A Portal Into a New Deepening World of Contradictions
Avaliado nos Estados Unidos em 4 de outubro de 2019
I've tried more than a few times to make my way into Hegel's thought. About fifteen years ago, I burrowed and penetrated ever so slightly into The Phenomenology of Spirit, only to be defeated and retreat. I read some Kojeve, but felt that his interpretations were perhaps too idiosyncratic. A few summers ago, accompanied by three commentaries, I made it about half way through The Science of Logic before I felt like I was uselessly spinning my wheels. I've read numerous works about Hegel and/or the dialectic, but inevitably feel that the authors have some desire to bury Hegel, or are simplifying him to the point of uselessness, or don't really understand him themselves. Some who are sympathetic to his work incorporate it into their own systems but don't particularly spend much energy explicating or introducing those ideas beforehand. The Marxists I've read either dismiss him entirely or dismiss him by saying that whatever was useful in his thought was incorporated by Marx into his own work, thus no need to go back to the "idealist Hegel." And yet, through it all, I kept feeling myself drawn back towards his thought. In the list of philosophers, Hegel has remained something of the final frontier for me.
And so it was a monumental surprise to finally find THE text which I've been searching for all my damn intellectual life.
I mean, rattle off some of the philosophers that appeal to me and I can snap off the names of other philosophers who have magnificent books about them/their ideas.
Lacan = Bruce Fink
Marx = David Harvey
Badiou = Peter Hallward
Deleuze and Guattari = Eugene W. Holland
And now I can add to the list:
Hegel = Todd McGowan
Todd has written some other brilliant books about psychoanalysis, Lacan, film, David Lynch, capitalism. This book will likely appeal most to those with interest in psychoanalysis, Marxism, Zizek; with that in mind, this is a work about Hegel, and a lack of familiarity with these other systems/thinkers will pose minimal barrier for entry.
This text provides a deeply sympathetic and perhaps somewhat idiosyncratic reading of Hegel's ideas. McGowan does seem to be a part of a neo-Hegelian school that includes Zizek, Adrian Johnston, and Catherine Malabou; that said, no-one seems to friggin' agree about hardly any aspect of Hegel thought, so what is a syncratic reading of Hegel, anyway?
The book isn't a commentary of any one of Hegel's texts, though it does include analysis of many of this works; nor is it a biography of his life, though it does include some historical/biographical details; this isn't a work of McGowan-esque philosophy in which he incorporates Hegel into his own system, though he is reading Hegel through a McGowan analytic filter; nor can it be described as an intro-text, for it is much richer and more interesting than that.
In essence, it provides a particular core interpretation of Hegel, which is that the old chestnut about thesis, antithesis, and synthesis is B***s***, and a more accurate understanding is that "contradiction is not mere opposition" [...] "Instead, contradiction occurs when a position follows its own logic and thereby finds itself at odds with itself" [...] Every position ultimately undermines itself by exposing its own internal division." And that if you follow a series of contradictions long enough, you don't eventually end at a contradiction-free zone, but, in fact, the opposite, in which there is a realization that "contradiction is not a problem to be eliminated but the driving force of all movement in being. One cannot arrive at a synthesis that would eliminate contradiction because contradiction is the basic fact of all being."
Absolute knowing is therefore not, "the point at which the subject knows everything that there is to know, but rather the point at which the subject recognizes that there are no more conceivable paths out of contradiction."
With this core analysis, McGowan then goes through many of Hegel's thoughts and gives them a shine, revitalizing via reinterpretation some of the controversial and/or contested ideas, such as Hegel's insistence on the central importance of Christianity above all other religions, and the necessity of the state (and even the monarchy) for human freedom. It is a testament to McGowan's prowess that his arguments regarding these issues are convincingly made.
Throughout, McGowan gives many novel/provocative insights into Hegelian thought, including the foundational importance of love to his system, on how psychoanalytical concepts can help explicate his ideas ("Coming Too Soon" lol), how Marx was a "rightist" deviation of Hegel, discussing some of the major controversies (e.g., how to read/understand his most misunderstood work The Philosophy of History), and not hiding from some of the real issues/problems. It is such a broad but well rounded work, touching on so many issues and ideas, I walked away from this text feeling like a portal into a new Hegelian world had been opened for me, the book a kind of skeleton key finally making a deep dive into Hegel's work a real possibility for me.
If I could remove one half of one star, I would simply because the implications of McGowan's readings of Hegel on the project of emancipation, for example, communism, remain under-developed, perhaps intentionally so. I mean, it was the title of the book, so even an entire chapter dedicated to the subject would have been warranted. Perhaps another book, Todd? Or a podcast episode? Pretty please? Just a few more examples of how the idea of sustaining and deepening contradiction might be employed in an anti-capitalist way would have been appreciated. I have a few ideas about it, but, again, I'd have liked a bit more.
And McGowan is a beautiful and clear writer. He has a way of explaining an idea by repeating it two or three different ways, but each time subtly different and from a different angle such that the ideas truly come to live in the mind. On my first reading, I went through the whole thing slowing underlining. It is a indicative of the concision/potency of the writing that practically half of it is now marked.
I am grateful for this book. It was also a pleasure to read. It was the perfect book to have read at this time in my life. I have turned my sights back again towards Hegel, and I have Todd McGowan to thank for this.
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