The Anxiety of Autonomy and the Aesthetics of German Orientalism

The Anxiety of Autonomy and the Aesthetics of German Orientalism

Nicholas A. Germana

A history of Kantian and post-Kantian thought and of a foundational stage of German orientalism.

German orientalism has been understood, variously, as a form of latent colonialism, as a quest for academic hegemony in Europe, and as an effort to diagnose and treat the ills of modern Western culture. Nicholas Germana identifies a different impetus for orientalism in German thought, seeing it as an effort to come to grips with the Other within German society at the turn of the nineteenth century and within the dynamics of subjectivity itself.
Drawing largely on work by feminist scholars, the book uncovers an anxiety at the core of Kantian and post-Kantian thought, thus shedding light on its derogation (or elevation) of Oriental cultures. Kant's philosophy of freedom is a construction of modern, Western masculinity. Reason, which alone can make freedom possible, subverts and orders chaotic nature and protects the rational subject from the enervating influences of the senses and the imagination. The feminized, sexually charged Orient is a threat to the historical achievement of Western male rationality.
Germana's book emphasizes aesthetics in the German orientalist discourse, a subject that has received little attention to date. In this tradition of German thought, aesthetics became a form of spiritual anthropology, ordering and classifying societies, races, and genders in terms of their ability to master the senses and the imagination, forces that undermine rational autonomy, the very source of human (i.e., masculine) dignity.

Nicholas A. Germana is Professor of History at Keene State College, New Hampshire.

Table of Contents

What Is Enlightenment?
Moral Feeling
The Philosophy of Art
The Poetic State
The Life of the Notion
The End of Art


[T]he merits of this well-researched volume lie in its dense argument and close attention to and analysis of its complex source materials, and Germana is sensitive to how philosophical and aesthetic interests interact. Equally laudable is the author's careful balance between philosophical and historical approaches to the period. MODERN LANGUAGE REVIEW [Joanna Raisbeck]

A new history of Kantian and post-Kantian German philosophy. This is an important book...Nicholas Germana [breaks] new ground by illuminating the buried history of orientalism in German philosophy between Kant and Hegel. JOURNAL OF EUROPEAN STUDIES

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