Thursday, March 18, 2021

I've been predicting the future since about 1978.

NYRB: "The philosopher Ernst Cassirer’s most timely insight is that even in a scientific age, people are prone to magical, mystical thinking." NFS means No Fucking Shit

The appearance of a new English translation of Ernst Cassirer’s The Philosophy of Symbolic Forms marks the culmination of an unlikely intellectual revival. Cassirer’s three-volume magnum opus, first published in Germany between 1923 and 1929, was translated into English by Ralph Manheim in the 1950s, when its author’s reputation was in decline. For a long time thereafter, it didn’t seem the book would ever need retranslating. Interwar German thought exercised an enormous influence in the late-twentieth-century US, from Martin Heidegger’s existentialism to the critical theory of the Frankfurt School to the Marxist mysticism of Walter Benjamin. But the apocalyptic radicalism that made these thinkers so fascinating—the product of a period that felt like, and in a sense really was, the end of the world—is absent in Cassirer.

...His work found some admirers in this country, most notably Susanne K. Langer, whose Philosophy in a New Key (1941) built on his idea of art and myth as nonsemantic forms of thought. By the turn of the century, however, Cassirer had almost vanished from the consciousness of the American intellectual public—especially compared with Heidegger, who became ever more fascinating as his history of Nazi involvement came into clearer view.

Then, in the 2000s, the tide began to turn. In Ernst Cassirer: The Last Philosopher of Culture (2008), Edward Skidelsky wrote semi-ironically of the “Cassirer industry” that had already sprung up in Germany. Skidelsky’s book was followed in English by Gordon’s magisterial Continental Divide (2010), a detailed analysis of a storied 1929 debate between Cassirer and Heidegger in Davos, Switzerland. In 2013 Emily J. Levine’s Dreamland of Humanists proposed that the Frankfurt School had a rival in a “Hamburg School” centered on Cassirer and Erwin Panofsky, both of whom did research in that city’s Warburg Library.

I'm still not sure these people know what humanism was. And Kirsch is a putz. 

I've found a book on Cassirer and Arendt. I'm more interested in Arendt and Panofsky; her contempt for social science follows the older humanists' contempt for the hard sciences, something that as I've said seems to go unmentioned in scholarship in English. 

Someone needs to do a study of how the humanist contempt for the love of mechanics –utilitarianism– was redirected towards a defense of science as another form of reason against the glorification of unreason. Arendt's connection to Heidegger is Kantian, and the Davos debate was a debate over the the interpretation of Kant, not for or against him. Again, Kant and the older humanists were not optimists. And no one who defends fascism is interested in freedom, other than freedom from the burden of responsibility for their own actions. 

Erwin Panofsky explicitly states that the first half of the opening chapter of Studies in Iconology—his landmark American publication of 1939—contains ‘the revised content of a methodological article published by the writer in 1932’, which is now translated for the first time in this issue of Critical Inquiry. That article, published in the philosophical journal Logos, is among his most important works. First, it marks the apogee of his series of philosophically reflective essays on how to do art history, that reach back, via a couple of major pieces on Alois Riegl, to the 1915 essay on Heinrich Wölfflin. Under the influence of his colleague at Hamburg Ernst Cassirer, the principal interpreter of Kant in the 1920s, Panofsky from 1915 on exhibits in his work ever more Kantian thinking and language. But Logos was not an art-historical review or one dedicated to aesthetics but a principal mainstream journal of the philosophy of culture. So ‘On the Problem of Describing and Interpreting Works of the Visual Arts’ has a good claim to be the culmination of Panofsky’s philosophical thinking in his German period under the Weimar Republic.

...It is a critical attempt to ground the concepts of the discipline and an interrogation of the meanings of images in the context of Cassirer’s philosophy of symbolic forms and Warburg’s cultural history.  Alongside this synthesis, and more than in any of his other works—although with little acknowledgement or direct citation—the 1932 essay comes closer to integrating into his own project the intellectual positions of Panofsky’s prime theoretical opponents: not only Hans Sedlmayr and the theoretical position of the second Vienna school but also Martin Heidegger and his assault on neo-Kantianism and on Cassirer in particular. In this sense, at a particular (it turns out, late) moment of Weimar scholarship, Panofsky’s Logos essay makes a pitch for the high ground in the developing argument about what art history should be as a conceptual discipline. It happens that all Panofsky’s collaborators in the Hamburg scene (and most neo-Kantians) were Jews, while his specific opponents— even in the late twenties and early thirties (namely, Sedlmayr and Heidegger)—would declare for the Nazi Party as soon as the National Socialists were on the ascendant.

No one who defends fascism is interested in freedom, other than freedom from the burden of responsibility for their own actions. But science sees the world as determinist. And round we go.
The world is just a barrel-organ which the Lord God turns Himself.
We all have to dance to the tune which is already on the drum.

For those too lazy to follow the links to the end, they're the dying words of Reinhard Heydrich.

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