Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission

Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission

Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission

Receptive Spirit: German Idealism and the Dynamics of Cultural Transmission

Synopsis

Premised on the assumption that the mind is fundamentally active and self-determining, the German Idealist project gave rise to new ways of thinking about our dependence upon culturally transmitted models of thought, feeling, and creativity. Receptive Spirit elucidates the ways in which Kant, Fichte, Schlegel, and Hegel envisioned and enacted the conjunction of receptivity and spontaneous activity in the transmission of human-made models of mindedness. Their innovations have defined the very terms in which we think about the historical character of aesthetic experience, the development of philosophical thinking, the dynamics of textual communication, and the task of literary criticism.Combining a reconstructive approach to this key juncture of modern thought with close attention paid to subsequent developments, Marton Dornbach argues that we must continue to think within the framework established by the Idealists if we are to keep our bearings in the contemporary intellectual landscape.

Excerpt

According to a scholarly truism, the characteristic gesture of modernity is the undertaking to start anew with a clean slate. in view of the abundant evidence favoring this view, it seems all the more remarkable that some of the boldest works of modern thought begin by citing a precursor. To mention only a few prominent examples, Kant borrows the epigraph to the Critique of Pure Reason from Bacon, Heidegger’s Being and Time opens with a quote from Plato, and Wittgenstein sets the stage for the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus and the Philosophical Investigations with quotes from Ferdinand Kürnberger and Johann Nestroy, respectively. Although each of these thinkers sets out to renew thinking in a way that requires a break with received canons of inquiry, their opening acts of quotation bear witness to an understanding that the words of previous authors remain indispensable for orientation.

Among the philosophical classics that acknowledge this constraint through their very manner of commencing Hans Georg Gadamer’s Truth and Method deserves special mention, for its defense of tradition is prefaced with an epigraph that enacts and allegorizes this very theme. Written in the wake of the traumatic ruptures inflicted by two world wars, Gadamer’s book argues that the cultural past orientates us through varieties of hermeneutic experience that precede all methodical inquiry and make possible in the first place the freedom of rational thought. At the beginning of Truth . . .

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