Although the concept of “representation” (Vorstellung) occupies an analogous place in critical philosophy and in generative anthropology as an activity limited to what Kant calls “rational creatures,” Kant never specifically associates it with language. A minimal expression of the difference between originary thinking and metaphysics, as represented by its greatest minimalist, is that the former, but not the latter, takes the linguistic sign, doubly articulated as signifier/signified, as the exemplary form of representation.
Although Kant is not unconcerned with the human reciprocity that is the foundation of GA’s “moral model,” the reciprocity that interests him is not that of empirical communication but that of the virtual communication through which all humans share the moral law or the judgment of taste. Of the two, the latter case, where an experience that is wholly individual and falls under no law is nonetheless implicitly universal, has greater anthropological pregnancy, as befits the intermediary position of the judgment between representation and worldly reality. In describing what he calls the “empirical” value of this experience, Kant outlines in a single sentence a scene of reciprocal exchange closer to that of the originary hypothesis than to those of the social contract theorists that preceded him:
The empirical interest in the beautiful exists only in society. And if we admit that the impulse to society is natural to mankind, and that the suitability for and the propensity towards it, i.e.,sociability, is a property essential to the requirements of man as a creature intended for society, and one, therefore, that belongs to humanity, it is inevitable that we should also look upon taste in the light of a faculty for estimating whatever enables us to communicate even our feeling to every one else, and hence as a means of promoting that upon which the natural inclination of everyone is set.
With no one to take into account but himself, a man abandoned on a desert island would not adorn either himself or his hut, nor would he look for flowers, and still less plant them, with the object of providing himself with personal adornments. Only in society does it occur to him to be not merely a man, but a man refined after the manner of his kind (the beginning of civilization)–for that is the estimate formed of one who has the bent and turn for communicating his pleasure to others, and who is not quite satisfied with an object unless his feeling of delight in it can be shared in communion with others. Further, a regard to universal communicability is a thing which every one expects and requires from every one else, just as if it were part of an original compact dictated by humanity itself. [Auch erwartet und fordert ein jeder die Rücksicht auf allgemeine Mitteilung von jedermann, gleichsam als aus einem ursprünglichen Vertrage, der durch die Menschheit sebst diktiert ist] And thus, no doubt, at first only charms, e.g., colors for painting oneself (roucou among the Caribs and cinnabar among the Iroquois), or flowers, sea-shells, beautifully colored feathers, then, in the course of time, also beautiful forms (as in canoes, wearing-apparel, etc.) which convey no gratification, i.e., delight of enjoyment, become of moment in society and attract a considerable interest. Eventually, when civilization has reached its height it makes this work of communication almost the main business of refined inclination, and the entire value of sensations is placed in the degree to which they permit of universal communication. At this stage, then, even where the pleasure which each one has in an object is but insignificant and possesses of itself no conspicuous interest, still the idea of its universal communicability almost indefinitely augments its value. (II, 41: “The empirical interest in the beautiful”; boldface mine.)
Having made this ur-anthropological connection between the “original compact” of humanity and the “universal communicability” of esthetic representations, Kant hastens in the following paragraph to deny its ontological significance:
This interest, indirectly attached to the beautiful by the inclination towards society, and, consequently, empirical, is, however, of no importance for us here. For that to which we have alone to look is what can have a bearing a priori, even though indirect, upon the judgment of taste. For, if even in this form an associated interest should betray itself, taste would then reveal a transition on the part of our critical faculty, from the enjoyment of sense to the moral feeling. This would not merely mean that we should be supplied with a more effectual guide for the final employment of taste, but taste would further be presented as a link in the chain of the human faculties a priori upon which all legislation must depend. This much may certainly be said of the empirical interest in objects of taste, and in taste itself, that as taste thus pays homage to inclination, however refined, such interest will nevertheless readily fuse also with all inclinations and passions, which in society attain to their greatest variety and highest degree, and the interest in the beautiful, if this is made its ground, can but afford a very ambiguous transition from the agreeable to the good. We have reason, however, to inquire whether this transition may not still in some way be furthered by means of taste when taken in its purity.
The reference to “purity” in the last sentence is a segue to the following section on the “intellectual interest” in the beautiful; for Kant, following Rousseau, an esthetic interest in nature, but not in art, is a sign of moral value. (“Now I willingly admit that the interest in the beautiful of art . . . gives no evidence at all of a habit of mind attached to the morally good . . . But, on the other hand, I do maintain that to take an immediate interest in the beauty of nature . . . is always a mark of a good soul” [II, 42].) The “original compact” is characterized by reciprocal exchange, as emphasized by the sentence structure, with its opposition between ein jeder and jedermann, erwartet and fordert. Yet the collective entity formed by this exchange is “of no importance for us here,” and this because it is from the outset, and all the more as humanity advances from the Caribs and Iroquois to the height of civilization, contaminated with society’s “inclinations and passions.” Even considered a priori, taste cannot be “a link [Mittelglied] in the chain of the human faculties” because the “homage” it pays to inclination puts in danger the disinterested nature of the pleasure that it judges “in its purity.”
This passage illustrates perhaps more strikingly than any other both the kinship between the critical philosophy and GA and the divide that separates them. Kant’s a priori is, like Plato’s realm of ideas, a world of sacred representation, but where Plato simply hypostatizes the products of representation, lifting human words up into the sky, Kant’s a priori guarantees the vertical-transcendental realm of representation itself by separating it ontologically from the horizontal-empirical world of appetite. But the necessity of an absolute separation between the two worlds requires that the genesis of one from the other can never be conceived nor, consequently, explained.
Kant’s dualism comes closest to synthesis in the esthetic domain. The judgment of taste returns the “cognitive faculties” from the conceptual analysis of the natural world to a reflection on their originary nature; moreover, this operation depends on the existence of a community that at least virtually shares and mutually communicates this experience. It is but a short step from this configuration to a hypothetical scene of origin, yet this step is as impossible for Kant as the leap of an inhabitant of Flatland into the third dimension.
Kant’s Carib and Iroquois ornaments are of a sacred character, like the sacred objects of the “Aranda” in which, in Durkheim’s analysis, the unity of the social order is incarnate, but Kant’s Rousseauian privileging of the individual over society blinds him to the derivation of the “charms” of the esthetic from the critical social function of the sacred. The esthetic, even the sublime, are cut off from the discussion of the transcendental religious questions–the existence of God, the immortality of the soul–that we find in the previous Critiques. Esthetic pleasure is a worldly experience that intuits transcendence directly, without the need for the transcendental guarantees–the existence of God, the immortality of the soul–required by the upholder of the moral law. Yet it is not coincidental that the texts we are discussing are found, not in the Analytic of Beauty where Kant defines the moments of esthetic experience, but in the Analytic of the Sublime. There is in fact relatively little specific analysis of the sublime in this section, but its liberation from the closure of beautiful form makes the sublime the privileged locus, not only of the awe before natural phenomena to which Vico attributes our first intuition of the sacred, but of the genesis of transcendence from immanence, whose mystery only anthropology, not metaphysics, can solve.