Leif Weatherby, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx

Leif Weatherby, Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ: German Romanticism between Leibniz and Marx (New York: Fordham University Press 2016) 472 pp. $23.99 Epub, $35.00 Pb, $125 Hb. ISBN: 9780823269402

Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ is an ambitious project in the disciplines of literature, natural philosophy and metaphysics. Weatherby’s 'Romantic organology' discusses the organ as 'the tool for a new metaphysics' (8) and demonstrates this in the Romanticisms of Friedrich von Hardenberg (Novalis), Friedrich Hölderlin, and Friedrich Schelling. The text charts the organ’s development as a construct in the disciplines of metaphysics and natural philosophy of the pre-Romantic era – as an instrument of division and unity and one in which processes and their significance are hidden from immediate understanding. Weatherby then recounts German Romanticism’s adoption of the term 'organ' from these uses, taking metaphorical and metaphysical advantage of its various antinomies as a means of responding to an increasing fragmentation of their contemporary political environment (107).  Its nine chapters are subdivided into three sections: 'Toward Organology' (Chapters One to Three), 'Romantic Organology: Toward a Technological Metaphysics of Judgment' (Chapters Four to Seven), and 'After Organology' (Chapters Eight and Nine). Its expansive introduction offers an account of Romantic Organology’s terminologies and their associated metaphysics.

Chapter One ('Metaphysical Organs and the Emergence of Life') treats Leibniz’s discourse on force as 'that which binds actively into a unity' (56) and discusses its concepts in dialogue with Descartes and in anticipation of Kant. It emphasizes that for Leibniz a certain universality of organs obtains in all physical things, whether living or nonliving. He recognizes that philosopher as having 'indeed established a more general positive sense of the term "organ" by using it indifferently for bodies and for souls' (57). He turns also to Kant’s application of the concepts of causes (particularly the final cause) to the interpretation of organic structures or beings (67).

Chapter Two’s 'The Epigenesis of Reason' presents Kant and Herder and Kant’s Critique as a rejection of the dogmatic concept of the organ (organon) in favour of a canon (74). As such, it contrasts (and compares) Kant’s position first with Lambert, then with Herder. In fact, the chapter (and text as a whole) traces several philosophical debates on the topic: Leibniz vs Descartes, Leibniz (as Theophilus) vs. Locke (as Philalethes), Kant vs Lambert and Herder, preformation vs epigenesis (via Aristotle, the scholastics, Kant, Blumenchach and Haller), 'Newtonian physics and the science of embryology' (62). These debates seem to provoke a certain tendency toward prolixity, by which their treatment inevitably makes the work more ponderous.

In 'The Organ of the Soul' (Chapter Three) Weatherby states that in Germany 'it was in the interplay between an emergent, broad literal sense and a new field of potential metaphor that Romantic organology made its home' (111). He argues that the literalization of the term 'organ' occurred in relation to several events: the (natural) philosophers’ contemplation of whether the scientific discipline ought to include a historiography of its own development in the consciousness of its purveyors; Herder’s presentation of the disciplines (of natural history and metaphysics) with a 'cosmology of organs' (110); Kant’s guidelines for using the term organ by delimiting (redressing) its semantic borders. The chapter thus traces the term’s development through 'proto-biological discourses' (112): its associations with formation and organization (113), with cognition (118), and with the work of Samuel Thomas von Soemmerring, which 'thematizes the mediation of the complex physical organ' (118).

Chapter Four, 'The Tragic Task,' covers Hölderlin’s 'dialectical organs', whose structure is one of continually opening and resolving its antinomies (131). Tracing correspondences also between artists such as Schiller and Niethammer, Weatherby describes Hölderlin’s work as a 'concrete presentation of the contradiction between organs and intellectual intuition – the epochal struggle of the tragedy – in the figures surrounding Empedocles' (164). Chapter Five ('Electric and Ideal Organs') discusses Schelling’s shaping of the metaphysical debates surrounding the organ. Importing ideas from natural philosophy and metaphysics, he begins with dialectical view of the organ, explores concepts of organization, and combines notions of the general vs particular, concluding finally that 'techne and physis are always combined' (205).

Chapter Six covers 'Novalis and Universal Organs' and aims to show how 'Novalis’s use of the word "organ" to found Romantic metaphysics, or what I call "Romantic organology", is intended to dispense with models altogether' (207). It thus traces an extension of the moral philosophy of the organ (begun around Kant’s Critique of Judgement) to its use in social and political discourse as an instrument in the unification of state and culture (249). Here the discussion begins to take its political turn. After further discussion of Schelling and Hegelian views on morals, Chapter Seven situates itself 'Between Myth and Science' and culminates in the declaration that the 'interface between the rational will and its nonrational ground makes a theological organ for a metaphysical (organological) approach to politics' (273).

In Chapter Eight, 'Technologies of Nature', Weatherby discusses Hegel’s critique of Kant’s canon (the concept his proposed improvement on pre-eighteenth-century views of the organ/organon) and Goethe’s instrument-free (organ-free) science (282, 287). Hegel puts forth the apparently more inclusive alternative of 'the organ as not merely the part-expression of the whole, but also the two-sided expressive point of the whole’s development' (288). Chapter Nine ('Instead of an Epilogue') doubles as a conclusion, and here Weatherby offers a disquisition on communism, historical materialism, and Marx’s use of 'organology to address a material condition in which the Romantics did not yet live' (326).

Transplanting the Metaphysical Organ covers a wealth of historiographical material in its exploration of the myriad disciplinary debates that contributed to the development of the concept of the organ and to its use by the German Romantics. What it offers is a series of heuristics, and its threads are many. In short, one of the most salient aspects of the text is that it is very well researched.

Treena Balds, University of California, Davis