Beyond the Artist-God? Mimesis, Aesthetic Autonomy, and the Project of Philosophical Modernity in Kant, Nietzsche and Heidegger

Dissertation, York University (Canada) (1998)
In this dissertation, I examine the development of autonomy in the philosophical works of Kant, Nietzsche, and Heidegger. After outlining the centrality of this development to what I call, following Robert Pippin, "philosophical modernity," I show that the figure of genius described in Kant's third Critique becomes the model for the "aesthetic" versions of autonomy articulated by Nietzsche and Heidegger under the names of "sovereignty" and "authenticity" respectively. According to these more recent formulations, autonomy is not understood as rational self-legislation, but as a quasi-artistic "self-creation." Moreover, in each of these versions of aesthetic autonomy, I claim that in spite of a disavowal of mimesis understood in a Platonic sense, an implicit reliance is placed upon the operations of a "higher" sense of mimesis, a mimesis of freedom, that enables autonomy to be exemplified and, paradoxically, "imitated." For Kant, this mimesis of freedom accounts for both the continuity and discontinuity of art-historical traditions. In Nietzsche and Heidegger, however, this covert deployment of mimesis has implications for our understanding of historicity more generally, and the relationship between history and modernity in particular. After showing what these implications are, I comment on the problems and limits of "aesthetic autonomy," especially when it is understood politically or collectively, and utterly decoupled from any moral constraints
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