While we’re on the subject of Kant, Mikhail Emelianov at Perverse Egalitarianism has a nice post about “Simplifying Kant,” where he talks about Kant’s relations with his commentators Reinhold and Fichte, whose works on this philosopher helped to establish their careers along with his philosophical reputation:
Then there is, of course, Fichte who travels to Konigsberg in 1791 to meet the great master and finds the encounter to be rather disappointing – Kant appears sleepy and receives him without “special attention.” Fichte sticks around determined to impress the great philosopher (writes what will become An Attempt at a Critique of All Revelation), ends up writing him a letter asking for money to return home to Saxony. Kant is sketchy on the money but finds young Fichte a job. Fichte’s Attempt is published without an author’s name, everyone thinks it’s Kant’s new work on religion, Fichte is suddenly thrust into the spotlight (or a spot-torch, maybe) and a village youngster is now a 30-year old protege of Kant himself. Eventually, in 1794 Goethe, impressed by Fichte’s Attempt, helps him get a professorship at Jena. Reinhold got his professorship at Jena based on his Letters on Kantian Philosophy – therefore, the lesson is clear: hang out with the big shots and get professorships.
Literary critics have often downplayed this authorial role as popularizing stand-in (or explainer) for more difficult authors, because we tend to regard an author’s reputation as the product of a single writer’s intentions. Yet if we look more closely at the details of literary careers, what we find are authorial networks, partnerships, tit for tat exchanges, logrolling, competition, friendly or otherwise–interactions like these are much more prevalent, though, the more closely we examine questions of reputation and publicity.
I’ve always suspected that Boswell’s loving depiction of Johnson was a huge factor in getting Johnson read and enjoyed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, once his cultural authority was dissipated. But never underestimate the power of the popularizer in literary (or philosophical) history.