Many years ago on the road somewhere in Europe, I listened to a conversation between two fellow travelers discussing one’s horrendous marriage. It went something like this:
“So, why don’t you leave her?”
“Because I can’t . . . K-A-N-T.”
Then the man explained that it was because of his sense of duty.
That little snippet of chat haunted me for many months. I had always been interested in philosophy. But a savvy New York City job counselor with a Queens accent said, “You’ll need a cab license.” I might have taken his advice had I not gotten married, had a child in the City, and moved upstate for affordable pre-school. I went back to college to finish my undergraduate degree. I read some Enlightenment philosophy, did a lot of 18th century historical research, and wrote fiction and poetry–living the dream in the woods with a small child and a husband.
But that conversation still haunted me after about five years.
So I wrote a story, “The Wives of Immanuel Kant,” a bawdy parody of the life of the philospher, if he ever married, which he never did. I got college credit for it and for other things I wrote and was graduated. I was advised to send it out. It got a very gracious and complimentary turn-down from Playboy magazine (“This is clever, and certainly well written, but. . .”) and one from Esquire (“This isn’t for Esquire, but it’s amusing stuff. Thanks for sending it.”). Some notable literary presses rejected it but a couple said “send us more stuff.”
Two people who read it were offended. One, who studied philosophy at Edinburgh, said “Why are you so mean to Immanuel Kant?” Another, a journalist, wrote ” . . . being rather fond of Kant, I did not find the burlesque sympathetic or amusing.”
Frustrated, I put the story in a file drawer with other stories for about thirty years, like you do. Recently a good friend asked me to send something to Hamilton Stone Review. I opened that old file drawer. Out came “The Wives of Immanuel Kant” and, by golly, they took it. Everything old, like stories in a file cabinet, can be resurrected, published, made new again. It’s good late-in-life lesson for an aging, frustrated writer. For any writer.
So in addition to inserting the link to the story below, I feel I need to add the caveat that, although this is a ripe rendition of such serious scholarly subjects as love, passion, and duty to one’s fellow man or woman, it may not amuse everybody. Immanuel Kant was truly a great philosopher. But I’m a fiction writer, and my guiding force is the question: “What if?” What if Kant had married? How would his life have been different? In response to one of the critics, a wise and kind friend said of the story “it’s setting rationality and autonomy against the vicissitudes and demands of desire, and it’s brilliant.”
This story is a parody that gets at some decent questions like those posed in Kant’s philosophy: “What can I know? What ought I to do? What may I hope?”
I reply: Love.