Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth

Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth

Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth

Kant on the Frontier: Philosophy, Politics, and the Ends of the Earth

Synopsis

Frontier: the border between two countries; the limits of civilization; the bounds of established knowledge; a new field of activity. At a time when all borders, boundaries, margins, and limits are being—often violently—challenged, erased, or reinforced, we must rethink the concept of frontier itself. But is there even such a concept? Through an original and imaginative reading of Kant, Geoffrey Bennington casts doubt upon the conceptual coherence of borders.

The frontier is the very element of Kant’s thought yet the permanent frustration of his conceptuality. Bennington brings out the frontier’s complex, abyssal, fractal structure that leaves a residue of violence in every frontier and complicates Kant’s most rational arguments in the direction of cosmopolitanism and perpetual peace.

Neither a critique of Kant nor a return to Kant, this book proposes a new reflection on philosophical reading, for which thinking the frontier is both essential and a recurrent, fruitful, interruption.

Excerpt

This book is the outcome of a long and quite involved history. Its distant origins lie in a graduate seminar I conducted at the University of Sussex from 1989 to 1992, as one of the Collège international de philosophie’s first group of corresponding program directors. That Sussex seminar, conducted in English under the general title “Frontiers,” met once a week for three academic years, focusing on Kant (1989–90), Hegel (1990–91), and Frege and Wittgenstein (1991–92). I took the opportunity to present a “seminar” in something more like the French sense, writing out a continuous text that I read to the group every two weeks, with intervening weeks devoted to student presentations and more informal reading and discussion sessions, sometimes of other authors (Kafka’s “Great Wall of China” and “The Burrow” gave us food for thought, for example). I subsequently published the surviving written sessions of those seminars in Frontiers: Kant, Hegel, Frege, Wittgenstein (CreateSpace, 2003). At the 1992 Cerisy conference Le passage des frontières: à partir de Jacques Derrida, I presented a summary of some of the work done in the Sussex seminar. the seminars bear a number of traces of their historical moment, including the fall of the Berlin Wall (I was especially struck by the fact that the first reported piece of graffiti on the East German side of the wall read “the wall is gone”) and a subsequent flurry of enthusiasm in the press for Kant’s political writings, taken more or less naïvely to predict the European Union eventually formed in 1993, and seen, by some at least, as representing some kind of “end of history.”

1. the further elaboration of the seminar materials here owes a good deal to the students who followed this seminar and brought their own work to it. My warm thanks go to my then-doctoral students Richard Beardsworth, Scott Davidson, Jonathan Derby shire, Suhail Malik, and Diane Morgan, to name only those for whom Kant was a major object of study.

2. See “La frontière infranchissable,” in Le passage des frontières: autour du travail de Jacques Derrida, ed. Marie-Louise Mallet, 69–81 (Paris: Galilée, 1994). Other pieces from this period that draw on and summarize this seminar material include “The Frontier: Between Kant and Hegel,” in my Legislations: the Politics of Deconstruction, 259–73 (London: Verso Books, 1994), and “Frontiers: of Literature and Philosophy,” delivered as a lecture in 1996 and published in my Other Analyses: Reading Philosophy, 239–67 (CreateSpace, 2005).

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