Madison Morrison’s Web / Topics / Kant and Chinese Literati Landscape Painting
James Luchte's analysis of Kant

III.a.  James Luchte's analysis of Kant


We return to James Luchte: “For Kant, the character of knowledge can be neither that of the pure spontaneity of concepts which seek, with the rationalists, to intellectualize the world of experience, nor the mere receptivity of intuition which, with the empiricists, seek to undermine any possibility of the a priori, and therefore, of certain truth in the sciences and of knowledge generally.” It may seem bold of me to place the landscape painters in relation to the scientist or the learned scholar, but this is their proper philosophical company, for the literati landscape master is both a traditional scholar and a “natural scientist.”


He works, as Luchte has it, both through “intuition and concept, sensation and understanding. It is the union of these capacities,” he adds, “in the transcendental subject that makes synthetic a priori knowledge possible. In his treatment of “Transcendental Aesthetic: Space and Time,” (by “aesthetic” Kant is referring to aesthesis, or perception, not art). Luchte says, “I will examine here the first stem of synthetic a priori knowledge with a consideration of sensibility, which Kant had presented in his treatise, The Transcendental Aesthetic. The Aesthetic comprises what Kant entitles the pure forms of intuition, Space and Time, forms of pure intuition, structures of consciousness projected upon the unknowable transcendental ‘X’ with the result that conditions of spatiality and temporality are generated in the manifold of experience.”


The painter projects a consciousness onto the scroll. “Everything in space is simultaneous in the Room (Raum) that is projected by consciousness,” says Luchte. Time is the “primal form” of consciousness. “The second pure form of intuition,” he adds, “that abides in our active, projected consciousness is that of time.” In a painting we cannot have space without time, time without space. “For Kant, the unity of space and time in the space-time continuum is that which accounts for the a priori concept of causality. As we move through the continuous rocky forms of the mountain landscape painting we see contiguity, contingency, cause and effect.


“The notion that one state follows upon another with necessity relies upon the conditions of possibility, of space and time, for its intelligibility.” Literati painting is a painting of possibility, of the possibility of experience, an act of the painter’s imagination. “The synthetic unity of space and time for Kant, then, is grounded in the transcendental imagination.”

Much has been made of the shift from Deduction A, in which Kant espouses Imagination, to Deduction B, in which he substitutes for Imagination the Understanding. Here we will not concern ourselves with such niceties, for Imagination persists in Kant’s theory after the substitution. Landscape painting is an art of synthesis. Fan Kuan notoriously, for a month at a time, goes off without brush, ink and paper into the mountains, thence returning to his studio, where he synthesizes his myriad impressions. “It is the imagination, as the faculty of synthesis,” says Luchte, “that is the true answer to the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge, since, as synthesis, it is capable of bringing together the manifold of experience in a way that does not rely on the presence of the empirical object as a model.” Such esemplastic imagination in Fan Kuan (during the Sung dynasty) is discernible a fortiori in Wu Chen, Ni Tsan, Huang Gung-wang and Wang Meng (during the Yuan), in Shen Chou, Wen Cheng-ming and Tung Ch’i-ch’ang (during the Ming) and in Wang Yuan-ch’i (during the Ch’ing).


Having adumbrated the subject, we now come directly to the matter of the transcendental deduction as laid out in the A and B editions. Kant says that there “must be a transcendental deduction of the pure concepts of understanding in an a priori manner with respect to empirical objects.” The Transcendental Deduction in Kantian thought is similar to the Chinese painter’s choice of his subject matter, including his decision to imitate the themes already present in his predecessors. Thus Imitation represents, as with Locke, a “de facto mode of origination.” Kant says: “The impressions of the senses supply the first stimulus, the whole faculty of knowledge opens out to them, and thus experience is brought into existence.” Luchte: “Kant is not troubled by this knowledge, as we also remember from his attitude to the inductive, collocative imagination, which had an immediate access to objects, already there amidst objects. . . . The critical endeavor is one of legitimacy.” Similarly the painter struggles to assert himself.


He too must establish “his ‘legal right’ to a web of concepts which already dominate but may have attained their supremacy by usurpation.” In the Oedipal struggle, the son usurps the father. “Kant,” says Luchte, accepts this usurpation and the de facto existence of the sciences; he accepts the crime of Prometheus.” Likewise the validity, nay, necessity of altering tradition becomes a trademark of Chinese tradition, especially the tradition of imitation in literati painting. In Kant, “since the concept cannot, out of itself, engender an object upon which it would ground its synthesis, it must enter into relation with possible experience, as that is its horizon of affectivity.” Likewise the literati painter’s imitation of painting instead of reality as a way of revealing Nature. In Kant “pure intuitions contain a priori the condition of the possibility of objects as appearances” and through a synthesis of the imagination “engender the manifold” (Luchte). Pure intuition here is like the Chinese painter's choice of predecessor.

“Pure concepts,” says Luchte, “must remain at a distance from experience.” I.e., painting must be painting. The later painter establishes contact with the Experience of the earlier painter, not with any objective landscape. “Kant’s initial question, ‘How are synthetic a priori judgments possible?’ therefore becomes, ‘How are subjective conditions of thought to have objective validity?’” In painterly terms, how does the successor determine his succession? Through the “knowledge” of itself that he imparts to tradition. “Pure knowledge must remain ultimately the 'proper' condition for the possibility of empirical knowledge.” Kant: “Either the object alone must make the representation possible or the representation alone must make the object possible.” Thus imitation of painting usurps imitation of the natural world. Luchte: “Kant’s central focus remains the validity of the Concept; of its apodeictic certainty he remarks that only the latter option will yield a priori knowledge, that it must make the object possible.”


Likewise, only by being within the tradition, by allowing one’s identity to be determined by it, by imitating and thus following predecessors, may one be a literati painter. Kant: “The question now arises whether a priori concepts do not also serve as antecedent conditions under which alone anything can be, if not intuited, yet thought as an object in general.” Luchte: “Kant reiterates his distinction between a physiological induction and a transcendental deduction.” “Concepts that yield,” says Kant, “the objective ground of the possibility of experience are for this very reason necessary. But the unfolding of the experience wherein they are encountered is not their deduction; it is only their illustration.” The painter does not create reality, as does the Neo-Kantian Idealist (or so he thinks), he only imitates an imitation of it, an imitation not of reality but of experience. “Save through their original relation to possible experience, their relation to any one object would be incomprehensible.”


“Kant begins to exhibit the complexities of this ‘mediation’ produced by the imagination. He echoes his earlier discussion of transcendental logic when he invokes a spontaneity upon which rests a ‘threefold synthesis,’ of apprehension, reproduction and recognition.” (For the painter read: appreciation, imitation and constatation, or the Kantian “constitution.”) Interestingly, says Luchte, “Kant suggests “that the concept need not be involved in the actual generation of representations, but is concerned rather with the outcome, as it is conscious of the unity of the outcome.” The painter, in other words, if not unconscious of what he does, is oblivious to it as he does it. He is goal-oriented, we might say, not theoretical. It is the coherence of his representation that preoccupies him. “Kant contends that the synthesis of empirical imagination must be grounded in transcendental imagination, thus providing a rule for the coherence of his representations,” the ground of which is “transcendental apperception.”

“The alpha and omega of knowledge must be the unity of apperception,” Luchte adds, “a self-consciousness that is conceived as having its origin in ‘something different’ from experience.” Knowledge of Experience, we might say, can then be regarded as the ultimate aim of the painter’s production. Knowledge from principles, Kant argues elsewhere, “is that knowledge alone in which I apprehend the particular in the universal through concepts.” Luchte: “It is reason, never acting immediately upon objects, that gives unity to the manifold of experience by bringing unity to the understanding.” The literati landscape painter, as I hope to show in detail, is therefore a painter of Knowledge, Understanding, even Reason (in the Kantian sense), by which means he becomes a painter of Experience. For Kant the Principles of Pure Understanding “are those transcendental judgments achieved a priori by a synthesis of imagination, the activity of which has been subsumed under a rule-matrix of understanding.”


III.b. A summary of Eckart Förster’s analysis of the late Kant