Kritik des unreinen Gedankes


A student once asked Professor Hegel, “Professor Hegel. Why are you so smart?” Hegel responded by claiming that any thought which he thinks; any portrayal of the development of thought; any insight regarding the delicate manner in which concepts slide into their opposites ; these are the result not of an empirical subject denominated “Hegel”; rather, it is the work and labor of Thought itself. Indeed, philologically, Hegel’s choice of vocabulary indicates he takes the work and employment of thinking Thought and its development and nature quite seriously. Unlike Wittgenstein in Über Gewißheit Hegel, as perhaps the greatest of modern philosophers, will not allow even the slightest presupposition to pass unaccounted for in order to eliminate arbitrariness but most importantly to eliminate the ordinary conception of methodological thinking. Standard methodological thinking takes as given a reflective notion of method as “application”, a given domain of objects to which the inquirer applies her or his presupposed method, and an epistemological Zweck  (das Absolut). The presuppositions of standard methodological thinking is anathema to Hegel’s presuppositional account of thought.

Zizek, one of our best readers of Hegel (as much as it pains me to say it), and one of our best pilferers of Hegel, appropriates the aforementioned anecdote (re Hegel’s response to his student’s inquiry) in his remarks concerning the difference between a Stalinist and Communist leader. After a rousing speech delivered to supports and enthusiasts, after receiving thunderous and reassuring applause, the Stalinist leader will stand stoically, soaking in and savoring the excitement and applause for he’s done something magnificient and historic. However, the Communist leader, like our Hegel, claps along with the throngs of devoted enthusiasts in order to indicate and symbolize that he or she has done nothing: It’s not me; it’s the party. Or, perhaps more historically palatable: It’s not me; it’s the Idea. It shouldn’t be ignored that clapping and cheering involve a rhythm and, oftentimes, a melody. Contrary to textbook depictions of Hegel’s method as a tripartite dialectic which presupposes an end (Absolut) and operates in according with this end throughout its development thereto, I believe that Hegel’s method works and labors much more improvisationally, much more akin to Jazz than Kant’s preferred marching music. Furthermore, I believe that Hegel’s improvisational/presuppositionless “method” plays an essential role to Hegel’s work than has been noted hitherto by the secondary literature . Only if we take seriously the idea that Hegel’s philosophical thought entertains and enacts a presuppositionless procedure, assuming nothing like good modern philosophers, can we see the parallel to both Jazz improvisation as well as improvisational comedy. While for most readers of this submission Jazz’s improvisational procedures are relatively well-known and understood it’s less likely that readers are equally as familiar with the ins-n-outs of improvisational comedy.  For example, within the context of presuppositionless thought and NOT in the context (yet) of thought’s development (because I’d have to deal with improvisational comedy’s aversion to negation) a member of an improv troupe is determined as an individual or, more relevant, “funny” only to the extent that she or he moves within the give-and-take of improvisational structure. Often, as is the case with Will Ferrell, people are off-put when they encounter improvisational comedians outside the context of their (the comedians) normal station because the improvisational dynamic isn’t governing the interaction and they don’t appear within the new context as “funny”. My point here is simply the following: An improv troupe functions presuppositionlessly insofar as the comedian must submit her or himself to the development of the structure of the comedic situation. Furthermore, the synthetic interaction between both the general comedic structure (form) and the local comedic structure (the comedians’ sentences or exclaimations) creates a logical space in which the comedian can be funny. Be one can be funny only insofar as she or he is set up to be funny.A properly functioning improvisational troupe functions properly if and only if the persons composing the group properly set up each other qua group and qua person.

There’s a schizophrenic element at work here. Per Hegel, Hegel’s point in the SL is that the activity of philosophy is actively passive. It’s certainly not the case that Hegel subtracts the emprical or logical subject from the SL. Analogously, it’s not the case that an improvisational setting subtracts the individual.  On the contrary, an empirical logical subject has penned the book and many empirical logical persons have found solace, exasperation, and insight in reading the arguments presented therein. To employ a Heideggerian etymological ploy, Hegel’s philosophy is speculative in the etymological sense that speculative philosophy “watches closely” (from the Latin speculari). One is simultaneously a part and a non-part. A participant and an aparticipant.  Once confronted with the thought of pure being as unmediated indeterminacy, there is nothing else to do than simply watch closely what happens when one thinks through this first thought. There’s a religious dimension to Hegel’s conception of the philosopher: the philosopher must actively prepare herself to let go of one’s individual rub in order to let thought develop, as Socrates said thereof, whereever it may lead us. Or, in more christian imagery, to abide or dwell with thought. As I’ve often argued concerning Bill Evans Trio (here Jazz artists reveal themselves as good Hegelians, forming Trios) when he deconstructed the hierarchical presuppositional structure of Jazz –that is, an authority brings a melodic idea to the set from a place external to the set– and opted for a more democratic set-structure, one in which chaos reigned in the form of each artist autonomously developing his own musical thoughts until a melody (or method) emerged from WITHIN the musical notes and their relations themselves. The melody (method) wasn’t imported from an external place; rather, much more in sync with Hegel’s presuppositionless labor, it developed internally according to the whims of music and the music itself. Pure thinking constitutes its own method in the course of thinking itself through. I argue that this internal self-positing of thinking Hegel calls “the absolute method of knowing” precisely because it is nothing but the “immanent soul of the content itself”. Hegel claims further, “It is this self-constructing path alone which enables philosophy to be an objective, demonstrated science”. Only later, ex post, can we gaze behind us and find some kind of necessity in thought’s development; we can peer into developED thought and determine the way thought has paved for itself. Hegel, in the Phenomenology, stresses exactly this point that the absolute is to be grasped not, as his detractors commonly argue, as a presupposition of thought but, rather, as the result of thinking. Indeed, the absoulte as the result of thinking is precisely what Hegel means by Absolute Idea: thinking of thinking which thinks itself as such. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then,why the entire chapter on the Absolute Idea consists solely of the articulation of the method of dialectic: Thinking comes to itself, that is, that it grasps itself as self-determining thinking, is nothing  else than the reconstruction of the path of which can be said retrospectively, that thinking has taken it. The Will-Have-Been is essential here. Determinate negation Will-Have-Been central to dialectics am Ende not, as in standard method, at the beginning of the investigation. The dialectical slippage exists but it’s philosophical/conceptually indeterminate insofar as the dialectical negation of X into Y is not yet posited as a principle of thought. The philosopher lacks the conceptual resources with which to determine thought’s movement as A, for example determinate negation. The philosopher functions, in some way, as Thought’s analyst insofar as it allows Thought to articulate its own problems and thereby (the philosopher) becomes a receptor  for those problems rather than framing those problems, or to some degree creating those problems via framing, in terms of one’s  terms of reference. The iversion of the personal problems into the impersonal is necessary here. One needs to pursue the experience of personal alienation to a point where one realizes that one’s self is a vehicle to a necessarily impersonal conceptual domain: pushing the personal appropriation of philosophical problems to the point where the problems themselves appropriate one’s person. To engage in philosophy conceived thus is no easy task. Hegel, humourously, provides his readers with some practical advice: go read some abstract logic texts; practice in your real life abstract thinking. I imagine Hegel had his students in mind when composing these passges given that he composed SL while a gymnasium teacher in Nürnberg. (Attached, see the photo I snapped of the Hegel-Schule. Interestingly, the Schule is located on Neue Hegelstrasse, and now more than ever we need to think Hegel anew. Also of note, Tucherstrasse is just around the corner, named after the local Weissbier brewery, Tucher. Hegel’s wife’s nachname was Tucher. Not sure whether there’s any relation.)

Street leading to Gymnasium

Sadly, once one has managed to abide in the concept, giving up oneself to the concept, losing one’s life in order to gain it: This is only the beginning. A mere first step. One has been born again in a sense in thought to Thought and that wobbly, unbalanced first step awakens an active-passivity. To begin to move toward philosophy one must sharpen one’s understanding of her or his own inabilities at least so that such inability receives articulation in conceptual form.

Hegel’s thought is strange indeed. Komisch: both comedic and strange. The English equivalent being “Funny”. Terry Pinkard’s biography is wonderful for many things but, for my purposes here, his details concerning Hegel’s interest and enjoyment of dance is relevant. One must feel the rhythm of thought in order to walz appropriately to its internal movement. But, Hegel’s thought seems counter-intuitive. Therefore to dance with thought in the pale moonlight one must become attunedto discordant, dissonant, even alien harmonies while refusing to walk away exasperated, holding one’s hands over her or his ears.

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2 responses to “Kritik des unreinen Gedankes

  1. very nice post, keep going on these! for what it’s worth, I’m not sure a ‘little’ teleology is a bad thing. I like the Lacanian notion (pilfered from Hegel, of course), that one needs to ‘dialectize’ things, bring them into the psychoanalytic process, and I think what you’re talking about with Hegel here is naturally quite similar, things need to be ‘concept-ed’. But if Hegel’s phenomenology, for example, is a contingent dialectization of his own historico-social positioning, one which needs to be re-done for each place in history and culture, then would such a contingent and moving telos be such a bad thing? perhaps then it wouldn’t be a telos of any traditional sense . . .

  2. I wonder if Chris’s notion of a “‘little’ theology” might be expressed vitalistically, whereby the Idea is a kind of potentiality ever in search for an actuality and the dialectic is powered by an innate drive to this actualization (the drive measured in terms of intensity, not simply by “success”). I like that you’ve framed this in terms of improvisation. I think our translations of Bildung as self-becoming, while technically correct, have caused a lot of people to lose sight of the fundamentally creative aspect of this becoming. I.e., that the “becoming” highlights the process, not the preset end toward which one strives and proximity to which one might somehow measure.

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