Love or Knowledge: Sexual Epistemology in Fichte and Kleist
Around 1800 the hopes for grounding a knowledge of nature confronted the dilemma of human duality. Both Fichte in Die Bestimmung des Menschen and Kleist in “Die Marquise von O..” and Penthesilea unfold empirical worldviews in which a scientific epistemology based on material passivity is allied with rape and violence. They diverge, however, in the alternatives they present. For Fichte, wedding a knowable natural order with spirit, to accommodate both self and others, depends on a particular embodied form of interpersonal summons found in the coincidence of love and sex. For Kleist, however, neither self-knowledge, nor activity, nor love, nor even faith—Fichte's entire repertoire of ligatures between mind and empirical world—can provide a foundation for exterior know-ledge or true dialogue. As figural language becomes action and mythical tradition devours itself, the compatibility of autonomy with the grounded knowledge necessary for science appears as an unfounded idealist's dream.
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