The book’s fourth chapter reads Walter Benjamin’s earliest programmatic writings in light of early-twentieth-century debates over the legacy of Kantianism. And it treats in particular Benjamin’s attempt to replace Kant’s transcendental philosophy—Kant’s ostensibly complete description of the conditions of human cognition—with what Benjamin refers to as a “doctrine of orders,” a system of interlinked but non-identical structures of knowledge derived from linguistics, theology, aesthetics and other domains. It finds Benjamin taking seriously Kant’s claim that human experience is constitutively finite and expanding this notion of constitutive finitude to include the Kantian transcendental itself, leaving the latter open to transformation through its encounters with a material, historical outside. Although references to Kant are rare in Benjamin’s later writings, a modified version of Kant’s philosophy—this is the claim of the chapter—is the foundation for Benjamin’s later critique of historicism.
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