The Black Magician (a stupid aside)
My Hegel Problem:
Here’s the thing with Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit: the dialectic works in both ways, al(l)ways; it always-already covers all the “angles”. In a way, I would risk saying it is an operation of reflection directed against the operation of writing, or of the philosopher against the writer. Whatever it is you lay claim to, or write, Hegel will look at what’s behind it and say that it was a direct result of the latter. A direct result. For him, the différance must be reducible to an (ultimately metaphysically-closable – the dangling carrot that is the Notion) system of inter-differentiated identities (that in turn are the products and the materials – again the double movement – of that very system). Hegel will seize you on every example; on every claim. His faith, the force of his dialectic (with that he is a true genius), is that creation is impossible; but we’re not talking about an ontological impossibility: this one is a metaphysical impossibility. It is an impossibility in that which I have no access to except as being its confused symptom. That, I believe, is the metaphysical principle at work in the dialectic: it is a direct attack on the metaphysical concept of creation (which will, I think, by necessity resonate into all conceptions of time that Hegel might have – hence perhaps his tendency to read History the way he does). Hegel’s attacks are such that they cannot be defended against, because they attack precisely that which works in silence, in secret; that which cannot, by definition, defend itself. “Either everything is on the table, or you have not thought through what you are saying,” is what he decisively tells you at every reflective turn-of-thought. But once it’s on the table, Hegel always knew it would be there in advance; not in content necessarily, but in form. What-ever you say can and will be held against you; but the saying will always and forever be left as remainder, as refuse(d), as something the writer/thinker should be ashamed of (and shut up/out). This perhaps is why the Phenomenology hurts me, almost a palpable, physical pain: if I want to say “the Other puts the I into question,” Hegel would immediately ask who/what is this ‘Other’, in what does this Other consist? “Give me an example!” He will then invariably direct the attention to the ‘I’ – to the most concrete part of the statement – and then work everything around it and toward it, using the gravity of the ‘I’s ontology to suck out the grace of an Other’s metaphysics – to use Simone Weil’s terms. He will always insist that the whole equals the sum of its parts, always; more radical even than Aristotle, since Aristotle at least assumed the diremption of the immovable mover (and has been rightly critiqued as having that undermine his entire system). Hegel, systematically, rids himself of any-thing that might go against his system, against ‘system.’ His genius lies in a constitutive inability to refute him, as if it was this very inability that writes itself (as many already noticed; most notably Werner Hamacher, who, I think, shared my physical pain – but this is only a hunch). Any refutation would have to enter into his dialectical game, which always ambushes the outcome and claiming itself as already having waited there from the start. In theological terms, this is a radical atheism, a radical Protestant move: that which is said being used, structurally, to void the saying. That is also why my own initial approach to Hegel – “read Hegel so as not to become Hegel” – was so painfully mistaken, or self-defeating: anyone, who takes any position towards Hegel, is always already Hegel when they read him. A true black magician. That’s why Adorno will always fail any “negative” dialectic because the dialectic literally eats “negative” for breakfast. Perhaps one plausible way is to skip the diabolical devices of the Phenomenology and focus on his Logic, Encyclopedia, or Philosophy of Right, as many have done as well. Personally (afflicted as I am with the need to read this torture-device), I still see no way out of this conundrum; my only intuition, as stupid as it may sound, is not to read myself against Hegel, nor Hegel against Hegel, nor anyone else against Hegel (Jay Bernstein, for example, does a great job at demonstrating/performing how any such attempt can finally be sucked back into Hegel despite itself – he can show you Hegel in everyone: Derrida, Nancy, Levinas…). My only idea so far is to read through it, with Hegel, and follow all the moves with a firmly erected middle-finger throughout your journey. Not “negative dialectic”, not even “otherwise than dialectic,” but a “fuck dialectic.” I propose this as a theoretical approach – as self-contradictory and irresponsibly stupid as it sounds. It is perhaps only stupidity that can break the grip of this specific Anaconda.