A New Thin Red Line World? Multivocality and Design

Clive Dilnot

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I. The Question of Humanism
"Nine days before his death Immanuel Kant was visited by his physician. Old, ill, and nearly blind, he rose from his chair and stood trembling with weakness and muttering unintelligible words. Finally his faithful companion realized that he would not sit down again until the visitor had taken a seat. This he did, and Kant then permitted himself to be helped to his chair and, after regaining some of his strength, said … 'The sense of humanity has not yet left me.' The two men were moved almost to tears. For though the word Humanitat had come … to mean little more than politeness and civility, it had, for Kant, a much deeper significance, which the circumstances of the moment seemed to emphasize: man's proud and tragic consciousness of self-approved and self-imposed principles, contrasting with his utter subjection to illness, decay and all that is implied in the word 'mortality'." (<150)

There are a number of reasons to begin my talk with this quotation, which comes, as some of you, may recognize, from the opening paragraph of Erwin Panofsky's 1940 Princeton lecture, 'The History of Art as a Humanist Discipline.' Though the rest of Panofsky's talk does not, I think, live up to the aspirations of the title, this paragraph has always moved me, above all because of the poignancy of Kant's gesture. Kant's insistence, despite, or perhaps because of, his frailty, on enacting the values felt closest to him holds, I think, a significant lesson for design, and one that I'll come back to at the end of the talk. (>300)

But let's begin from this concept of humanitat, and why I might want to put it on the table today. It is of course difficult, today, for us to simply identify with Panofsky's proposition. Humanism is a concept that — rightly — has become deeply problematic for us...

ISSUE 0 | July 2006 | 02/10 | Past Radical Propositions