' to 'what is outside', that Basterra asks us to hear in Kant, risks being lost.

Tania Espinoza
National University of Córdoba