HEGEL—Excerpts from The Philosophy of Fine Art and The Phenomenology of Mind—Outline/Handout
Adams & Searle's Intro: "Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel" (552-553)
A&S offer a nice definition of sublation: "In Hegel, "dialectic proceeds, thesis to antithesis to synthesis, by the process of sublation (auf heben) in which each thesis is cancelled, lifted up, and preserved, from pure subjectivity to the 'absolute standpoint' of spirit as substance" (552).
Art per se should not be treated as mere ornament or use-value; "instead it must be considered a mode, like religion and philosophy, through which the idea is made available to consciousness. It is one of the modes by which absolute spirit comes to consciousness of itself. Art represents its matter in sensuous forms. The beautiful in art is the idea carried into concrete form" (552). [Its "sensuousness" is probably why, of the three modes, art is given only third place by Hegel; philosophy, of course, is first: art "is limited by its media and finally proves less satisfactory to man than religion or philosophy" (533). Hmmm. That's why we're all philosophy majors.]
"There are fundamentally three kinds of art—symbolic, classical, and romantic. [Moreover, these three types follow an evolutionary progress towards greater "Spirit."] Hegel explains the first two with more clarity than he does the third"!—probably because an art about the "inward life of reason," about "the release of Spirit into art itself" (552), is a pretty esoteric doctrine?!
"Hegel goes on to associate architecture with symbolic art [think the Egyptian pyramids, the Taj Mahal] and sculpture with classical art [think of a Greek statue]. Romantic art is realized by painting, music, and poetry in ascending order of freedom. . . . Music is more ideal than painting, for in music objects are not represented and a temporal order alone exists. The medium of poetry—words—is most free. Its sensuousness is created by the mind, not by the materials of the art" (552). [Words aren't "materials"?! Frankly, I would think that instrumental music is the most "free," but of course Hegel is going to privilege language & ideas.]
"For many recent critics and theorists, interest in Hegel has centered more on his Phenomenology than his aesthetic theory, as the expression of a totalizing system that in seeking a 'universal standpoint' becomes particularly problematic in the practical domain of social and intellectual life" (553). [Thus Marx will immediately attack Hegel's idealism as being detached from real material life & politics; Nietzsche will go after any & all "universal standpoints."]
[Hegel's] THE PHILOSOPHY OF FINE ART: from Introduction (553-561)
Like religion & philosophy, true art is the expression/development of Mind or Spirit: "Fine art is not art" unless "its highest function is . . . satisfied when it has established itself in a sphere which it shares with religion and philosophy, becoming thereby merely one mode and form through which the divine, the profoundest interests of mankind, and spiritual truths of widest range, are brought home to consciousness and expressed" (553B).
Art is a special case: while "the content of art is the idea . . . the form of its display [is] the configuration of the sensuous or plastic image." Moreover, this concrete sensuality is also a positive, vis-à-vis the manifestation of Spirit: "Everything that possesses truth for spirit* . . . is essentially concrete, and, despite its universality, possesses both ideality and particularity essentially within it" (554A). [One of the ironies/difficulties of Hegel's dialectic towards Absolute Spirit is that it continually gets both more "spiritual"/ideational and more "concretely" particular.] . . . Hegel develops this later: "the idea, viewed as the beautiful in art, is not the idea in the strict sense . . . as a metaphysical logic apprehends it as the absolute [which is instead the purview of philosophy, of course!]. It is rather the idea as carried into concrete form in the direction of express realization" (555A).
|*: Note that other translations helpfully capitalize this word as "Spirit," when the Hegelian concept of "world-consciousness" is meant, as it is here. (Ditto "mind" => "Mind"; "idea" => "Idea.")|
This leads Hegel immediately to a (rather odd) religious interpolation (replete with Christian Eurocentrism): If "God" is "simply One," it is merely a "lifeless abstraction of the irrational understanding. . . . Consequently neither the Jews nor the Turks[!] have been able to represent their God, who is not even an abstraction of the understanding in the above sense, under the positive mode in which Christians have represented Him. For in Christianity God is conceived in His truth, and as such essentially concrete, as personality, as the subjective focus of conscious life, or, more accurately defined, as spirit" (554A). [Wow. So there goes the Old Testament?!]
The EVOLUTIONARY STAGES of ART: there is a "division" involved here because, "before the mind can attain to the true notion of its absolute essence, it is constrained to traverse a series of stages . . . and to this course of stages . . . corresponds a coalescent series . . . of the plastic types of art, under the configuration whereof mind as art spirit presents to itself the consciousness of itself." Yes, the "evolution" is "spiritual and universal," yet it involves a "series of gradations which give artistic embodiment to the specific but widely embracing consciousness of Nature, man, and God." Each stage is characterized by "particular types of art," "types of artistic configuration." And for each stage its "definite sensuous" artistic embodiment is inevitably involved with Spirit (though some stages, of course, are greater embodiments than others!) (554B).
Hegel first breaks his schema into "three fundamental parts":
|1. a "general part"—that is, the "universal idea of fine art" (554B): of course!|
|2. an evolutionary-stage aspect, in which "essential distinctions . . . are unfolded in a graduated series of particular modes of configuration" . . . "[I]t is this evolution that the beauty of art receives a totality of particular stages and forms" (555A).|
|3. a genre aspect, "the particularized content of fine art itself," "the sensuous realization of its shapes and its consummation in a system of the several arts and their genera and species"—leading to a "doctrine of the types of art" (555A). [Points two & three seem to confusingly blend together, I suspect, because of A&S's omissions; but the historical stages and characteristic types of art are closely intertwined.]|
Then Hegel gets to his famous (or infamous?) THREE STAGES:
1. the SYMBOLIC stage: "First, the origin of artistic creation proceeds from the idea when, being itself still involved in defective definition and obscurity, or in vicious and untrue determinacy, it becomes embodied in the shapes of art." Lacking individuality, its "abstract character and one-sidedness" represents "rather a mere search after plastic configuration than a power of genuine representation." This is "symbolic type of art. The abstract idea" gets lost in "the purely material substance of nature," to which "it is entirely yoked." [Actually, the ecocritic in me wouldn't mind more art like this!?] "Natural objects are thus . . . as though the idea itself was present in them. . . . all that can be the outcome of such a relation is an abstract attribute as when a[n allegorical] lion is understood to symbolize strength" [cf. the Sphinx?!]" (555A-B).
|—Ultimately "inadequate" in representing "idea" (Spirit), such art "consequently exaggerates natural shapes and the phenomena of nature in every degree of indefinite and limitless extension; it flounders about in them like a drunkard[!], and seethes and ferments, doing violence to their truth with the distorted growth of unnatural shapes"! Indeed, the relation of the Idea to the other [its artistic form] becomes a negative one." Oddly, somehow, the idea "posits itself as its inward or ideally universal substance under a relation of sublimity over and above all this inadequate superfluity of natural form"—though these forms are "at the same time . . . recognized as unequal to their significance" (555B). [I say oddly because I'm not sure why such "sublimity" should occur in such "wretched" art by such "wretched" & backward cultures; I can only imagine Hegel giving some back-door praise to these "wonders of the Orient," etc. Maybe it's because there is some big-ass architecture involved?!]|
|Eurocentric/Racist Alert: Such "features constitute in general terms the character of the primitive artistic pantheism of the East, which, on the one hand, charges the meanest objects with the significance of the absolute idea, or, on the other, compels natural form, by doing violence to its structure, to express its world ideas. And, in consequence, it becomes bizarre, grotesque, and deficient in taste . . . . This is "the first type of art—symbolic art with its yearning, its fermentation, its mystery, and sublimity" (556A). [Ooh—the mystery: as Said has noted, this is a cultural othering via exoticism (specifically, Orientalism).] Hegel's Eurocentrism regarding the "East" (including the Middle East) further manifests itself in the following passage, not included in our Adams & Searle excerpts: "Defectiveness of form arises also from defectiveness of content. The Chinese, Hindoos, and Egyptians, for example, in their artistic images, sculptured deities and idols, never passed beyond a formless condition, or a definition of shape that was vicious and false, and were unable to master true beauty." This "seems" to imply a "deficiency" of culture!?—and also Hegel's eternal assumption of evolutionary progress, that later is necessarily better.|
2. the CLASSICAL stage: "In classical art, on the contrary, the characteristic feature of the content" is "that it is itself concrete idea, and as such the concrete spiritual"; but to "secure such a content we must find out that in nature . . . that which is essentially and explicitly appropriate to the spiritual" (556A). Surprise!: that "configuration . . . which the Idea . . . possesses as . . . individually determinate spirituality . . . is the human form." Interesting: "Personification and anthropomorphism have frequently been abused as a degradation of the spiritual. But art . . . must advance to such anthropomorphism, inasmuch as spirit is only adequately presented to perception in its bodily presence." [Note that, in this anthropocentric view, art representing a hawk or crow just wouldn't do. Silly Natives!]. Human evolution, moreover, is a wonderful, "intelligent" thing; "life has necessarily, in the course of its evolution, to proceed to the human form, for the reason that it is alone the visible phenomenon adequate to the expression of intelligence" (556B). [Nietzsche would object that this is simply human "intelligence" privileging its own ways of knowing.]
|—"The human bodily form, then, is employed in the classical type of art not as purely sensuous existence, but exclusively as the existence and natural shape appropriate to mind." Similar to Kant's normative notion of beauty, this bodily form must "be relieved of all the defective excrescences[!] which adhere to it in its purely physical aspect"—in sum, "purified" (556B).|
|—Note that in this classical type/stage, "spirit is . . . defined as particular, the spirit or mind of man, not as . . . absolute and eternal." This is actually points to "the defect which brings about the dissolution of the classical type of art, and makes the demand for a third and higher form, namely the romantic type" (556B).|
|—Finally, another question of mine: for Hegel, Classical Greek art is thus the clichéd "golden mean" of sorts, a(n almost) perfect marriage of form and content, of Hegelian "idea/mind" and human bodily manifestation. I even wonder why the next era of art, the "romantic," must be deemed an improvement. (Of course, the answer is—this is Hegel: later is better because that's how Hegel's Spirit works, forever "marching forward." In romantic art, the "inner mind" becomes even more manifest, as the Spirit working thru human self-consciousness, made more & more concrete.) But I can see another aesthetic theorist privileging the classical period as art's true climax, and perceiving later "romantic" art as a pretty decadent, psychopathologically introverted turning away from material reality and nature. (Both stages #1 & #3 are even discussed later on [558B] as "extremes," versus Classical balance: the first as too based on the physical, the third as "too" spiritual—though not really!)|
3. the ROMANTIC stage: "The romantic type of art annuls the completed union of the idea and its reality, and occurs, if on a higher plane, to the difference and opposition of both sides, which remained unovercome in symbolic art" (556B) —a very obscure way of saying that this stage is kinda like stage #1, but is really a synthesis/sublation of stages #1 and #2?
|—Again, "art in general . . . accepts for its object spirit, the notion of which is infinite concrete universality, under the guise of sensuously concrete form"; but in the "fusion" of classical art (addressing my objection above), "mind itself is not represented agreeably to its true notional concept. Mind is the infinite subjectivity of the idea, which as absolute inwardness, is not capable of freely expanding in its entire independence, so long as it remains within the mold of the [human] bodily shape" (557A—o-KAY).|
|—There's also that religion thing: " the romantic type of art once more cancels that inseparable unity of the classical type, by securing a content which passes beyond the classical stage . . . . This content"—of course—"is coincident with what Christianity affirms to be true of God as spirit, in contrast to the Greek faith in gods which forms the essential and most fitting content of classical art." (Recall the very "humanistic" statues of Zeus and the like:) "The Greek god is the object of naive intuition and sensuous imagination. His shape is therefore the bodily form of man" (557A). (In sum, Christian art is better than Greek art in large part, I think, because it's a "truer" religion?! Of course, Hegel is right in seeing a close connection between a culture's art and its religion. But again, "later is better"; and maybe more to the point, "ours is better.")|
|—[Another quibble: if art gets better by its expression of an "inner" (& Christian) "spirit/soul"—how is it really pure? Isn't it ultimate duty, then, fulfilling, or at least mirroring, humankind's evolution towards Christianity and Hegel's World Spirit?]|
|—The romantic (which we might as well dub Christian) stage is the "elevation of mere potentiality into self-conscious knowledge" (557A). Now this self-consciousness is important because, well, Hegel thinks that only humans are self-conscious?!: "It is nothing less than the infinite difference which . . . separates man generally from the animal creation. Man is animal; but even in his animal functions he is not restricted within the potential sphere as the animal is, but becomes conscious of them, learns to understand them, and raises them—as, for instance, the process of digestion[!?]—into self-conscious science" (557A-B). (Huh? As in culinary science?) "[I]n virtue of the very fact that he knows himself to be animal he ceases to be merely animal, and as mind is endowed with self-knowledge" (557B). [If you have been following my various parentheticals regarding this man v. animal nonsense, the anthropocentrism that permeates 19th-c. Euro-philosophy, you'll know I have problems with this. But I do have to admire the bravado of the "logic" involved in "ceasing to become an animal"!]|
|—So romantic art = a new "self-conscious unity"; and "it follows that the genuine medium for the reality of this content is no longer . . . the physical body of man, but the self-aware inner life of soul itself. Now it is Christianity—for the reason that it presents to mind God as spirit, and not as the particular individual spirit, but as absolute in spirit and in truth—which steps back from the sensuousness of imagination into the inward life of reason . . . ." Such a "conscious unity exclusively capable of realization by means of spiritual knowledge . . . is consequently not indefeasibly bound up with the sensuous presentation . . . . In this way romantic art must be regarded as art transcending itself" (557B). (That is, by approaching the next "stage," religion.)|
|—Now, as "the free and concrete presence of spiritual activity," romantic art "deliver[s] itself to the inward life . . . to the intimacy of soul, to the heart, the emotional life, which as the medium of spirit itself essentially strives after freedom, and seeks and possesses its reconciliation only in the inner chamber of spirit. It is this inward or ideal world which constitutes the content of the romantic sphere" (557B). (With signifiers such as "heart," "emotional life," and "inner chamber of spirit," one might almost suspect that he's really talking about art of the Romantic Age as we've come to know it. But while he expresses a high regard for Goethe, etc., Hegel also includes Shakespeare in other discussions of this art stage, and it's pretty clear from context that he's talking about post-Greek/Christian art & literature in general.)|
|—Another definition (pretty sad, in my opinion!): "The world of the soul and intelligence celebrates its triumph over the external world, and, actually in the medium of that outer world, makes that victory to appear, by reason of which the sensuous appearance sinks into worthlessness" (557B). Still, even this "interior" art "needs an external vehicle of expression," though this has peculiar results—a sort of anything-goes-since-nothing-"outside"-really-matters: "The sensuous externality of form is consequently accepted and represented, as in the symbolic type, as unessential and transient"; human "subjectivity" is treated in a similar way: "a treatment which even includes the idiosyncracies or caprice of individuals, character, action, or the particular features of incident and plot." In sum, "external existence is committed to contingency," and "the adventurous action of imagination . . . can change the shapes of the external world into a medley of its own invention and distort them to mere caricature. For this external element has no longer its notion and significance in its own essential province, as in classical art. It is now discovered in the emotional realm," and so art can now wallow in "all misfortune and sorrow," and even "in crime itself" (558A; now we're talkin' Romanticism!?).|
|—[Again, stage #1 gets sublated into stage #3 of the dialectic:] "Hence it comes about that the characteristics of symbolic art, its indifference, incompatibility and severance of idea from configurative expression, are here reproduced once more, if with essential difference": "in romantic art the idea . . . has to display itself as spirit and in the medium of soul life as essentially self-complete" (558A).|
Thus the three stages/types "consist in  the aspiration after,  the attainment and  transcendency of the ideal, viewed as the true concrete notion of beauty" (558A).
The GENRES: "Each general type discovers its determinate character in one determinate external material or medium . . . . But, from another point of view, these types of art break through the boundaries of their specific realization in some definite art-species, and achieve an existence in other arts no less, although their position in such is of subordinate importance. . . . albeit the particular arts belong specifically to one of these general art-types respectively . . . yet this does not prevent them . . . from representing the totality of these art-types" (558A-B).
|—Now "the true beautiful" = "the independent, free and divine image, which has completely appropriated the externality of form and medium, and now wears them simply as the means of its self-manifestation." But there are extremes along an evolutionary spectrum, as we have seen (that is, Symbolic <--->Romantic). "Thus one of these extremes consists of an objectivity as yet devoid of mind[!], which we may call the natural environment of God[!]. . . . The other extreme is the divine as inward, something known, as the manifold particularized subjective existence of deity" (558B).|
|—Religion encore: "In the analogous province of religion with which art, at its highest elevation, is immediately connected, we conceive the same distinction as follows. First, we imagine the natural life on earth in its finitude as standing on one side; but then, secondly, the human consciousness accepts God for its object, in which the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity falls away; then, finally, we advance from God as such to the devotion of the community, that is to God as He is alive and present in the subjective consciousness. These three fundamental modifications present themselves in the world of art in independent[?!] evolution" (558B-559A). [Note that this evolution of God as involving the community fits in with Hegel's general emphasis on the collective, the whole.]|
Genres I: ARCHITECTURE: "Its medium is matter itself as an external object, a heavy mass that is subject to mechanical laws . . . . In this material . . . the ideal is incapable of realization as concrete spirituality . . . . And it is in consequence of this that the fundamental type of the art of building is that of symbolism. Architecture is in fact the first pioneer on the highway toward the adequate realization of Godhead" (559A; helluva phrase!; but AC/DC probably wouldn't have gotten far with the song title "Highway Toward the Adequate Realization of Godhead").
|—Via religion, its epitome seems to be the temple?: architecture "levels a space for the God, informs His external environment, and builds him his temple . . . . It raises an enclosure for the congregation of those assembled, as a defense against the threatening of the tempest, against rain, the hurricane, and savage animals[!]." But at last it is a merely "adequate artistic existence" (559A).|
Genres II: SCULPTURE: "the boundary of sculpture . . . retains the spiritual as an inward being which persists in direct contrast to the external embodiment of architecture" (559A). Sure, "the external and inorganic world is purified by architecture, it is coordinated under symmetrical laws, . . . and as a result the temple of God . . . stands before us." But then comes sculpture: "Into this temple . . . the God himself enters in the lightning-flash of individuality which smites its way into the inert mass"[!]; and of course: "sculpture receives as its fundamental type the classical art form" (559B).
|—In line with Hegel's description of the classical type, sculpture is Spirit evolving through human individualism & body: "What sculpture" does "is to make the presence of spirit stand before us in its bodily shape and in immediate union therewith at rest and in blessedness . . . . It is carried into the ideal forms of the human figure, and . . . in the completeness of all three spatial dimensions. . . . in it the inward or ideal content of Spirit are first revealed in their eternal repose and essential self-stability" (559B).|
Genres III: PAINTING, MUSIC, & POETRY: The advent of Romantic art runs parallel to religious evolution, of course. Now that "the art of architecture has executed its temple, and the hand of sculpture has placed therein the image of the god, we have in the third place to assume the community of the faithful," which "is the spiritual reflection into its own world of that sensuous presence, the subjective and inward animating life of soul . . . . whose union is no longer sensuous but wholly ideal . . . . Here for the first time God himself is revealed as veritably spirit—viz., the spirit revealed in his community," as a "union of the many. In such a community God is disengaged from the abstraction of his unfolded self-seclusion and self-identity, no less than from the immediate absorption in bodily shape, in which He is presented by sculpture." Now His "manifestation is essentially inward and the life of heart and soul." This also involves a new mirror-consciousness, if you will, of God and humankind: God is now "the Being which is for another, self-revealment in fact"; so now art can contain Whitman's multitudes—"all the varied content of human subjectivity in its vital movement and activity . . . become one and all for their own sake objects of artistic representation" (560A). ("All reet! Now we can paint & write pomes!")
|—At this point the "arts . . . accept their predominant type from the romantic art form; and these are the arts most fitted to express its mode of configuration. They are, however, a totality of arts, because the romantic type is itself essentially the most concrete[!]" (560B).|
|A. Painting: versus architecture and sculpture, painting is "visibility in its pure nature" (apparently because it is confined to/focused on two dimensions); it is "visibility made essentially ideal"; it is "a more ideal mode . . . which liberates art from the objective totality of spatial condition, by being limited to a plane surface" (560B; being a visual-art philistine, I have no comment on all this).|
|B. Music is even better: "Its medium, albeit still sensuous, yet proceeds into still profounder subjectivity and particularization." (And we know that, for Hegel, this is a good thing.) His discussion of music as a "single space" is very interesting, if rather weird: music reduces "space" to "the isolated unity of a single point" (560B). Music is the "motion and vibration of the material object within itself and in its relation to itself. Such an inchoate[!] ideality of matter, which no longer appears under the form of space, but as temporal ideality, is sound or tone. We have here the sensuous set down as negated, and its abstract visibility converted into audibility. In other words sound liberates[!] the ideal content from its fetters in the material substance" (561A). [The musician in me wonders why the visual necessarily comes first, as thesis, to which sound/music must be the negation & antithesis—especially since my own education in indigenous cultures suggests that music (w/ dance) may well have developed first?]|
|—Music can be seen as the "golden mean" between painting and poetry, just as classical art centers the symbolic and romantic. Music permits "the echo and reverberation of man's emotional world through its entire range of feelings and passions. In this way music forms the center of the romantic arts, just as sculpture represents the midway point of arrest between architecture and the arts of the romantic subjectivity [because] it forms the point of transition between the abstract, spatial sensuousness of painting and the abstract spirituality of poetry" (561A). (One is tempted to point to the fact that music has commonly been identified as the central genre of Romanticism per se—as the greatest expression of the "emotional world"—but again, Hegel has a much wider span in mind.)|
|C. Poetry: "our third and most spiritual type of artistic presentation among the romantic arts in that of poetry. The supreme characteristic of poetry consists in the power with which it brings into vassalage[!] of the mind and its conceptions the sensuous element from which music and painting began to liberate art. For sound, the only remaining external material retained by poetry, is in it no longer the feeling of the sonorous itself, but is a mere sign without independent significance" (561A; see also similar passage on 561B). [Just wow.] "[S]ound develops into the word, as essentially articulate voice, whose intention it is to indicate ideas and thoughts" (561A-B).|
|—I guess only a philosopher can be so tone-deaf about the importance of "music"—that is, prosody—in poetry (and this includes contemporary free verse). This has to be the stupidest thing I've read in Hegel. Yes, Kant also considered prosody as one of poetry's peripheral "charms"; but Hegel is downright earnest in claiming that poetry is something of a transcendence, an evolution away from, that "musical" crap. (It also strikes me that there is a general bias in favor of the visual—and textual, of course—over the audile in Western philosophy in general. "Ain't you boys ever heard of the oral tradition?!")|
|—Poetry involves "the wholly concrete point, the point which is mind itself, the self-conscious individual, which produces from itself the infinite expansion of its ideas and unites the same with the temporal condition of sound. . . . Mind, in short, here determines this content for its own sake and apart from all else into the content of idea . . . . Poetry is, in short, the universal art of the mind, which has become essentially free, and which is not fettered in its realization to an externally sensuous material, but which is creatively active in the space and time belonging to the inner world of ideas and emotion. Yet it is precisely in this its highest phase, that art terminates, by transcending itself; it is just here that it deserts the medium of a harmonious presentation of mind in sensuous shape and passes from the poetry of imaginative idea into the prose of thought.|
|—Hegel has been interpreted here—and especially in the next/final paragraph—as claiming that art, and the social/"spiritual" need for it, has or soon will come to an end. It's safer to say that he does obviously see poetry as an evolutionary, more "primitive precursor" to prose, especially the heavy philosophical sort of prose of which Hegel was the master! And art in general seems, in Hegel, to be a rather "thoughtless" preliminary stepping stone to the glories of religion & philosophy.|
|—My main objection here is that "poetry"—and language/discourse in general—is hardly a transcendence of the 'sensuous material": all discourse (whether spoken or written) is, of course, quite material and (em)bodied.|
Coda: "what the particular arts realize in particular works of art, are . . . simply the universal types which constitute the self-unfolding idea of beauty. It is as the external realization of this idea that the wide pantheon of art is being raised; and the architect and builder thereof is the spirit of beauty as it gradually comes to self-cognition [so Hegel!], and to complete which the history of the world will require its evolution of centuries" (561B).
from [Hegel's] THE PHENOMENOLOGY OF MIND:
"Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage" (561-565)
"Masters" and "bondsmen" aside, the fundamental point of this chapter from PofM is that (self-)consciousness per se is always already dialogic and dialectic; this crucial "discovery" sets up the Self/Other binary that permeates later crit-theory: "Self-consciousness exists in itself and for itself, in that, and by the fact that it exists for another self-consciousness; that is to say, it is only by being acknowledged or 'recognized'" (561B). Thus Hegel can say that ego consciousness can only find "its unity in its duplication" (via the Other, and vice-versa). "Thus its moments must on the one hand be strictly kept apart in detailed distinctiveness, and, on the other, in this distinction must, at the same time, also be taken as not distinguished, or must always be accepted and understood in their opposite sense[!]." (Another "fun" Hegelian sentence!) There is always, then, this doubling, this mirroring, this "double meaning" entailed in consciousness, highlighted by "the process of recognition" (562A)—which itself is a doubling, a mirroring!
"Self-consciousness has before it another self-consciousness; it has come outside itself. . . . First it has lost its own self, since it finds itself as an other being; secondly, it has thereby sublated that other, for it does not regard the other as essentially real, but sees its own self in the other." (The Self "seeing"—and so really not seeing—the Other, as a mere mirror of the Self or the Same will be a key point in postcolonial and critical race theories.) "It must cancel this its other. . . . First, it must set itself to sublate the other independent being, in order thereby to become certain of itself as true being" (562A). (And so Edward Said will speak of the European discourse of the "Orient" as ultimately a "self-affirming" enterprise .)
"[A]t the same time" this involves "a return . . . into its self. . . . through sublation, it gets back itself[!], because it becomes one with itself again through the cancelling of its otherness . . . it likewise gives otherness back again to the other self-consciousness . . . and thus lets the other again go free[!]" (562A; it's no doubt symptomatic that a rather master-slave power dynamic permeates Hegel's psychology, even before the "lordship & bondage" section of this chapter).
Now this whole process is not "the action of one alone"; it has "the double significance of being at once its own action and the action of that other as well. For the other is likewise independent . . . ." The Other is not "only in the passive form characteristic primarily of the object of desire, but as object[?!] existing independently for itself"; thus there is this "double process of both self-consciousnesses" (562A).
And there is a veritable "play of forces . . . found in consciousness," a "self-consciousness which breaks itself up into the extremes," as "Consciousness finds that it immediately is and is not another consciousness, as also that this other is for itself only when it cancels itself as existing for itself, and has self-existence only in the self-existence of the other. Each is the mediating term to the other . . . each is . . . an immediate self-existing reality, which, at the same time, exists thus for itself only through this mediation. They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another (562B). (And so the mirroring: S->O == O<-S.)
But there is (always?) a "disparity" of power in the encounter: "This pure conception of recognition, of duplication of self-consciousness" entails an "aspect of the disparity of the two," in "which one is merely recognized, while the other only recognizes." From the point of view of sheer "Ego" or the "individual," "Self-consciousness is primarily simple existence for self, self-identity by exclusion of every other from itself," a mere dealing with "unessential object[s]"; "But the other is also a self-consciousness; an individual makes its appearance in antithesis to an individual" (562B). (Thus I originally referred to consciousness as always dialectic.) Progress towards real self-knowledge requires this dialectic. "Each is indeed certain of its own self, but not of the other, and hence its own certainty of itself is still without truth." All the ego knows, so far, via "the notion of recognition" is "that as the other is for it, so it is for the other" (563A).
So—into the equation Hegel interjects STRUGGLE!, a veritable "war" between two psyches, between Self and Other. Now "each aims at the destruction and death of the other. . . . The relation of both self-consciousnesses is . . . so constituted that they prove themselves and each other through a life-and-death struggle. They must enter into this struggle, for they must bring their certainty of themselves, the certainty of being for themselves . . . ." This struggle is thus something of a guarantee "that self-consciousness is merely pure self-existence, being-for-self." In contrast, the "individual, who has not staked his life, may, no doubt, be recognized as a Person; but he has not attained the truth of this recognition as an independent self-consciousness"! So there is this life-wager, as it were; "each must aim at the death of the other," that other must be "cancelled." The Ego "must view its otherness as pure existence for itself or as absolute negation" (563A).
|—This last is a difficult sentence?—but either way you read it, note how this becomes a psychological version of Hegel's primal dialectical triad of Being (pure existence) vs. Nothingness (negation) => Becoming. Self <=> Other is a continual "becoming," and Hegel later suggests [I think] that there is an alternate, "ideal" outcome of reciprocity, versus this psychopathological mortal-combat/master-slave stuff he devotes most of the rest of the chapter to.|
|—How to read this PSYCHIC WAR?: it seems impossible (unless you're seriously into S/M?!) to read Hegel's description of the evolution of consciousness as literal; so one must read it as an allegory of sorts, of one common psychological progression. (And hell, it MAY be true that [nearly?] all human dyadic relations involve this power struggle to some degree?!) OR: it can/has been read as an allegory for groups of people, that is, as an allegory for social conflict involving class or race. The latter has certainly been common in 20th-century critical theory per se.|
That this "war" is not psychotherapeutic (at least for now!?) becomes clear: "This trial by death, however, cancels both the truth which was to result from it, and therewith the certainty of self altogether." 'Cuz, like, death isn't the answer: "death is the natural 'negation' of consciousness, negation without independence, which thus remains without the requisite significance of actual recognition[!]." So let's talk about those who struggled—and lived!: "those who underwent this struggle . . . . cancel their consciousness," and "there vanishes from the play of change the essential moment, viz. that of breaking up into extremes with opposite characteristics . . . And the two do not mutually give and receive one another back from each other through consciousness . . . . Their act is abstract negation, not the negation characteristic of consciousness, which cancels in such a way that it preserves and maintains what is sublated, and thereby survives its being sublated" (563B; this is the possibility of a dialectic resulting in reciprocity that I alluded to earlier?).
Master & Bondsman: The result of the "dissolution of that simple unity" of self includes a dyad—a dominating consciousness and the slave/other: "a consciousness which is not purely for itself, but for another. . . . The one is independent, and its essential nature is to be for itself; the other is dependent, and its essence is life or existence for another. The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman" (563B).
"The master is the consciousness that exists for itself"; and yet: it is also "a consciousness existing on its own account which is mediated with itself through an other consciousness, i.e. through an other whose very nature implies that it is bound up with an independent being" . . . . Usually, this "independent self" has a mere object to master—"a thing as such, the object of desire"—but the fact that this "object" is here a self-conscious Other complicates things (563B). For now "the master, is (a) qua notion of self-consciousness, an immediate relation of self-existence, but (b) is now moreover at the same time mediation, or a being-for-self which is for itself only through an other . . . . It is the master's seeming independence that "keeps the bondsman in thrall; it is his chain, from which he could not in the struggle get away, and for that reason lie (typo: he) proved himself to be dependent, to have his independence in the shape of thinghood." The master "is the power dominating existence, while this existence again is the power controlling the other [the bondsman], the master holds, par consequence, this other in subordination" (564A).
Now the interaction/dialectic includes another "thing." (At this point I can only read the "allegory" as the "thing" representing [via the lens of Marxism] the oppressed workers' production or [through postcolonial/critical race theory] the production of the indigenous, of non-white slaves, etc. And the following sections no doubt influenced Marx:) "the master relates himself to the thing immediately through the bondsman. The bondsman . . . also takes up a negative attitude to things and cancels them" (that is, via the usual self-object othering); "but the thing is . . . independent for him and, in consequence, he cannot, with all his negating, get so far as to annihilate it outright and be done with it . . . he merely works on it." It is "the master" who "gets the enjoyment" (and in Marxist terms, the profit!?). . . . "The master, however, who has interposed the bondsman between it and himself, thereby relates himself merely to the dependence of the thing, and enjoys it without qualification and without reserve—while "the bondsman . . . labours upon it" (564A).
In this process, "the master gets his recognition through an other consciousness," as "the latter affirms itself as unessential, both by working on the thing, and . . . by the fact of being dependent on a determinate existence; in neither case can this other get the mastery over existence, and succeed in absolutely negating it. We have thus here this moment of recognition, viz. that the other consciousness cancels itself as self-existent, and, ipso facto, itself does what the first does to it." (An utter psychological slavery, at least.) "[T]his action [that is, work] on the part of the second is the action proper of the first; for what is done by the bondsman is properly an action on the part of the master. The latter exists only for himself, that is his essential nature" (564A)—"while the bondsman is not so, he is an unessential activity. But for recognition proper there is needed the moment that what the master does to the other he should also do to himself, and what the bondsman does to himself, he should do to the other also" (564B; another call for reciprocity?).
Again, the Self's Othering is ultimately a "self-affirming business" (Said 57): "the unessential consciousness is, for the master, the object which embodies the truth of his certainty of himself. But it is evident that this object does not correspond to its notion; for, just where the master has effectively achieved lordship, he really finds that something has come about quite different from an independent consciousness. It is not an independent, but rather a dependent consciousness that he has achieved. He is thus not assured of self-existence as his truth; he finds that his truth is rather the unessential consciousness, and the fortuitous unessential action of that consciousness" (564B). (The "tables turned": this is the brilliant & yet infuriating & yet wonderful—at least I've come to relish it—sort of reversal that permeates much of later crit-theory.)
And so, ironically: "The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the bondsman"; "just as lordship showed its essential nature to be the reverse of what it wants to be, so, too, bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite [a thoroughly Hegelian notion!] of what it immediately is: being a consciousness repressed within itself, it will enter into itself, and change round into real and true independence" (564B). (Ingenious again. But the contemporary poco/race theorist wonders: isn't this really an underhanded defense of oppression?!—"It's oKAY! WE're the truly conscious & independent ones!")
So we've only been examining "what bondage is only in relation to lordship. But it is a self-consciousness . . . in and for itself." At first, "the master is taken to be the essential reality for the state of bondage [the bondsman]; hence, for it, the truth is the independent consciousness existing for itself [that is, the other privileging the self as superior, as "pure" independent consciousness]. . . . Still, it does in fact contain within itself this truth of pure negativity . . . . For this consciousness . . . was afraid for its entire being; it felt the fear of death, the sovereign master[!]." And so it has been "melted to its inmost soul, has trembled throughout its every fibre, and all that was fixed and steadfast has quaked within it. [I bet, for Hegel, this struggle & negation is going to turn out to be a good thing!] This complete perturbation of its entire substance, this absolute dissolution of all its stability into fluent continuity, is, however, the simple, ultimate nature of self-consciousness, absolute negativity"; the other "finds" this (apparently positive) "pure self-existence," moreover, "in the master" (wow). "By serving he cancels in every particular aspect his dependence on and attachment to natural existence, and by his work removes this existence away" (564B). (Again, this at last seems to be a oddly positive reading of the "slave" mentality.) Even better yet: "By serving he cancels . . . his dependence on and attachment to natural existence[?!], and by his work removes this existence away" (565A; hmmm).
"The feeling of absolute power, however, realized . . . in the particular form of service, is only dissolution implicitly" (this is supposed to be a good thing); and although "the fear of the lord is the beginning of wisdom[?!]," it is really only "[t]hrough work and labour, however, [that] this consciousness of the bondsman comes to itself." Indeed, it seems to be through working with the "thing" that consciousness evolves: "the non-essential relation to the thing seemed to fall to the lot of the servant"; "Labour . . . is desire restrained and checked, evanescence delayed and postponed" (again, a good thing); the bondsman's "labour shapes and fashions the thing," until at last: "The consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self" (565A; again: wow).
So there is "the positive significance that the bondsman becomes thereby aware of himself as factually and objectively self-existent"; but there is "also a negative import": "the element of fear. For in shaping the thing it only becomes aware of its own proper negativity, existence on its own account, as an object, through the fact that it cancels the actual form confronting it. But this objective negative element is precisely alien, external reality, before which it trembled[!]. Now, however, it destroys this extraneous alien negative, affirms and sets itself up as a negative in the element of permanence, and thereby becomes for itself a self-existent being." (As a materialist, I have so little sympathy what is described here that I want to run away.) "In the master, the bondsman feels self-existence to be something external, an objective fact; in fear self-existence is present within himself; in fashioning the thing, self-existence comes to be felt explicitly as his own proper being, and he attains the consciousness that he himself exists in its own right"—"for just that form is his pure self existence, which therein becomes truly realized. Thus precisely in labour where there seemed to be merely some outsider's mind and ideas involved, the bondsman becomes aware, through this re-discovery of himself by himself, of having and being a 'mind of his own'" (565B). (One wants to read this coming to consciousness in a positive light—however pathetic—but the Marxist in me can only see this as a falling into "false consciousness," as the working class fitting into/feeling a part of the system, via the ideology of the masters. . . . It also has strong suggestions, BTW, of Nietzsche's "herd mentality.")
But apparently for Hegel, "it's good, it's good, it's good" (to quote from Bruce Almighty), since "[w]ithout the discipline of service and obedience, fear remains formal and does not spread over the whole known reality of existence. Without the formative activity shaping the thing, fear remains inward and mute, and consciousness does not become objective for itself." (Wow. Unlike the "good" slaves?!) "[W]ithout the initial state of absolute fear . . . it has a merely vain and futile 'mind of its own,'" and such bondsmens' consciousness "is simply stubbornness . . . a type of freedom which does not get beyond the attitude of bondage"; "it is rather a piece of cleverness which has mastery within a certain range, but not over the universal power nor over the entire objective reality" (565B). (This time reading the essay through, I hear this finale sounding fairly sinister, especially the phrase "the discipline of service and obedience" [with pre-echoes of Foucault's Discipline and Punish]).
Adams, Hazard, and Leroy Searle. "Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel." Critical Theory Since Plato. Edited by Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle, 3rd ed., Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, pp. 552-553.
Hegel, G. W. F. "[F]rom The Phenomenology of Mind." 1807. Critical Theory Since Plato. Edited by Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle, 3rd ed., Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, pp. 561-565.
---. "The Philosophy of Fine Art: from Introduction." 1835. Critical Theory Since Plato. Edited by Hazard Adams and Leroy Searle, 3rd ed., Thomson Wadsworth, 2005, pp. 553-561.
Said, Edward. "[F]rom Orientalism." A Critical and Cultural Studies Reader. Edited by Anthony Easthope and Kate McGowan, U of Toronto P, 2004, pp. 55-61.
|—TCG, July 2016; Sept. 2018|
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