Archive for the Hegel Category

Rock On!

Posted in Derrida, Foucault, Hegel, KL, Parrhesia, Rock, White Mythology on February 11, 2008 by untimelymediations


Via Seneca’s De tranquillitate animi, Foucault’s discussion of self-diagnosis uses the notion of “rocking” to illustrate how an individual balances one’s life. (Much to Foucault and Seneca’s disadvantages, WebMD was not yet invented, or else self-diagnosing would have been, obviously, much more accurate and oh-so easier…) Seneca initially shows that “philosophy is not merely an alternative to political life,” but rather “philosophy must accompany a political life,” thus one rocks between the two in order to show balance in the public eye (150, emphasis mine). However, this rocking is neither progressive nor productive, and therefore it restrains self-mastery as one cannot advance in either subject. Foucault describes this dilemma in the following passage:

“[Seneca] does not know exactly what is the reason for his waverings, but he characterizes his malaise as a kind of perpetual vacillating motion which has no other movement than ‘rocking.’ The boat cannot advance because it is rocking. […] Here we have an oscillating motion of rocking which prevents the movement of the mind from advancing towards the truth, towards steadiness, towards the ground” (153-4).

I believe the image of rocking serves a unique purpose in both of the texts we read for this week. For Foucault, the rocking image suggests that one cannot separate power from truth, and further, that truth cannot be separated from the self. In these two cases, truth sways between the self and power. Since parrhesia involves possible loss and some type of risk (i.e. a king cannot be a parrhesiates) Foucault clearly states that the parrhesiastes, while not technically in power, is actually the individual who possesses momentary control. The rocking, here, suggests the shift in power relations, as the actual one in power (the king, for example) must voluntarily subordinate himself to the truth-teller, who now has the king at his mercy.

Parrhesiastes functioning within a monarchy is one thing, but the rocking between parrhesia and democracy cannot work. The parrhesiastes possesses some valuable truth, and it takes courage to present this information to a superior. The parrhesiastes says “something dangerous—different from what the majority believes” (15). However, in a democracy everyone is granted free speech, and “parrhesia is granted to even the worst citizens” (77). There is no risk in telling the truth if everyone has a truth—there is no unity if “democracy has become lack of self-restraint; liberty has become lawlessness; happiness has become the freedom to do whatever one pleases […] it is impossible to enjoy both democracy and parrhesia” (83). In a democracy, the truth is maintained by the demos, whereas parrhesia must be individual. The truth, here, becomes separated from the self.

(Here’s where I have a point of self-contention: if the truth becomes separated from the self, wouldn’t this mean that the rocking stops, and progress can begin? I don’t think this is what Seneca or Foucault was trying to imply, and so maybe this is something we can talk about in our meeting. What happens when truth becomes separated from the self? From power?)

derrida-thumb.jpg <– Admittedly the creepiest pic of Derrida I could find.  Sorry, there were none of him rockin’ out.

For Derrida, the rocking image is utilized in defining – or at least thinking about – metaphors. Even the motion of rocking can be mapped onto Derrida’s use of the term usure: “erasure by rubbing, exhaustion, crumbling away […] the two histories of the meaning of the word remaining indistinguishable” (210). By relying on the senses alone, Derrida suggests that all words are metaphors, and that ideas and words come into being because we can relate them to something we know. He states that, “any expression of an abstract idea can only be an analogy”—we refer to one thing via another, “giving a thing a name that belongs to something else” (213, 231). In “White Mythology,” rocking is the constant oscillation between a word, what it represents, and through what it is represented. The metaphor and its rocking, then, is something like the chicken and the egg—we cannot be certain which came first because everything is essentially metaphoric. Below, metaphors are not only rocking between what they represent and what they are, but, too, in the mere content (sensuous or spiritual) of their origin. Quoting Hegel, Derrida makes this idea clear (Derrida making Hegel clear?) in the following passage:

“Metaphor has its principal application in linguistic expressions […] every language already contains a mass of metaphors. They arise from the fact that a word which originally signifies only something sensuous is carried over into the spiritual sphere and many words, to speak generally, which relate to knowing, have in respect of their literal meaning a purely sensuous content, which then is lost and exchanged for a spiritual meaning, the original sense being sensuous, the second spiritual” (225).

To conclude, Derrida notes that metaphors mark “the moment of the turn or of the detour during which meaning might seem to venture forth alone, unloosed from the very thing it aims at” (241). If the moment when free speech is granted to the demos becomes the downfall of parrhesia, then the notion of the detour becomes the destruction of the metaphor. Further, rocking illustrates that metaphors are not cut-and-dry, but rather disruptive in their functioning, as they become ‘unloosed’ from any foothold it may have had.

Super Response for Super Tuesday

Posted in Ambiguity, Hegel, Isocrates, Jaeger, KL, Marx, rhetoric, sophists on February 4, 2008 by untimelymediations

(Before this post begins, I’ve noticed that my blog apparently has spontaneously combusted—I’ll update the link on the right as soon as I start a new one/the old one un-combusts.)

In writing this response, I fully understand the risk of my sounding slightly morose and vulgar.  Over the weekend I was submerged in funeral planning, although as a good academic, I related the experience of death back to philosophy and rhetoric.  I have been overhearing the same conversations, individuals repeating the same apologies for the loss, the same condolences.  Derek mentioned in his post that the lexicon of the Presidential campaign is rather ambiguous, and so, too, is the lexicon of grief.  In “To Niocles,” Isocrates reinforces the notion (contra Hegel’s small “n” notion) that in speaking and ruling, one should constantly think of the masses, to “take thought for the common people, and do everything to rule them in a way that pleases them” (161).  Listening to friends and family react to death, people are very hesitant to specify anything—they are offering their apologies to comfort the masses in a way that I do not see comforting whatsoever.  (Ya know, all the “I’m so sorry for your loss”-es, “If there’s anything I can do, please let me know”-s, and the ever popular “She’s in a better place now”-s.)  But, we are all guilty of this, as we have all been in these situations where rhetoric does not suffice, so we revert to the same, ordinary phrases.  There is nothing we can say that will please the masses (in this situation, those closest to the dead), nothing that will release their pain of loss.  So, while I find Isocrates’ insistence on moderate and blanketed speech troublesome (in the same, ambiguous manner as “American family” and “tyranny” are supposed to ‘mean’ the same thing for everyone), perhaps Isocrates is right.  Since, according to Isocrates, we should not aim to please one group over another perhaps the sameness of condolences appear sufficient when one is in funeral-mode.
So maybe this funeral experience is the perfect example of Sophistry, that everyone coming and going, dropping off food, sharing their memories and condolences represents the “selfish selflessness”—they are doing these things not to make the family feel any better, but that it ultimately makes the giver feel like a better person.  Someone dying of cancer is much different than someone dying in a car accident—the family has known her that death was imminent for sometime now, and her monthly decay was somewhat preparing everyone for this weekend.  However, there are friends (some from whom the family has not heard in more than an decade) stopping by to say hello.  It’s funny because they all seem to say, “we knew she had cancer, but we didn’t know it was that bad.”  These statements lead me to believe that they are not stopping by to comfort the family, but rather that they are simply pretending to care, and hoping that all their lasagna and lunch meat will make the family feel better.  Actually, it seems that one offers such gifts so that there is a personal/selfish return—in effect the giver feels better knowing that s/he has given rather than how the family feels about receiving the gift (here seems to be the perfect space for Derrida, but that’s next week!).

Now, I would like to set aside all the “funeral talk” and focus on Marx and Hegel’s writing on the Greeks, placing particular attention on the individual verses the collective good or gain.  As Jaeger notes of Isocrates’ “Niocles”:

“The better should not be ruled by the worse, nor the wise be governed by the foolish.  In association with others that means that the prince must criticize the bad and vie with the good.  The essential thing is that he who wants to rule over others must apply that principle to himself, and be able to justify his position by his own true superiority to them all” (96).

For the Sophist, being concerned firstly and ultimately with himself is the means to pleasing the masses.  By “applying that principle to himself,” the Sophist can neither be the brunt of criticism, nor can he be the critic, since he is no different from everyone else.  By always thinking primarily of the individual, the Sophist’s best intentions are, in a roundabout way, the masses.

Hegel maintains that the differences between the Platonists/Socratics verses the Sophists lies in the emphasis placed on the individual.  We can see this divide in the following passages:

“The mission of Socrates was to express the beautiful, good, true, and right, as the end aim of the individual, while with the Sophists the content was not present as an ultimate end, so that all this was left to the individual will”

“[For the Sophists], the Notion of the thing as determined in and for itself; for it brings forward external reasons through which right and wrong, utility and harmfulness, are distinguished.  To Plato and Socrates, on the other hand, the main point is that the nature of the conditions should be considered, and that the Notion of the thing in and for itself should become evolved” (366-367).

(Okay, I have to run off again, but I plan to connect the individual aims of Sophistry to the modes of production discussed in The German Ideology.  I will finish this post later, fully understanding the risk of ridicule for having an incomplete post.)

The Historicization of the Spirit, the Will, and Individuality

Posted in DR, Hegel, Individual, Plato, Will on January 30, 2008 by untimelymediations

Hegel develops a particular history; a history with a specific philosophical import.  It seems necessary to consider how this history, the history of Greek civilization, is useful to Hegel.  The questions become: What are his objectives in reading/relaying this particular history?  What does this history provide for Hegel?  What is the significance of the history that Hegel suggests? 

Here, it seems that Hegel is particularly interested in expressing the importance of the individual to Greek society.  This becomes evident both in his discussion of Greek civilization, as well as the theological constructions of this society.  Here he seems to emphasize the power of the individual over submission to a particular leader.  This becomes most explicit in his discourse on war.  Here, Hegel suggests that Greek citizens fight of their own accord:

The various peoples do not fight as mercenaries of the prince in his battles, nor as a stupid serf-like herd driven to the contest, nor yet in their own interest; but as companions of their honored chieftan – as witnesses of his exploits, and his defenders in peril (230)  

According to Hegel, the people fight as companions rather than in submission to a leader.  Also, the people witness the leader.  Here, there is a power bestowed upon the people, in that they are continually engaged in the act of witnessing.  What does this suggest?  Is Hegel advising similar recourse amongst his contemporaries? In his discussion of the spirit, soul, and most importantly, will, there is an inherent emphasis on self-determination.  Though Zeus is ruler, each God has his/her own will.  Here, Hegel provides that it is the responsibility of the leader to make concessions, and the responsibility of the people to determine.  Here, the people are attributed the power to witness, and decide.  The Trojan War, as Hegel describes it, becomes an issue of individual assent (231).

Furthermore, it is the individual that is central significance to the success of Greek civilization.  Individual government power assists in the accumulation of riches, and population/community development.  Though there are poor citizens, those that “want,” everyone feels the effects of free citizenship.  The way the passage is constructed, it seems to insist that this is very much divergent from more contemporary time periods.  Perhaps, the poor, in Hegel’s time, have experienced subjugation as they have lost the citizenship, the individual power, that he equates with the Greek people?

Moreover, following in what seems to be the Platonic tradition, Hegel, suggests the importance of the individual in relationship to nature.  Here, the individual stands as intermediary between nature and society.  The individual is equipped with a capacity to determine the importance of that which is observed.  This capacity is intimately equated with the soul.  The soul, as was hinted at previously, seems to be bound inextricably to the very individuality of the Greek people.  Here the question becomes: is individuality a derivative of the soul’s contemplation, or is individuality a necessary antecedent to the ability the soul has to interpret?  As he references, the Greek people looked to nature for wonder, and derived philosophy from this wonder.  The observant subjective spirit, gives meaning, as the spirit interprets nature (236).