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Romanticism and Disaster

"Hegel’s Bearings"

Rei Terada
University of California at Irvine


The following essay was awarded the Keats-Shelley Association Essay Prize for 2013.

Anfangs wollt’ ich fast verzagen,
Und ich glaubt’ ich trüg’ es nie;
Und ich hab’ es doch getragen -
Aber fragt mich nur nicht, wie?

—Heine, Junge Leiden 8

1.        If anyone meets the challenge of “dark times” in the German nineteenth century, it would seem to be Hegel. Hegel’s account of how the mind/spirit tarries—literally, “stays with”—the negative in attentive observation and recollection until it “turns it into being” [“in das Sein umkehrt”] (The Phenomenology of Spirit 19) amounts to a theory of psychic working through: how to introject objects, open the self to novelty, and render the present into the past. As Rebecca Comay and Katrin Pahl have shown,  [1]  Hegel’s philosophy is at once a psychology and a theory of history. Taken as a whole, it is also, famously, one predominant story that nineteenth century Europe tells to itself, the story of the gathering of revolution and restoration into a single process crowned by the modern European state. Acknowledging that the transitions on which individual and psychic history depend are painful, Hegel models how to tolerate the pain.

2.        In the waning days of Napoleon, just after Waterloo, and toward the beginning of the “Vormärz”—desolate times for European radicals, when, as Heinrich Heine wrote with black humor, “all of Europe became a St. Helena”  [2]  —Hegel was engaged in demonstrating to himself and others how The Phenomenology of Spirit would fare in the years following the battle of Jena. As Hegel’s letters show, he is concerned in this “middle period” with the formalization and extension of his philosophy  [3]  —its not being downhill from there—and he thinks this issue, in turn, through his ability to live his own theory in the “dark times.” Crucially, Hegel makes establishing the reception of the Phenomenology into the same project as the psychic management of the restoration. He generates the effect that his previous philosophy is correct by interpreting it himself, highlighting what (in retrospect) it is already prepared to allow for; as Derrida points out, Hegelian spirit “in advance interiorizes all content” (22a) and as Adorno points out, that “advance” is also secured after the fact (History and Freedom 51). In self-interpretation, Hegel coordinates the future anterior with metalepsis in order to place his thought at their crossing, where a dynamic transition in the present would logically be. So if Hegel’s “middle period” is especially interesting, that’s also because generating a transition through self-interpretation is what all of the work is about anyway. Self-interpretation is its content and its procedure: “the subject of Hegelian thought only is insofar as it is engaged in the process of interpreting itself,” as Jan Mieszkowski phrases it.  [4]  Hegel’s techniques for arranging that his philosophy is not left on the battlefield at Waterloo are therefore necessarily the same techniques he uses to introject and transform postwar phenomena that otherwise threaten catastrophe. Incorporating the restoration through his philosophy both reinforces the philosophy and averts devastation.

3.        For German radicals did experience the Vormärz as a disaster. It’s difficult to describe, and was difficult for them to describe, exactly what kind of disaster, because although they were of course disappointed that the modernizations of the Napoleonic era did not bring democracy,  [5]  there was also a positivity to which they objected that resists the conventional vocabulary for disaster. Critics register the difficulty when they call the postwar in England and Europe a period of “historical chaos” or “historical confusion.”  [6]  Rebecca Comay has argued brilliantly that the German postwar is characterized by trauma in the structural sense that it is organized by a spectral German revolution which is imagined as too early or too late, either having occurred already on a mental level and/or being (always) not yet necessary: “having already been there in theory, Germany could put off until doomsday the grab for practical fulfillment.”  [7]  As many have pointed out in this connection, the idea of a “restoration” doesn’t quite work as a descriptor in the absence of a revolution; other terms for the postwar period avoid describing it at all. Historians of England tend to call it the “aftermath of Waterloo,” and the term “Vormärz” complementarily anchors the time in something that hadn’t happened yet.  [8]  Afloat in a way that could only be called “transitional” in retrospect, German radicals could feel that they were on open political waters—not in a liberatory, but in an agoraphobic sense, in which it seemed possible that just about anything bad could happen to them. Yet, fundamentally, the disaster is also not “instability”; the “stability” that replaced this instability was the imperial German state. That was even more disastrous from a radical point of view, and can’t seriously be thought of as less “confused,” either, than the “historical confusion” that preceded it. Rather, radicals experienced the Vormärz as a positive present of conservative administrative control, embodied in police states in which even “liberals” opposed classless suffrage.  [9]  James Sheehan argues that the first three decades of the nineteenth century “deserve to be thought of as the apogee of the Beamtenstaat, therefore, not simply because bureaucrats had won decisive victories over their old enemies but also because their new antagonists had not yet begun to take shape” (441). Calling for the termination of the monarchy before the German “Pre-Parliament” in 1848 (and so looking back at the time I’m concerned with), the radical democrat Gustav von Struve began his address with: “A long period of the most profound degradation weighs heavily on Germany.”  [10] 

4.        Historians David Blackbourn and Geoff Eley argued in the 1980s that Cold War histories of Europe composed in the West promoted the hindsight perception that as Struve spoke, an even longer period of even profounder degradation lay ahead of him, one that seemed to culminate at Auschwitz. Clearly, “grand narratives” are part of the problem; the very discipline of “history” is part of the problem and part of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century nationalism that followed the aftermath of Waterloo. Since Blackbourn and Eley, historians have approached the German nineteenth century more as a way of life in itself, sometimes discussing how it may have been “liberal” in a different way after all.  [11]  Although such a discussion avoids problems with the notion of historical failure, it still misses the point. Eley’s point is not just that we should stop being judgmental about the German nineteenth century, but that we should ask who gains from our judgments. The twentieth century theory of the development of democracy from “liberalization” gains by blaming German exceptionalism for its “failure” to make it work. Similarly, radicals’ experience is not disastrous because of what it’s not—a revolution or liberalism—and “revolution” and “liberalism” are not real in some way that the early German nineteenth century is unreal. But—and here I may or may not be departing from the anthropological reflexivity that Blackbourn and Eley bring to their study—that does not mean that the Vormärz was really fine. In the most interesting descriptions, it is positively awful enough in itself, awful in being a way of getting along, and these subjective descriptions also merit our anthropological respect if our reading is to be more than an account only of what works about a society. Going beyond anomaly, disaster here goes in a way beyond disaster. This impression of disorienting open-endedness, more than anything else, disabling any sense of historical exceptionality, particularizes this disaster and Hegel’s model for working through it.

5.        Hegel is a privileged figure of the new dispensation, I want to suggest, because of his ability to articulate in its positivity the horizonless condition of an antipolitical society that extends from the late Napoleonic era to our own. By managing a description that is immanent to it, he furnishes a predominant model for inhabiting times that are normally and open-endedly opaque. He wins the game by changing it, establishing a new framework for what it means to succeed in which the capacity to undergo transition actively is the highest value. Hegel explains why there is no getting out by way of explaining why there is no need to get out: namely, because the energies of progress themselves are part of what means to be “in.” Achieving this realization requires duration (“staying with” the negative), hence endurance; as a result, he places a peculiar value on being able to “bear” things. Words like ertragen and vertragen (endurance, tolerance) crystallize his descriptions of self-transformation, and pressure settles upon them. His use of ertragen connotes constitutional vigor—being able to withstand hard knocks—but, especially in his letters, also includes a more colloquial sense of being able to stand repulsive things. Transition, and specifically one’s own change in it, is the main thing that it is necessary to “endure.”


6.        In the first decade of the nineteenth century, Hegel carried on a long, regular correspondence with his friend Friedrich Immanuel Niethammer, the commissioner of educational administration for Bavaria. These letters offer glimpses of how Hegel and Niethammer thought about the interface between political and everyday life. In the late Napoleonic years, liberalization, modernization and democratization were already proving to be unrelated. Hegel and Niethammer are anxious in the midst of liberalization, before Napoleon abdicates in April 1814; and they worry not only about the insecurity of the administration but about the course of liberalization within it. In these years radical possibility is being undermined from within and from without a reformist regime, lending support to Hegel’s sense of opposition internal to concepts. In his correspondence, we can see Hegel trying on various ways of expressing this sense as a psychological and political attitude.

7.        Much of Hegel’s and Niethammer’s conversation pertains to the educational system for which they both worked and which was an endless source of aggravation for them both. Briefly, Niethammer was a “neohumanist” who wanted to modernize education while defending it against “utilitarians” who were narrowly interested in professional schools, and he had appointed Hegel rector of a Gymnasium in Nuremburg because he knew he would be a political ally.  [12]  Niethammer’s enterprises never ran all that smoothly, and as Napoleon’s downfall began to seem increasingly likely, he interpreted the newly emboldened attacks on his projects that then occurred as evidence of an overwhelming and indeed insuperable pressure from conservative and utilitarian forces (i.e., conservative anti-democrats and modernizing anti-democrats). Although he can seem to be overdoing his rhetoric (though not to me), Niethammer was basically right: democratization—parliamentary or otherwise—was not coming to Germany in spite of all the “liberalization” and “modernization” that had been accomplished under Napoleon. Niethammer’s anticipation of this conclusion sometimes led him to describe his political future in apocalyptic terms.

8.        Hegel was intermittently anxious about all this, and trying hard not to be. On the night of January 5, 1814, Hegel dreams that he “was in a large group attending a disputation in which two physiologists . . . discussed the relative merits of apes and pigs.” While the disputants argue about which are more human, apes or pigs,

a loudmouthed, wide-bodied fellow named Pippel [People] . . . kept wanting to bring up still other matters, even juridical matters such as human rights, constitutions, and so forth. But the moderator, who, so to speak, played the role of fate throughout the whole proceeding, treated all matters of this sort as mere irrelevancies, mere packaging. He disallowed them from being seriously discussed, and held firm in his insistence that the issue was merely preference between the two species. But a super-clever man, murmuring in the corner more to himself, then asked the moderator—this seemed to me unrelated—whether he meant that Pippel, should he someday feel warm in his heart and head, would, as is well known, risk the shirt off his back; that aristocrats would put this to their advantage; and that Pippel would thus play the fool in a game—as in fact occurs quite legally in the name of the Devil, and has always occurred from time immemorial. The historian Zschokke then ran up to jump in, shouting that the people of Bern had already received an answer at least verbally from Zurich, but that there were still many other considerations . . . and so forth. At that point I woke up and it seemed difficult to me to have to go to class and lecture on law.
[einen großmauligen, breitleibigen Patron namens Pippel . . . . wollte immer auch noch andere Dinge, selbst juridische von Meschenrechten, Verfassung u. s. f. auf die Bahn bringen. Allein der Präsident der gleichsam das Schicksal bei dem ganzen Aktus machte, behandelte alles dergleichen als Emballagen und Allotria, ließ sie nicht ernstlich zum Worte kommen und hielt immer daran fest, es handle sich bloß um jenes Thema des Vorzugs der beiden genannten Geschlechter. Ein superkluger Mensch, in der Ecke mehr für sich murmelnd, fragte den Präsidenten—was mir wie die Faust aufs Auge zu passen schien—ob er es denn so meine, daß der Pippel, wenn es ihm einmal warm im Kopf und Herzen werde, bekanntlich Hosen und Wams daransetze, daß die Aristokraten sich dies zunutz machen und der Pippel dabei bloß der Narr im Spiele sei, wie in des Teufels Namen von rechtswegen geschehe und immer geschehen sei. —Diesen rannte dann der Historikus Zschokke zwischen die Berne, schreiend, den Bernern habe man doch von Zürich aus mit Worten weingstens bereits geantwortet, —es seien aber noch viele andre Rückseiten, teils im Begriff, sich hervorzutun, auf die noch keine Antwort sich zeige . . . u. s. f. –Da erwachte ich und [es] fiel mir hart ein, daß ich in die Lektion solle und übers Recht Vorlesungen zu halten habe. (Letter 227)]

9.        So Hegel dreams he is at a debate that isn’t an honest debate, and that pretends to seek humanity where everyone knows it doesn’t exist, in one of two unattractive and literally nonhuman sides: it is hard not to view the dream as struggling with the contemporary foreclosure of alternatives. There was a real Heinrich Zschokke, a liberal historian, philosopher and fiction writer based in Switzerland at the time of the dream; a local administrator during the Napoleonic period, he is remembered as having been as earnestly enthusiastic as he appears here (Butler, Letters 301). The dream treats his earnestness as though it were as much a part of the show as the cynicism of the professional moderator and offstage aristocrats, as though his sincere proceduralism exhibited the kind of irrelevance the moderator has in mind when he calls juridical issues “mere packaging” (Emballagen, packing matter). As Pippel is a loudmouth, Zschokke is a shouter, and implicitly tiresome; Hegel curtails the content of his messsage with the same weary “u. s. f.”

10.        Notice that, although things weren’t going too well, Napoleon is still in Paris on the night of Hegel’s dream.  [13]  In fact, Hegel had been feeling caught between apes and pigs the entire time at Nuremberg. As soon as he got there, commiseration about assaults on the educational system (including the chronic, passive assault of underfunding) becomes one of the main motifs of his correspondence with Niethammer.  [14]  As early as 1810, we find Hegel complaining that “Nobody complains . . . . the object is simply to procure treasure, and those who suffered real distress and injustice are used to the view that everything has gone to the dogs anyway” (Butler, letter 229, April 10, 1810); more than any reference to repression, the complaint that no one is complaining registers the collapse of political space. Throughout this time Hegel regularly refers to the Allied forces with dripping irony as “our Liberators”: “if par hasard there are any liberated individuals to be seen I myself will stand up and watch” (Butler, letter 225, December 23, 1813). But the Napoleonic administration has not left enough room for complaint either. Likewise, the moderator’s “insistence that the issue was merely preference” is absurd in light of the lack of distinction and merit among the choices. Only the possibility of an unseen, deeper rationality in his behavior (“ob er es denn so meine”) furnishes some ballast against the non-events that crowd the dream.

11.        The highlight of the dream is the part that Hegel selects for attention by calling it out of place, the “super-clever” remark that attempts to get beyond the immediate debate to the game played “from time immemorial.” The super-clever man’s observation differs from the others: it’s a question, at least rhetorically; it’s murmured by a liminal participant, “more to himself” than to anyone else—which is how Hegel lectured, and how Adorno believes his writing proceeds;  [15]  and it makes an effort to think beyond the scene, to connect pasts and futures, surfaces and depths. It’s tempting to see this curious intervention as the most Hegelian one. The super-clever man asks the moderator whether, in his role as “fate,” he bars “juridical” topics because of the likelihood that the outcome would only play into the hands of aristocrats—at least, whether this likely outcome is the true meaning of his intransigence. A kind of realist calculation and foresight is implicit here. Although the dream thus seems to align itself with super-cleverness, however, Hegel’s reported thoughts on waking imply that his own position, or at least his feelings, is not identical with that of the super-clever man within. It seems difficult—literally, it “hits him hard”—that he has to go on with his lectures on law. Now we know that Hegel sees rational law as the only possible means of managing the conflicts of society, and he was soon to take an interest in the particulars of the new constitution, especially with regard to the parameters of franchise.  [16]  Yet in the dream “juridical” matters already seem like mere packaging and fooling around, and as he wakes it seems terrible to have to discuss them in public, perhaps to be expected to reconcile them with the kind of legality (the “natural” law of superior force?) exercised in the Devil’s name. The strain of the debate reflects and forestalls the strain of the coming lecture; the dream temporarily defers the tension and tedium of keeping up appearances, already pressing upon the dreamer from the side of the morning, by voicing a complaint that can’t be voiced during the day.

12.        Something is beginning to happen in Hegel’s dream that he opposes philosophically. We might think of this process, as Melanie Klein has taught us to do, as that of splitting “good” and “bad” parts of the self as a way of handling uncomfortably mixed feelings.  [17]  In fact, Klein is one of the most Hegelian thinkers of the twentieth century: she advocates an integration that ideally does not describe anything as ontologically good or bad, and uses the ideas of goodness and badness only as temporary organizations that must be eventually be brought together in the same space. Klein continually points out that splitting off bad pieces of reality necessarily commits aggressions against the self that produces that reality, which must also become bad in the same moment and therefore become mired in persecution, guilt, and retaliation.  [18]  Klein’s critique of splitting recalls Hegel’s description of the mirror reifications of empiricism and idealism:

Logic shows that the subjective which is to be subjective only, the finite which would be finite only, the infinite which would be infinite only, and so on, have no truth, but contradict themselves, and pass over into their opposites. Hence this transition, and the unity in which the extremes are merged and become factors, each with a merely reflected existence, reveals itself as their truth.
The understanding, which addresses itself to deal with the Idea, commits a double misunderstanding. It takes first the extremes of the Idea (be they expressed as they will, so long as they are in their unity), not as they are understood when stamped with this concrete unity, but as if they remained abstractions outside of it. It no less mistakes the relation between them, even when it has been expressly stated . . . . But, in the second place, the understanding believes its “reflection”—that the self-identical Idea contains its own negative, or contains contradiction—to be an external reflection which does not lie within the Idea itself. But the reflection is really no peculiar cleverness of the understanding. The idea itself is the dialectic which for ever divides and distinguishes the self-identical from the differentiated, the subjective from the objective, the finite from the infinite, soul from body. Only on these terms is it an eternal creation, eternal vitality, and eternal spirit. But while it thus passes or rather translates itself into the abstract understanding, it for ever remains reason. The Idea is the dialectic which again makes this mass of understanding and diversity understand its finite nature and the pseudo-independence in its productions, and which brings the diversity back to unity.
[Wenn der Verstand zeigt, daß die Idee sich selbst widerspreche, weil z. B. das Subjektive nur subjektiv und das Objektive demselben vielmehr entgegengesetzt, das Sein etwas ganz anderes als der Begriff sei und daher nicht aus demselben herausgeklaubt werden könne, ebenso das Endliche nur endlich und gerade das Gegenteil vom Unendlichen, also nicht mit demselben identisch sei, und so fort durch alle Bestimmungen hindurch, so zeigt vielmehr die Logik das Entgegengesetzte auf, daß nämlich das Subjektive, das nur subjektiv, das Endliche, das nur endlich, das Unendliche, das nur unendlich sein soll und so ferner, keine Wahrheit hat, sich widerspricht undin sein Gegenteil übergeht, womit dies Übergehen und die Einheit, in welcher die Extreme als aufgehobene, als ein Scheinen oder Momente sind, sich als ihre Wahrheit offenbart.
Der Verstand, welcher sich an die Idee macht, ist der doppelte Mißverstand, daß er erstlich die Extreme der Idee, sie mögen ausgedrückt werden, wie sie wollen, insofern sie in ihrer Einheit sind, noch in dem Sinne und der Bestimmung nimmt, insofern sie nicht in ihrer konkreten Einheit, sondern noch Abstraktionen außerhalb derselben sind. Nicht weniger verkennt er die Beziehung, selbst auch wenn sie schon ausdrücklich gesetzt ist; so übersieht er z. B. sogar die Natur der Kopula im Urteil, welche vom Einzelnen, dem Subjekte, aussagt, daß das Einzelne ebensosehr nicht Einzelnes, sondern Allgemeines ist. - Fürs andere hält der Verstand seine Reflexion, daß die mit sich identische Idee das Negative ihrer selbst, den Widerspruch, enthalte, für eine äußerliche Reflexion, die nicht in die Idee selbst falle. In der Tat ist dies aber nicht eine dem Verstande eigene Weisheit, sondern die Idee ist selbst die Dialektik, welche ewig das mit sich Identische von dem Differenten, das Subjektive von dem Objektiven, das Endliche von dem Unendlichen, die Seele von dem Leibe, ab- und unterscheidet und nur insofern ewige Schöpfung, ewige Lebendigkeit und ewiger Geist ist. Indem sie so selbst das Übergehen oder vielmehr das sich Übersetzen in den abstrakten Verstand ist, ist sie ebenso ewig Vernunft; sie ist die Dialektik, welche dieses Verständige, Verschiedene über seine endliche Natur und den falschen Schein der Selbständigkeit seiner Produktionen wieder verständigt und in die Einheit zurückführt.] (Logic: being Part One of the Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, §214; Enzyklopädie I §214)

13.        The understanding splits objects into polar features as though these features existed independently and “outside” their “unity” in the Idea, which involves “mistak[ing]” their relation “even when it has been expressly stated.” In this first maneuver the understanding strips features from objects and places them “outside” the space of their transformation into one another. Then, even when it does reflect on the co-existence of the contradictions, it believes that this reflection is its own “peculiar[ly] clever” contribution from a space “external” to the Idea and “not within”; that is, we become conscious that the objects include their contradictions, but as though from outside the space ourselves. The “truth” of objects and of the understanding is that of their “transition” within “the unity in which the extremes are merged and become factors.” We can take down the division that creates the outside of the Idea by staying with bad objects through our apprehension of their negativity; by bringing more out of ourselves and them, we see them in the space where they are only “factors,” and in which their transformation and that of the understanding are again possible. Distinction persists, but through a mobile division that continually creates new sub-spaces within an interior that has no exterior. Looked at another way, the project is to contain extremes that pose challenges to an interior that has and must have no exterior (and no external interior), as the repetition of “within” conveys (extremes are merged “in” the unity, the Idea “contains” its contradiction, etc.).

14.        Hegel’s expositions of what it means to bear something (particularly plentiful in the various revisions of the Encyclopedia) overwhelmingly associate ertragen with self-transformation, or to be more precise, with that kind of self-consistency that comes out of self-transformation, and hence with subjectivity itself. His explanations span a tension between the value of flexibility and a kind of residual mass, built up out of former transformations, which is not simply flexible and that allows one to afford flexibility. As I mentioned, Hegel phrases the building up of subjectivity through ertragen partly as a matter of constitution or “hardiness”; in Part II of the Encyclopedia, the Naturphilosophie, the basic equipment of an animal, by including the capacity for sensation, includes the potential to “tolerate itself as other [als Anderes ertragen]” so that it “can, with the hardiness [Härte] of individuality, assimilate it and venture into conflict with other individualities” (Philosophy of Nature / Enzyklopädie II §344). The capacity to bear self-difference builds up the “whole mass of adjustments forming the concrete consciousness” (Philosophy of Mind / Enzyklopädie III §408), and “a being which is capable of containing and enduring its own contradiction is a subject [Ein solches, das den Widerspruch seiner selbst in sich zu haben und zu ertragen fähig ist, ist das Subjekt]” (Philosophy of Nature / Encyclopedia II §359). The pairing “containing and enduring” returns to the idea that we may mistakenly place the contradictions we perceive in objects “outside” ourselves. To be able to contain them by attributing them to ourselves instead is to be able to bear them (and here enduring is bearing as carrying). While “a psychic shock produced by grief and pain” or equally, “sudden excessive joy,” runs the real risk of “the disruption of the organism, death, or insanity,” one who has built up inner resources “is much less exposed [ausgesetzt] than others to such effects [Einwirkungen],” and performs better than “the ‘natural’ man who is poor in imaginative and intellectual resources and so is unable to endure the negativity of a sudden violent attack of pain [die Negativität eines plötzlich hereinbrechenden gewaltigen Schmerzes zu ertragen]” (Philosophy of Mind / Encyclopedia III §401). “Naturally,” Hegel continues, and his point is noncontroversial enough, “those who through a life rich in activity and experience have developed a more independent human nature, are better able to endure [besser zu ertragen] the loss of a part [den Verlust eines Teiles] of what constitutes their world than those who have grown up in simple circumstances” (Philosophy of Mind / Encyclopedia III §402; my italics). This theory of the building up of subjectivity as the capacity for bearing transformation portrays a “hard,” yet complexly layered self up to the task of exposing itself to the agents of change, thus hinting that part of the self up for change (that part doing the exposing and weathering) will not actually be changed. The figure implied—not Hegel’s usual figure for transition, but one that’s apparently compatible with his discourse—is that of a substance weathering erosion. Erosion is a form of transformation, of course; the assimilation of negativity in the form of erosion would mean experiencing oneself as the agent of what would otherwise be “the loss of a part,” and thus feeling that you cannot be simply diminished if you are making cuts to yourself. A different metaphor for transformation wouldn’t require this attitude, rather suggesting that equal quantitites are being exchanged; but this one may be especially useful for dark times’ challenge of loss in transition.

15.        Throughout, the idea that there is no question for the healthy self of the impossibility of assimilating negativity depends on the idea that a negativity, or “lack,” “is a lack only in so far as the lack's overcoming is equally present in the same thing, and contradiction is, as such, immanent and explicitly present in that thing “[Mangel aber ist sie, insofern in einem ebenso das Darüberhinaussein vorhanden, der Widerspruch als solcher immanent und in ihm gesetzt ist]” (Philosophy of Nature / Encyclopedia II §359). So, things necessarily contain some of their opposite because they exist within the space of unity, and that space matters to us because it is our space. By this logic, it is not possible to believe without error in a negativity that comes from an “outside,” since there is no outside of the mediating space  [19] :

Pain has therefore not reached mind from the outside as is supposed when it is asked in what manner pain entered into the world. Nor does evil, the negative of absolutely self-existent infinite mind, any more than pain, reach mind from the outside; on the contrary, evil is nothing else than mind which puts its separate individuality before all else. Therefore, even in this its extreme disunity, in this violent detachment of itself from the root of its intrinsically ethical nature, in this complete self-contradiction, mind yet remains identical with itself and therefore free . . . . Thus, for example, the idea of “house” is completely contradictory to my “I” and yet the latter endures it. But mind endures contradiction because it knows that it contains no determination that it has not posited itself, and consequently that it cannot in turn sublate.
[Der Schmerz ist daher nicht von außen an den Geist gekommen, wie man sich einbildete, wenn man die Frage aufwarf, auf welche Weise der Schmerz in die Welt gekommen sei. Ebensowenig wie der Schmerz kommt das Böse, das Negative des an und für sich seienden unendlichen Geistes, von außen an den Geist; es ist im Gegenteil nichts anderes als der sich auf die Spitze seiner Einzelheit stellende Geist. Selbst in dieser seiner höchsten Entzweiung, in diesem Sichlosreißen von der Wurzel seiner an sich seienden sittlichen Natur, in diesem vollsten Widerspruche mit sich selbst, bleibt daher der Geist doch mit sich identisch und daher frei . . . . Alles Bewußtsein enthält vielmehr eine Einheit und eine Getrenntheit, somit einen Widerspruch; so ist z. B. die Vorstellung des Hauses ein meinem Ich völlig Widersprechendes und dennoch von diesem Ertragenes. Der Widerspruch wird aber vom Geiste ertragen, weil dieser keine Bestimmung in sich hat, die er nicht als eine von ihm gesetzte und folglich als eine solche wüßte, die er auch wieder aufheben kann. (Philosophy of Mind / Encyclopedia III §382, trans. modified; my italics)]
Here, bearing negativity depends on containing it as self-contradiction: since the mind is able to bear self-contradiction because it knows it has posited the negativity, the way to make something bearable is to bring it into that position. The bearability of contradiction depends on the debatable assumptions that we find more bearable anything that emanates from ourselves, and that the action of one part of the self at the expense of another does not violate self-identity and therefore freedom. In my view, there are fatal logical and psychological problems with these argumentative moves. Once they have been established, however, Hegel can assume that anything that has once been posited can be sublated if we bear with it, living forward and painfully changing the self into one that can bear it better.

16.        Returning to Hegel’s correspondence with Niethammer, we can see this therapy for bearing change at work and in contrast to its alternative. While Hegel wishes to locate response to dark times in the capacity to stay with and transform them through self-transformation, Niethammer wants to maintain the consistency of his identity in a way that can be at odds with persisting. In November 1815—a few months after the Congress of Vienna, and again with regard to the ongoing controversies in educational administration—Niethammer writes to Hegel to “mobilize” him, he says. For “just as worms, frogs, and other vermin often follow the rain,” he writes, “so the Weillers  [20]  and their ilk follow the dark day now spreading over the entire civilized world” (Letter 254).  [21]  As in Hegel’s dream of apes, pigs, and Pippel the previous year, part of the panic is that Niethammer does not seem to be dealing with happenings that are easily classifiable as human. Nonhumanity is of course the usual insult to anything that seems unintelligible, and an inflammatory charge within a polemic; Niethammer’s rhetoric, however, serves to indicate that what has happened is already on the other side of a line for him. They are living with what “follow[s]” after the dark day, and this time is figured as a shift from a natural cycle (a day, a rain) to something totalized (a day that swallowed the world, a time that wouldn’t end).

17.        We might ask why Niethammer expects Hegel to feel “mobilize[d]” by a presentation of doom. But Niethammer perceives no contradiction, since for him, existential goals can energize the defense of probably lost causes, and he sees nothing wrong with fighting losing battles. He continues,

they have become so impudent as to declare teachers of philosophy and even mathematics to be not only dispensable but harmful in the gymnasiums . . . . But they must not be allowed to settle accounts with us in silence. And they must not mutilate our Protestant educational establishments on the model of the former schools for monks. Against this I want to defend myself to the last man—who I still hope to be. (Letter 254)
Niethammer takes a half-Kantian approach to the perceived loss of the human environment for effective action. He turns toward a realm of consciousness that is moral—ultimately autonomous if it comes to it—but also expressive; it’s important to know how you feel and let other people know it. They’ll do what they’ll do, but they will have to hear from you while doing it. The faint possibility remains that unexpectedly energetic resistance will prevent the worst of the outcomes worth “defend[ing] . . . to the last man,” but nothing of the self is staked on this chance, for in case of the expected failure it has its Kantianism in reserve. The thought of being the last man, “who I still hope to be,” sustains Niethammer’s activity. It seems to be more realistic to “hope” to be the last man—a strange hope, that assumes the cause is lost—than to succeed; in this way Niethammer is able to replace an unreachable goal with a reachable one that will give him existential satisfaction. The main impetus for resistance is the chance to display commitment to others and oneself.

18.        Hegel’s reply will take us to the heart of his psychic strategy:

The essential point is your belief that it will not get so bad we cannot bear it. Your view coincides pretty much with my own belief that we cannot hope for something good enough to merit any particular praise. This colorless, tasteless middle way, which allows nothing to get too bad and nothing too good, for once rules our world.
[Das Wesentliche ist Ihr Glauben, daß es nicht so arg werde, daß wir’s nicht könnten ertragen. Er kommt mit dem neinigen ziemlich zusammen, daß wir nichts so Gutes hoffen dürfen, das besonders zu loben wäre. Dies farb- und geschmacklose Mittelwesen, welches nichts so arg und nichts so gut werden läßt, regiert einmal unsere Welt.]
(Letter 255, November 23, 1814, trans. modified)
Now, Hegel’s colorlesssness does not really coincide with Niethammer’s “dark day,” and an intermediate state is exactly what Niethammer’s apocalyptic language rejects: Niethammer is saying that he isn’t bearing it. Just as we can ask why Hegel should find Niethammer’s appeal inspiring, we can ask why Niethammer should find Hegel’s reply helpful. For Niethammer, being unable to foresee anything good enough to praise is already “so bad we cannot bear it,” and as we’ve seen, he gets sustenance out of his inability to bear it. They actually agree only that their “world” is the realm at issue and that it is “rul[ed]” by the deactivation of “hope for something good enough.” The discrepancy is obvious enough that we should ask why Hegel wants to claim that his belief coincides with Niethammer’s. Why not write instead, “I don’t like it any more than you do, but . . .”?

19.        Hegel seems to be trying to present his disagreement with Niethammer as it might appear in the essential unity they must somehow share—a place of conciliation. He has already located something good, so that the badness isn’t “too bad”; the key point is that he subtly divides goodness that’s good enough to praise from another goodness that merits no praise but is still there, functioning as a backstop. As with this backup goodness, there is something protective in Hegel’s idea that the “middle way” “allows nothing to get too bad and nothing too good [welches nichts so arg und nichts so gut werden läßt]”: this is what I meant in saying that the project is to contain extremes that might threaten, from inside or from outside, the inside that is supposed to have no radical outside or inside. Containing the extremes prophylactically so that it isn’t possible for anything to get too bad or good is not the same as trusting the whole to right itself through unconstrained experience—a kind of psychic free market. To rule the world in this manner, it seems, is also to protect certain parts of the world whose precarious existence is being held out of play. I will come back momentarily to the question of which world Hegel is protecting.

20.        Further, the universal space of mediation is conflated, here, with the recent disappearance of color and taste from the times: it’s actually impossible to tell which one Hegel is talking about when he describes the “middle way” that “rules our world.” That “our” world is “for once” ruled by colorlessness and tastelessness seems to make it a historical matter; but Hegel’s is the philosophy in which another middle, the middle of transition, always rules the world, and truth is the colorlessness and tastelessness that allows colors and tastes to be translated into one another. Insofar as what Hegel means by “middle way” has already passed through the mediation that merges extremes, or even simply refers to that reflection, there can be no further disagreement, because by disagreeing with Hegel, Niethammer would be disagreeing with the truth of things itself: with reality, in Hegel’s theory of reality. As Hegel presents the debate with Niethammer as though from its end, his prose presents the grayness of the times as inseparable from the standpoint of his own assimilation of it: it seems at the same time to be a challenging external negativity and a phenomenon internal to Hegel’s psychic work. As such, it gives us a glimpse of the therapeutic power of Hegel’s thinking. Hegel returns Niethammer’s utterance to him rinsed of its moralized drama: this thought experiment evokes a world in balance, in which everyone realizes that nothing is ontologically too bad or good and can negotiate differences with feeling, but without hysteria, as Klein too fleetingly envisions.

21.        For Hegel, the ability to translate differences corresponds to the state’s redistribution of the energies of individuals from the perspective of its own universality. In the exchange with Niethammer, he tries to do this as though on behalf of universality. As Marcuse points out, the limit of transformability is that “the resulting relation between the individuals on the one hand and the state on the other cannot be the same as that between individuals” (174). Something like this limitation appears in comical miniature in the letters, where Hegel identifies his own position—acceptance of the sidelessness, so to speak, of their situation—with the sidelessness of reality itself for all, and describes it from the point of view of the place where their positions would already have met. Representing universality, Hegel pulls Niethammer after him into the colorless “middle way” where their agreement is “pretty much” enforced despite their actual continued disagreement (which he possibly is really unable to grasp). Ideally, the mind bears reality without reserve and triumphs to the extent that it dares to expose itself to self-transformation; we see this principle working normatively in Hegel’s personal responses to what otherwise threatens disaster. As we’ve seen, Hegel defines disaster as being unable to shake one’s presentation of a situation as unbearable. What bearing reality means is deconstructible, however, because it’s unclear whether Hegel can bear to bear these presentations without techniques that regulate his exposure.

22.        Hegel’s desire to experience his own losses as their agent, then, means to ride transition, maximizing the potential to live anywhere and anyhow in the subject’s infinity. To others, it has seemed to reflect the treachery of the times by articulating the philosophy of an emergent society of adaptive liberal conformity. Hegel’s letter of July 5, 1816, for example, seems a bit suspect to Niethammer in its explanation of how to get through the phenomena of postwar reaction. Hegel depicts world spirit as a “colossus” striding over the world, unable to be halted by human doings:

I adhere to the view that the world spirit has given the world marching orders . . . . no lingering lies or make-believe strokes in the air can achieve anything against it. They can perhaps reach the shoelaces of this colossus, and smear on a bit of boot wax or mud, but they cannot untie the laces. Much less can they remove these shoes of Gods—which according to [Johann Heinrich] Voss’s Mythological Letters, among other sources, have elastic soles or are even themselves seven-league boots—once the colossus pulls them on. Surely the safest thing to do (both externally and internally) is to keep one’s eye fixed on the advancing giant. To edify the entire bustling and eager assemblage, one can even stand there and help smear on the shoe wax that is supposed to bring the giant to a standstill. For one’s own amusement, one can even lend a hand to the enterprise that is being taken so seriously.
[Ich halte mich daran, dass Weltgeist der Zeit das Kommandowort zu avancieren gegeben. . . . Alles verweilerische Geflunkere und weisemacherische Luftstreicherei hilft nichts dagegen. Es kann diesem Kolossen etwa bis an die Schuhriemen reichen und en bißchen Schuhwichse oder Kot daran schmieren, aber vermag dieselben nicht zu lösen, viel weniger die Götterschuhe mit den—nach Voß, s. mythologische Briefe und and.—elastischen Schwungsohlen oder gar die Siebenmeilenstiefel, wenn er diese anlegt, auszuziehen.
Die sicherste (nämlich innerlich und äußerlich) Partie ist wohl, den Avanceriesen fest im Auge zu behalten; so kann man sogar hinstehen und zur Erbauung gesamter vielgeschäftigter und eifriger Kumpanschaft selbst Schuhpech, das den Riesen festhalten soll, mit anschmieren helfen und zur eigenen Gemütsergötzlichkeit dem ernsthaften Getreibe Vorschub leisten. (Letter 271; trans. modified)]
Hegel repeats some of the material from his 1814 dream: frantic, empty “bustling” in the foreground, a now visible world spirit “advancing,” and a liminal figure standing in Hegel’s apparently less elastic shoes. Hegel wants the vignette to illustrate that awareness of the deep forces that ground the apparent absurdity of the situation—forces kept in mind by the protagonist’s fixed, distant focus—can be played off against the “eager assemblage” in the foreground that would otherwise cause distress. Calibrations of spatial and temporal scale, mental reserve and physical action, map the scene so that it seems manageable and, this time, even enjoyable. (We can see in retrospect that the pigs and apes dream is enjoyable, too.)

23.        There is a tension between Hegel’s claim that he keeps his eye on giant forces to keep his mind off the senseless reaction, and the possibility that what seems to be the accidental outcome of the scenario is actually its goal: that conjuring the giant figure, and casting Restoration politics as a non-event in comparison, allows Hegel to continue working in this society. Even though his attention to its work is divided and limited, his participation in the social enterprise to which he objects acknowledges it in a way that Niethammer isn’t up to (as Niethammer’s outrage is something Hegel isn’t up to). The causal arrow is two-way: Hegel’s identification with transition not only enables, but is formed by actual contact with the negative, unlike Niethammer’s indignation, which prevents him from making full contact with it. Niethammer fantasizes purity; he will be the last man polluted by vermin. Hegel has participated in “the enterprise that is being taken so seriously,” and demonstrates how to do so. He can stay close, even touch with his hands the active unfreedom that is at least as dangerous as the advancing giant—unlike the beautiful soul who “flees from contact with the actual world [flieht es die Berührung der Wirklichkeit]” (Phenomenology of Spirit / Phänomenologie des Geistes §685). Participation, even of this divided kind, has its benefits: remaining on the scene, seeing what people are doing, knowing you are able to do it if you want; also being “safe . . . externally and internally,” being amused, and in a certain way remaining incognito.  [22] 

24.        Marcuse argues that Hegel’s underlying concern is perpetuating bourgeois civil society, i.e., preserving his quotidian world: “for Hegel, differences in political form between nations did not matter so long as the underlying identity of social and economic relations was uniformly maintained as that of middle-class society” (184). He believes that Hegel’s subordination of civil society to the state is actually undertaken in the name of civil society; civil society does not know how to preserve itself, but the fact that it is worth preserving justifies the state: “state sovereignty was a necessary instrument for preserving middle-class society . . . . the change of form is supposed to save the threatened content” (185-186). That all the conflicts of civil society do not form a kind of subjectivity in itself, suggests that disequilibrium from within threatens the inside that knows no outside, necessitating another, supplementary outside, the state-envelope, to contain the disruption. In this light, being unable to bear the absence of anything good enough to praise would be an example of a disturbance that could destroy equilibrium and would mean being willing to let go of society as we know it: for—and this is the point to which I promised to return—middle-class society “as is” is the other good world that is good although no further good is coming, the good world that is good without being praiseworthy. We might also say: the world that is beyond goodness, being less optional and changeable than good. As readers, we can glimpse this stability when Hegel comments to Niethammer that the principle of nothing too good or bad rules “our world,” as though in reference to a world preceding the events that happen within or around it, including even the appearance of the rule of the middling that permeates it. By pursuing Hegel’s attachment to society, Marcuse thus makes sense of his renunciation of theory in The Philosophy of Right: by then “the modern state is the reality” of reason, so “any further application of theory to politics would make theory Utopian” (194). In the vocabulary of the preservation of the (unpraisable) good inside from disruption, further applications of theory would depart from the potentialities that exist within the world “as is” and bring out more of what it is, and pass on to potentialities that don’t exist and can only destroy. In nonpejorative language, these would be utopian potentialities that exist only outside or inside the existing world in a way that does destroy identity, and whose realization would make it something altogether different.


25.        In the Hegel-Niethammer letters it becomes difficult to tell health from defense; Hegel’s therapy of self-transformation can seem pathologically healthy. In one of the most privileged documents of his interpretation of the restoration, Hegel’s reaction to the “tragic” and “frightful spectacle” is to claim that the future of the German nation was what he was always describing in The Phenomenology of Spirit:

Great events have transpired about us. It is a frightful spectacle to see a great genius destroy himself. There is nothing more tragic [in Greek]. The entire mass of mediocrity, with its irresistible leaden weight of gravity, presses on like lead, to the same level as itself or even below. The turning point of the whole, the reason why this mass has power and—like the chorus—survives and remains on top, is that the great individual must himself give that mass the right to do what it does, thus precipitating his own fall.
I may pride myself, moreover, on having predicted this entire upheaval. In my book, which I completed the night before the battle of Jena, I said on page 547: “Absolute freedom—which I had previously described as a purely abstract formal freedom of the French Republic, originating, as I showed, in the Enlightenment—passes out of its own self-destructive actuality over into another land—I had in mind here a specific land—of self-conscious spirit, in which, in this inactual form, it passes for truth itself, and in which it takes refreshment in the thought of this spirit, inasmuch as such spirit is and remains thought and knows this being contained in self-consciousness to be the perfect and complete essence. The new form of moral spirit is at hand.”
From the streams of blessings necessarily flowing from these great events, just as showers must follow lightning, that brown rivulet of coffee already flows from the pot for the likes of us, and indeed does so with more taste and perk than ever. For we have now been liberated from substitute drink, and from our supplementary income as Councillors we can now procure real Java coffee.
[Es sind große Dinge um uns geschehen. Es ist ein ungeheueres Schauspiel, ein enormes Genie sich selbst zerstören zu sehen. –Das ist das τραγιχωτατον, das es gibt. Die ganze Masse des Mittelmäßigen mit seiner absoluten bleiernen Schwerkraft drückt ohne Rast und Versöhnung so lang bleiern fort, bis es das Höhere herunter, auf gleichem Niveau oder unter sich hat. Der Wendepunkt des Ganzen, der Grund, daß diese Masse Gewalt hat und als der Chor übrig und obenauf bleibt, ist, daß die große Individualität selbst das Recht dazu geben muß und somit sich selbst zugrunde richet.
Die ganze Umwälzung habe ich übrigens, wie ich mich rühmen will, vorausgesagt. In meinem Wekre (in der Nacht vor der Schlacht von Jena vollendet) sage ich p. 547: “Die absolute Freiheit (sie ist vorher geschildert; es ist [die] rein abstrakte, formelle der französischen Republik, aus der Aufklärung, wie ich zeigte, hervorgegangen) geht aus ihrer sich selbst zerstörenden Wirklichkeit in ein anderes Land (ich hatte dabei ein Land im Sinne) des selbstbewußten Geistes über, worin sie in dieser Unwirklichkeit als das Wahre gilt, an dessen Gedanken er sich labt, insofern er Gedanke ist und bleibt und dieses in das Selbstbewußtsein eingeschlossene Sein als das vollkommene und vollständige Wesen weiß. Es ist die neue Gestalt des moralischen Geistes vorhanden.”
Von den Segensströmen, die jenen großen Begebenheiten wie die Regenschauer dem Blitze folgen müssen, fließt für unsereins denn doch bereits das braune Bächlein des Kaffees schmackhafter and geistreicher aus der Kanne, da wir es Surrogatsaufens enthoben und aus dem Referatsbezug doch nun einen ordentlichen Java anschaffen können.] (Letter 233, April 29, 1814)
In his Lectures on World History (1822) Hegel develops the idea he sketches here of the restless movement of freedom. Famously, Hegel explains that freedom is expanded and finally exploded by its realization; therefore, it cannot be stopped and must transform. In the present instance, the “self-destructive actuality” of the French Republic “passes out [geht aus]” and then “passes for truth [als das Wahre gilt]” in a new moral and inactual form.  [23]  This argument for the momentum of the Napoleonic years supports two of the three paragraphs here before coming up short against the anticlimax of the third: it can’t begin to explain why Hegel writes so ironically of “streams of blessings” from the tragic events comparable to the ability of middle-class educators to buy coffee. Absolute freedom’s “refreshment” in the thought of the spirit trickles down into the “brown rivulet of coffee [that] already flows from the pot for the likes of us . . . with more taste and perk than ever.” Hegel had been complaining for years about the economic and intellectual straits for people like them, how impoverished in “taste and perk” the offerings were—in fact, “colorless, tasteless” as of November 1814, let’s recall. It isn’t saying much for Hegel to claim that moral spirit will be perkier than what he’s been drinking.  [24] 

26.        April 29 seems soon after the end of an era to compare the great things flowing from its cataclysm to decent coffee: from what state of mind can this be written? The nearly unreadable tone of such a passage gets to be recognized as Hegel’s signature, “Hegelian irony,” almost in the way that film connoisseurs speak of “the Lubitsch touch,” and that in spite of Hegel’s published disapprovals of irony. Hegel’s disapproval makes sense in the terms of his own system, since as he writes, irony gets in the way of the exposure to committed relation, and so to self-transformation, which alone can bring spiritual growth as he defines it (Aesthetics 66). Nonetheless, Hegel’s letters are saturated in irony; not a single word escapes. In fact the irony Hegel distances himself from and the one he practices are supposed to be distinct: the irony that shields a certain kind of skeptic and/or romantic from reality, on one hand, and on the other the impersonal “cunning of reason” that is visible after a reality, no longer evadable, has been borne, and thus appears smaller against the perspective of world spirit. In his prose, irony is the scar of having made contact with reality, and as such it confirms the mutual translatability of restoration and reformation. The two ironies threaten to merge, however, as soon as realist calculation decides ahead of the game what the outcome must be and therefore which hard reality must be assimilated. In this case, Hegel speaks from the perspective of the aftermath clearly enough even when the “tragic” event is less than three weeks past. Marcuse takes Hegel’s letter of April 10, 1814 (Letter 229) to show that even after the Allied forces took Paris he was not ready to concede the war; but the coffee joke implies that he must also have been preparing to concede it for some time.

27.        Defense or healing? Prevention of injury, or ready self-transformation? Above we see prophylaxis in Hegel’s implication that, actualization being “self-destructive,” Germans should keep the coffee perking but sip it only in thought. Comay catches the tenor of this move beautifully when she points out that Hegel’s figures for freedom in the Lectures are “confused between a fruit and a torch.” In Hegel’s fear of consuming the objects of desire and of being consumed by their radiance, theories of trauma would read the displaced memory of an injury that has already occurred. I have suggested that Hegel’s good inside that has no radical outside (or, finally, radically inner inside) is protected against too sudden disruption by a procedure that knows how to preclude the too good and the too bad. But for Hegel, there is as usual no final contradiction between the options of pathology and health.

28.        As Comay makes clear, in the traumatic structure the revolution is both too early and too late. The healthy self in Hegel is the one that has encountered reality in all its unwelcome violence, has traded part of itself in for new parts now required, and as a result of its transformation can administer experience so that it will not be too bad or good, meaning that future transformations will always be possible in order to salvage the minimally good world as it is (at each time). The world will never be too bad or good because, as indicated by the record of exposure and transformation that builds up the self, there is an “infinite” potential for subjectivity to overcome any of its own unwelcome presentations by changing again and again. Freud brushes against this scenario in Analysis Terminable and Interminable when he asks whether it could be possible for a self to develop “immunity” to future disorders: as though “as though it were possible by means of analysis to attain to a level of absolute psychical normality.”  [25]  While Freud imagines that such normality would mean that it was as though “the analyst ha[d] had such a far-reaching influence on the patient that no further change could be expected to take place in him if his analysis were continued” (Freud 219), Hegel follows the complementary possibility that it would consist in an inexhaustible stream of changes, each rising to the challenge of a different self-presented negativity; but this would be possible for the same reason that Freud imagines, that one “had succeeded in resolving every one of the patient’s repressions and in filling in all the gaps in his memory” (Freud 220)—liberating all of what Hegel would call the mind’s subjective resources. The ability to process events in real time without remainder would be pathological healthiness and healthy pathology, and Hegel seems close to that.

29.        Blackbourn and Eley argue that the hypothesis of a “failed bourgeois revolution” promoted a myth of German exceptionalism, valued positively in the idealist proposal that Germany had had something better than a revolution and negatively in theses of German pathology. For Blackbourn and Eley, German exceptionalism underwrites the assumption of “liberalism as the natural property of a ‘rising’ bourgeoisie” (The Peculiarities of German History 58). The mistake is “compounded,” Eley adds, “by the still riskier equation of ‘liberalism’ and ‘democracy’” (80).  [26]  Blackbourn and Eley hypothesize instead a nineteenth-century Germany in which the foreclosure of democracy is a desired feature of a “new social order” (145), straightforwardly in the interests of many involved in its creation. In this scheme, the German bourgeoisie didn’t want more rights as much as they wanted others not to have them. By dispensing with exceptionalism, Blackbourn and Eley show what it’s like to perceive the foreclosure of democracy from the point of view of a rationalized society that does not see anything absent. Kant reflects on nature “as the poets see it,” that is, just as sensuous shapes. What is frightening about Blackbourn and Eley’s vision of society “as the bourgeois see it” is that it is free of defense—just a shifting of factors. (Hegel: “the extremes are merged and become factors” [Logic, Being Part One of the Encyclopedia §214]). This kind of freedom constitutes that liberality that can be found within the police state. Suggesting that the foreclosure of democracy is grounded in defense—in Germans, bourgeois populations, or whomever—is a little like hypothesizing German exceptionalism; perhaps, instead, these groups don’t get so far as to have a need for defense. To grasp this, in turn, is to remove many of the pejorative connotations of “defense.”

30.        A subtext of my argument has been that the vocabulary for political activity seems especially inadequate before Marx and before German unification. In 1816, the date of the latest of the letters I’ve considered here, radicals had at their disposal neither a full-blown theory of class, nor a unified German state to affirm or oppose; from a standpoint located after those things, it could seem that they were flying blind, and simply didn’t know yet what they were looking at and therefore what to do. Yet restoration radicals’ disorientation can also seem more revealing, more self-aware, than the nation-based political theory that supplanted it. It has more to say to us than we have to say back to it, especially since, in a complementary way, the vocabulary of the liberal nation-state has come to seem particularly inadequate after globalization. Yet we still speak of “failed” postcolonial and post-Soviet states and of the “failure” of many people to be interested in democracy—of their strange inability to get its point fully, as though democracy was something otherwise readily available, that people want and want other people to have. Instead of encouraging such speech, literature of the early Vormärz discloses a world in which a template for the development of democracy no sooner becomes thinkable than it disappears.

31.        Their glimpse of the way their contemporaries see panics some post-Waterloo radicals; Hegel is different, unpanicked, to the extent that he is confident about assimilating and still having an identical self left to assimilate with. At stake in the phenomenology he practices is his ability to absorb and interact with what he sees even as it poisons him to blindness. Together, Hegel’s and Niethammer’s interlocking strategies describe a double bind: the one who can’t bear to dwell in the new reality will be unlikely to understand it, but the one who can bear it has already been changed by the very bearing of it into a participant who may no longer perceive its disadvantages. Hegel confides that focusing on the work of spirit allows him to feel “satisfaction” and “Schadenfreude” under political pressure, and he recommends it as a therapy for the times (Letter 272). Working on the basis of exactly the same perceptions, romanticism, as Hegel knows, perceives how appealing it may be not to withstand a transition, even if it means feeling the full impact of political catastrophe.  [27]  One aspect of this impact, I’ve suggested, is having to give up on the idea of the minimal goodness of the social world. An impasse between “positive” and “negative” politics persists to the present day. Exploring the disorientating indistinction of this time, we can see that the impasse constructed by romantics is not the disaster, but a response to the disaster—a way to begin organizing an otherwise undifferentiated space in which actively undergoing transition provides the only acknowledged value. Correlatively, the romantic conclusion that the capacity to bear what goes by the name of “Waterloo” is a health worse than death is not based on finding Hegel’s system, or European politics, closed as opposed to breathtakingly open. It is based on the perception of a world in which the closed and the open are becoming impossible to tell apart.

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Comay, Rebecca. Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution. Stanford: Stanford UP, 2010. Print.

Derrida, Jacques. Glas. Trans. John P Leavey Jr. Lincoln: U of Nebraska P, 1986. Print.

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[1] See Comay (Mourning Sickness), Pahl, Kristeva, and May. I highlight these texts because they exemplify Hegel’s relevance for psychoanalysis and contemporary theory as well as show the psychological import of his work in its own terms. BACK

[2] Sämmtliche Werke, vols. 13-14 (423). BACK

[3] The major works that correspond to the period are the overlapping Science of Logic and Encyclopedia in their various forms. An extension of the principles of the Phenomenology to human sciences conceived along disciplinary lines, the Science of Logic plausibly contributed to Hegel’s securing his first professorship at Heidelberg in 1816. Thomas Pfau observes the “palpably bureaucratic” prose and structure of the work: “the interiority of the Hegelian subject must submit to an intricate disciplinary scheme, here set forth in a bureaucratic prose that assigns each psychological state its own category, epistemological rank and relative authority” (257). The gridlike structure of the Science of Logic also renders Hegel’s philosophy more repeatable and teachable. The system is then condensed and repeated in the Encyclopedia. BACK

[4] Mieszkowski shows how Derrida offers a “vantage point from which to assess the limits of any project that would base its critical authority on its own self-reflexivity”; Derrida “reveal[s] language to be a dynamic whose finite resources are not unfailingly devoted to its own self-determination” (¶ 42). BACK

[5] By “democracy,” I mean not only franchise and constitutional rights, but all opening of institutions and societies to the public at large. BACK

[6] See Chandler (432) and Roe (60), respectively. James Sheehan points out that even Metternich describes the period as unsatisfying: “Metternich, the man who presided over and seemed to personify the age of restoration, lamented that he had been born ‘too early or too late.’ Earlier he might simply have enjoyed life, later he could have helped build a new society, but ‘today I must devote myself to propping up rotten buildings.’ A few months later he wrote, ‘My most secret thought is that old Europe is at the beginning of the end. . . . between end and beginning there will be chaos’” (392). BACK

[7] See Comay ("Dead Right" 295-375, 377). For a classic and thoughtful version of the “too early” thesis, see Beck (51-61). BACK

[8] There is an element of this negativity in the term “postwar” in general. BACK

[9] See Blackbourn (100). BACK

[10] Gustav von Struve, motion in the German Pre-Parliament, March 31, 1848, in Huber (332-334). BACK

[11] See, e.g., Jarausch. Eley’s critical tenor is sometimes missing from the writing of Blackbourn alone. When Eley entertains the notion of a German “revolution from above,” it matters that it isn’t a democratic revolution. Blackbourn, in contrast, can sound more equanimious about a society in which regulation appears as a value just as ethical as that of social justice. My point is not to dictate to German people of the past what would have been good for them, but to try to read the self-described disorientation of dissidents at the time. BACK

[12] See Pinkard (268). Hegel’s school was threatened with closure in 1810 as part of a wave of cost-cutting measures (Pinkard 291-292), but it survived and he continued to work there until he received an offer from the university at Heidelberg in 1816 (Pinkard 330-331). BACK

[13] Napoleon acknowledged the need to take personal charge of the military campaign and left Paris on January 25. BACK

[14] The other main topic is Hegel’s desire to move on to a university post, and his indefatigible networking to this end. BACK

[15] The older Hegel, anyway. Adorno cites the account of H.G. Hotho, who attended Hegel’s Berlin lectures: “Exhausted, morose, he sat there as if collapsed into himself, his head bent down, and while speaking kept turning pages and searching in his long folio notebooks, forward and backward, high and low.” Hotho recalls Hegel’s seeming need to present every thought processively. “Hegel’s writings are more like films of thought than texts,” Adorno muses (“Skoteinos, or How to Read Hegel” 121). Nicholsen adds that for Adorno, Hegel’s language “murmurs and rustles in mimesis of the nonidentical” (xxxi). BACK

[16] At the same time, by The Philosophy of Right (1820) the law that matters is any rational law that already exists. BACK

[17] See Klein, Love, Guilt, and Reparation and Other Works, 1921–1945 and Envy and Gratitude and Other Works, 1946-1963. BACK

[18] Criticism of Klein’s seeming literalism registers the fact that she always writes as though from the perspective of the analysand, as though good and bad objects were real; it misses the fact that she does this in order to convey that for human beings there is nothing more real, indeed nothing other, than the good and bad objects that appear at the time and in memory. Klein’s writing is not a celebration of self-consciousness, but a demonstration of how embeddedness makes its own world out of itself. She is the patient companion of unglamorous types of consciousness. BACK

[19] Hegel is reacting here, of course, to Kant’s idea that we must think that there is something outside representation even though we can’t know what it is. BACK

[20] Katejan von Weiller, a Catholic theologian, had co-written a polemic against Hegel and Schelling. See von Weiller and Salat. BACK

[21] Ernst Bloch quotes this passage to convey how “everything obsolete drifted back into place” in his own generation: “So those who have apparently been restored reenact what the reaction of a century ago auditioned, as Hegel’s friend Niethammer already lamented . . . . They re-enact that Restoration’s recuperation” (The Spirit of Utopia 235). Bloch’s assumption that his generation reenacts a restoration that was already a reaction renders explicit his belief that he belongs to the same era as Niethammer, which is still repeating its favorite plays. BACK

[22] In a followup, Hegel persisted in recommending the stabilizing benefits of “Schadenfreude,” and Niethammer finally responded with polite objection: “It is possible that the giant you describe advancing with his seven-league boots respects good intentions as little as bad, and that he is right to trample down the work of all equally as something miserable. In any case, it is only by the result that the individual can know whether he is marching with or against him. But since the giant merely strides on, leaving to the individual the task of making, pain or joy over the destiny of individuals is inseparable from hope in the pleroma. At least to me it cannot be a matter of indifference to lose the people with whom I had hoped to act in common [Es mag sein, daß der Riese, den Sie in seinen Siebenmeilenstiefeln einherschreitend schildern, die gute Absicht so wenig wie die schlechte achtet und daß er recht hat, der einen wie der andern Werk als Armseligkeit zu zertreten. Der Einzelne muß ohnehin erst vom Erfolg erfahren, ob er mitoder entgegenschreitet. Aber da der Riese nur schreitet und das Machen den Einzelnen überlaßt, so ist doch Schmerz oder Freude über das Schicksal der Einzelnen von dem Hoffen auf das [πληoωμα παντων] unzertrennlich, und mir kann weingstens nicht gleichgültig sein, gerade die zu verlieren, mit denen ich gemeinsam zu wirken hoffte]” (Letter 288, August 21, 1816). BACK

[23] Žižek renders some particularly clear interpretations of Hegel’s style of dialectical reversal. See "The Most Sublime of Hysterics: Hegel with Lacan." BACK

[24] A similar example: “For the time being, however, some gingerbread from Nuremberg, having remained faithfully the same through all revolutions, is enclosed. I know I may compare it in this regard with the constancy of your friendship” (Letter 225, December 23, 1813). BACK

[25] Freud, "Analysis Terminable and Interminable" 216-254, 220, 219-220. For Freud too, absolute normality would not mean having no feelings, but rather always knowing how to manage one’s feelings short of disaster. I’ve argued elsewhere that this normative armature of the infinitely resourceful spirit just is the myth of the “subject” (Terada). BACK

[26] In practice, Eley tends to continue using “liberal” and “democratic” interchangeably: e.g., “On one hand, there is the question of the conditions under which a bourgeois capitalist society could successfully reproduce itself, or to put it another way, the legal, political, and ideological conditions of existence for a successful German capitalism. Then on the other hand, there is the question of how a more liberal political system might have been achieved. These are not the same question” (Peculiarities 148). When “more liberal” is paired with “political” in the text, it effectively means “more democratic,” because Eley uses a tight definition of “democracy” (in which universal franchise is the main element). I understand the philosophical advantages of a narrow definition, but do not want to use that paradigm because I want to allow for the possibility that even liberal political systems are not necessarily democratic. BACK

[27] The very canonical narrative of the hostility between Hegel and romanticism is taken up on one side by Carl Schmitt (see Political Romanticism) and on the other by Georges Bataille (see "Letter to X, Lecturer on Hegel . . ." ). BACK


Published @ RC

January 2012