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Kissing Immanuel Kant On His Death Bed

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Immanuel Kant had stomach trouble and really bad headaches during the period leading up to his death.  Apparently Kant was depressed much and ended up losing his mind to dementia. Odd end for a man who believed that the capacity to be in full possession of ones mind and body was what separated man from beasts and savages. If Kant had the chance to theorize his own dementia, what would he say of it? Would he say he was any less human because he had all but lost his capacity to think coherently?

Saturday, the 11th, he lay with fixed and rayless eyes; but to all appearance in perfect peace. I asked him again, on this day, if he knew me. He was speechless, but…

Everyone knows that philosophers are learned. Not everyone knows that they’re not always clever. In fact, a clever philosopher is actually not easy to find. And most of what counts as philosophizing amounts to tweaking old and tired ideas. That’s why when a guy like Kant comes along, he blows everyone’s mind away. It’s been a few hundred years since Kant, so what he did might seem so simple. But do not be fooled. Through this one invention, Kant re-programmed 2000 years of philosophical thought. As a French philosopher once said, Kant did this by inventing “the object.”

It all started when Kant figured out that there was a fundamental error in the way people thought about the things they tried to understand. He realized that the world and the things in it did not really offer themselves up to us to be understood through and through. Instead, we are the ones who are always trying to approach things while they kind of hide themselves from us. Objects are separate from us, and it is not up to us to remove the distance that separate us, which is why we always end up with only partial knowledge of things. In a certain sense, objects are objects. We are the ones who prance around them, trying to figure them out but only ending up with something incomplete. Does Kant sound, even if vaguely, like Copernicus who figured out that the earth moved around the sun and not the other way round? Kant actually thought of his idea as a later-day Copernican Revolution. Anyway, after Kant, philosophers just could not see objects the same way they used to.

…he [Kant] turned his face towards me and made signs that I should kiss him. Deep emotion thrilled me, as I stooped down to kiss his pallid lips;

In many ways, Kant was a philosopher’s philosopher. He worked at his ideas non-stop and had the strange habit of leading his life like clock-work. It is rumored that at the same time every day, not a minute earlier or later, Kant went on daily walks in his Prussian hometown, Konigsberg. If you were his neighbor, you could use his walks to know what time of the day it was.

for I knew that in this solemn act of tenderness he meant to express his thankfulness for our long friendship, and to signify his affection and his last farewell.

This is the Kant that we now encounter as a sick man, bedridden with stomach pains and dementia. Isn’t a philosopher’s life funny?  You spend your entire life thinking about things in the abstract, things that take you as far away from the body as possible. Then one day, you find you’re left with nothing but your body, though, in its broken-down form. Kant who once thought about epoch-changing ideas, now has to wake up in the morning and worry about nothing but stomach pains, headaches, and “decaying faculties.”

I had never seen him confer this mark of his love upon anybody, except once, and that was a few weeks before his death, when he drew his sister to him and kissed her.

Kant may have died of a broken body but he did not die alone. After his death, as many as fourteen friends wrote something somewhere about what it was like spending time with him during his dying days. Kant may not have gotten married, but he did get kissed…by his dear E. A. C. Wasianski and this was while he lay dying.

The kiss which he now gave to me was the last memorial that he knew me.

So Kant kissed a guy. For all we know, it was just a gentle peck or something innocent like that. I doubt that though. “Deep emotion” could not have  “thrilled” Wasianski if the kiss were just a peck. And to think that Kant’s pallid lips, cold and shriveled, could still do wondrous things to another man’s body. Clearly, philosophers never cease to titillate. You may already have guessed, but I’ll still just go ahead and remark that I quite like the idea of Kant as a kinky philosopher.

 

The inserted quotes are from a semi-fictitious account of Kant’s last days written by English Romantic writer, Thomas De Quincey  in a piece titled, Last Days of Immanuel Kant

 

 

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

4 Responses to “Kissing Immanuel Kant On His Death Bed” Subscribe

  1. Manowa Fufeyin August 3, 2013 at 8:38 pm #

    I shall come back yet more to Kant, went through the later stuff. But I comment to commend your effort and spirit. Brittle Paper got to know is now three!

    In Kantian fashion or general philosophic recycling then:

    Came across a statement somewhere that read: “We overestimate what can be achieved in the year, and often underestimate what’s possible in three, five years.”

    And, a point by a writer that there’re no geniuses, only about some 10,000 hours of backbreaking work by the ‘genius’ that was made so light by a passion and zeal, which finally earned him/her genius status before all.

    kudos!

  2. Titus Kenya June 5, 2015 at 12:08 am #

    I am researching about Kant and i believe he transformed philosophy. I am working independently on an article of critical and creative thinking. I have never gone to any university but i believe that learning can take a course throughout life. I have also been studying novels and books on philosophers such as Humes, Kant and Socrates. I am a Kenyan, 26 years and never been in any relationship. I believe my works might change the world. Thanks for your article though.

  3. Roxy July 19, 2015 at 1:37 am #

    What a joy to find such clear thikinng. Thanks for posting!

  4. Mytwostotinki July 21, 2015 at 3:15 pm #

    My review of the De Quincey text in case you are interested http://www.mytwostotinki.com/?p=18

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