Kant – Dylan – Botul!

In an earlier post, I chortled about the gaffe of BHL citing the non-existent philosopher, Jean Baptiste Botul, founder of the philsophical school, Les botulistes, and his book The Sex Life of Immanuel Kant. Thanks to the silly Monsieur BHL for leading me to Frédéric Pagès, the brilliant satirist responsible for it all.  His book on Kant is, as one reviewer called the author of another book of parody that I adore, a work of “gob-smacking genius!”

Consider this:

Quatrième Causerie


Le Dégoût de Vivre:

Ne soyons pas dupes de sa vie apparemment tranquille.  La régularité de son emploi du temps et la montonie de cette vie studieuse cachent des aventures épouvantables, des excursions aux confins de la folie.  Les monstres rôdent.  Les lubies kantiennes sont une camisole de force qu’il s’applique héroiquement pour ne pas bascule dans l’immonde.


My best effort at translation:

Fourth Presentation


Disgust with Life:

We must not be duped by his [Kant’s] apparrently tranquil life.  The regulated way he spent his time and the monotony of his life of study hides frightening adventures, voyages to the edge of madness.  Monsters prowl there.  Kantian ideas are a straight-jacket that he made for himself in a heroic effort to keep from falling into the filth.

Am I making this up?

All this about a man, the apex of Englightenment, nay, Western philosophy, who had habits so regular and dull, that you could set your watch by his schedule of walking around the castle grounds of his university town.  Monsters prowl there, indeed!

The brilliant humor of this parody is that it appears to take on the corpus of Kant’s philsophy, but with only one question in mind:  Did he or did he not have a sex life?  As one who has dipped into biographical material on Wittgenstein and Nietzsche to make some critiques of their work, I was mightily amused!

And the connection to Dylan…you may ask as J. P. Botul rhetorically asked in the passage above, “Am I making this up?”  The phrase, a head full of crickets has, by my reading, the same sense as Bob Dylan’s well known lyric from Maggie’s Farm:

I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
No, I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.
Well, I wake in the morning,
Fold my hands and pray for rain.
I got a head full of ideas
That are drivin’ me insane

It’s a shame the way she makes me scrub the floor.
I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more.

Kant as tormented, alienated artist?  Oppressed and unappreciated Everyman?  Venture no further – monsters prowl there!

2 Responses to Kant – Dylan – Botul!

  1. mark says:

    Forgive me for entering territory I know little about, but I think this quote intriging, from a book I was reading earlier this year – it is a discussion of Gauss, and refers to Kant:

    …non-Euclidean geometry … has been compared with the Copernican revolution in astronomy for its impact on the minds of civilized people. From the time of Euclid to the boyhood of Gauss, the postulates of Euclidean geometry were universally regarded as necessities of thought. Yet there was a flaw in the Euclidean structure that had long been a focus of attention: the so-called parallel postulate, stating that through a point not on a line there exists a single line parallel to the given line. This postulate was thought not to be independent of the others, and many had tried without success to prove it as a theorem. We know that Gauss joined in these efforts at the age of 15, and that he also failed. But he failed with a difference, for he soon came to the shattering conclusion … that the Euclidean form of geometry is not the only one possible. … He did not reveal his conclusions…. One reason for Gauss’s silence in this case is quite simple. The intellectual climate of the time in Germany was totally dominated by the philosophy of Kant, and one of the basic tenets of his system was the idea that Euclidean geometry is the only possible way of thinking about space. Gauss knew that this idea was totally false and that the Kantian system was a structure built on sand. However, he valued his privacy and quiet life, and held his peace in order to avoid wasting his time on disputes with the philosophers. [He wrote] ‘I shall probably not put my very extensive investigations on this subject into publishable form for a long time, perhaps not in my lifetime, for I dread the shrieks we would hear from the Boeotians if I were to express myself fully on this matter’.

    This from the excellent little book ‘Calculus Gems’ by George F Simmons, published by the Mathematical Association of America. Simmons give ‘the philosophers’ many a broadside!

    Oh, and re the subject of the tormented mind, Simmons notes: ‘Gauss was almost overwhelmed by the torrent of ideas which flooded his mind…. he was penetrating deeply into several unexplored continents…’ and Gauss mentions the torment of problem solving re quadratic reciprocity.

    • lichanos says:

      Thanks for the book pointer!

      Funny, this – Einstein was deeply interested in Kant, and took non-Euclidean geometry as a given. (It entered the mainstream in the generation after Gauss, I think.)

      Of course, this is part of the irony and humor of le Botul. Kant’s work shows no signs of “torment” or anxiety. In the introduction to the edition of Critique of Pure Reason that I’m slogging through, the editor remarks that after a few introductory remarks, he quickly ascends to “cruising altitude,” and boy, is it true!

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