2-1 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/10.17742/IMAGE.crypt.2-1.7 | Carter | Fick­ler PDF

This study approach­es the last days of Immanuel Kant through the lens of his con­tem­po­rary biog­ra­phers and oth­er cor­re­spon­dents. Among the lat­ter, Kant’s broth­er and, sub­se­quent­ly, his brother’s fam­i­ly pro­vide a symp­to­matic reflec­tion upon Kant’s man­age­ment of his geneal­o­gy and his lega­cy. Yet behind this body of work is anoth­er cor­pus, one which embod­ies mater­nal and pater­nal lega­cies that are not read­i­ly sub­sumed by Oedi­pus or Kant’s phi­los­o­phy. This work (of art) is Kant’s own body or cor­pus, which he painstak­ing­ly main­tained and which pro­vid­ed a case study for his reflec­tions on pre­ven­tive med­i­cine in The Con­flict of the Fac­ul­ties.

Cet arti­cle est une analyse des derniers jours d’Immanuel Kant à tra­vers ses biographes con­tem­po­rains, ain­si qu’à tra­vers d’autres cor­re­spon­dants, par­mi lesquels le frère de Kant, dont la famille four­nit une réflex­ion symp­to­ma­tique de sa ges­tion de son héritage du passé, ain­si que celui de l’avenir. Cepen­dant, à l’arrière de ce cor­pus il y en a un autre. La philoso­phie d’Œdipe ou même celle de Kant ne sub­sume pas facile­ment ce deux­ième cor­pus qui incar­ne l’héritage de sa mère, ain­si que celui de son père. Cette œuvre (d’art) représente le cor­pus, son pro­pre corps, con­servé métic­uleuse­ment et util­isé pour réfléchir aux remèdes préven­tifs dans Con­flit de fac­ultés.

William H. Carter | Images: Julian Fick­ler

Kant Crisis


Kant: or cant as intel­li­gi­ble char­ac­ter.
—Niet­zsche, Twi­light of the Idols (Götzen-Däm­merung)

Kant biogra­phies tend to begin with the issue of dereg­u­lat­ed spelling of the philosopher’s last name.[1] And yet the vari­a­tion on his name seems to have been issued dur­ing the last years of Kant’s life, a peri­od of prepa­ra­tion for the end, which was, how­ev­er, a long time com­ing. Accord­ing to his first biog­ra­ph­er, Lud­wig Ernst Borows­ki, whose account Kant autho­rized and cor­rect­ed him­self, the fam­i­ly name orig­i­nal­ly began with the let­ter “C” (Gross et al. 12n1). His grand­fa­ther emi­grat­ed from Scot­land and set­tled in the Pruss­ian-Lithuan­ian city of Tilsit, as Kant recalls in a let­ter to the Jacob Axel­son Lind­blom dat­ed 13 Octo­ber 1797 (Philo­soph­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dence 237). Sub­se­quent research into this claim, by Ernst Cas­sir­er among oth­ers, casts doubt on this geneal­o­gy. Kant’s great-grand­fa­ther was an innkeep­er in Wer­den, near Hey­dekrug. His son Hans learned har­ness mak­ing and lat­er set­tled in Memel, con­trary to Kant’s rec­ol­lec­tion. There Kant’s great-grand­fa­ther mar­ried, and Kant’s father was born. Johann Georg left his father in Memel and set out for Königs­berg, where he mar­ried Anna Regi­na Reuter (Vor­län­der 1-2).

If Kant’s father spoke of his ances­tors as being of Scot­tish descent, then Kant was called upon to recall this in response to the afore­men­tioned let­ter from Lind­blom, a Swedish bish­op. While Kant appre­ci­ates the bishop’s research into his fam­i­ly his­to­ry, he must, in the end, point out that it will prove use­less for both him and any­one else. As he goes on to explain, he has known for some time now that his grand­fa­ther came from Scot­land and died in Tilsit. To this state­ment he adds the foot­note: “My father died in Königs­berg, with me” (Philo­soph­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dence 237). Why the need for a foot­note here, one might ask. For his part, he can close the issue of his geneal­o­gy in one sen­tence or ver­dict: “My fam­i­ly tree is com­plete­ly closed off to me as I am sin­gle” (Philo­soph­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dence 237, trans­la­tion mod­i­fied). A dash intro­duces the final por­tion of Kant’s geneal­o­gy. “So much for my ori­gin, which your genealog­i­cal chart traces back to hon­est peas­ants in the land of the Ostro­goths (for which I feel hon­ored) down to my father (I think you must mean my grand­fa­ther)” (Philo­soph­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dence 237). The ground­ing of this dis­cus­sion in the father’s death, in his role as eye wit­ness to this death, prompts more counter tes­ti­mo­ny, this time not in a note, but in the equal­ly inter­nal­ized mode of paren­the­sis. Where Lind­blom speaks of Kant’s father, it should be his grand­fa­ther instead. Kant then polite­ly declines the entreaty implied in the bishop’s let­ter. He rec­og­nizes the bishop’s human­i­tar­i­an inter­est in call­ing on him to sup­port alleged rel­a­tives. Kant then recounts that he hap­pened to receive anoth­er let­ter at the same time as Lindblom’s. This cor­re­spon­dent pro­vid­ed a sim­i­lar account of his descent and intro­duced him­self as his “cousin.” He want­ed to bor­row money—eight or ten thou­sand thalers—but only for a few years, until he could attain hap­pi­ness. Trac­ing the let­ter back to its place and date of ori­gin, Kant enters it into evi­dence. He informs bish­op Lind­blom that he can­not hon­or his or oth­er requests because his estate shall go to his clos­est rel­a­tives.

Kant was the old­est sur­viv­ing child in his fam­i­ly. An old­er sis­ter was list­ed in the fam­i­ly album. His three younger sis­ters resided in Königs­berg. They were appar­ent­ly une­d­u­cat­ed and signed their names with an “X.” In the let­ter to Lind­blom, Kant writes of his liv­ing sis­ter, the six chil­dren of his late sis­ter, and his younger broth­er, Johann Hein­rich Kant, who has four chil­dren of his own, one of whom is recent­ly mar­ried. Con­sid­er­ing these rela­tions, the demands of his alleged “cousin” as well as requests by bish­op Lind­blom on behalf of oth­er alleged rel­a­tives, can­not be rec­og­nized. An editor’s note to an Eng­lish trans­la­tion of this let­ter adds the fol­low­ing: “In a draft of this let­ter, Kant adds a eulo­gy to his par­ents who, while leav­ing him no for­tune, nor any debts, man­aged to give him such an excel­lent moral edu­ca­tion that he is filled with grat­i­tude when­ev­er he thinks of them” (Cor­re­spon­dence 527). In place of the eulo­gy, Kant sends, instead, the curi­ous foot­note announc­ing his pres­ence at his father’s death in Königs­berg.

Web_DSC9856xWith all the talk of fathers, grand­fa­thers, rel­a­tives on his father’s side, his brother’s son, and so on, men­tion of Kant’s moth­er is con­spic­u­ous­ly absent. While he cred­its his par­ents with his moral edu­ca­tion, it was his moth­er who was first and fore­most his edu­ca­tor. She would often take her “Manelchen” into the coun­try, teach­ing him about the prop­er­ties of nature and plant life, as well as what she knew of the make­up of the heav­ens. Recall­ing such field trips to Jach­mann, Kant is report­ed to have said that she “plant­ed and nour­ished,” in Kant, the “first seed of the Good” and “opened” his “heart to the impres­sions of nature;” she was the first to “awak­en and expand” in him his ideas and “her lessons have exert­ed an ongo­ing heal­ing influ­ence” on his life (Vor­län­der 4-5).[2] Frau Kant was rel­a­tive­ly edu­cat­ed for her time, con­cludes Kant schol­ar and biog­ra­ph­er Vor­län­der from her entries into the fam­i­ly album, espe­cial­ly com­pared to oth­er women in Kant’s life (5). From his moth­er, Kant believed he also inher­it­ed his lin­ea­ment, as well as his phys­i­cal con­sti­tu­tion, includ­ing an inflect­ed chest. Accord­ing to the autho­rized Borows­ki biog­ra­phy, Kant’s weak chest dis­cour­aged him from pur­su­ing a career as a pas­tor, one his broth­er would ulti­mate­ly take up.

Kant sel­dom wrote of his fam­i­ly and wrote per­haps even less fre­quent­ly to his fam­i­ly. There is a lengthy one-sided cor­re­spon­dence ini­ti­at­ed repeat­ed­ly by his broth­er Johann Hein­rich. Not until the cor­re­spon­dence about his fam­i­ly name toward the end of his life did Kant ful­ly enter into the epis­to­lary exchange with his broth­er. Kant had at least two lega­cies to dis­pose of at the end of his life. There was the mater­nal lega­cy he embod­ied 1) as a con­sti­tu­tion­al­ly weak, yet endur­ing phys­i­cal being, and 2) as spir­it dis­posed to melan­cholic hypochon­dria, yet capa­ble of over­com­ing it through the diver­sion or dis­so­ci­a­tion of thought. The mater­nal gift of thought, bound up with the implant­ed seed of the Good (or the good object), was medi­at­ed by the body of its medi­a­tion, com­pa­ra­ble to a machine, in the close quar­ters of fini­tude and psy­chic dis­tur­bance. Then there was the pater­nal lega­cy attached to the name and the sur­viv­ing line. The younger broth­er, who fol­lowed this line more close­ly than did Kant, indeed as Kant’s sub­sti­tute, enter­tained a one-sided or ghost­ly cor­re­spon­dence course with the great out­sider, who near­ly nev­er replied. Toward the end of his life, Kant replied to his broth­er in the course of over­see­ing the pay­ment of his dues to the fam­i­ly line. But then Kant sent back the patronymic as a detach­able Eng­lish word. One “cant” would not have deliv­ered his name from its already exist­ing prox­im­i­ty to “Kante” or “edge.” The oth­er “cant” speaks the jar­gon of the under­world or of oth­er pro­fes­sion­al bod­ies. Some­times “cant” is the dis­pleas­ing, often whin­ing tone in which words are spo­ken, which as pro­jec­tion of estrange­ment onto an in-group, brings us back to the cryp­tol­ogy of jar­gon. Inas­much as the guild cit­ed is Scot­tish, Kant detach­es the body he signs not only from the name of his father, but also from a cer­tain philo­soph­i­cal lin­eage. Doesn’t he sum­mon its locale or prox­im­i­ty only to announce he “can’t” par­take?

In a let­ter dat­ed 1 March 1763, which begins “My Broth­er!,” Johann Hein­rich Kant implores his sib­ling, Immanuel Kant, to write back:

If it is not at all pos­si­ble to receive a response from you, I will soon have to do as Gellert did with his lazy friend. Should this let­ter be as for­tu­nate as its pre­de­ces­sors, next time I want to draft a reply to myself on your behalf. You would then mere­ly have to sign your name and return it. I couldn’t make it any eas­i­er. (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 40)

For the time being, how­ev­er, Johann requests that Kant pay more atten­tion, as Johann has a press­ing con­cern that will suf­fer no delay. One of Johann’s pupils will be vis­it­ing Königs­berg and needs a place to stay.

I can­not but high­ly rec­om­mend this promis­ing young fel­low, the first stu­dent I taught. He will build upon the foun­da­tion I pro­vid­ed by attend­ing your lec­tures. In par­tic­u­lar he espe­cial­ly wish­es to fur­ther his knowl­edge in your com­pa­ny […] might it be pos­si­ble for him to stay with you and dine with you? […] We await your deci­sion about this in the com­ing mail […]. (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 40)

There is no record of Kant’s reply. Twelve years lat­er, Johann writes that he has become deputy rec­tor of the school in Mietau and apol­o­gizes for not hav­ing sent the news ear­li­er (13 May 1775). This neg­li­gence is due, in part, to mit­i­gat­ing cir­cum­stances. “I have now made the most impor­tant change of my life: I mar­ried.” He writes of his new bride that while she has “a great deal of out­er beau­ty and a lov­ing char­ac­ter,” she lacks “Ver­mö­gen,” in oth­er words: mon­ey, means, or abil­i­ty. “Yet I still chose her,” he con­tin­ues, “pure­ly out of love, and hope that at her side I will get through all the obsta­cles and dan­gers of life, sat­is­fied and hap­py.” Johann then turns his atten­tion to Kant’s body, giv­ing him a word of advice. “My dear­est broth­er, you must seek seren­i­ty and peace of mind in the dis­trac­tions of com­pa­ny. You must entrust your sick­ly body to the hired care of strangers. […] As old age approach­es and brings its bur­dens, they are light­ened by the most lov­ing care.” Take his sit­u­a­tion, for exam­ple: “I am more for­tu­nate than you, my broth­er. Allow your­self to be con­vert­ed by my exam­ple. The sin­gle life/celibacy has its com­forts, as long as one is young. But with age, one must be mar­ried or oth­er­wise acqui­esce to a morose, melan­choly life.” Johann sends his regards to their sis­ters and asks for a tru­ly detailed account of Kant’s sit­u­a­tion. In addi­tion, Johann pledges to write more often, sug­gest­ing per­haps that Kant do the same.

A post­script, the first in a series, is affixed to this let­ter. It is writ­ten by Johann’s wife, Maria:

You will take me to be a bold woman because I dare to write a man, whom I do not yet know per­son­al­ly. You alone are the broth­er of my hus­band and hence my broth­er; this is my jus­ti­fi­ca­tion. Give me, at least in writ­ing, the recog­ni­tion that you wish to hon­or me with the name of a sis­ter. The ten­der love I devote to my hus­band also makes the most ardent friend­ship toward you a pleas­ant duty. I shall nev­er stop being your most devot­ed sis­ter. (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 180)

On 16 August of the same year, Johann writes again, ask­ing Kant to look after the young man who is deliv­er­ing this let­ter. He then address­es mar­riage. “I have not come to regret my deci­sion to mar­ry.” He sug­gests that his broth­er come vis­it for a few weeks, so he can see the hap­py cou­ple, whose exam­ple should not threat­en the “hard­ened bach­e­lor” (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 184).

Web_DSC9859-2xAlthough Kant nev­er strayed far from Königs­berg, it was not for lack of oppor­tu­ni­ty. He had ample funds for trav­el, and as ear­ly as 1759, he was offered a pro­fes­sor­ship of phi­los­o­phy, his first, at Erlan­gen. Five years lat­er, a pro­fes­sor­ship of poet­ry in Berlin was offered, but he declined as well. It wasn’t his area. Kant nev­er made the trip to see his broth­er and wife, and in a let­ter from 21 Jan­u­ary 1776, Johann begins by call­ing atten­tion to this. “It just is not right. You would have found a lov­ing broth­er here and a sis­ter-in-law who wish­es to meet you […].” Maria gave birth to a daugh­ter, Amalia Char­lot­ta.[3] “I del­e­gat­ed a god­fa­ther to stand in on your behalf so you could be entered in the church reg­is­ter.” He requests that his broth­er love his niece and con­veys his wife’s desire to vis­it rel­a­tives in Königs­berg. He sends her love and gives his best to their rel­a­tives, the Richters, and his sis­ters. “Write soon, it would prob­a­bly only cost you a quar­ter hour, and it would not be wast­ed” (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 189). Again, Kant does not reply.

In ear­ly 1778, anoth­er couri­er arrives with a let­ter from Johann dat­ed 4 Jan­u­ary 1778. This mes­sen­ger is en route to Berlin to study surgery. “It is very pleas­ing,” writes Johann, “that, free of postage, I can remind you that your broth­er is still alive and will receive news of you and his rel­a­tives after a peri­od of three years.” In paren­the­sis, Johann impa­tient­ly hopes that Kant will mail him a let­ter soon. “Now then,” he writes, “what are you up to? What is the state of your health? Your peace of mind? Your entire sit­u­a­tion? Mietau extend­ed its arms to you three years ago. Was it patri­o­tism? Or what was it that caused you not to want to vis­it?” Johann inquires about their sis­ters and his for­mer fos­ter par­ents, Aunt and Uncle Richter. If only Kant would send news of him­self and their rel­a­tives, Johann would be as pleased as “a young stu­dent, who, plagued by cred­i­tors, has just received some mon­ey” (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 221).

A few years lat­er, we learn of a gift from Kant to his sis­ter-in-law, one that cir­cum­vents his broth­er, who nonethe­less remains grate­ful and for good rea­son, as it will con­tin­ue to be a top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion in the years to come. In a let­ter to Kant dat­ed 10 Sep­tem­ber 1782, Johann begins with a word of thanks on behalf of Maria. She was just delight­ed to receive the book he sent on house­hold man­age­ment and plans to use it to “become a quite valiant farmer.” Johann explains that he has changed careers. No longer a teacher, he is now a preach­er and a farmer. He con­tin­ues to live hap­pi­ly with his wife and their chil­dren, “two cheer­ful, spir­it­ed girls, Char­lotte and Min­na, and then in place of our Eduard, whom we lost a year ago, a fresh Friedrich Wil­helm, who has almost reached his first year.” Their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion updat­ed, Johann inquires about his brother’s well-being and “lit­er­ary activ­i­ty,” Aunt and Uncle Richter, and their sis­ters. Again, Johann beseech­es his broth­er to respond to his let­ters. Maria appends a post­script, thank­ing Kant for the book. She intends to use it to trans­form her­self into “a pro­fes­sor of home eco­nom­ics.” Maria asks him to “love a sis­ter-in-law, who with­out hope of ever embrac­ing you in per­son, ded­i­cates her heart to you.” Her daugh­ters com­mend their uncle and would glad­ly, were it pos­si­ble, “rush over to kiss his hand.” Her son is also a good boy, “who should some­day hon­or your name” (Gesam­melte Schriften 10: 287). Kant’s nieces and nephew would attempt to cor­re­spond with their uncle in the com­ing years.

Johann’s let­ter of 21 August 1789 attempts to renew his rela­tion­ship with his broth­er after many years and numer­ous unan­swered let­ters. As they are both get­ting old­er, Johann pro­pos­es that they become clos­er to one anoth­er.

Now then, dear­est broth­er! As lacon­ic as you always are as a schol­ar and writer “so as not to sin against the pub­lic weal” (ne in pub­li­ca com­mo­da pec­ces), do let me know how your health has been and how it is at present, what schol­ar­ly plans of assault you have to enlight­en the world of today and tomor­row. But also! do tell me how things are going with my dear sur­viv­ing sis­ters and their fam­i­lies, and how the only son of my depart­ed, esteemed pater­nal Uncle Richter is. I will glad­ly pay the postage for your let­ter, even if you only write an octa­vo page. (Cor­re­spon­dence 317)

In case Kant does not trust the postal sys­tem, Johann enu­mer­ates a list of acquain­tances in Königs­berg who might deliv­er Kant’s reply. He allows his chil­dren to close the let­ter: “Yes esteemed uncle, yes beloved aunts, we all want you to know about us, and to love us, and not to for­get us. We shall love you sin­cere­ly and respect you, all of us, who sign our­selves. Amalia Char­lot­ta Kant. Min­na Kant. Friedrich Wil­helm Kant. Hen­ri­ette Kant” (Cor­re­spon­dence 317).

The much antic­i­pat­ed and long-await­ed let­ter from Kant final­ly arrives, hand-deliv­ered by a rel­a­tive of Maria, a cer­tain Herr Reimer. In the let­ter of 26 Jan­u­ary 1792, Kant explains his rea­son for writ­ing: “Despite my appar­ent indif­fer­ence, I have thought of you often enough in a broth­er­ly way, not only while we are both alive, but also in the case of my death.” Kant writes of the sup­port he is pro­vid­ing their remain­ing, wid­owed sis­ters and the chil­dren of their old­est sis­ter. Mov­ing from his avun­cu­lar sta­tus, Kant turns to his par­ents, who instilled in them the “duty of grat­i­tude.” He inquires about their fam­i­ly sit­u­a­tion, as if Johann had not been describ­ing pre­cise­ly that for near­ly three decades. Kant clos­es the let­ter: “Your true broth­er, I. Kant” (Gesam­melte Schriften 11: 320). Less than a fort­night lat­er, Kant receives Johann’s under­stand­ably exu­ber­ant response. When the let­ter final­ly arrived from Kant (8 Feb­ru­ary 1792), again con­veyed by Herr Reimer, it was a day of cel­e­bra­tion for Johann. The joy of broth­er­ly love turns to talk of his wife and their chil­dren.

Although she has not met you, she very dear­ly loves and hon­ors you. […] She gave a quite live­ly account [of your let­ter] to our chil­dren, who sin­cere­ly love and hon­or you. Your gen­er­ous assur­ance that you have thought broth­er­ly of me in the event—may it be far removed—of your future death brought us all to tears. Thanks—thank you very much my broth­er for your dec­la­ra­tion of benev­o­lence […] when I, fol­low­ing the most prob­a­ble rule, leave my wife and chil­dren behind. (Gesam­melte Schriften 11: 323)

Johann shares with joy in the renown his broth­er has achieved as a first-rate philoso­pher and cre­ator of a new philo­soph­i­cal sys­tem; how­ev­er, Johann is get­ting on in age. For­tu­nate­ly, “old age seems, all things being equal, to be the hap­py lot of thinkers and schol­ars.” He reminds his broth­er of his fam­i­ly his­to­ry. He has been mar­ried since 1775 and had five chil­dren, one of whom, Eduard, sur­vived only a year. Their daugh­ters, Amalia Char­lotte and Min­na, are six­teen and thir­teen, respec­tive­ly. Their son Friedrich Wil­helm is eleven, and their youngest, Hen­ri­ette, is almost nine. Johann also notes with each descrip­tion their birth­day for Uncle Kant. Aunt and Uncle Richter must be long gone by now, he adds. “They were my father­ly and moth­er­ly bene­fac­tors and guardians.” It should be not­ed that Johann, while often writ­ing of their fos­ter par­ents, remains ret­i­cent on the top­ic of their par­ents. This is, how­ev­er, clos­er than Kant comes to dis­cussing the loss of their par­ents in all the years of their “cor­re­spon­dence.” Johann adds that Maria sends her embrace and still appre­ci­ates the book on home eco­nom­ics he sent years ago. “My chil­dren absolute­ly want to be incor­po­rat­ed into their uncle’s mem­o­ry,” he writes in clos­ing (Gesam­melte Schriften 11: 323). They will be writ­ing him let­ters before he knows it. There was no reply from Kant.

On 19 August 1795, a let­ter arrives from Königs­berg that begins with the salu­ta­tion, “Best Uncle.” No longer trust­ing the postal sys­tem, per­haps, this let­ter also arrives by couri­er. Pre­sum­ing that they will nev­er know Kant per­son­al­ly, they fol­low in their father’s foot­steps and attempt to open a line of com­mu­ni­ca­tion with their uncle. His nieces and nephew explain that they wish to be loved by him more than any­thing; how­ev­er, he remains “for­ev­er absent, for­ev­er dis­tant,” some­thing that must be “ani­mat­ed with the imag­i­na­tion.” They pro­pose that he send them a lock of his “ven­er­a­ble, gray hair.” With it, they could bet­ter imag­ine his pres­ence and be more con­tent with this illu­sion (Gesam­melte Schriften 12: 37). There is no record of receipt of Kant’s locks. The let­ter does not elic­it a response from Kant.

Kant does send word of their sister’s death on 17 Decem­ber 1796. Sub­se­quent­ly, Kant dou­bled his finan­cial sup­port of her chil­dren, which has a bear­ing on the future sup­port of Johann’s fam­i­ly. The let­ter ends with a friend­ly greet­ing to his niece Amalia Char­lotte. There is also an enclo­sure for her. It is a let­ter to Carl Wil­helm Rick­mann, her fiancé, in which Kant con­veys his best wish­es and drops a line about Kant­ian lin­eage. “Just as the blood of my two hon­ored par­ents in its dif­fer­ent out­flows has yet to be taint­ed by some­thing unwor­thy, in the moral sense, I hope you will find the same with your beloved.” Kant asks Rick­mann to for­give the delay in answer­ing his let­ter. He was occu­pied with “affairs that I could not very well inter­rupt” (Gesam­melte Schriften 12: 140). The bypass oper­a­tion of Kant’s let­ter in a let­ter brings the cor­re­spon­dence to a close.[4]

One gen­er­a­tion down the line, Rick­mann received as enclo­sure just the sort of let­ter of apol­o­gy that Kant with­held from Johann. Just as he cosigns along the fam­i­ly line, he also gives the bot­tom line of his own ghost­ly reserve. Kant’s affairs have occu­pied him all this time, since the pass­ing of the par­ents. He was at father’s bed­side. Mother’s pass­ing still dri­ves him to post­pone it in his own sur­vival.

The art of body main­te­nance was one to which Kant devot­ed the last thir­ty or so years of his life, if not his entire life. Kant called it a Kun­st­stück, a work of art (Gross et al. 207). Kun­st­stück also, how­ev­er, falls under the cat­e­go­ry of per­for­mance, as trick, feat, clever thing. Heine’s ref­er­ence to Kant’s “mechan­i­cal­ly ordered, almost abstract bach­e­lor exis­tence” cir­cum­scribes a vital sup­ple­ment or con­se­quence of the philosopher’s lifestyle choice (203). Because Kant had the mind, but not the body, for Bil­dung/building, the main­te­nance plan had to be pre­ven­tive. In spite of his weak phys­i­cal appear­ance, how­ev­er, he was almost nev­er ill. Accord­ing to biog­ra­ph­er Vorländer’s por­trait, Kant’s rosy cheeks, healthy com­plex­ion, and strong, sharp sens­es (he also nev­er need­ed glass­es) pre­vailed over his stooped left shoul­der and the inflect­ed breast he inher­it­ed from his moth­er, also the cause of his soft voice (198).

Kant learned the lessons of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine at home from his moth­er. But the most last­ing les­son was the one she gave unto death. While attend­ing to a sick friend, Frau Kant died of quick and poi­so­nous influen­za (Vor­län­der 5). The friend refused to take the pre­scribed reme­dies. Frau Kant attempt­ed spoon feed­ing, but to no avail. The patient refused the med­i­cine, alleg­ing it had a dis­gust­ing taste (252-53). What bet­ter way to con­vince her ail­ing friend that the med­i­cine, on the con­trary, tast­ed good, than by exam­ple? “She is sud­den­ly over­come with nau­sea and a case of the chills” (253). She died with­in a few days as a sac­ri­fice to friend­ship. Although she prob­a­bly gagged on the dirty spoon, Kant main­tained as the con­se­quence he drew from the les­son that “every­thing bought, sold, and giv­en in the apothe­cary are syn­ony­mous: drug, ven­om, and poi­son” (292).

Kant’s het­ero­dox view of med­i­cine required that he seek alter­na­tive med­i­cine, espe­cial­ly for Kopf­bedrück­ung, or “oppres­sion of the head.” In a let­ter dat­ed 20 Decem­ber 1799, Kant writes to physi­cian friend Johann Ben­jamin Erhard describ­ing the trou­bled con­di­tion of his health, which is more dis­com­fort than ill­ness. The “spas­tic oppres­sion of the head, a brain cramp […] is relat­ed to “the excep­tion­al­ly long dura­tion of a wide­ly prop­a­gat­ed air­borne elec­tric­i­ty,” con­tin­u­al­ly on air since 1796. It is the same one the paper report­ed in con­nec­tion with the cat deaths in major Euro­pean cities. “And since this air qual­i­ty must ulti­mate­ly be trans­posed, I retain hope for my free­dom” (Gesam­melte Schriften 12: 296). Wasian­s­ki takes notes on what he con­sid­ers to be Kant’s last the­o­ry. The final sign of his weak­ness was his the­o­ry of the, by all means pecu­liar, phe­nom­e­non of the cat deaths in Basel, Vien­na, Copen­hagen, and oth­ers cites. These “elec­tric ani­mals,” par­tic­u­lar­ly cats, proved to be the basis for Kant’s the­o­ry of elec­tric­i­ty and the end, by most accounts, of Kant the thinker (233-34). Dai­ly, some­times more than once a day, he repeat­ed his res­olute asser­tion that noth­ing oth­er than elec­tric­i­ty was the cause of his mis­for­tune. “Kant, the great thinker, stops think­ing” at this point, Wasian­s­ki con­cludes (234).

Kant had pub­lished his thoughts on anoth­er, not unre­lat­ed, ail­ment of the head, Gril­lenkrankheit or hypochon­dria. Hypochon­dria is one of two main types of men­tal ill­ness or weak­ness of the cog­ni­tive fac­ul­ty that Kant address­es in his Anthro­pol­o­gy from a Prag­mat­ic Point of View (Anthro­polo­gie in prag­ma­tis­ch­er Hin­sicht).[5] The oth­er is mania. A per­son who suf­fers from hypochon­dria is aware that his think­ing is not in order, but is unable to return it to its prop­er course (309). For the hypochon­dri­ac, mood changes, like the weath­er, are a way of life: untime­ly highs meet unsea­son­able lows, not out­side but inside (309). By con­trast, mania fol­lows a vol­un­tary train of thought, which abides by its own sub­jec­tive rules. These are con­trary to the “laws of expe­ri­ence” (309). Kant returns to this major divi­sion a few sec­tions lat­er, when he elab­o­rates on his pre­ferred totemic syn­onym for hypochon­dria, Gril­lenkrankheit. This des­ig­na­tion, he advis­es, is derived from the forced atten­tive­ness to the noise of the crick­et (Grille or Haus­grille but also Heime) which, in the mid­dle of the night, dis­turbs the tran­quil­i­ty req­ui­site to sleep (317; Gesam­m­melte Schriften 7: 212). Giv­en its res­o­nance with Heim or home, the syn­onym Heime, as con­stituent part of a nom­i­na­tion for psy­chi­atric ill­ness that is derived from per­son­al expe­ri­ence, hypochon­dria itself, as la mal­adie sans mal­adie, is anoth­er word for a home sick­ness, a cri­sis of uncan­ni­ness, which can­not be named as such. The exter­nal chirp­ing is anal­o­gous to the inter­nal noise that dis­turbs a rest­ful night’s sleep. One suf­fer­ing from Gril­lenkrankheit is capa­ble of not only dis­cov­er­ing ill­ness with­in, but also pro­duc­ing it. This ill­ness, how­ev­er, involves the dis­cov­ery of cer­tain inner bod­i­ly sen­sa­tions as ema­nat­ing from the for­eign body with­in. The hypochon­dri­ac is capa­ble of hear­ing the chirp­ing from with­in, which can be ampli­fied by pay­ing par­tic­u­lar atten­tion to cer­tain locales. Yet the ill­ness may remain at bay giv­en habit­u­al abstrac­tion or dis­trac­tion, which weak­ens symp­tom for­ma­tion (317-18).

At this point, Kant drops a foot­note refer­ring the read­er to the con­clud­ing part of The Con­flict of the Fac­ul­ties (Der Stre­it der Fakultäten), the last book he pub­lish­es: “I have remarked in anoth­er writ­ing that avert­ing atten­tion from cer­tain painful sen­sa­tions and exert­ing it on any oth­er object vol­un­tar­i­ly grasped in thought can ward off the painful sen­sa­tions so com­plete­ly that they are unable to break out into ill­ness” (318). The final part of The Con­flict of the Fac­ul­ties enti­tled “The Con­flict of the Phi­los­o­phy Fac­ul­ty with the Fac­ul­ty of Med­i­cine” was orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in response to a book sent to Kant by Pro­fes­sor C. W. Hufe­land of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Jena, who was also the Roy­al Pruss­ian Court physi­cian. Thank­ing Hufe­land for the book, Mac­ro­bi­otics, or the Art of Pro­long­ing Human Life (Makro­bi­otik, oder die Kun­st, das men­schliche Leben zu ver­längern), Kant men­tions that he would like to write an essay expound­ing on his own art of pro­long­ing life. Accord­ing to Gregor’s intro­duc­tion to The Con­flict of the Fac­ul­ties:

Hufe­land replied enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly promis­ing that such an essay would quick­ly be made avail­able to the med­ical pro­fes­sion. Kant’s essay, which takes the form of a let­ter to Hufe­land, was writ­ten in Jan­u­ary 1798 and pub­lished in the same year in Jena, in Hufeland’s Jour­nal of Prac­ti­cal Phar­ma­col­o­gy and Surgery. (xxi-xxii)

The title of Kant’s con­tri­bu­tion: “On the Pow­er of the Mind to Mas­ter Its Mor­bid Feel­ings by Sheer Res­o­lu­tion” (Von der Macht des Gemüths durch den bloßen Vor­satz sein­er krankhaften Gefüh­le Mesiter zu sein).

WEb_DSC9836xThe let­ter addressed to Hufe­land entered The Con­flict of the Fac­ul­ties as an intro­duc­tion to its con­clud­ing part. In it, Kant apol­o­gizes for his delayed response, writ­ing that “old age brings with it the habit of post­pon­ing impor­tant deci­sions (pro­cras­ti­na­tio)—just as we put off con­clud­ing our lives: death always arrives too soon for us, and we are inex­haustible in think­ing up excus­es for mak­ing it wait” (175). With respect to a ques­tion Hufe­land had posed con­cern­ing the moral treat­ment of the phys­i­cal side of man, Kant writes that “moral­ly prac­ti­cal phi­los­o­phy also pro­vides a panacea which, though it is cer­tain­ly not the com­plete answer to every prob­lem, must still be an ingre­di­ent in every pre­scrip­tion” (175).

The panacea, Kant con­tin­ues, is a reg­i­men that must be adopt­ed. It is the art of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine. One con­di­tion applies to this art. It is under­writ­ten by phi­los­o­phy or its spir­it, with­out which reg­i­men is not pos­si­ble. In the essay that fol­lows, Kant takes him­self as the exper­i­men­tal sub­ject in order to draw atten­tion to some­thing that does not occur to every­one, either in the sense of not think­ing of some­thing or some­thing not hap­pen­ing, but has occurred to him in both sens­es of the word. “I have out­lived a good many of my friends and acquain­tances who boast­ed of per­fect health and lived by an order­ly reg­i­men adopt­ed once and for all, while the seed of death (ill­ness) lay in them unno­ticed, ready to devel­op” (181). Even devo­tion to the reg­i­men, to the art of pre­ven­tive med­i­cine, offers no guar­an­tees, as Kant learned from his moth­er. His Kun­st­stück is a trib­ute to her exam­ple. Kant con­cludes that the reg­i­men is about pro­long­ing life, rather than enjoy­ing it, and that old age can only be con­sid­ered as ret­ro­spec­tive, as a tes­ta­ment to health one has enjoyed.

Med­ical sci­ence,” Kant con­tin­ues, “is philo­soph­i­cal when the sheer pow­er of man’s rea­son to mas­ter his sen­su­ous feel­ings by a self-imposed prin­ci­ple deter­mines his man­ner of liv­ing” (181, 183). Yet, if the heal­ing art attempts to inter­vene from with­out into the body by means of the apothe­cary or sur­geon, it is no longer philo­soph­i­cal but “mere­ly empir­i­cal and mechan­i­cal” (183). The reg­i­men is proac­tive risk cal­cu­la­tion that does not take the body for grant­ed. What ails the body, the seed of death fes­ter­ing with­in, is just as uncer­tain as all that is bought, sold, or giv­en away at the apothe­cary. In Kant’s per­son­al expe­ri­ence or exper­i­ment, the ail­ment and the rem­e­dy can be one and the same. Wal­lace notes his take on inoc­u­la­tion:

He held strong views on Jenner’s great dis­cov­ery: he termed vac­ci­na­tion an “inoc­u­la­tion of bes­tial­i­ty.” Twice in the year 1800—once by Pro­fes­sor Junck­er of Halle, and once by Graf Dohna (whose bride desired to be vaccinated)—he was asked whether he con­sid­ered this pro­phy­lac­tic against small-pox a moral­ly jus­ti­fi­able one. (89)

If the mechan­i­cal injec­tion of impu­ri­ty into a sys­tem is not philo­soph­i­cal by any means and hence not moral­ly jus­ti­fi­able, then what about the time-release mech­a­nism already deposit­ed inside the human body as seed of death?

After hav­ing con­front­ed and coun­tered the pos­si­bil­i­ty of hypochondria’s melan­cholic excess under the rubric of reason’s veto pow­er, Kant allows a per­son­al reflec­tion to fol­low in the next para­graph (Con­flict 189). His inflect­ed chest, which press­es upon lungs and heart, was the nat­ur­al pre­con­di­tion for hypochon­dria, which in his ear­ly years, indeed, bor­dered on a with­draw­al of his will to live. The restric­tions of his physique could not be over­come. But he has since mas­tered their effect upon his thoughts and acts by avert­ing atten­tion from the oppres­sive feel­ing as though it were not his con­cern (189). Kant describes how he dis­so­ci­ates and knows it too. Upon reflect­ing that his oppres­sion or anguish of the heart was prob­a­bly mere­ly mechan­i­cal, there­fore, and that, as a result, noth­ing could be done about it, he decid­ed to pay it no mind. Although this did not relieve the pres­sure entire­ly, peace of mind and cheer­ful­ness pre­vailed (189). Because life is lim­it­ed by the body, which cul­ti­vates the seed of death, the work of the mind or spir­it must be that of tak­ing account of this lim­i­ta­tion and enjoy­ing life just the same (189).

Wasian­s­ki reports that in Decem­ber 1803 Kant could no longer sign his name. The fail­ure of both eye­sight and mem­o­ry ulti­mate­ly did in the sig­na­ture, while deliv­er­ing its ver­dict: I. Kant. No longer able to remem­ber which let­ters com­prise his name, even when they are repeat­ed to him, he can­not rep­re­sent them in his imag­i­na­tion (Gross et al. 292). Around the time Wasian­s­ki begins sign­ing for Kant, a dis­tin­guished guest from Berlin vis­its the great thinker and is shocked to see what remains of him. He sees “not Kant but only Kant’s shell,” and asks “what was Kant then, and what now?” (297). In “The Last Days of Immanuel Kant,” based large­ly on Wasianski’s biog­ra­phy, De Quincey describes a sense of the liv­ing end: “[W]e had the feel­ing of some mighty phan­tom from some for­got­ten cen­tu­ry being seat­ed amongst us” (159). When it’s the end among these friends, it’s not­ed that what stops is the “final move­ment of the machine,” the Kant­ian Kun­st­stück, his body under reg­i­men (303).

Toward the end of his life Kant main­tained spe­cial sleep­ing arrange­ments, which began not with the extin­guish­ing of the light but a quar­ter hour ear­li­er. After chang­ing into his bed­clothes, “swathed like a mum­my,” he pre­pared his body for sleep (117). Once asleep, noth­ing could dis­turb him. If he had to leave his secured space dur­ing the night, he guid­ed him­self by means of a rope con­nect­ing his bed to the adja­cent room, which was need­ed because he kept his bed­room com­plete­ly dark night and day. Wasian­s­ki explains that Kant had returned once from an excur­sion to find bugs in his bed­room and decid­ed that it was the light that caused them to pros­per and mul­ti­ply (Gross et al. 227). The exter­nal fac­tor of des­e­cra­tion was blocked out, as was already the inter­nal max fac­tor of decay. But you nev­er saw him sweat. He per­spired nei­ther day nor night, accord­ing to Wasian­s­ki (Gross et al. 228). When the time came, his dead body could remain on dis­play for a long time because of its arid­i­ty. Ini­tial­ly on view in his study, the mum­mi­fied Kant was moved to the din­ing room, which accom­mo­dat­ed more than six spec­ta­tors, and was dis­played on his din­ing room table. The reg­i­men that out­last­ed all the rest in the span of a life­time left itself behind as mater­nal sig­na­ture.


[1] This read­ing of a “failed” encrypt­ment in the wake of a “bid for incor­po­ra­tion” was inspired by Lau­rence Rick­els’ read­ing of the G.E. Less­ing cor­pus in Aber­ra­tions of Mourn­ing.

[2] “Ich werde meine Mut­ter nie vergessen; denn sie pflanzte und nährte den ersten Keim des Guten in mir, sie öffnete mein Herz den Ein­drück­en der Natur; sie weck­te und erweit­erte meine Begriffe, und ihre Lehren haben einen immer­währen­den, heil­samen Ein­fluß auf mein Leben gehabt.” Where an Eng­lish trans­la­tion is not cit­ed, trans­la­tions are my own.

[3] Johann varies the spelling of his daughter’s name, some­times end­ing it with an “a” and some­times with an “e”.

[4] Four years lat­er Maria Kant sends her own let­ter, one that is in fact anoth­er kind of post­script (16 May 1800). She noti­fies her broth­er-in-law of her husband’s death on 22 Feb­ru­ary. She had writ­ten short­ly after his death, describ­ing the poor state of her fam­i­ly and their finances yet heard no reply from Kant. Her hus­band left them with no assets and some debt. With the sale of their house, she writes, she hopes to can­cel that debt. She implores him to help and sup­port them in their time of need and hopes the request is not inap­pro­pri­ate. Maria con­cludes by appeal­ing to Kant’s “benev­o­lent and phil­an­thropic con­vic­tions, which will alle­vi­ate our sor­row” (Gesam­melte Schriften 12: 306). About two months lat­er (19 July 1800), Maria writes one last time to Kant, who came through for them, and they are grate­ful. He is like a sec­ond father to them (Gesam­melte Schriften 12: 318).

[5] Klaus Doern­er writes of Kant’s role in the his­to­ry of Ger­man psy­chi­a­try: “Kant begins his lec­tures in anthro­pol­o­gy in 1772-73, and pub­lished his Anthro­pol­o­gy from a Prag­mat­ic Point of View, a more knowl­edge­able treat­ment of psy­chopathol­o­gy than most con­tem­po­rary med­ical works, in 1789. More­over, Kant’s sys­tem­ati­za­tion of psy­chi­atric con­cepts has remained a fac­tor in Ger­many; Germany’s psy­chi­atric mod­el of the first half of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, inex­orably linked to the names of Kahlbaum, Schüle, Krafft-Ebing, and Krae­pelin, was basi­cal­ly neo-Kant­ian, and Ger­man psy­chi­a­trists tend to make Kant­ian anthro­pol­o­gy their point of ref­er­ence” (180).

Works Cited

Cas­sir­er, Ernst. Kant’s Life and Thought. Trans. James Haden. New Haven: Yale UP, 1981. Print.

De Quincey, Thomas. “Last Days of Immanuel Kant and Oth­er Writ­ings.” Works, Includ­ing All His Con­tri­bu­tions to Peri­od­i­cal Lit­er­a­ture. Vol. 3. Edin­burgh: A. and C. Black, 1871. 99-166. Print.

Dörn­er, Klaus. Mad­men and the Bour­geoisie: A Social His­to­ry of Insan­i­ty and Psy­chi­a­try. Trans. Joachim Neu­groschel and Jean Stein­berg. Oxford: B. Black­well, 1981. Print.

Gross, Felix, Lud­wig E. Borows­ki, Rein­hold B. Jach­mann, and E. A. C. Wasian­s­ki. Immanuel Kant, Sein Leben in Darstel­lun­gen Von Zeitgenossen: Die Biogra­phien. Berlin: Deutsche Bib­lio­thek, 1912. Print.

Heine, Hein­rich. “Con­cern­ing the His­to­ry of Reli­gion and Phi­los­o­phy in Ger­many.” Trans. Helen Mus­tard. The Roman­tic School and Oth­er Essays. Ed. Jost Her­mand and Robert C. Hol­ub. New York: Con­tin­u­um, 1985. 128-244. Print.

Kant, Immanuel. “Anthro­pol­o­gy from a Prag­mat­ic Point of View.” Trans. Robert B. Louden. Anthro­pol­o­gy, His­to­ry and Edu­ca­tion. Ed. Gün­ter Zöller and Robert B. Louden. Trans. Mary Gre­gor, Paul Guy­er, et al. Cam­bridge, UK and New York: Cam­bridge UP, 2007. Print.

---. The Con­flict of the Faculties/Der Stre­it der Fakultäten. Trans. Mary J. Gre­gor. Lin­coln: U of Nebras­ka P, 1992. Print.

---. Cor­re­spon­dence. Trans. and Ed. Arnulf Zweig. Cam­bridge, U.K: Cam­bridge UP, 1999. Print.

---. Gesam­melte Schriften. Ed. Königlich-Preussis­chen Akademie der Wis­senschaften zu Berlin. 23 Vols. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1902-. Print.

---. Philo­soph­i­cal Cor­re­spon­dence, 1759-99. Trans. and Ed. Arnulf Zweig. Chica­go: U of Chica­go P, 1986. Print.

Niet­zsche, Friedrich W. The Anti-Christ, Ecce Homo, Twi­light of the Idols, and Oth­er Writ­ings. Ed. Aaron Rid­ley and Judith Nor­man. New York: Cam­bridge UP, 2005. Print.

Vor­län­der, Karl. Immanuel Kants Leben. Ham­burg: Felix Mein­er Ver­lag, 1986. Print.

Wal­lace, William. Kant. Edin­burgh: William Black­wood and Sons, 1911. Print.

This arti­cle is licensed under a  Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.