Hello, I am Geoffrey Wildanger
I am a graduate student at UC Davis, but I was here as an undergraduate student too.
I transferred here in 2008. Some of you might remember that year. It was the year that global capitalism collapsed. The year after that, in 2009, Mark Yudof began the first of his annual fee rate hikes.
That year, 2009, Yudof raised fees 32%, and 52 members of the UC Davis community–a lot of students and at least one professor–were arrested.
I remember getting out of jail that morning–it is hard for me to sleep in jail, so I was tired. It was raining, and several hundred students were marching. They were marching in the cold and in the rain impromptu, because they were incensed that the police would arrest 52 people for a sit-in.
On the march we passed by Sproul hall, and I took a detour to explain to my german teacher why I had not been in class, had not taken the day’s quiz. He said, “It’s alright. I’ll give you a make up. You have more important things to do.”
That was in 2009 and now it is 2011. Those arrests came after one of the first occupations in the UCs, now there are occupations all over the United States–indeed there are occupations all over the world, including one in downtown Davis.
Many of you are not in class right now–as I am not and was not then–, although arguably you could be.
But, we have more important things to do.
Sometimes the University today, in fact the world today, feels like that Indiana Jones movie. When Harrison Ford and the other archeologist descend into the tomb of the crusader and there is a lot of rats, remember? If you don’t, I’ll gloss it: the bad guys light the tomb on fire somehow, Harrison Ford and the other archeologist hide under the water as the thousands of rats struggle and burn.
The UCs don’t make me feel like Harrison Ford, but like the rats.
There are thousands of us, and we are all fighting to set the curve, to get the best letters of recommendation for graduate school, or to get the best job.
Sadly, I have some bad news. There is no hope.
Fight as hard as you like, and maybe you’ll end up among the tiny portion of the population that earns enough not to constantly worry. But almost certainly you won’t, because that percentage–those who feel safe–is small and it is constantly getting smaller.
On some level, we all know this. I could cite some statistics, but they’d just make us all sad and angry.
But maybe those emotions are good sometimes. Here is one set of numbers, there are about 18.4 million unoccupied homes in the United States–that is 1 out of every 9 homes is empty. Strange read alone, but here’s its companion: there are 1.6 million homeless.
That means that there are approximately 11 homes for every homeless person in the United States.
But the world out there–the world right here–is totally fucked. We all know that. We know that the so called recession never ended. We know that real wages for the bottom (bottom!) 90% of the United States have stayed the same for 40 years while healthcare and real estate have increased exorbitantly. We know that Europe is in crisis, that the middle east is in crisis, that asia is in crisis, that latin america is in crisis, that the united states are in crisis. We know all that because we are alive. We are living now. We are here at a time in which the whole world is falling apart!
We cannot go back to the way things were–not that things were all that good anyway. We are ensconced in a global economic system that even conservative economists like Nouriel Roubini, Samuel Brittan, and George Magnus have described as reaching a fundamental crisis.
We were always told that the economy will get better and we will get jobs. We will not get jobs. If we do get jobs they will almost certainly be poorly paying ones in the service sector, jobs that barely pay us enough for us to afford to pay back our student debt.
We will not get jobs, or if we do get jobs they will be crap, because we are ensconced in a global economic system (it has a name, it is called capitalism) that has reached its historical limit.
We will not get jobs because capitalism is in crisis. This crisis did not start today or in 2008, but in 1973.
The highest average profit in any industry since 1973 is lower that the lowest average profit in the period from 1946 to 1973. To this fundamental crisis–you can’t have capitalism if you can’t have profit–the response has been to generate debt. Massive amounts of debt.
Despite what you may think you know about China and India, the global unemployed has been growing–these are the people who will never in their life have a job and so they cannot buy things which means that people who make things can’t sell them and can’t make any profit. And so the economy has been fueled by debt.
The debt has been built up with credit cards, mortgages, and student loans, and then its been packaged up and sold off so bankers can sell it short or sell it long; hold it to term or get it off their books.
Debt was seemingly the most profitable product of the capitalist economy, until 2008.
But now this economy has been fueled by debts that WILL NEVER be paid back. I am not even talking about the $1 trillion student debt in this country. That is pocket change. I mean the $50 trillion that simply vanished in 2008 with the financial crisis.
Do you know why it vanished? Because it never really existed.
All that money never really existed. It could never have been paid back, but the economy needed it, because it needed to grow. Now it has outgrown itself and collapsed. We do not need to figure out how to abolish capitalism. Capitalism is destroying itself. However, it is, at the same time, also destroying the planet, it is also destroying us.
Things are not going to just get better. Because the jobs do not and will not exist; because the capitalist economy is broken; because global inequality is historic; because the environment is being destroyed. Pick your cause, they are all true. Things are not just going to get better.
The politicians won’t make things better if we vote more strategically–remember we elected progressives overwhelmingly in 2008. The bankers won’t make things better if we just move our money to credit unions–the only possible good of a credit union is its small size, a status necessarily ended when millions of protesters transfer their money to one. The capitalists–yes, I said capitalists–won’t make industry more fair or less polluting if we “vote with our dollars.”
Things are not going to get better. We must make them better.
All that I said above, those are facts. And facts are important. We have to know why we are here, and we have to know what are the challenges we face. But we are not only here because of all these facts.
For this reason, as a way to close, I want to talk about why I felt so sad for a long time and why I do not feel sad any longer.
I grew up in the South Bay, went to an alternative, public high school staffed with full time activists, and I hung out with older leftists all the time. All these people kept telling me about how my generation wasn’t as great as theirs; how their generation brought down Richard Nixon and stopped the war in Vietnam, but ours couldn’t even slow down George W. Bush or the War on Terror. I didn’t know if they had their history right, but I knew that they had the present right (they had the present right).Things have been getting progressively worse for the vast majority of the world’s population for a few decades in a row now. It has (it had) been a while since the People (and I mean the people just like those old school revolutionaries meant the People, with a capital “p”), it had been a while since We had a victory.
So I felt sad. And I felt lonely. I felt like there was not anyone else who knew what it felt like to yearn, yearn so deeply that you get a stomach ache, to yearn for a different society, a better society.
I felt like I was the only one left, because we kept on losing, and losing makes us act tough and distant. And losing makes us hard.
But I don’t feel sad any longer. I haven’t felt sad for nearly a year, it is coming up on January 5th my one year anniversary of happiness, it was the day after January 4th, the day after Mohamed Bouazizi died, the day that began the Tunisian revolution.
I don’t feel sad because I look to the middle east and I see my comrades, and they are winning. I don’t feel sad because I look to asia and I see my comrades; I look to latin america and I see my comrades; I look to europe, to greece, to spain, to france, to portugal, to britain, and I am filled with joy because everywhere I look I see my comrades; I am in the united states and I look north to canada to see my comrades, I look to occupy wall street and see my comrades, to occupy philadelphia, to occupy portland, to occupy davis, to occupy oakland, and everywhere and all the time I see my comrades.
And we are winning!
We are winning because Oakland is going broke trying to get rid of us. We are winning because we can shut down the biggest port on the west coast with no effort. We are winning because in one week we can organize 20,000 marchers to support the first general strike in the united states since 1946.
We are winning because last night New York City had to bring out the cops’ counter-terrorism squad to deal with unarmed protestors. And because New York City knows, just like UC Berkeley knows, just like Oakland knows, that cops may disperse the occupiers, but they can not stop the occupation from reconvening, from re-occupying.
We are winning because everywhere around the world the bankers, the cops, and the politicians are scared. They are offering us deals desperately trying to negotiate–to make things a little less unfair if only we’d stop.
BUT WE WILL NOT STOP!
We will not stop, because if we do not stop then we WILL win!
In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant began his Copernican turn, away from both the dogmatic metaphysics of Wolf and the nominalist skepticism of Hume. This turn revolutionized the history of philosophy by shifting all philosophical questions from asking whether one knows to how one knows. A philosophy of philosophy, a critique. In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant moved on from questions of knowledge to those of action. No longer, how does one know, but rather how does one act. The problem is, he writes in the Introduction to the Critique of the Power of Judgement, that Pure Reason and Practical Reason dwell in separate, seemingly unbridgeable realms. Pure Reason is what can be known before physical experience, and practical is what one does while experiencing. Pure Reason is like a scientific experiment. It controls every single variable and tests particulars to figure out how they work universally. No one thinks that science is, or for that matter inquiring into way in which knowledge itself works is, without import. Surely, knowledge effects ethics, but not directly. Practical Reason dwells in the realm of contingency; while nature follows natural law, on an experiential level it appears contingent. He reached a deadlock between the everyday and the laboratory.
In these terms The Critique of the Power of Judgement, seems pretty relevant. With the ‘demystification of the world’ that (to meld three different thinkers) expresses the dialectic of enlightenment split between progress and terror but united in the positivistic empiricism of both, the rise of technocratic politicians, the institutional authority of the sciences, and the scientistic rhetoric apparent in war and policing, humanity needs a way to bridge the gulf and reach the ethical. Or, in other words, my wager is, were Kant alive today, he could rephrase the Critique of the Power of Judgement such that it would answer the question why Americans give more to charity than any other society in the world but have little problem murdering a couple million Iraqis.
In this sense reading the Critique of the Power of Judgement as merely a ‘formalist’ account of beauty–as a number of Kant’s critics have–misses the point entirely. It is like reading Moby Dick as an atlas. Furthermore, reading it as merely about art misplaces the emphasis of the book. Kant notably uses very few artistic examples of the beautiful. Occasionally he mentions buildings, paintings, and landscapes, but only ever vaguely. He seems much more inclined to regard, in one instance, certain crustaceans as true representations of beauty. The book is about Beauty, with a capital B, the type that is Universal, but it is not about what is and what is not Universally Beautiful. Rather, it is about the way one experiences universal beauty. It enquires after the relationship between subject and object, not after the object.
This relationship is both precise and obscure. Its theoretical delicacy causes it to be constantly misread. It is not that universally all experience the same things as beautiful, but that one experiences beauty as if it were universal. Beauty is subjective, but it is a subjective judgement with universal validity.
Two theses remain on how Kant is out contemporary, though an oppositional one. First, the experience of beauty, the sensus communis, is an experience of universal human community. The experience of all of humanity as one’s neighbor. I experience a beautiful object as if an Iraqi resistance fighter would also find it beautiful, as if a Haitian slum dweller would also find it beautiful. In other words, beauty knows no boundaries or borders, no exclusion, no racism, and no war. The experience of the beautiful is a cry for humanity to live as equals. A testament for social revolution rather than the voluntarism of charity and the fatalism of war. Second, the modern ideology, that beauty is particular, merely subjective, that here is my beauty and there is yours, reveals a radical inability to envision the social totality. This aesthetic ideology only accepts humanity as a collection of socially determined individuals. Masking itself as genuine equality, as pluralism, it in fact dooms us to total alienation. Kant did not believe that beauty created equality, but that it showed that, to use a cliché phrase, a better world is possible. Beauty yearns for utopia, against the individualism of today.
Platypus just posted an excellent interview with Hal Foster:
It is easy to make claims about the end of this, that, and the other thing. That kind of nondialectical dialectic is very seductive because it is, weirdly, very triumphal in its defeatism. Certainly, innovative art, if not radical art, is not as central to the society as it once was, but that does not mean the project is kaput. The forces of amnesia have not won out altogether! I do not think this project is dead, by any means. I would not continue to do what I do if I did. There are art practices that do have effects beyond the art world. I think there are exhibitions that have effects that cannot be anticipated. It is what artists want to make of those historical episodes, if anything at all.
Another opposition we talked about that seems really crucial is, to what extent is it important for contemporary art to be reflexive historically, to draw on the past, and to transform the past. I think either position could be argued right now. It should be argued right now. And if these debates could be articulate enough, there will be effects. Not only in art, but elsewhere.”
I had a horrible travel experience yesterday. I spent seven hours on the road for a trip which would normally take three.
However, the day was not a total wash, as I took the time to, among other things, begin reading through the newly released first volume of the complete works of Emmanuel Levinas.
I am almost finished, getting a little time now and then on vacation to look at it. When I am done I will post a more extensive review, but at this point I will simply point out a few nice things:
1) it is one of the most beautiful books I own. Certainly the most beautiful non-art-book.
2) consisting of all unpublished material it gives great insight into the development of Levinas’ work.
3) it is almost entirely fragments (!) There are a few essays, but the greatest bits are the tiny comments and asides.
I’ll leave you with one of my favourite lines so far:
“Anti-platonisme. Désorientation. Équivalence. Décolonisation.”
…l’union, le trait d’union entre esprit et histoire joue un rôle très significatifdans un passage qui fait du Fragen l’assignation même de l’esprit.Jacques Derrida, De l’esprit, pg. 62Of the many reactions to the Phenomenology of Spirit, no one has ever described it as easy. Instead, with the exception of modernist novels, it has always ranked among the most difficult texts. Though, obviously, not alone on this list, Hegel’s great work stands out from its many philosophical companions—Kant’s Critiques, Aristotle’s Organon, and Spinoza’s Ethics come most immediately to mind as tough predecessors. United around the goal of systematicity, each of the members of this club possesses a singular style. Spinoza writes in geometric axioms, Kant has categorial deductions, Aristotle investigates each concept as if through a microscope, only Hegel takes an opposite course. If each of these other writers comes to philosophy looking at small details, Hegel, rather, models himself after his supposed Weltgeist, Napoleon, and retreats to a hill in order to see all of thought at once. Having seen thought in its entirety he does not become Jacques-Louis David and paint a historical picture which naively praises it. Instead, he acts like a Tolstoy and writes the greatest novel of its development. As Josiah Royce said, “The Bildungsroman of Geist.” Taking this novelization of philosophy seriously, one considers the aspects of novels, characters, dialogue, and narrative. After Flaubert, the novel which lacks these three became imaginable, even desirable, but for Hegel one must most of all think about narrative, which means one must think about time. The Phenomenology of Spirit does not merely take a long time to read. It also takes a long time on its own. In other words: one could imagine a very fast reader who would have to slow down and speed up depending on the pace of the book—though mainly the reader must slow down in order to catch up with the logic which is always already at work. The earlier comparison, to Tolstoy, misleads. Hegel did not write the War and Peace of Geist; he wrote its Phenomenology. Unlike Tolstoy, Hegel did not recount what has already occurred—to use an inappropriate past tense. Instead, Hegel immanently traces and enacts the movement of thought which has always already begun, and has no expectation of ending. In too simplistic of words, the book begins at the end and ends at the beginning. For this reason Quentin Lauer organized his commentary with the chapter on the preface coming last. Hegel did not merely write the Preface and the Introduction last. Logically both develop anterior, yet still interior, to the argument as a whole. Together they encompass the argument as a whole, but also demonstrate that the argument, seemingly ending in “Absolute Knowledge,” has no actual end. As the famous advice on reading the Phenomenology goes, “If one understands the Preface, one already understands the whole book… but one must understand the whole book to understand the Preface… and vice versa.” Understanding the movement and Experience of thought as the kernel of the Phenomenology can cause confusion. The greatest of these confusions has immediately turned Hegel’s work into mere “historicism”—and here his critics and defenders equally misread. The clue to this misreading lies in the word immediate, a sort of reading which excises categories and then applies them in alien contexts. Marx did not make this mistake, clearly, but many of his followers have. This connection, as an immediacy, turns the Phenomenology itself into something immediate and concrete. This misreading falsely creates a solidification of the work into a mere abstraction of a concrete timeline. Rather, at once more abstract and more concrete, the Phenomenology moves through the history of Geist—a both particular and seemingly transcendent consciousness. The claims of historicism can convince in their correspondence to a nugget of truth, but there falsity comes from taking this nugget as a synecdoche of the whole. The development of Geist travels through, Er-fahrt, history, but at no point rests identical with its historical development or even with itself. The appropriate historical reading must stress this non-identity, a point made by Marx insofar as he stressed the dialectical nature of human history, a non-linear history, for instance in the Grundrisse. This development, then—through history and from the development of Geist into radically alternate forms of itself—happens through Experience. In its movement through time and its interaction with that which lays inside and outside of itself Geist finds itself exhausting its presupposed limits, a determinate negation; the word negation denotes not “the negative,” but rather the replacement or change of what already existed. The oak tree, for instance, negates the acorn from which it grew, to use an Aristotelian example. Negating a negation—the double movement which Hegel places as central to the Phenomenology of Spirit—comes through a realization of the hidden identity of the acorn and the oak. The oak does not replace the acorn, rather the tree, through growing, sublates (Aufhebung) the acorn, moving to a higher level while preserving it. In this case, the acorn no longer lies on the ground, but new acorns fall from the tree. The quotidian character of acorns aside, Hegel—not writing a work on biology—really wants to see if this model thinks. In other words, for Hegel consciousness, like the acorn, develops itself through its Experiences of itself and of that outside of itself, in order to become something radically new; yet all the same preserving, oddly, all that has come before. The Table of Contents may confuse, but Hegel writes of a number of stages of Geist namely, Consciousness, Self-Consciousness, Reason, Spirit, Religion, and finally, Absolute Knowledge. These categories mislead when one takes them as concrete, inflexible, and linear stopping points in the history of Geist. For Hegel, rather, all must remain flexible. The dialectic only ends with the death of Geist; ossified categories—rest stops on the road to Absolute Knowledge, the End of History, and the Last Man—fundamentally betray both Hegel’s spirit and his text. A close reading finds a more subtle logic at work. One facet of this highly intricate mode of thinking reveals itself in the attempt to find the location of the Hegelian Geist—at once subjective, objective and intersubjective. Despite the famous line, in reference to Bonaparte, “I saw the Weltgeist riding on horse back,” direct subjectivity cannot account for the universal aspect of Geist, whose historical origins make it appear objective but in a strange way. The intersubjectivity of Geist makes clear the straddling of the material and mental worlds; Geist oscillates between the Spirit of the People and the spirit of a person. Geist sits outside of itself and encounters itself as another. As Rimbaud phrased it, “Je est un autre.” One sees here that split subjectivity, the de-centered subject, the impossibility of self-presence and self-identicality, do not come from the so called extravagances of the much maligned “French Theory,” but that these concepts rather lie fundamentally in the propulsion—dare one say drive (Trieb)—of Geist. Hegel does not simply assert this intersubjectivity of Geist as a given. He does not take the location of Geist as pre-ordained and eternal. Rather this location of Geist develops immanently during the development of Geist itself: through the category of Experience. Alexandre Kojève once praised the circular character of the Phenomenology, one must add on that the circle always expands and does not ever remain genuinely round. The form of the book greatly constrains Hegel’s thought, one can imagine that some of the modernist ways of writing—20 page sentences, books with loose pages drawn at random from a shoebox, books which begin with the second half of a sentence and end with the first half—would better suit his work. However, in his time and place, having to write for a textbook for his students, Hegel wrote an exposition of Geist which, superficially, can seem almost to turn Geist into a linear and calm thing. In reality the dialectical movement of Geist does not go forever forward, but, like alpinist, slides slightly back with every step. This analysis, which seems to contradict the basic exposition of the work, can justify itself by the assertion that the progress, from beginning to end, traces an ideally felicitous history of Geist. Like the author of a guide book, Hegel takes the reader on a trip which lacks many of the dangers and aporias in which the novice could potentially mire itself. Of course, with such tough terrain, the reader still gets lost, yet through slowing down and studying the guide the reader can always return to the path. The non-linearity of the development of Geist demonstrates itself in the impossibility of reading the book linearally. Remembering Lauer’s organization of his commentary, one should make more of this placing than Lauer, perhaps, intended. In other words, to what extent must Absolute Knowledge—or at least the subject formation supposed by it—come as the beginning of all dialectical development. Heidegger wrote in his lecture course on the Phenomenology that, “Pay attention that this otherness does not mean that Knowledge from the beginning could not already be Absolute Knowledge. Rather—already from the beginning it is Absolute Knowledge… (HPdG, pg. 47).” If one considers, with Heidegger, the absolvednes of absolute, rapidly one realizes that Absolute Knowledge has a certain complacency to it. In a sense, this seemingly final stage of the dialectic almost reverts back to the naivety of the beginning; not because it has no Experience, or has not developed through time, but rather the separation instilled in the moment of absolution in the becoming Absolute of Knowledge cuts it off from the world and Experience. As, then, a stage, Absolute Knowledge begins and ends a process which always, to paraphrase Samuel Beckett, begins again and again and again. Absolute Knowledge goes from the end to the beginning as it slips out of its separation from the world—a temporality which, in that it cuts itself off, resists itself, one which falsely freezes itself into an always already ossified being—into a confrontation with the radical alterity of the world, and, of course, it must also realize its equally forceful opposition to itself. In this moment, or Experience, of self-contradiction the dialectic begins again—not from the beginning, but from the so called end. In his discussion of Absolute Knowledge Heidegger, as quoted already above, described it as that which one must presuppose in order to prove. If this first turn of the screw does not seem difficult enough, one must add the second part of the comment: that this only seems problematic. In actuality, one must view this apparent problem as a necessity. He writes, “…the Phenomenology of Spirit absolutely begins with the absolute. That this happens and actually must happen, and that one could not rely on extensive promises and pretentious assurences—from this necessity came Hegel’s Philosophy. (Heidegger’s emphases, HPdG, 54)” To understand the necessity of this apparent contradiction, one can look in a number of directions. Adorno, and a number of Marxists critics after him such as Moishe Postone and Robert Kurz, claimed that the contradictions of Hegel’s thought encapsulated perfectly the unavoidable contradiction of capital—in this thought the great line of Hegel’s, that true philosophy realizes the spirit of its own time, comes as a fortuitous reassurance. Heidegger, however, has a different angle—though these two groups may share more than either would like to admit—at a basic level one can only come to think the Absolute of Knowledge if one already sees such a state of Knowledge as possible. If, in other words, one assumes an insurmountable relativism, then one could never escape one’s own relative position. Those who forever situate themselves also and equally forever doom themselves to a mere situation. This does not mean that those who refuse to situate themselves speak from an always already universal, objective position free of default or blame; rather, that Hegel’s assumption of the possibility of Absolute Knowledge allows him to break free from the much rehashed dualism between subjectivism and universality. Not that Heidegger finds Hegel beyond reproof—no interesting and perfect text exists. The problem comes from the attempt at Absolute Knowledge, in fact, not at its presupposition. One can say that Absolute Knowledge works in theory, the problems come from its practice. Heidegger finds this tricky transition in the seemingly final step of the dialectic—that step from Knowledge qua Experience into Absolute Knowledge. This problem comes from a supposed change in the temporality of Geist. Actually, one could better say that the Geist seems to transform itself into atemporal form of Knowledge. Making this point especially clear, Heidegger writes not absolute Wissens but absolve Wissens for much of his lecture course. Near the end of this course he writes, “To summarize we can say, in theses: Hegel—Being (infinitude) is the essence of time. Us—Time is the original essence of Being. These are not simply antithetical theses, to be played against each other, rather ‘Essence’ means here each time something foundationally different, in that Being is understood differently. Essence itself always only comes as a result of the understanding of being and its concept. (Heidegger’s emphases, HPdG, pg. 211)” The absolved Knowledge of which Heidegger writes, cuts itself off from time. It becomes atemporal. The contradiction then comes from the transformation of Geist from that which develops through time and through Experience into that which ceases to Experience time or to develop. One can find here another problem; one different from the seeming contradiction in Hegel. This problem, which comes from the reading of Being and Time placed next to Phenomenology of Spirit, calls itself Die Frage nach dem Sein. In order to deal with Heidegger’s “elaboration of an implied meaning” in Hegel, one cannot quote chapter and verse from Hegel’s Gesammelte Schriften, rather one must look at both books simultaneously to let the problem work itself into a new, maybe even manageable, form. To start one can return to Hegel to see if, in fact, one can appropriately write, instead of Absolute Knowledge, absolved Knowledge. Think here of the key role that “seeming” (erscheinen) plays in Hegel. Whenever Hegel, or any dialectician, deploys this verb surprises soon come. Slavoj Žižek has written, in a number of places, that the essence of the Hegelian dialectic shows the truth of appearances, but with a difference. In other words, that which seems true soon seems false, but both appearances reveal themselves as false. In fact, the seeming true actually becomes true through the “labor of the concept;” or, through traveling through appearances to the underlying reality one realizes—in its full sense as a verb, as an action—the truth that actually rests in the mere appearances. The absolved character of Knowledge cannot escape this dialectical shift. Does not, therefore, its very absolution—its resistance to temporality—mean that it relies on temporality, that temporality mediates absolvence, even more than ever before? If, as remarked above, Absolute Knowledge actually precedes dialectical Experience, even when it chronologically comes after, then it can only exist for a short time. Does this mean that Heidegger, somehow, merely misread Hegel. Or can one not equate existing for a short time with existing in time; can one claim that the instant in which absolved Knowledge erupts escapes the mediation of temporality? The whole movement complicates itself around this very point. Heidegger, furthermore, has a possible answer; one which comes out of his own theorization of Experience. Being and Time, while not explicitly a commentary on Hegel, in fact contains a secret dialogue throughout itself with him. Hegel’s name haunts the book—it occurs 66 times, with 54 of them in the last ten pages. This spectrality—this spirit of Hegel—invades the book for at least two reasons: the concept of time, and the concept of Experience. Though, as always, only ever in a strange way, much of the work rethinks Experience in the world—if not exactly in those terms. For as Heidegger wrote, “…Time is the original essence of Being. (HPdG, pg. 211)” Should one not add that Time only comes to have meaning through Experience? Did not Heidegger, at least in part, mean this when he wrote Mitsein? With the categories of Mitsein and Dasein the work becomes capable of rethinking the process of existing in the world. Grounding philosophy in ontology, Heidegger reveals the “repressed” side of the history of philosophy. He writes that philosophers have discussed Being for 2000 years, yet have never really defined it. For this reason, philosophy today, at this point when he still believed in the possibility of continuing the western philosophical project, must return to the question of Being—it must finally find a way to cogently think about Being. Heidegger thinks through this question first through a categorization of Sein, on one of the hands, and Dasein, on the others. In a strange way, if Hegel’s knotting up with Heidegger comes through Experience and Time, one could say that, categorically, Heidegger thinks through these two points by, respectively, Dasein and Sein. Clearly distinguishing these two terms, cutting them off from each other, has a distinct tone of falsity in its simplicity. Instead, one must think of them in the sense that, Sein qua abstract Being, ruthlessly interjects itself into the, by definition, quotidian character of Dasein. Daily Experience, then, as or through Dasein, can not deny its very reliance—its collaboration with Sein. Heidegger’s theory of Experience founds itself on these two fundamental categories, but it also contains two important additions: Mitsein and Sorge. The three categories of Experience, Dasein, Mitsein, and Sorge, all occur in the world of concrete things—die Welt des Seiendes. This placement of Being, removing it from the realm of pure abstraction in which it has hitherto remained, allows Heidegger to discuss simultaneously both the seemingly abstract qualities of Being and also the ethical tasks of day to day life. Mitsein, for instance, seems abstract—Being with—however Heidegger bases this category on a theory of conversation, something almost too quotidian to notice. In fact, taking the point further, Heidegger brings up a problem of conversation which seemingly no one had previously spotted: one can never guarantee that the other listens. One possible reading of Being and Time could, in fact, think of the work as an attempt to theorize Experience. This very Experience comes out of the existence in time of the subject: the thrown subject (Geworfenheit). This thrownness, which forces the fragile subject into a hostile world, propels the terms of the discussion of Experience. Ethically, at the root of things, the categories of Being which Heidegger holds dear, quickly show themselves to hold ethical import for the thrown subject. Not to say that “un-thrown” people should not read Heidegger, or that Heidegger only wrote for those with unmanageable Angst. Heidegger wagers that thrownness applies to everyone, if not in the same way. This thrownness comes to its truth in the precariousness of material life. The ever present possibility of failure, for instance, in even the most mundane aspects of life. In another track Heidegger looks at Experience through the lens of Being—qua capital “B”—Sein. Here, one must intensely concentrate on the interactions of Being and Time, the title of the book doesn’t try to hide its content. This concept of Being constitutes itself, as quoted above, originally through Time, and he writes of two types of Time: historical (geschichtlichkeit) and temporal (zeitlichkeit). Though he challenges the stability of each of these positions, troubling their simplicity, in the most basic sense this dualism creates an effective analytical device. The latter mode, temporality, expresses Time as a lived process—one doesn’t check one’s watch to find the nature of one’s fundamental finitude—and this very finitude (Endlichkeit) ties it heavily to the question of Being. Temporality, for Heidegger, contains within itself fundamental dictates of ethicality, of Mitsein, even if it seems merely a way of talking about the ever ongoing movement of the seasons. These ethics find their apex in the question of being towards death, the ultimate expression of one’s finitude. The historical (Geschichtlichkeit), too, conceptualizes a mode of time—a temporal one not equivalent to temporality. If one Experiences the world temporally, one can, perhaps, say that one Experiences time historically, “The historicalness (Geschichtlichkeit) of Dasein, however, is the ground of a possible, historical understanding (Verstehens), which again on its own carries the possibility of a distinctly grasped construction (Ausbildung) of history (Historie) as science. (SuZ, 332)” The historical character of Dasein does not denote the fact that Dasein has a history—that humans have history. Rather, this mode of Being allows humans to have history insofar as they already Experience themselves historically. One must read Heidegger closely here; he distinguishes between Historie (of Latin derivation) and Geschichtlichkeit (Germanic derivation)—remembering Heidegger’s opinions on the transition from Greek to Latin thought allows one to see where his preferences lie. One can only ground Scientific History (Historie) on a mode of Being. This Geschichtlichkeit, then, only superficially resembles the typically naive way of understanding the historical. This way looks at lists of things and lists of individuals, having done so it projects these events and peoples into a linear chronology with simplistic causality. Contrary to this way of reasoning, Heidegger insists that linearity symptomatically reveals Being qua its historical character. In other words, based off of one’s Being in the world one supposes the existence of a set, linear time line which runs throughout history in a way largely identical to the way the world currently seems; this works insofar as one Experiences—at least seems to Experience—time in a linear fashion. The circularity of the writing here attempts to give a sense of the difficult problem Heidegger addresses, which, essentially comes from the problem of historical time. To make this more exact one must re-imagine historical time in terms of Being rather than time, per se; or: one experiences historical time through Being. One must rethink the category of time itself in order to understand its reliance on a mode of Be-ing. This “experiencing of Being” shares much with what Hegel called Experience (Erfahrung). In this way Heidegger inherited Hegel, having put his finger on one of the most important—if not the most important—aspects of the Phenomenology he rethought this category in entirely new terms. Through fundamental ontology, Experience becomes uninstrumentalized. If Hegel thinks of Experience as the traveling through of Geist on its way to Absolute Knowledge, then Heidegger rethinks it in such a way that it becomes “in-itself” a fundamentally ethical attitude. Perhaps this seems strange, but Being and Time—haunted by Hegel—can, in fact, be read as a philosophy of everyday, banal life. On the terms that the book sets forth for itself, it would not successfully interrogate the Seinsfrage if it did not make sense in terms of daily human experience. In the Phenomenology Hegel writes:This dialectical movement is what consciousness practices on itself as well as on its knowledge and its object, and, insofar as, to consciousness, the new, true object arises out of this movement, this dialectical movement is what is genuinely called Experience.This concept of Experience, which Hegel develops, relies on a subject going through the Experiences who can recognize and identify the arising negations and contradictions of the dialectical movement. One can say that Hegel presents a theory of Experience of the highly capable subject. Heidegger, however, goes about in an entirely different manner. The thrown subject does not have the observational mastery exemplified by the Hegelian Subject. In fact, one call the Heideggerian subject prone to failure. Not that the subject always fails, but the possibility of failure always remains open. Though one cannot, justifiably, quickly categorize these subjects. One can only use the word subject deceptively, even, insofar as the subject of traditional metaphysics has little place in either of these thinkers. Here one finds an additional bit of Heidegger’s Hegelian inheritance. In some ways Hegel begins with a traditional subject—one that can rely on sense perception, who thinks of time as linear, who believes that contradictions reveal untruths—but that, through the process of the Phenomenology, he deals more and more fatal blows to this subject. Philosophy, after Hegel, could never again honestly talk about this subject. Hegel overcomes, in part, the traditional univocation of subject and agent through the unification of substance and subject in truth:In my view, which must be justified by the exposition of the system itself, everything hangs on apprehending and expressing the truth not merely as substance but also equally as subject. (Hegel , 14)This knotting together of subject and substance into the form of truth allows Hegel to create the seemingly all-powerful self-development into the completeness of truth that seems to occur in his work; however this generalization passes over the fact that in Hegel, too, failure plays a role. Heidegger, in some sense, picked up where Hegel left off. While he seemingly returns to the concept of subject as agent—this is the reading that allowed the existentialists to think of him as one of them—Heidegger does not, by any means, think of the subject in terms of an all-capable, all subsuming totality, but rather as incapably trying. The thrown subject must always try to come to terms with the world, but never can totally do so. Only through Experience, through Being-with can the Heideggerian subject really do anything. This daily Experience, in time—both geschichtlich and zeitlich—unified through the act of Being, which one can also describe as Experience. Heidegger can seem to regress behind Hegel’s innovations—if only insofar as Heidegger appears to return the subject qua Being to the flesh of humanity rather than the spectrality of truth. One should slow down here, though. Heidegger, in Derridean terms, takes the locus of this subjectivity in a way both more ancient than the past and more future than what simply comes next. Heidegger’s subject can, then, more thoroughly overcome the Cartesian dualism—which both separates mind from body while also turning the mind into ever self-presence—by placing the topos of the subject thoroughly in the world, embodied, but never self-present. This maintains the Hegelian substance as subject, without, to some extent, the metaphysics of truth, instead: the ontology of Experience. Through Experience, for Hegel, one becomes more similar to Geist; through Experience for Heidegger, one is. Derrida points this out in his work De l’esprit, specifically in the quote selected as the epigraph to this paper, “…the union, the hyphen (trait d’union) between spirit and history plays a very significant role in a passage which makes of the Fragen the very assignment of spirit. The question is of spirit or it is not… (pg. 62)” This line serves to introduce a quote out of Heidegger. However the insight can usefully be re-appropriated and taken as a more general insight on Heidegger’s relationship with Hegel. One must note the beginning of this passage “union, hyphen” as extremely important, for, as Derrida has previously argued, hyphens play a very complex role of their own. While they tie two words together into a single term, they simultaneously separate these same words. This tying together and keeping separate captures the difficulty of Heidegger’s inheritance of Experience from Hegel. Heidegger does not, nor does he desire to, resemble Hegel. On the contrary, Heidegger attempts to go to the beginning, the fundamentals, of philosophy in order to try to think through the unthought (Ungedacht) of Being—something by definition neglected throughout the history of philosophy. This attempt form the separation between Hegel and Heidegger. At the same time, Heidegger finds that Being, in fact, develops through Experience—an eminently Hegelian category.
Heidegger, Martin. Sein und Zeit. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag, 2006. Print.
—. Hegels Phänomenologie des Geistes. Gesamtausgabe vol. 32. Frankfurt-am-Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1997. Print.
—. Wegmarken. Frankfurt-am-Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1996. Print.
—. Holzwege. Frankfurt-am-Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 2003. Print.
Hegel, Georg W. F. Phänomenologie des Geistes. Frankfurt-am-Main: Surhkamp Verlag, 1986. Print.
—. Phenomenology of Spirit. trans. Terry Pinkard.
In more fun news, I recently had an email conversation with Mladen Dolar about his pamphlet on Foucault which he wrote awhile ago. It isn’t available in English, yet, but he hopes to translate it sometime in the next year. Once I get a copy I will see if I can make it available. If not, I will at least post extensive notes on it.
Check back to see what happens!