Mythology, Madness, and Laughter

Espen Hammer review Markus Gabriel and Slavoj Žižek's Mythology, Madness, and Laughter: Subjectivity in German Idealism, in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews:

Much recent work on German Idealism has been approached from a Kantian angle. It has focused on issues of rationality and normativity, ignoring or rejecting as either irrelevant or incoherent many of the features of Post-Kantian German Idealism that seem to indicate a commitment to ontology. The central contention in this slim yet programmatic volume by Markus Gabriel and Slavoj Žižek (containing individually written essays and a co-written introduction) is that the project of German Idealism — initiated by Kant yet radicalized and, as they see it, completed by Fichte, Hegel, and especially Schelling — was in fact deeply oriented towards a particular conception of ontology. This ontology needs to be understood, they argue, not just because it throws light on the aims of this movement as a whole, but because it contains insights that are relevant to contemporary philosophical concerns.

The text abounds with bold declarations, sweeping generalities, and promises of new beginnings:

The fetishism of quantification and of the logical form prevailing in much of contemporary philosophical discourse is characterized by a lack of reflection on its constitution. It is our aim to dismantle this lack and to argue that we are in need of a twenty-first-century Post-Kantian Idealism which would, of course, not be geographically restricted. The era of German Idealism is over, but the era of Post-Kantian Idealism has just begun (with neo-Hegelianism as its first necessary error) (14).

One may want to know what “the fetishism of quantification” or “the logical form” refers to, why neo-Hegelianism is reduced to a “necessary” error, or what it means to say that “the era of Post-Kantian Idealism has just begun” (is the beginning of this era perhaps marked by the publication of this book?), but the text offers no answers. The general sense one gets from reading this book is that the authors have been more interested in imparting a certain vision of what philosophy should look like than in patiently defending a specific claim or set of claims.

Mythology, Madness, and Laughter — these are hardly the kinds of concepts that mainstream scholars tend to use in order to characterize German idealism. Gabriel's and Žižek's interests are not in reason and rationality, the status of transcendental arguments, the meaning of objectivity, and the like — the kinds of issues one would normally expect to find discussed in book-length studies of the theoretical philosophies of figures such as Kant and Hegel — but in the darker, more romantic question of that mysterious “other” which is said to precede the constitution of a field of knowledge or the knowing, reflective, and rational subject.