“To Save the Honor of Reason”: Quasi-Antinomial Conflict in Troilus and Cressida
In Rogues: Two Essays on Reason, Jacques Derrida contrasts two different ways of saving the honor of reason. One way is that of Immanuel Kant. In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant purports to save reason’s honor by resolving its antinomies – the conflicts that arise when reason seeks to determine the world as a totality. The other way consists in acknowledging reason’s inability to resolve such conflicts while warding off the concomitant danger of reason’s autoimmunity or self-destruction. In the preface to the Critique Kant purports to save the honor of metaphysics by resolving the antinomies. By personifying “the queen of the sciences” as Hecuba, he implicitly likens antinomial conflict to the Trojan War. After briefly indicating how Kant’s critical project is rhetorically supported by his Roman sources (Ovid and Virgil), I go on to show the relevance of Troilus and Cressida both to Kant’s representation of the antinomies and to Derrida’s account of the two different ways of saving reason’s honor. For Troilus, as for Kant, the honor of Hecuba has metaphysical significance. But for Troilus, who stands for pure honor rather than pure reason, the threat of the antinomial represents another kind of danger, one that bears on the autoimmunity of honor itself. The question with which Shakespeare’s play leaves us is what it might mean to save the honor of honor.
Keywords: Troilus and Cressida, Honor, Reason, Antinomies, Autoimmunity, Hecuba, Metaphysics