William James advised us a century ago, the Hegelian “system resembles a mousetrap, in which if you once pass the door you may be lost forever. Safety lies in not entering.” My take is that Hegel, at first, is more like the Sirens Song of ancient Greek mythology. The half bird half woman creatures according to Homer sang their songs so sweetly and divinely that no mortal could resist it and sea wayfarers would jump in the sea and die to reach their island. Certainly, Hegel resembles a sea which surges toward and according to lore ushers in the divine. Well, at least for philosophers that popular mythos holds have no life. If one is to survive Hegel, one must tie oneself to the mask before opening the ears.
In my first post on Hegel, I tried to bring out some underlying structural dynamics. We must stop the common place thinking that a verb must always find a subject (in Hegel the verb is the subject). We need to let the movement of the dialectic be the ‘reality,’ the imminent unfolding of what it is – without hermeneutics and supplementation. It is not a familiar approach to the way we usually use language to process as referent and words as signposts of some other ‘reality.’ Hegel asks or shall we say insists and assumes that the reader will lay down all such notions such as an other ‘reality’ which gives words meaning. To understand Hegel the dialectic itself in a more literal orientation is the underlying semantic and nothing else. Rather, it is a reduction or an assumption of what ‘literal’ means and all else should be laid aside and deferred while the dialectic plays out.
As we proceed through the dialectic, we find that our start was not literal but abstract. We find that the meaning of concrete evolves to take on a different kind of focus. The concrete is not made by nouns upon nouns but by the dynamic play of the dialect itself. We find a proper place for signification which does not depend on an exteriority or excess of meaning but solely on the play of the dialectic dynamic itself. As the ‘concrete’, the ‘proper’ becomes what it is through itself. In Hegelian’s idea, it becomes what it is not by force but by its own working dynamic. It critiques to the point of immediate dismissal any attempt to import objections which comes from outside the text itself. In this way it is like the Siren’s Song. It admits no exteriority to the text or plurality of meaning which is not explicit in the text itself. So, from the start a demand is placed on the reader to suspend critique and simply listen to the dialectic. Certainly, we are told that this is not too high a price to pay for a temporary suspension of importing anything into the text that is not immediately there. This is the price of rigor and scholarship.
As the dialectical song unfolds, we begin to see a temporalizing effect which is made from successions of apparent oppositions which hold open the possibility, the necessity, the door, of transformations. These transformations and their underlying contraries take on a higher and higher order until we find ourselves in the absolute waters of the divine. The temporalizing has taken on the eternal from inherent necessity…and nothing else. The words of the dialectic themselves have leaped from the page into the reality, the thing-in-itself. It’s as if words could, as the Greek logos, be spoken from Hesiod’s ‘before the gods there was chaos’ but now instead of chaos we have the definite, the determinant, the reality of what was always meant but got ‘metaphy-sized’ away. Perhaps the sin of Eve was thinking a concrete apple was something more as the knowledge of good and evil.
In my second essay on Hegel, I tried to bring out the lived world of sensation as an excess in the same way that a mere picture of a girl is exceeded in the Mona Lisa. Certainly, the picture is of a girl or a lady, but it almost seems to do violence to its immediate presence to ignore the plethora da Vinci intends. We do have a phenomenological ‘feeling-in-the-world.’ And it does not seem unrealistic to think of this temporalizing place as an excess of meaning to the literal semantic of a syntax. It also seems as if there is an indeterminacy of how this excess is related to language. There is a relationship, but it seems a bit hazy. Certainly, some specificity can be achieved by thinking rigorously about its expression in presence. I can hear the Hegelian now pedagogically point out but if it is indeterminate that is itself a determinacy so how can it be indeterminate? So true, in the literal meaning of the concept, but does that suffice as the picture of a girl suffices for the Mona Lisa? Can the Hegelian approach be used as a kind of violence and force? Well, certainly it has. Let’s take the case of Karl Marx and how communism realized itself in history.
As I and many others have pointed out Karl Marx in the mid-eighteen hundreds living in England and resisted the horror and darkness of the English industrial revolution where child labor and black lung disease from mining long hours with little pay made for short lives. Marx actively opposed the violent and brutal monarchies of his time and had no futuristic knowledge of what would become of his notion of communism in the Russian revolution which happened long after his death. In Marx’ communist ideal, violence would be replaced with meaning found in work and ownership of the product of one’s labor. It was the 19th century idea of entrepreneurship, work which provided for needs but also dialectically joined the laborer and his work to usher in an epoch of integration not alienation. However, in the twentieth century we saw that such an ideal, non-hierarchical notion was replaced with authoritarianism of the worst and most brutal kind. The ideal which found its appeal in its material dialectic was replaced with a tragic nightmare of inhuman proportions. Likewise, today we see the intrinsic beauty of the notion of democracy being subjugated to the violence of authoritarianism. We have yet to see the brutal history that will unfold if we cannot pull ourselves back from the brink of this abyss.
Karl Marx was the father of dialectical materialism. It was founded upon Hegelianism without the brutality of the German bourgeoisie. The Marxist dialectic did not empower and protect the ruling hierarchy of power but founded the dialectic upon lived life, work and the empowerment of ownership as an imminent reality in and of itself in practice, achievement, and self-realized ownership of one’s engagement and creation – production. For Marx, that was the real value of work not abstract capital. However, certainly we have seen that the dialectic did not remain as it was in and of itself but became the vehicle through which its antithesis was worked out in history. The dialectic did not remain its own immanent reality but the product of other’s authoritarian nightmare. I see no reason why Hegel’s Philosophy of Right cannot and has not been used to authorize the sanctity of the horrific State. In all this I am trying to show an excess to what scholars would think as the proper place of Hegelian dialecticism. True, I am describing a kind of dark Sartrean hell of no escape but nevertheless a monstrous excess to what Hegel himself most likely intended has certainly been historic consequence. The spinoffs from Hegelianism certainly demonstrate the power of Hegel’s works as was furthermore evident in Existentialism and British Empiricism.
As an excommunicated Hegelian, Kierkegaard wanted to bring out the excess in lived experience which Hegelian dialectics seemed to dismiss or transform into a moment of the dialectic. He could not counter it directly as many intellectuals have rightly surmised but questioned it relevance, at least in the way Hegel meant it. There are and have been many schools of Hegelianism and it is not unlike all the denominationalism which prevails in many religions. Kierkegaard realized that a direct assault on Hegel was incredibly difficult if not impossible so in opposing Hegelianism he relied on its seeming inadequacy in lived experience and its absurdity in believing it can account for the excess of experience; action and responsibility in having to put the book down and make decisions, live, work, die and face death as the possibility of the absolute impossibility of Dasein (the there of being or human being) in an everyday world. How could Hegel answer this excess which wisdom requires? For Kierkegaard, the passion of existence he called faith was damped down by dialectics and thus, lacked the ability to answer the call of existence. In Nietzsche we find that dialectics is the priestly mediocre, the tired values of good and evil which dampens heroic life-affirming ascent and condemns it to the drudgery of the last man. He criticizes many philosophers as chastised preachers of descendent ethics which boil in their continued resentment and vengeance of life and sour the high places of creativity and the epoch-bestowing ascendency of the Übermensch which spins off worlds and gives birth to millennium of meaning and purpose.
It is important to note that the power of Hegelianism has spun off reactions in Marxism and Capitalism in both continental philosophy and analytic philosophy. Beyond existentialism, continental philosophy, finds its place in history. In structuralism, post-structuralism, modernism, post-modernism and the advent of Žižek which founds a most radical form of Hegelianism and sociological formation of Lacan whom others have deemed the ‘dangerous philosopher’. I have no doubt that there are many new forms of Hegelianism yet to come. In the British Empiricists and Adam Smith, we also see a radical and direct reaction to Hegelian and German Idealism. Both communism and capitalism find their creation of Hegel. There is no way to exempt these major historic trends from the work of G.W. Hegel. The enmeshments are undeniable. We also find immediate and radical reaction against Hegel in analytic philosophy, both its beginnings and its round about return to Hegel in ‘Pittsburg Hegelianism” have cued us in on how Hegel is like Nietzsche’s ‘eternal recurrence of the same’ which has yet become new again.
Analytic philosophy may have started in the historic swamps of Newton’s absolute time and space, Latin’s metaphysics of nature (nātūrālis (neuter nātūrāle, adverb nātūrāliter)) and the British Empiricists naïve reflections on sensations and later on pragmatism. However, now we have seen relativity and, I would say, even epistemic problems which continental philosophy has toiled with in the desert becoming center stage in analytic philosophy. It comes as a corrected Kantianism that is the “sociality and historicity of reason, the proper treatment of space and time, conceptual holism, inferentialism, the reality of conceptual structure, the structure of experience, and the nature of normativity are the central concerns of Pittsburgh Hegelianism.” (deVries)
Analytic philosophy abhorred the mentalism of German Idealism and embarked on a reactionary journey to realism. Realism was considered fundamental to any such notion as reality. It saw language as the product of speech acts which had their place in a concrete world. It also took on the 19th century metaphysic of mechanics in the absolute time and space of Newton. However, from the start analytic philosophy saw the pitfalls of atomism and how fundamental axioms played a decisive role in the thematics which follow. The atomism inadvertently brought about in and through analytic philosophy shows itself in the Mises school most vividly where words are a creation act which have an almost mechanical individualistic kind of generational iteration founded upon rote learning. Speech is brought under the rubric of an act, a reenactment of an interlocution of players performing speech as act. Language can be private but in so doing fails pragmatically in paring itself off from its purpose to communicate.
While Pittsburg Hegelianism is not your mother’s Hegelianism it is cognizant of the contributions Hegel made to language as collective and historic. It seems to have displaced the monadist atomism of individualism (what I call the metaphysic of individualism) and finally come to grips with a ‘science’ which desires to let phenomenon come to the fore without imposing an underlying structure such as individualism but rather to observe scientifically the phenomenon which shows itself on in its own irruptive presence. This has a lot in common with new schools of philosophy which do not take Hegel to be metaphysical but literal in the unfolding of the dialectic. These recent Hegelians seem to abhor the metaphysics of presumption as much as their alter egos (which may not be so alter anymore) in Pittsburg Hegelianism. While analytic philosophy has been the love child of conservatism for several centuries, there are actually left and right schools in Pittsburg Hegelianism. It seems that the monadism inherit in the rhetoric of capitalism has been displaced to some extent by a more dynamic attention to socialization and language-meaning which cannot be privatized without losing something essential in the speech act and its interlocution. However, this rendering reminds me more of Saussure’s referential signs upon signs constituting wholes of meaning and syntax which are not processed in some serialization fashion but are encountered less singularly and more holistically. Nevertheless, abalytic philosophers still seem to be firmly rooted in their historic notion of experience as sensation and not unmoored from individual experience.
In conclusion, let me return to my beginning in somewhat of a dialectical rhetoric device to transform the Siren’s Song to Medusa. Again, Medusa was female (do we see an empirical pattern here). She was beautiful but terrible (hmm). And like Hegel, it seems that whenever the head of Hegel is cut off it only produces more heads. Or, perhaps the gaze of Orpheus is the scientific fact of Hegel’s work. Whether the solemn gaze is Blanchot’s living, monstrous death of words which live in the entropic graveyard of epitomes reminiscent of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein or Jaques Lacan’s terror of the real in which we are thrown from and to the phantasmas of yearning and desires in the symbolic, we seem to be doomed to never be able to exit the dialectics of Hegel and the eternal recurrence of the same.
As long as I live, I am a mortal man, but when I die, by ceasing to be man I also cease to be mortal, I am no longer capable of dying, and my impending death horrifies me because I see it as it is: no longer death, but the impossibility of dying…. I have no relationship with it, it is that toward which I cannot go, for in it I do not die, I have fallen from the power to die. In it they die; they do not cease, and they do not finish dying ― Maurice Blanchot, Literature and the Right to Death.
I refuse this speech by which you speak to me, this discourse that you offer me to attract me to it in calming me, the time in which your successive words last, in which you hold me back in the presence of an affirmation, is above all this relation that you create between us just by the fact that you address speech to me even in my silence. — “Who are you?” — “The refusal to take part in discourse, to make a pact with a law of discourse.” — “Do you prefer tears, laughter, immobile madness?” — “I speak, but I do not speak in your discourse: I do not let you, speaking, speak, I force you to speak not speaking [je t’oblige à parler ne parlant pas]; there is no help for you, no instant in which you rest from me, I who am there in all your words before all your words.” — “I have invented the great logos of logic that protects me from your incursions and allows me to speak and to know in speaking through the peace of well developed words” — “But I am there in your logic also, denouncing the oppression of a coherence that makes itself the law and I am there with my violence that affirms itself under the mask of your legal violence, that which submits thought to the grip of comprehension. ― Maurice Blanchot, Le Pas au delà (Maurice Blanchot and Fragmentary Writing: A Change of Epoch | Reviews | Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews | University of Notre Dame)
Part something of nothing called cross-eyed and tired…
deVries, W. A. (n.d.). Hegel’s Revival in Analytic Philosophy. University of New Hampshire. Retrieved from https://mypages.unh.edu/sites/default/files/wad/files/devries_hegels_revival_in_analytic_philosophy.pdf