The Thirteenth Category of Reason

From Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “The Thirteenth Category of Reason,” Memories of the Future [1927], trans. Joanne Turnbull (NYRB Classics, 2009) 125-26 (125-32; see my Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s Memories of the Future), an example of Russian early modern neo-Kantianism à la Bely, Bulgakov, et al., an excerpt about an old—and, as it turns out, thanatophatic—gravedigger who apparently occasions the phantasmagoric miscellany that is Memories:

[H]e is clearly out of his head and lives inside an apperceptive tangle whose knots Kant himself could not untie. For you see, all of those who are off (I won’t look for another definition) or, rather, out of their heads, evicted, so to speak, from all twelve Kantian categories of reason, must naturally seek refuge in a thirteenth category, a sort of logical lean-to slouched against objective obligatory thinking. Given that this thirteenth category of reason is where we entertain, in essence, all our figments and alogisms, the old gravedigger may be useful to my projected cycle of “fanatastic” stories.

So then, I propose a smoke, and he reaches up a sweaty hand for a cigarette; I squat down, light to light—and the thirteenth category of reason throws wide for me its secret door.

The categories of Kant, viz., “the coloured spectacles of the mind” through which we see the world, as Bertrand Russell put it:

  1. Quantity: Unity, Plurality, Totality
  2. Quality: Reality, Negation, Limitation
  3. Relation: Inherence and Subsistence (substance and accident), Causality and Dependence (cause and effect), Community (reciprocity)
  4. Modality: Possibility, Existence, Necessity

Russell also said: “we must know that everybody has spectacles of the same kind and that the colour of the spectacles never changes. Kant did not deign to tell us how he knew this.” Krzhizhanovsky either didn’t believe we all saw likewise or believed there was something we caught in true colour out of the corner of our eye.

For some, thirteen is a lucky number . . .

“La Mort,” a.k.a. sparagmos, Πάντα ῥεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει [Panta chōrei kai ouden menei], i.e. “nothing endures but change” (Heraclitus)


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