Tag Archives: Hegel

Hegel – Preface to Phenomenology of Spirit (1807)

The Phenomenology of Spirit – a tendentious and scattered foray into the Preface:

Important as a way of structuring my list. In section 3 of the Preface, Hegel claims that project is not complete by achieving a result, an actual whole, but in and through the carrying out of that aim. The aim is merely the drive, the result merely a corpse, they must be brought together. When all the particulars are accounted for, they should all express the universal. In this way, my list is most thoroughly dialectic the moment the 3 parts dissolve into one–that is, the moment when i claim my list no longer dialectical.

But this is exactly the impulse to sublimate that my list wants to avoid, and this is bound up in the idea of taste. I want to think of taste in contradistinction to eating–as related but different different phenomenological compartments first and foremost to objects in the world that are there for us to eat, but also in relation to other people, and to texts. Hegel is explicit about the digestive paradigm of dialectics. Subjects are submerged in a world (in sense-certainty, we don’t start in the subject, we start out in the world, the subject’s move toward self-consciousness is a movement of digestion…this is dialectics as a shape of experience) full of objects that need to undergo mediation in order for “culture” to emerge from “substantial life.” He diagnoses spirit as being, not only undernourished, but so depreciated that Sprit is easily satisfied with the merely sensory.

Now what the phenomenology is producing is a shape, or various shapes, of experience–all of them valid, relatively, but only in so far as they connect in a chain of sublimation.

What I want to do is relax the dialectic, and to think of taste as a shape of experience. What would this entail. First, it would admit, with Hegel, that negativity, in the form of the production of desire, is fundamental, but it would insist on alternative ways of satisfying that negation. Hegel will claim that it is the difference between subject and objects that draw them together, and as negation, catalyzes movement…but I will argue that the difference needs to be reinterpreted within a schema that privileges neither an ascetic relationship to experience, nor one that is overly appropriative or dominating.

So if, instead of claiming that the evanescent is essential, we claim the evanescent must remain essential…what happens to the Bacchanalian revel? What’s curious about that image is that it gets repeated across Hegel’s oeuvre in different contexts: appearance, ethical community, nature and art work are all likened to this dance of death that is at once transparent and simple repose. In a sense, we have a metaphor that is being pulled in metonymic ways.

Indeed, expressing the necessity of my aim is at one and the same to accomplish that aim–namely the construction of taste as a shape of experience.

[history of sense-certainty is contingent]…I want to recover that contingency.

THIS is always changing, refers to every this.

empiricists should look to the ancient philosophers–and to bacchus and ceres–in order to learn how to drink wine and eat bread. pre-christian (not causal connection to greater meaning of spirit…doesn’t go into symbolic register immediately: bacchus and ceres are alternatives to the Eucharist which consummated eating as conceptual exercise.) Animal relations have a truth revealing function.\, to the degree their own evanescence, and the evanescence of objects in the world.


G.W.F. Hegel – The Philosophy of Nature (c.1820)

Page numbers refer to Miller translation (Oxford, 1970)

The second part of the Encyclopedia, sandwiched between the Logic and Spirit. It is divided into three sections: mechanics, physics, organics. The final section, in which I am most interested, is divided into terrestrial organ, the plant, and the animal. The animal section is subsequently divided into shape, assimilation, and the process of genus (or the relationship between individual and species). The move in each of these triadic moments is from universal to particular to concrete (unified) subjectivity. Life, which underwrites all of these movements, is perpetual return to the self: “it gives itself in the form of an object in order to return into itself and to be the accomplished return-into-self” (275).

Before getting to the animal, which is the fullest realization of this movement of life (it is in fact pure, self-determining negativity as such), it’s worth lingering with the plant. Hegel uses the plant to flesh out what could be called “immanent teleology,” similar to what Kant expounds in the second part of the third-critique, but rigorously without the imposition of the divine as guarantor of there teleologies. In short, the plant contains its own means and end. However, its relation to itself is immediately a relation to the outside world. Thus “the unification [of the moments] of self-preservation is not a union of the individual with itself but the production of a fresh plant-individual–the bud” (322). This illustrates what for Hegel is the primary motor of life–namely, a contradiction that compels a unification that always fails. The excess is life–both the life of nature and the life, one could argue, of Hegel’s system.

The animal differs from the plant in many ways–but the most important difference is that it has feeling, or “the existent ideality of being determined” (353). Or put otherwise, it has subjectivity, the self is for the self, it is not immediately related to externality like the plant. The process of determination is three-fold: 1. immediate, simply sensibility (nerves, brain, etc.); 2. particularity as the capacity for being stimulated and reaction, called irritability; 3. the negative return to the self which is the unity of the prior to movements–namely, reproduction, which includes the digestive system first and foremost.  The increasingly complexity of these processes–the means by which organisms divide inorganic material to be excreted and animalized matter ot be sublimated, for example–correlates with the complexity of the animal: “The simplest animals are merely an intestinal canal.”

These divisions are so rigorous and pervasive that they in fact begin to rebound on the very system of categorization that would contain them. So, for example, the mouth, while part of the system of sensibility…for it contains the tongue with which we taste (theoretical), also works to seize external objects and crunch them (practical); it is also the organ of the voice, thirst has its seat there; we laugh and kiss with the mouth: “thus the expressions of many sensations are unified in it” (374).

Assimilation is divided into the theoretical process, the practical process, and the Notional, which unifies the two previous. The animal stands in a state of tension without outside nature. By way of the five senses, the animal’s external relation is immediately reflected back into the self: this is the theoretical process, where appetite is checked. The practical process “begins with diremption of the organism within itself” (384)–that is, it is the feeling of lack and the urge to get rid of it. A being capable of containing this internal contradiction is the subject. The practical process if not free, since it is directed outwards, and freedom can only reside in the theoretical process of the sense, the reasonable will. Actin according to need (characterized as lack) is instinct. “Instinct is purposive activity acting unconsciously” (389). This very close to the aesthetic, it should be noted.

Assimilation works, first, by simple immediate transformation (infection), second, by mediation, which is digestion. Hegel does not want his theory of assimilation to be reducible either to mechanical (chomping) or chemical (saliva, gastric juices) processes. This process is not determined by an external teleology because it does not stop at the directing its activity against the out object but makes it into an object. In short, the animal, as “self-existnet Notion,” rids itself of it one-sided subjective anger towards the object, and finds the end and product of its activity to be “that which it already is at the beginning and originally” (397). In this way, Hegel writes, “the satisfaction conforms to reason…and the result is not the mere production of a means but of the end–union of the organism with itself.” Basically, the modes of external relation are always-already modes of internal self-realtion. Thus the explicit going outside of oneself of assimilation is an expression of the implicit return to oneself involved in every act of assimilation.

Now, this functions by a triple-determination. There is first the negation of the outside object (in anger), then the negation of the outward-turned activity (anger with the self), and then the positing of the self as self-identical, “but secondly, of reproducing itself in this self-preservation” (404). But the nature of the organism is to produce itself as external to itself (the production of the subject through determinate objects). It is in the very repelling of the self that the animal reproduces itself. And this is the final stage of animality, but it in turn takes three forms: simple repulsion, the constructivist instinct, and the propagation of the species. Hegel writes, “the highest and lowest parts in animal organization, are intimately connected: just as speech and kissing, on the one hand, and eating, drinking, and spitting, on the other, are all done with the mouth” (404).

Simple repulsion is excretion. It is the means by which “the organism gets rid of its entanglement with things” (405)–or, the discarding of the means after the end has been attained, which makes this purposive activity. For this reason, the Understanding, which attempts to reduce these mediations to mechanism and chemistry, are unable to comprehend vitality as such.

The constructive instinct, “that artistic impulse as instinct,” is the unity of the theoretical and practical processes of digestion. Like excretion, construction is a self-externaliztion, but one that builds an outside world:

The object is shaped in such a way in which it can satisfy the animal’s subjective need; but here there is not a mere hostile relationship to the outside world, but a peaceful attitude to outside existence. Appetite is thus at the same time satisfied and restrained; and the organism objectifies itself only by disposing of inorganic matter for it own purposes. Here, then, the practical and theoretical relationships are united. (406)

Hegel is here think of building nests, but also of relationships to the ground on which the animals lie, “which is not used up but merely fashioned and therefore preserved.” So in the constructive instinct the animal has reproduced itself as outer existence while remaining the same immediate creature: this is self-enjoyment. Up until now, the animal has only satisfied hunger or thirst, now it satisfies itself. (409) It cites the bird-song as the prime example of self-enjoyment.

Luc Ferry – Homo Aestheticus (1990)

Baltasar Graican, in the mid-seventeenth century, was the “first” person to use “taste” in a metaphoric sense to refer to the act of aesthetic judgment. It is a faculty able to distinguish between the beautiful and ugly (14). Modern aesthetic is born the moment that art is no longer about objective properties in the real world, but about our subjective relationship to those objects (19). Indeed, one could think about taste, its radical subjectivity and relative incommunicability, as the subjective correlate to the objective condition of the a-rationality of the aesthetic (22). The question of taste, then, becomes the reverse of most other contemporary philosophy: rather than devoting energy to showing how there are no absolute truths, the aesthetic is the realm in which one goes about trying to establish such objectivity on subjectivity, transcendence on immanence (25). It stands in radical distinction from history—in fact, the aesthetic only becomes regarded as such when it is able to break from history and tradition all together. Ferry’s “history” of aesthetics—a history that sets out to solve these problems—converges, as he very readily admits, with the history of subjectivity as such. It makes the book very useful both as an historical index—linking aesthetic development to the history ideas—and as an object of critique—he drinks the kool-aids served up by philosophers that wrench taste out of its corporeal nexus (and is even blind to those philosophers, like Nietzsche, that do the opposite). Nevertheless, the book progresses in five stages.
1. The prehistory of aesthetics—a debate between Descartes and Pascal over where the subject resides (thinking vs sensing) is correlated with whether the aesthetic is supposed to “paint the world” or provide delicacy and sentiment over and against such a world. But the terrain of the debate is the subject, the individual, as a monad, from whose world the divine has withdrawn. This is the pre-condition for the aesthetic.

2. Kant grants beauty more independence: it is allowed to exist in itself and not merely as a representation of the Good. With the withdraw of God, aesthetic is used to theorize a sensus communis. Further, the artist no longer “discovers,” but invents.

3. Hegel gets short shrift. He turns the artwork into the sensuous appearance of the divine (reversion to pre-Kantain aesthetic) and transforms the aesthetic in general into a philosophical pre-condition. Poetry turns into prose, etc. This is a reductive reading of Hegel.

4. Nietzsche contradicts Hegel by fusing the first two moments into one. He affirms the human viewpoint over the divine even while admitting that it is irrevocably flawed, fragmented. However, the real itself is fragmented, so art, and our relationship to it, has a truth revealing function after all.

5. The last stage take Nietzsche as the prophet of the avant-gardes. There is a double-movement: on the one hand toward hyperrelativism and on the other toward hyperrealism. But this is ending, and aesthetics of the 21st century are moving towards revival, cohesion, traditional narratives, etc. This final point reveals Ferry’s tendentious account, reducing both Modernist and contemporary art to clichés. Neverthless, a great book packed with good info, etc.

Jacques Derrida – “From Restricted to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve,” in Writing and Difference (1967)

A reading of Bataille’s reading of Hegel. Derrida explains the difference between lordship (grasping) and sovereignty (exploding). He then draws attention to the comic aspect of all lordship: it is funny that the slave has the advantage. Sovereignty comes with the ability to laugh at lordship. Hegel was blind to this laughter, which Bataille associates with the poetic, and this limit to his knowledge is what gives Hegel coherence but ultimately irrelevance with regard to LIFE. This is then read back on to the master-slave dialectic, in which the subject risks death in order to be truly live. Derrida points out that we must experience this death while living, in fact, which is a comic structure, after all. This is Hegel’s blindspot:

The blindspot of Hegelianism, around which can be organized the representation of meaning, is the point at which destruction, suppression, death and sacrifice constitute so reversible an expenditure, so radical a negativity—here we would have to say expenditure and a negativity without reserve—that they can no longer be determined as negativity in a process or a system. (259)

Hegel’s “revolution” was taking the negative’s “labor” seriously. Bataille does not take it seriously.In sacrificing meaning, sovereignty submerges the possibility of discourse: not simply by means of an interruption, a caesura, or an interior wounding of discourse (an abstract negativity), but, through such an opening, by means of an irruption suddenly uncovering the limit of discourse and beyond of absolute knowledge. (261)

“As a manifestation of meaning, discourse is the loss of sovereignty” (262)

“[Bataille’s] continuum is the privileged experience of a sovergein operation transgressing the limit of discursive difference…. Pushing itself toward the nonbasis negativity and od expenditure, the experience of the continuum is also the experience of ansolute difference, of a difference which would no longer be the one that Hegel had conceived more profoundly than anyone else: the difference in the service of presence, at work for (the) history (of meaning).” (263)

Sovereignty, like lordship, makes itself independent through risking its life, but does not conserve or attach itself to anything. It does not maintain itself or collect the profits. It cannot be defined as possession. [Cf. Andrew Cole’s reading of the Hegelian dialectic as being about the possession of land, transition from feudalism to capitalism]…” Soveriegnty must no longer seek to be recognized.”

Concludes with description of major vs. minor writing. Major writing exceeds the logos of meaning (lordship, etc.), while the minor merely interrupts it (?). This calls for a different type of reading, not bound by the constellation of philosophical concepts that Bataille is critiquing.

Sovereignty and discourse:

“To relate the major form of writing to the sovereign operation is to institute a relation in the form of a nonrelation, to inscribe rupture in the text, to place the chain of discursive knowledge in relation to an unknowledge which is not a moment of knowledge: an absolute unknolwedge from whose nonbasis is launched chance, or the wagers of meaning, history, and the horizons of absolute knowledge.” (268)

[Relate this to Levinas’ discussion of saying and the said, Merleau-Ponty’s concept of the self-interrupting flesh, and then show why Deleuze (and Judith Butler, ??) are different.

“Sovergeignty transgresses the entirety of the history of meaning and the entirety of the meaning of history, and the project of knowledge which has always obscurely welded these two together. Unknowledge is, then, supra-historical, but only because it takes its responsibilities from the completion of history and from the closure of absolute knowledge, having first taken them seriously and having betrayed them by exceeding them or by simulating them in play.”

[Relate to Benjamin’s “The Storyteller,” where transmission and meaning only become possible at the moment of death, as well as angelus novus excerpt; also, Adorno’s conclusion to minima moralia, in which all philosophy must be conducted from the end of history; also Deleuze in What is Philosophy?, in which creation and becoming are a turning away from history rather than continuation of them.]

Writing and the General Economy: “Senseless loss (production of useless excess) is sovereignty.” Hegel’s Aufhebung and phenomenology are both restricted economies. They are restricted to the circuit of reproductive consumption, the utilization of wealth—all of which can determine difference only as work (the activity of the slave, after all). The Hegelian dialectic therefore exists within the restricted economy of history itself.

Nietzsche – Beyond Good and Evil (1886)

The counterthrow to all of Nietzsche’s affirmation, published one year after Zarathustra. Taking off from his theory of affirmation, he claims that “truth” is not best defined according to good and evil, but to what extent a “judgment” is “life-advancing, life-preserving, species-preserving, perhaps even species-breeding” (§4). This does not mean that we assimilate to nature (“live according to nature” like the Stoics), but rather participate in the aggressive, combative drives by which nature perpetuates itself (§9). For this reason, self-preservation is not primary, but a consequence of the animals desire to utilize (“vent”) its strength (§13). “Be aware of superfluous teleological principles.”

Style is defined as the byproduct of translation: “That which translates worst from one language to another is the tempo of its style,” which is linked to the “average tempo of [a race’s] metabolism” (§28)

He defines life as an organic process (and also the soul as a social composite-effect) coextensive with the will-to-power. He wonders whether that which is given–our desires and passions–might not suffice for an understanding of our material world: “as a kind of instinctual life in which all organic functions, together with self-regulation, assimilation, nourishment, excretion, metabolism, are still synthetically bound together” (§36).

Crucially, Nietzsche is not calling for laisser aller, but for a form of living that is concerted and artistic: “Every artist know how far from the feeling of letting himself go his ‘natural condition’ is, the free order, placing, disposing, forming in the moment of ‘inspiration'” (§188).

Everyday experience is a process of (artistic) invention, creation, deception. (§192). Herd instinct is the unfortunate outcome of “narrow” human evolution [Curious way of approaching pastoral] (§199). Connect this with History for Life, which talks about the need to turn away from becoming in order to create something eternal. This also connects with Jane Bennet’s ontology of resistance as the means by which the subject carves out a space for agency. 

Nietzsche does not believe in disinterestedness–the “aesthetics of disinterested contemplation through which the emasculation of art tries, seductively enough, to give itself a good consciensce” (§33)–but does not give a very good argument.: He who has sacrificed know he really wanted something in return, perhaps something of himself in exchange for himself…to feel himself more.” At the very least, he believes the aesthetic functions otherwise. Pursue this in relation to Kant and Hegel, and Deleuze. (§220)

For Nietzsche, historical sense resides in the palate, and is associated with mixing and inbreeding, etc. He condemns “tasting” as a sort of dilettantism,” a curiosity in everything that holds back from the investments of desire. Every once in a while, something infinite transcends the measuredness of good taste. (§224)

Man unites created and creator. (225)

Growth is the fundamental process by which humans, civilizations, and species progress….It is a frighteningly violent form of identity-thinking: “The power of the spirit to appropriate what is foreign to it is revealed in a strong inclination to assimilate the new to the old, to simplify the complex, to overlook or repel what is wholly contradictory.” (230)

Weird stuff about bad cooking being a root cause of cultural decline. Women take the hit, of course. (234)

Adaptation and Capital: N dreams of a supra-national nomad that slowly emerges above and beyond the mass of readily employable workers, praises such a dream-man, but also notes the necessary disparity between classes that would ensue. Interesting and important: flow of capital as growth, organic, etc. (242)

Nietzsche indulges in the stock stereotypes of Jews (greedy and smart, but deplorable) and English (stultifying but impressive).

In Hegelian fashion (but also working from his theses concerning adaptation and accumulation), N defines life as fundamentally an act of appropriation, even if this is an ugly idea. (259)

Nietzsche foresees a moment outliving the “old morality” in which the “individual stands there, reduced to his own law0giving, to his own arts and stratagems for self-preservation, self-enhancement, self-redemption.” Modernity if ruled, then, by the power of the average–the lowest common denominator. Nietzsche is both awed and scared of mediocrity (§268). Connect this with Thomas Hardy’s concept of loving-kindness.

After-dinner nausea (282)