(a.) The activity independent of the form, and the activity independent of the content of the reciprocity, are mutually to determine each other.This book is brilliant because of how it resembles Chekhov's "Monologue on the Evils of Smoking." I don't mean Fichte's text--which is okay, if you're into that kind of thing--but rather the translation itself, which was the only English version of this (collection of) texts until 1970. This is a translation so terrifyingly bad that in 1899 G. E. Moore was moved to write of another of the translator's oeuvres that
That activity which is to determine the form of the reciprocity, or the reciprocity as such, but is to be absolutely independent of it, is a going over from one of the links of the reciprocity to the other.
That activity which determines the content of the reciprocity is an activity which posits that into the links whereby it is made possible to go from the one to the other.
The latter activity gives the X which is in both links, and can be contained only in both, but not in one of them merely ; and which makes it impossible to remain content with the positing of the one link, but forces us to posit at the same time the other link, because it shows up the incompleteness of the one without the other. This X is that to which the unity of consciousness clings, and must cling if no hiatus is to arise in it ; it is, as it were, the conductor of consciousness.
The former activity is consciousness itself, in so far as it floats over the interchanging links while clinging to X, and in so far as it is a unit; although it changes its objects, these links, and necessarily, must change them if it is to be a unit.
The former determines the latter signifies, the going from the one link to the other is the ground of the content of the reciprocity ; the latter determines the former signifies, the content of the reciprocal links is the ground of the going from the one to the other as act. Both mutually determine each other signifies, therefore : by positing the mere going over, you posit in each link that which makes this going over possible, and by positing them as reciprocal links you immediately go from the one to the other. The going from one link to the other
becomes possible only by doing it ; and it is only possible in so far as it is actually done. It is an absolute act without any other ground. The ground of the going over from one link to the other lies in consciousness itself, not outside of it. Consciousness, because it is consciousness, must go from one link to the other, and would not be consciousness if it did not, because a hiatus would arise in it.
- J. G. Fichte, The Science of Knowledge, trans. Adolph Ernst Kroeger (1868)
It is difficult to imagine what can justify the publication of a book as this. So far as mere familiarity with German is concerned, Mr. Kroeger would, indeed, seem to be sufficiently equipped for the task he has undertaken; for it is not very often that he has totally mistaken the sense of any particular sentence. But his inaccuracy and unfaithfulness to his original are so gross as to render his translation absolutely useless, as a substitute for the German, to any serious student of philosophy. It may, indeed, be doubted whether a student, whose object was to learn German and philosophy together, might not get as much good as harm, by using this translation with the original...Sentences without subjects! Random excisions and insertions! Backpatting footnotes signed trans! In short, reading Fichte in Kroeger's rendering makes the original's haze of positing and counterpositing look like a marvel of literary aesthetics.
Kroeger, the online Appleton's Cyclopedia tells us, was born in Schleswig in 1837--which means this abortion was produced when he was thirty-one years old. And then, testifying to the eternal treachery of print, the same encyclopedia blatantly lies to us: "[B]y translations of the works of Fichte, Kant, and Leibnitz. and by numerous essays in different periodicals, he largely contributed to a better understanding of German literature in this country, and increased the number of those that are interested in it." I suspect that Kroeger's insidious influence has in fact turned away more students of German literature than we will ever know. His indefatigable zeal for making his national culture unpopular would have done his namesake proud.
But why would I compare this work to Chekhov's? The latter uses a device wherein the lecture format of the monologue collapses in on itself and the speaker is suddenly found to be lecturing about his personal problems and his shrewish wife, and not smoking at all. This translation works the same way. What had been in Fichte's case merely philosophy becomes in Kroeger's a revelation of the Self, struggling in the prison house of language. Try as you might, you won't find a subject for those sentences, or, indeed, a coherent explanation of what exactly "the former determines the latter signifies." Language, here, is serving only as a placeholder for a meaning that one can look up elsewhere, perhaps in an analogue of Appleton's Cyclopedia; it is sufficient to skim Kroeger's text briefly to ascertain that one has not in fact purchased a volume of Schelling instead.
The philosophy isn't the important thing. What matters is that Kroeger is bringing to the unwashed Anglophone masses the beauty of the German language, as he makes clear in the introduction to another book, on the Minnesingers:
Perhaps it was the fact that the German language is an original tongue, and hence needed not to wait, like the English, Spanish, Italian, and French, for a thorough amalgamation, which made possible this earlier development of literature ... The two great national German epics—the Nijbelungen and the Kudrun — are perhaps as familiar as foreign poetry of any kind can ever hope to become to a public so clannish in its literary pursuits, as that which speaks the English language. But of the German lyrical poetry of those ages, and their narrative epics, little or nothing is known outside of Germany, and even there these most wonderful productions of German genius are by no means so widely known as they deserve to be.Doubtless it is by bludgeoning them in this manner that the clannish audience is made to believe in the unparalleled originality of the German language (a bit of Mitteleuropa affectation which Kroeger's namesake would soon substantiate). It is hard for me not to identify with Kroeger's aspirations here, though. He wants to bring his native culture to bountiful communion with his adopted one, a task that is almost always thankless and nearly as often useless. But in the process, he ends up supporting his whole case on his own limited abilities as a translator and propagandist. Deficiencies in the work are felt all too painfully, and patched up with ridiculous emendations; the intended popularity of the text is placed above its own fidelity to itself; the corpus expands continuously until it is interrupted by death.
Which brings me back to Fichte. One of his central concerns is that his philosophy can only be appreciated by a certain kind of person. What kind of person? One who is invested in his freedom and sovereign individuality, i.e., who is likely in Fichte's camp to begin with. This, of course, raises the question of why the work is necessary in the first place--a question Fichte doesn't even try to really answer. It is the same with Kroeger. Only someone already devoted to German culture and thought can make anything of Kroeger's voluminous interventions. But then, what was the point?