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The Black Magician (a stupid aside)

by H.B.

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. buzz...
  1. H.B. Dec. 19th, 2012

    (but of course, as should be painfully obvious by now, by saying ‘stupidity’ I already lost the argument/battle)

  2. J.R. Dec. 19th, 2012

    @ H.B. I had what you might call a ‘strange’ (not conflicted) reaction to reading your post. Everything that you said about Hegel’s philosophy, I mean, about the Notion, about its systemic insistence, genius even, I agreed with, and this made me feel ‘good’ because I felt I was grasping onto something in Hegel, something common. At the same time, your evaluation of what you read, I mean the way you felt, was not how I feel or felt, and what is ‘strange’ is that somehow I don’t think your feelings encroached on your reading, which seems counterintuitive in some sense. Though maybe when you assert at the beginning that “Hegel is against writing” maybe this is a statement that conflates pathos and interpretation. Then again, I mean, the fact that you felt all this from Hegel, as you say, ensured that he infected you in spite of your own intentions.

    Given all this, I don’t feel that there is a way to argue against your “fuck dialectic”, though I might insist that this finger that you hold up is not your own finger, it is Hegel’s finger, and now it is pointed at you. And then back again, until at last it is the Notion itself. ☺

    I also am not sure about what you say about creation, though I will not respond, but direct your attention to an article I will cite, well, soon… Which I believe argues that the Negation, the act of negation, can be seen in Hegel as imbued with the positive capacity to create. Oddly, you seem only interested in what Hegel takes away, but to me he is a giver, and what he gives more than anything is a way to critique a lot of bullshit (maybe first and foremost a Metaphysics of the Other!), and I think the Notion is the formalization of this critique, and in this it is positive and creative. Here, I do agree, yes, it is overdone, always there, given too much substance perhaps. But, alas, I mean, don’t we forgive other thinkers for worse e.g. Aristotle?

    Okay, but finally, I also thought, in reading this piece, about the famous resistance to psychoanalysis, also because the unconscious seems to have a ‘similar’ (and don’t take this as me equating them) undercutting (“Got you!”) type of capacity as the Notion itself. And this is where I want to point to an article by Mladen Dolar called “Hegel and Freud”. Let me quote two passages that seem of relevance, first, just about Hegel but then leading to the question of Freud, Dolar writes, “Pursuing this image, one could say that Hegel’s great achievement lies in presenting the exact opposite of this image of philosophy, not in patching up the cracks in the universe, but in taking the crack itself as the very principle of the universe, if I may adopt this massive parlance. If there is something bewildering and interesting in Hegel, then it resides in his grandiose effort to pursue the crack not as a failure, a malfunction, but as an enabling principle, to take it as the productivity of the negative. He saw his task not as filling in the cracks, but as producing a scission where there seemed to be none, a scission that enables any positive entity. But here is an edge: are Hegel and Freud speaking about the same crack?” (e-flux)

    So, then, at the bottom of this essay, Dolar answers no to this question, which maybe gets at what bothers you about Hegel, because am I right in thinking you don’t have the same resistance to Lacan or Freud? “And if Hegelian absolute knowledge is to be conceived not as an ultimate filling-in of the crack—the gap in the structure of the universe—but as the way to ultimately maintain it, in a gesture where the crack would be self-reflexively predicated upon itself, then the Freudian unconscious is a crack within this crack itself.” (e-flux) This seems like a rather large nut to crack, so I will leave it there, for you or anyone else to snack on. Maybe I am asking, does the crack of the crack that Dolar calls the unconscious avoid the overdetermination of the Notion?

    Well, these are my errant reflections on your piece. Here is the link to Dolar’s essay: Hegel and Freud

  3. H.B. Dec. 20th, 2012

    Of course, I knew the middle finger would turn on me; I guess in that sense I am also already anticipated by Hegel who designated the Jew as the quintessential abject (this is not an accusation, of course, but a taking pride)… Yes I’m raising Hegel’s finger, not for the finger as a sign, but for the raising as an act and whatever ethical implications it might entail/suggest/spawn.
    This is not a polished response. Your response above touched on many things that are relevant, and actually helped me see things slightly more clearly – always a miraculous boon when Hegel’s involved – about Lacan’s ambiguous (albeit at times almost religiously faithful) relation to the black magician.
    I could say in general, first, that my (as you point out) specific interest in Hegel is indeed marked, weighted. It involves an earlier conviction, angle: since for me the problem to be thought through first and foremost, the question to face at the beginning of every thought, is not the (arguably epistemological) “is this bullshit (and how)?” but the (arguably ethical) “is this violent (and how)?” Yes, horribly skewed by the Levinasian project; but something of a personal implication of mine (hence “stupidity”; hence my visceral pain): I am more sensitive to the question of violence, not least because I often find myself either standing accused, or standing with those accused, of talking bullshit.
    Here’s where psychoanalysis comes in; and perhaps something of the twist Lacan pulled on Freud (or made possible, visible, in psychoanalysis): the basic idea always revolves around the question of the psychoanalytic act/process – what does it do? There’s one pole that pulls towards interpretation as a discovering of structures behind the ‘individual’ (“you are afraid of a horse biting you because you saw your parents fucking”); the other pole is a lot less respectable – more Lacanian – for it consists not in revealing the unconscious “behind”, but in recognizing the only access to this behind is through language, through its effects (which, in this case, are not limited to those of interpretation’s claims to truth).
    It is that other side of psychoanalysis that I find myself identifying with; this other side, of course, always ran (and still does) the risk of being bullshit (just ask anyone doing Lacanian analysis…). How does one “touch” an unconscious structure? How does one communicate with it? Only through effects; for even if the unconscious “ansich” is hidden behind the Kantian vale (my philosophical naïveté, I admit), at least there are effects through which it can, in turn, be affected (even if not revealed).
    But this other side is also sensitive to how one touches words, how one approaches communication or thought (I think all thought is communication; but that’s for another post/comment/time/pollinator). My stupidity, as all stupidity, emanates from an obsession, my obsession with a past haunted by experiences of purporting to have seen through the bullshit and presupposing it gave me the right to violence. This is my own temptation, I guess; my own struggle. And perhaps it makes more sense now as to that “crack” – if not on the metaphysical level (I left this point to be only implicit here) – then on the level of our differing readings of this absolute master.

    Thank you very much for the Dolar paper; I’m printing it out now.

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