12 January 2007

Zizek's Hegel

As some of you have no doubt noticed, I've been on a major Hegel kick lately. This, of course, is always a dangerous thing where French theory is concerned, as Hegel as so often treated as the Enemy or culmination of all things wicked in the tradition of onto-theology (assuming his thought can be characterized as "onto-theological"). This is especially dangerous for me as a good deal of my research revolves around Deleuze, and one can hardly mention the name "Hegel" in Deleuzian circles without faces turning red, spittle appearing on lips, and curses being made. After all, isn't Hegel the ultimate thinker of mediation, where everything is subordinated to identity, the whole, and the concept. Yet when I turn to Hegel's Science of Logic and the doctrine of essence, I find it difficult to endorse this reading. At any rate, Zizek seems to present a reading of Hegel strongly at odds with this picture. As Zizek writes in The Sublime Object of Ideology,
My thesis... is that the most consistent model of such an acknowledgement of antagonism is offered by Hegelian dialectics: far from being a story of its progressive overcoming, dialectics is for Hegel a systematic notation of the failure of all such attempts-- 'absolute knowledge' denotes a subjective position which finally accepts 'contradiction' as an internal condition of every identity. In other words, Hegelian 'reconciliation' is not a 'panlogicist' sublation of all reality in the Concept but a final consent to the fact that the Concept is 'not-all' (to use this Lacanian term). In this sense we can repeat the thesis of Hegel as the first post-Marxist: he opened up the field of a certain fissure subsequently 'sutured' by Marxism. (6)
This is an exciting and provocative thesis which, if defensible, demolishes a number of the standard critiques of Hegelian thought. On the one hand, in making reference to the "failure of all such attempts", Zizek is claiming that Hegel is the quintessential thinker of the Lacanian real or how the real insists in every socio-symbolic formation as both its condition of possibility and its undoing. On the other hand, in his reference to the "not-all", Zizek is claiming that Hegel presents a feminine ontology with respect to Lacan's graphs of sexuation, where it is demonstrated that there is no over-arching identity rule or principle for being, but rather situations must be taken "one by one".

Zizek, of course, does not develop this thesis in a systematic or organized way in any of his texts. So my question is this: Does anyone know of serious Hegel scholarship that has taken up this thesis and sought to develop it in terms of Hegel's system at the ontological level, sans all the focus on politics and ideology? Are there any thoughts on the plausibility of this conception of Hegel?

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Blogger traxus4420 said...

Hi -- I've been reading you for a couple months and highly enjoying your discussions, especially on Lacan whom I know only through what little I've read of Zizek.

I think Zizek's reading of Hegel makes sense -- as far as I understand it, that Hegelian field of 'synthesis' marks the conditions for the antagonism between thesis/antithesis, or maybe more accuratley, is the environment in which the antagonism occurs. It seems to me that the Phenomenology also bears this out -- in terms of the historical narrative, doesn't it simply stop at a certain point, rather than come to some final end (which would be the Kojevan reading)? "The Science of knowing in the sphere of appearance" (phenomenology 493) in no way suggests to me that the 'sphere of appearance,' contingent history, is in any way completed in itself. I don't have time to get into it right now, but I think this section shortly before the above formulation neatly (well, for Hegel) echoes Zizek's reading:

"In the immediacy of this new existence the Spirit has to start afresh to bring itself to maturity as if, for it, all that preceded were lost and it had learned nothing from the experience of the earlier Spirits. But recollection, the inwardizing, of that experience, has preserved it and is the inner being, and in fact the higher form of the substance. So although this Spirit starts afresh and apparently from its own resources to bring itself to maturity, it is none the less on a higher level than it starts. The realm of Spirits which is formed in this way in the outer world constitutes a succession in Time in which one SPirit relieved another of its charge and each took over the empire of the world from its predecessor. Their goal is the revelation of the depth of Spirit, and this is the absolute Notion. This revelation is, therefore, the raising up of its depth, or its extension, the negativity of this withdrawn 'I,' a negativity which is its externaliation or its substance; and this revelation is also the Notion's Time, in that this externalization is in its own self externalized, and just as it is in its extension, so it is equally in its depth, in the Self. The goal, Absolute Knowing, or Spirit that knows itself as Spirit, has for its path the recollection of the Spirits as they are in themselves and as they accomplish the organization of their realm" (492-493).

Negativity or the irreducible gap inhabits Hegelian absolute knowing at all levels, the 'goal' and the realization of this operation itself, triggering the birth of a new historical moment. Negativity is never negated, the action never stops.

I do know from a seminar I attended on Hegel delivered by Fredric Jameson that he is sympathetic to Zizek's reading of Hegel, and explicitly endorsed a reading of the Phenomenology where each moment is taken 'one by one,' the dialectic not simply a static equation spitting out solutions by rote to whatever variables one chooses to plug in, but something that constitutively shifts along with its 'content.' There's this little tidbit floating around on the internet biographies:

"Imagine models floating above each other in distinct dimensions: it is not their homologies that prove suggestive or fruitful, but rather the infinitesimal divergences, the imperceptible lack of fit between the levels -- extrapolated out into a continuum whose stages range from the pre-choate and the quizzical gap, to the nagging tension and the sharpness of contradiction itself -- genuine thinking always takes place within empty places, these voids that suddenly appear between the most powerful conceptual schemes. Thinking is thus not the concept, but the breakdown in the relationships between individual concepts, isolated in their splendour like so many galactic systems, drifting apart in the empty mind of the world."


Too late and too tired to elaborate on anything, but hope it's at least grist for the mill.

January 13, 2007 12:26 AM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks for the references, traxus! What I'd be interested in seeing is a systematic "working through" of this thesis... But then perhaps this is a job for myself!

January 13, 2007 12:19 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

I've always taken the rejection of "Hegel" to actually be a rejection of "Hegelianism" as taught by Kojeve, Hyppolite, Wahl, etc. It is certainly relevant in this regard that while Bataille thought of himself of a "Hegelian" of sorts, he was nonetheless highly admired by both Deleuze and Foucault. I think this is the only way to think "Hegel and post-structuralism [or whatever]." I think this even goes for someone like Althusser (also highly admired by Deleuze and Foucault) who attempted to preserve the dialectic.

Sartre likely has something to do with it as well.

January 13, 2007 1:10 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Craig, this sounds right. Lest Hegel be turned into an empty master-signifier, it's necessary to understand these debates in terms of the specific French appropriations of Hegel. I'm not at all familiar with Wahl's work, but it's clear that much of Deleuze's target is Kojeve as well as Hyppolite given his review of the latter's Logic and Existence. Of course, this raises difficulties given what an important role Kojeve plays in Lacan's early work.

January 13, 2007 1:37 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

Yes, I think (and I'm no expert on Lacan, I'll admit) part of the problem on Deleuze's side is Lacan's early appropriation of Kojeve's reading of desire in the master/slave dialectic and, hence, its relation to negation. The association between desire and negation is one of Deleuze's major targets.

There's a few books (although I'm sure you're more than aware of them) on French Hegelianism out there. Butler's dissertation (Subjects of Desire), Roth's "Knowing and History," and Descombes' "Modern French History."

I should have written "Eric Weil" and not "Jean Wahl" as the third Hegelian of that era. There's also Lefebvre, who I believe translated the "Phenomenology" before Kojeve began his lectures.

January 13, 2007 2:46 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Honestly I've always found myself a bit baffled by D&G's hostility to negativity. I can, of course, understand their resistance to granting negativity a primordial ontological status, but nonetheless they are obligated to give an account of how negativity emerges as phenomenon within being. Deleuze does exactly this at various points in Difference and Repetition, but then continuously makes the odd move of wanting to treat negativity as somehow less efficacious because it is derived or the result of a genesis (like some in the nature/culture debate sometimes wish to treat cultural formations as somehow having less reality because they are cultural).

I can go part of the way with D&G in arguing that the originary syntheses characterizing the unconscious are positive and affirmative-- both Freud and Lacan themselves claim as much --but I just can't accept their conception of desire when it seems betrayed by so much evidence clinically. The Lacanian route is then to say "yes, the objects of desire are formed by something like the various syntheses described by D&G, but then so is the lack that subsequently emerges over the course of development and which comes to characterize subjectivity." Indeed, it's rather odd that D&G move in this direction, for Guattari, who was trained as an analyst and never left Lacan's school, should have been well aware that lack was not primordial for Lacan and that one of the central definitions of the Lacanian real up to the end of his teaching was "that without lack or absence". On the other hand, it's my view that a careful reading of Anti-Oedipus reveals that Lacan is almost never the target of criticism, but rather *Lacanians* that continue to think exclusively within the Oedipal problematic (Lacan himself became increasingly critical of Oedipus, referring to it as "Freud's Dream" in Seminar 17, i.e., a symptom to be interpreted, and rejecting it pretty thoroughly by Seminars 22 and 23 when he moved to the generalized theory of the symptom, where everything, including the name-of-the-father, becomes a symptom granting provisional stability to the endless drift and play of the symbolic). As always, theorists are radically simplified by their followers and my sense has generally been that enthusiasts of Deleuze and Guattari too often reduce the "psychoanalysis" to an empty master-signifier that comes to function as more a curse word than anything resembling a true theory. A similar tendency can be discerned in Deleuze-inspired discussions of Plato, Kant, and Hegel, which begs the question of whether much Deleuzian thought hasn't become a sort of discourse of the university defending the masters word against the alien and threatening Other.

January 13, 2007 3:28 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Or, to put it a bit differently, the psychoanalyst is more than happy to argue, with D&G, that the objects of desire-- and even objects in general --are the result of "sub-representational syntheses", but once these syntheses are in place, absence becomes possible. This is just a reformulation of Freud's thesis regarding the reality-principle, where, from the standpoint of the secondary-process, those objects are treated as real that are repetitions of prior satisfactions, or forms of satisfaction that can be refound. Of course, what is missing in D&G, I think, is a form of jouissance produced as a result of structuration in the symbolic, *introducing* in ineradicable lack or absence into the psychic-system that continuously calls to be filled while always being missed. From the standpoint of practice, the difference between a pre and post analyzed subject is that the former confuses lack with loss, believing that there's the possibility of compensating this loss, whereas the latter discovers lack as an irreversible product of enculturation and comes to discern that the jouissance posited by lack never existed to begin with but is a retro-active product of these syntheses themselves... What Lacan calls "surplus-jouissance".

January 13, 2007 3:36 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

I assume you've seen Andrew Haas' book, "Hegel and the Problem of Multiplicity," which, if I recall correctly, attempts to argue contra the French that Hegel isn't a thinker of "the one" but, rather, a thinker of "the many" - as the title suggests.

Regarding A-O, I once voiced the opinion at Jodi's blog that not only is it a critique of "Lacanianism," but its also an elaboration of Althusser's "Ideology and the ISAs" essay. It didn't go over well.

January 13, 2007 4:44 PM  

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