Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Hegel vs. Hegel

I was roaming the blogosphere a while back when I ran across a post [the link isn't working for some reason] which tells of the author's interest in the relation between Deleuze and Hegel. Now these two score very highly on a certain scale, where the ranking is determined by: [my interest] divided by [my knowledge], so this caught my eye. One thing I do know is that Deleuze hates Hegel, whom he regards as the quintessentially systematic-in-the-bad-sense philosopher. But I like Deleuze for the same reason I like Hegel (that is, to the extent that I have any business claiming to know enough about either to "like" them): they both seem anti-Cartesian and anti-dualist to the core. Me too! Naturally I want my friends to get along; but given that (as it appears) one has made opposition to the other central to his account of things, this could be tough.

The poster is surely correct to suggest that when Deleuze slags "Hegel" he is less concerned with the real Hegel than with a particular tendency in philosophy that he wants to reject (maybe "systematicity," or teleology?). In this sense it might be helpful to compare Kierkegaard's similar rejection of "Hegel." Now I started 2004 off by reading 150pp. or so (= 25%) of Concluding Unscientific Postscript, and I was surprised to find Climacus's supposedly anti-Hegelian polemic not only fairly congenial (to me, that is) but also entirely compatible with (what I take from) Hegel himself: a rejection of the conceptual dualism of subject and object (as inherited from Descartes, and something which can remain even after substance dualism is given up). Of course, Climacus doesn't put it that way, instead saying things like "truth is subjectivity"; but his target here is the idea, found of course not only in Descartes but in the platonic tradition before that, that, metaphysically speaking, objectivity transcends "mere" subjectivity (which might be okay by itself, depending on what it means) and (here's the important part) can be thought (of) independently of it. Jon Stewart (no, not that Jon Stewart – the Kierkegaard and Hegel scholar) says SK is probably using "Hegel" (or unambiguous references to Hegel, like "the system") as a stand-in for the local Danish "Hegelians" of the time, i.e. the 1840's, when Hegel was a philosophical fad in Europe – so it wouldn't be surprising if they had him wrong, and were saying things like The System will answer all of your questions when it's done, i.e. Real Soon Now. In fact if Kierkegaard has a single dominating positive philosophical influence it's clearly Hegel (e.g. see how Climacus uses "dialectical thinking" as a compliment, apparently (mostly) unironically). On the other hand Climacus never says anything like "these supposed 'Hegelians' have Hegel wrong." My point is that if Deleuze can use his own wacky versions of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Bergson, Hume, etc. as his mouthpieces, then he could just as well use his own version of Hegel as a whipping boy. In either case it seems to me that there might be room to make the relevant "anti-Hegelian" points in Hegelian language.

Now as I said, w/r/t these guys I don't really know what I'm talking about (yet). But listen to this story and see what you think. Richard Pinhas is a student of Deleuze and runs a neat Deleuze website, which has transcriptions and translations of Deleuze's lectures and other stuff (check it out). He's also a musical hero of mine from way back; in fact that's where I first heard of Deleuze – he's credited with vocals (actually they're found vocals – not like he came to the studio or anything) on a Pinhas disc, L'Ethique I think. Anyway, a few years ago RP and writer Maurice Dantec were touring the US: RP played synth guitar and loops, and MD read texts by Deleuze through electronic processing. Actually I didn't like the show that much – you couldn't understand what he was saying, and my guess is that this was true even for French speakers (I have some French), given the processing – his voice was just this harsh digital noise messing up the music, which got tiresome pretty quickly. As Frank Zappa put it, shut up and play yer guitar! But the point is that at the Philly show I got to talk to Dantec a little bit (after getting my Pinhas autograph), and what I said to him was this:

Here's what I like about Hegel. He has the right attitude toward dualisms: instead of leaving the dualistic opposition as is (like Cartesians do) and worrying about how to get from one side to another, or showing one to be real and the other illusory, or whatever the problem seemed to be, we should overcome the opposition itself (through what Hegel calls Aufhebung and what everyone else, except Hegel scholars, who deplore the term, calls "synthesis"). So far so good (let's say); but what it can seem that Hegel does next is to take the newly formed "synthesis," consider it as a single thing (a new "thesis"), and look around for its own opposite to pair up with it in a new dualistic opposition, in order to perform a further Aufhebung, and so on, in order ultimately to arrive at an ideal state (or State!) in which the Absolute Idea achieves self-consciousness or whatever. This is a fairly simplistic picture, and no doubt it is this that Hegel scholars are resisting when they complain about the spurious "thesis-antithesis-synthesis" summary of Hegel's thought. On the other hand Hegel says plenty of things that encourage this reading or something like it in the relevant sense (let's not get into it).

In any case that's not what I want (heck, I don't even know what it means). The point of performing the Aufhebung in the first place was to overcome that particular dualism. If that's been done properly, and the problems the dualism was causing have been fixed, or gone away, then we're finished. That's why some Hegelian arguments are still good – they're detachable from any larger structure and applied to dualisms which are, unfortunately, still with us. We're finished, that is, until we run into new problems. But we shouldn't go looking for trouble! Wait for it to come up! If we don't wait, but try instead to pre-empt problematic dualisms all at once (by taking the new "thesis" and scaring up an "antithesis," and so on), we may not really even know how to perform the new Aufhebung, which after all is not simply a matter of applying an algorithm (what would it be?), but instead (if I may slip into Wittgensteinian idiom for a moment) of [overcoming philosophical dualisms by] "bringing words back to their ordinary use" (from "metaphysical" distortion), of finding our way around (given that this is the form of philosophical problems (PI §123)). This is something we can do only after problems have arisen, and we see (what James would call) the "particular go of it." That's why solving them is a form of progress after all (even if non-teleological), rather than, as it may seem on the Wittgensteinian model, merely a return to the status quo ante screwup.

It just looks like (this version of) Hegel is so taken with his clever dualism-smashing technique that he's like the little boy with a hammer who suddenly sees everything as needing hammering. Instead of trying to string them together (and I grant that something like this might need to be done to get to the bottom of a particularly nasty clog, like in the opening chapters of the Phenomenology), he, or somebody, should tell us more, if possible (and it might indeed be hard to generalize), about what it is exactly to perform an Aufhebung properly, or at all, and what exactly has been accomplished when it has been done, and what we can tell about what philosophy does from the fact that doing this helps us clean up the problems we make for ourselves with our theorizing. That's about all the System I can handle.

Now when I said this to Dantec I used evocative hand gestures rather than references to Wittgenstein, whom I didn't know very well at the time (I guess this was more like 8 or 10 years ago now than "a few"), but here's the punch line: never in my life have I seen anyone nod in agreement more enthusiastically than Dantec did (remember, he knows a lot more about Deleuze than I; on the other hand he's not a philosopher) when I suggested that this might be what Deleuze disliked about Hegel. Now that may not be worth much; but it's a nice story.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

nicely written