An overview: Hegel

For almost two centuries now, Hegel has been read as attempting to consolidate philosophy (and perhaps with philosophy, all history or all creation). This attempt at consolidation has variously been located on the left or on the right, in history or in logic, in the mind of humans or in the mind of God, in some future time or in some abolition of time, in some possibility or in some actuality - and so on (and on). All agree that Hegel's goal was consolidation; all disagree about just how, just where, just when and by just whom this was to be brought about (or be seen already to have been brought about).

But what if Hegel was attempting to show something essentially different? What if he was attempting to show that a refusal of consolidation is exactly what characterizes all being from the beginning? And that this original refusal, therefore, also characterizes truth, science and 'the system of philosophy'?

Only consider this famous passage from the Vorrede to the Phänomenologie: Aber ein wesentliches Moment ist dies Geschiedene (...). Die Tätigkeit des Scheidens ist die Kraft und Arbeit (...) der verwundersamsten und größten oder vielmehr der absoluten Macht. (....) Der Tod, wenn wir jene Unwirklichkeit so nennen wollen, ist das Furchtbarste, und das Tote festzuhalten das, was die größte Kraft erfordert. (....) Aber nicht das Leben, das sich vor dem Tode scheut und von der Verwüstung rein bewahrt, sondern das ihn erträgt und in ihm sich erhält, ist das Leben des Geistes. Er gewinnt seine Wahrheit nur, indem er in der absoluten Zerrissenheit sich selbst findet.

Spirit wins its truth only insofar as it finds itself in absolute dismemberment.

This passage is full of important ambiguities which will be treated elsewhere. Suffice it to say here only that all the consolidationalist readings of Hegel have coincided with that triumph of modernity (< 'modo' = 'now', 'just now') in which the human past and the ecology of the planet (with its own essential relation to the past) find themselves threatened with extinction. Needless to say, this potential collapse of our spiritual and physical heritage imperils the future of both.

Learning to reread Hegel as beginning and ending with the refusal of consolidation may be one way, conceivably the only way, to exit this fate.


a) Modernity (< 'modo' = 'now', 'just now') is that time in which consolidation reaches to the heart of time itself. What matters, what is real, what is me, is - only now. Heidegger therefore rightly sees that the question of how we conceive time is key to how we conceive being.

b) It may be that Heidegger may be read as attempting to answer the question: how to put what Hegel saw in a way which refuses the consolidation which has characterized the reading of his texts, but which retains his dedication to the idea that it is exactly an original break from consolidation which enables language, truth and all being?

August 16, 2004 in Hegel, Original difference | Permalink