Thierry de Duve is one of very few leading figures in recent art theory to make Kant’s aesthetics central to their theory of contemporary art. But de Duve’s use of Kant is both idiosyncratic and controversial. In what follows I try to figure out what, exactly, de Duve believes Kant “got right,” and whether this is: i) plausible as a reading of Kant and, if not; ii) philosophically coherent, independently of its claims on Kant. Coming to a view on the latter also involves asking whether: iii) appeal to Saul Kripke’s theory of proper names helps or hinders Duve’s case.
I am going to abstract, here, from the ideas of “automatic” and “automaticity,” and from “mechanism” and “mechanicity,” in order to focus on the following question: how should the idea of “automatism” be understood, and what theoretical resources can be used to illuminate it?