HEGEL AND ME

by Ralph Dumain

"Philosophy, which once seemed obsolete, lives on because the moment to realize it was missed."

— T.W. Adorno

Here I state some areas of vital interest relating to Hegel Studies. Note that some of these pertain to the role of the autodidact in the universe of knowledge.

(1) Hegel's aesthetics, specifically his relationship to Romanticism, F. Schlegel, and other contemporaries.

(2) Applications of Hegelian ideas to conceptualizing the evolution of African-American culture and intellectual life, e.g. the relationship between aesthetics, speculative truth, and self-consciousness.

(3) Hegel's theory of education and the problem of the autodidact, and who lives abstractly?

(4) Hegel as professional philosopher in the division of labor, implications for intellectual life; and, if artisanal autodidacts (had) existed in Hegel's lifetime and were brought face to face, what could each party know and tell that the other could not?

(5) The diffusion and characteristics of Hegel Studies and Hegelianism outside of Europe: the American Hegelians, but also unexplored areas such as Hegel in the Caribbean, Hegel in the Arabic world, et al.

(6) The Young Hegelians, esp. Feuerbach and Bruno Bauer.

(7) The metaphorical basis of Hegel's notion of the historical progression of the Weltgeist; the logic of historical development and the identities of history's victims.

To clarify what I mean about the "the problem of the autodidact": You may notice that there are implicit commonalities among several of my stated interests. First, I am beginning from a skepticism about the possibility of the mainstream philosopher, who up until Marx's time has almost always represented the standpoint of an elite class, of fully embodying the self-consciousness of his age. In a divided and alienated world, the philosopher's theoretical consciousness embodies an alienated world view. So rather than putting the philosopher at the center of the self-consciousness of an age, I am more inclined to view the philosopher as an epi-center. But how to give other forces and possibilities of consciousness a habitation and a name?

Then the question arises, who else in a given historical time and place is in a position to challenge the hegemony of the philosopher? Clearly there are classes of people who know an awful lot about the practical workings of the material world that the intellectual does not, but where is the basis of a challenge on a theoretical level? It was when autodidacts began to emerge out of the artisans and workers that the question of an alternative intellectual culture arose. However, there are problems with this, too: eccentricity, mysticism, unsystematic thinking, amateurishness, etc. Hence how to conceive the problem of the autodidact in relation to the problem of the hegemonic philosopher blinded by his own hegemony, and how to develop a logical framework with which to understand the structure of their learning and their thinking?

Here Hegel may, perhaps in entirely unforseen ways, illuminate the logic of this scenario. In which case, then, we must shift an indefinite distance away from the obvious and visible centers and locations where one might pinpoint self-consciousness, and try to find something unseen and unnamed, a shadow world of self-consciousness, off-center.

What about Hegel's theory of education? I've only read secondary sources so far, which collect and comment on scattered references throughout the oeuvre. From what I recall, Hegel had a pretty orthodox view of the educational process. No electives, no self-designed course of study, but a traditional absorption of a standard curriculum, only after gaining the mastery of which one earns the right to be original. But suppose one learned different things in a different order, how do we account for such a thinking process and approach to knowledge in relationship to the accepted standard? What could or could not be thought under different circumstances of intellectual acculturation, within the same society broadly speaking? I submit that nobody has thought of this or even recognized the significance of such a question, perhaps because it is so fundamental it has been completely overlooked.

One of the ways I'm handicapped is by inadequate knowledge of social and intellectual history, in Germany above all. Before Marx starts hanging around with utopian socialists in the 1840s, I don't know what there was in Germany, who was literate outside of the bourgeoisie, what they thought. Germany produced its own autodidactic philosopher eventually, Joseph Dietzgen, but before that, I don't know anything. My guess is that one will find a predominance of religious mystics as one does elsewhere.

I've been reading Jose Maria Ripalda's The Divided Nation: the Roots of a Bourgeois Thinker: G.W.F. Hegel, which gives a rather severe picture of the class elitism suffusing the Enlightenment, which Hegel inherited. One can gain a perspective from this book, which presupposes more background than I have, because it points up the drastic cultural consequences of a people losing a common cultural foundation (in regards to interests in mythology, religious sentiment, poetry, etc.) and how German intellectuals sought to resolve the problem, which explains a lot about the genesis of German Romanticism.

I know a bit more about the English tradition of ranting and raving from below, which has a lot to do with heterodox Christianity. The problem with all this lies in the limitations of eccentric, mystical ideas. However, England did manage to produce the most brilliant autodidact in the history of humanity, William Blake, who for all his own idiosyncracies was sophisticated enough to fundamentally challenge and oppose the entire tradition of Western philosophy and classical culture and expose the ruling class character of their metaphysical foundations. Blake hammered out his own makeshift negative dialectic 150 years before Adorno. Nobody else has equalled this achievement. Blake's successes and failures illuminate the problem more than anybody else's.

Still, one needs more than one historical example. I've been collecting whatever information I can. Jonathan Ree's Proletarian Philosophers is a rare such work, but again, it's mostly about the English and belongs to this century.

(15, 17 June 1999, edited for web 17 Feb 2000)


Supplementary Notes

Someone subsequently called attention to my oversimplified, undertheorized remarks on the ('hegemonic') social role of the philosopher , but I have not yet got around to emending my original statement, though I recognize the need to do so. (8 March 2006)

"Hegel & Me" reflects my thoughts at a particular moment in time. I added the link to Jason Read in 2006, and revisiting this article now, I need to mention that Louis Althusser engaged this problem long before me. I don't necessarily endorse his position, but the problems of the nature of the historicity of philosophy and limits of philosophy as the self-consciousness of the age are addressed in his work. Jonathan Rée addresses the problem of historicity. Further links to relevant pages on this site are now added. (28 July 2009)

Philosophy and Its Past by Jonathan Rée, Michael Ayers, Adam Westoby. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: The Humanities Press, 1978.

Read, Jason. "The Althusser Effect: Philosophy, History, and Temporality," borderlands e-journal, volume 4 number 2, 2005.


Sigfried Kracauer on History and Non-Simultaneity

Philosophy of History of Philosophy & Historiography of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Biographical and Psychological Dimensions of Philosophy: Selected Bibliography

Philosophy and the Division of Labor (Bibliography)

The Philosophy of Theory and Practice: Selected Bibliography

History of Philosophy: Special Perspectives (Bibliography)

Proletarian Philosophy (Bibliography)

"How to Integrate Philosophy and Everyday Life: To Think Philosophically in Life, Or Reproduce the Fragmentation of Knowledge?" by R. Dumain

"Philosophy & Everyday Life: Prologue to Discussion" by R. Dumain

Professional and Popular Philosophy: Online Debates

Wisdom and Abstract Thought by R. Dumain

Offsite:

"The Althusser Effect: Philosophy, History, and Temporality" by Jason Read


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Uploaded 17 February 2000
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