Ralph Dumain reviews The Absolute Boot:

The Absolute Boot, or, The Journeyman Cobbler Steeped in Hegel’s Philosophy [1844], a comic drama in two acts by Friedrich Ludwig Lindner, translated and with an introduction and notes by Lawrence S. Stepelevich. (Text of play in German and English.) North Syracuse, NY: Gegensatz Press, 2008. 88 pp.

Translator’s Introduction

Lindner (1772-1845) was a physician, then academic philosopher, then journalist opposing the restoration of ‘Old Europe’. The political situation of Germany during the Restoration involved pro- and anti- Hegel elements, which have their parallels in pro- and anti-Napoleon factions. A group of anti-Napoleon firebrand (liberal, it seems) students added German nationalism and militant Lutheranism to the mix, which motivated the liberals Hegel and Lindner to oppose their hooliganism. Lindner got caught up in political power-struggles and suffered the consequences of his liberalism. Following a failed joint editorial venture with Heinrich Heine, Lindner reverted to his original profession as physician, and wrote this play a year before his death.

There are three plays about Hegel/Hegelianism written in this period. The other two are “The Winds” (1831) by Otto Friedrich Gruppe, a rabid anti-Hegelian conservative, ridiculed by Marx; and “The Center of Speculation” (1840), a defense of Hegel by Karl Rosenkranz, a right or center Hegelian.

Stepelevich outlines the play and highlights some Hegel references within it. “The play’s focus is upon clarifying the relationship between theory and practice.”

The play

Lindner’s play seems to be a qualified defense (and criticism?) of Hegel, or rather, a compromise position between Hegelian philosophy and the commonsense anti-philosophical man of practical matters (whom Hegel himself philosophically opposed). Paraphrases of passages from Hegel and the master-bondsman dialectic are embedded in the play. The characters form a triad: the Journeyman Cobbler (Hegelian), the Master Shoemaker (practical man of affairs), and the Police Commissioner (who reconciles the opposites.)

Act One features a struggle between the Journeyman and the Master. The Journeyman “explains” the nature of self-consciousness according to Hegelian philosophy. The master has little patience to begin with, and, exasperated after struggling with the Journeyman’s obstinate obscurity, beats him. Lindner must have been acquainted with Hegel’s philosophy, but I can’t tell how faithful he is to it in the person of the Journeyman, for I find the Journeyman completely incomprehensible.

The Journeyman also argues the philosophical meaning of the beating, philosophically concluding that it’s time to call in the police (p. 47).  Further philosophical debate ensues before Act One concludes.

Act Two: Enter the Police Commissioner

The Master complains that he has been assaulted by philosophy, though he hit the Journeyman with his cane. The Journeyman complains on the basis of the philosophy of self-consciousness. Logically, the Master ought to beat himself, which the Commissioner understands is about educating the master. The Commissioner rejoins that the police have nothing to do with education (p. 67). He takes his turn schooling the Journeyman. There is a question of higher authority—more confusion—but the Journeyman sees a parallel with the connection of high and low in the penis, which serves as the organ both of generation and urination. The Journeyman quotes (from Hegel?): “The consciousness of the infinite judgment that remains at the level of images behaves as urination.” (p. 69, 71)

No comment.

Reconciliation commences almost immediately (p. 73). The Journeyman and the Master both apologize for their shortcomings. Journeyman: “The thought of the Commissioner is an infinite judgment, raised high above mere pictorial representations.” I will have to take his word for it, as I do not understand the rest of his apology.

As for producing some actual boots, the Journeyman declares that he has internally mastered the concept of the boots; the ideal boots have universal existence, and it is mere “child’s play to bring forth the particular boots…” (p. 75) There are transactions involving payment for the ideal boots. The Journeyman accepts payment for the ideal boots from the Master, but the Master won’t accept money for the ideal boots from the Commissioner. Journeyman: “Number, as you might know, is but a mere category of the lesser, pictorial understanding, and does not vary the essence of boots in itself.” (p. 77) I don’t buy this, but everybody is happy, and the Journeyman agrees to accept payment for a pair of physical boots.

The Journeyman then explains, as requested, how he came to philosophy (p. 79). The Commissioner then criticizes the disciples of Hegel for failure to do the venerable master justice by handing down his teachings in an elegant, dignified form. “As it is formed within a nation, philosophy is the hallmark of that nation’s level of civilization. Accordingly, it should be expressed in the best possible literary style.” (p. 81) Hegel’s writings are untranslatable, and prove to be a national embarrassment if his proponents cannot render Hegel’s thoughts in a comprehensible manner. Hegel looks bad because his disciples indulge themselves in obscurities without producing intelligible ideas. They abuse Hegel by injecting metaphysical pseudo-profundities into subject matters they have not mastered (pp. 81-85). 

The discussion winds up. The verdict is inconclusive. The Commissioner: “Absolute boots! What will be your destiny in the world?” (p. 87)

I cannot offer any conclusions of my own regarding the argument of the play, or, more specifically, Hegelianism as the Journeyman presents it, as it is incomprehensible to me. Lindner must have invested serious attention to and must have gained some understanding of Hegel’s writings. Based on the biographical information I have read, I remain unclear also as to a specific connection between Lindner’s politics and his appraisal of Hegel.

(Book first read some years ago, read for the second time 18-25 November 2019; review written 30 November 2019)

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The Absolute Boot, or, The Journeyman Cobbler Steeped in Hegel’s Philosophy
by Friedrich Ludwig Lindner

Friedrich Ludwig Lindner – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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