Models for System in Idealist Encyclopedics: The Circle, The Line, and the Body

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The Eighteenth Century has been called the “age of the encyclopedia,” but the understanding of that word is very different in the encyclopedias of Chambers and Diderot on the one hand, and on the other hand the German Idealist tradition variously exemplified by Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Schelling’s On University Studies, and Novalis’ Romantic Encyclopedia. In Kant’s terms, the first provides an aggregate of knowledge, whereas the second attempts a system that entails an architectonic. Focusing on Hegel’s desire to unify all the sciences through the meta-discipline of philosophy, this paper explores the increasing complication of his architectonic by the very figures he uses to safeguard it: namely the circle, the line, and the body. Tracing the supplementary relationship between the first and the second, I argue that the body with its multiple subsystems brings to a head the collapse of the “smooth” system Hegel intended into a “tangled’” system: a productive collapse, because instead of being a forced unification of knowledge, the encyclopedia becomes a thought-environment for transferences between disciplines and potentially the emergence of new disciplines. Or, in effect, it becomes a form of “Theory” avant la lettre.

Models for System in Idealist Encyclopedics: The Circle, The Line, and the Body

Tilottama Rajan
The University of Western Ontario; Canada Research Chair and Distinguished University Professor


Encylopedias and Encyclopedics

1.         In encyclopedias that proliferated in the eighteenth century, the body, map and tree are frequent schemas for system. These figures project what Deleuze and Guattari call a striated space with clear coordinates (361-2) that can be compared to Kant’s equation of system with “architectonic,” which Kant naturalizes through the body that assigns parts their functions and subordinates them to a whole (Reason 691). Yet what if the body is not an anatomical body, but is composed of multiple systems that work on different levels and in different registers: circulatory, digestive, nervous etc.? This paper reflects on the different conceptualizations of system generated by different analogues for organization, and the different models of intellectual formation produced by such systems. For my purposes encyclopedias that gather up all the pieces of information spawned by an expanding print culture can be distinguished from the “encyclopedics” developed by German Idealist and Romantic philosophers, such as Hegel, Schelling, Friedrich Schlegel and Novalis. The material entities we call encyclopedias are multiply authored resources for information retrieval that were increasingly arranged in alphabetic form and intended for multiple readers. But the more metaphorical encyclopedias such as Hegel’s Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences (1817-32) or Novalis’ Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia (1798) are singly authored projects that go back to the root meaning of the term enkyklos paedeia, meaning a circle of learning that aims, not just at information, but at knowledge to be taken in by a single reader. But “metaphorical” is a misnomer, since it was only with Chambers and Diderot that the term encyclopedia even came to mean a work of reference rather than a general system of education (McArthur 103). Implicit in what I am calling encyclopedics, then, to distinguish it from this modern use of the word encyclopedia, is a program of learning or Bildung that occurs through a “cycle” of the sciences, or, as I shall argue, the problematizing of such a program.

2.         This difference occurs across what Derrida calls “philosophical continents”: French and British vs. German (“Sendoffs” 243). Though there is a spectral dialogue between them, Hegel marks this division when he distinguishes his “philosophical encyclopedia” from “ordinary encyclopedias,” which are an “assemblage of sciences” that are often only “bits of information” (Encyclopedia 53). To elaborate, by the eighteenth century encyclopedias were mostly alphabetic, crossing lines with dictionaries. Yet from Chambers’ Cyclopedia onwards (1728), they evinced anxieties about the empiricism of the alphabet. Thus Chambers expresses almost the same concerns as Hegel, when he speaks of the need to dispose “a Variety of Materials” so as “not to make a confused Heap of incongruous Parts, but one consistent Whole.” This, he says, he attains “by considering the several Matters” both “as so many Wholes, and as so many Parts of some greater Whole” linked by a “Reference.” But in a version of what would be later known as the hermeneutic circle, where the parts can only be known through the whole and vice versa, he also discusses the advantages of a dictionary within a system, namely that the former keeps one apprised of the “Pins and Joints,” the thousand things we might ignore, which is the only way “the Whole Circle or Body of Knowledge can be deliver’d” (i-ii).

3.         These material encyclopedias, in other words, tried to be both empirical and systematic. Indeed “system” is the battle-cry of the Encyclopedia Britannica (EB). To be sure, the EB seems to converge with Hegel’s emphasis on disciplines, on gathering up all the “philosophical sciences,” since its title page claims that it is conceived on “a Plan entirely New” in which the “Sciences and Arts are digested into Distinct Treatises or Systems,” with the aim of uniting all the “detached parts” into a “system.” But the very word system has undergone a sea-change. The major entries are not always on disciplines and are also often on what we might call “practices.” These entries are therefore systems in the sense Clifford Siskin uses the word when he describes 1798 as “the year of the system” (12). Though internally architectonic in Kant’s terms, they exhibit a micro-specialisation in which each discipline or practice has its own system, the placing of disciplines and practices on the same surface itself being an example of this micro-specialization.

4.         Material encyclopedias, in other words, are systematic in the sense of containing multiple modular systems rather than a total system of knowledge: a model that comes back to haunt Hegel and Schelling. Their logics of unification—such as an opening diagram of a tree with many branches, or in the case of Chambers, prefatory references to a land to be divided up into provinces, a body of knowledge, branches of knowledge, and the circle of knowledge (i, vii)– are strictly supplementary. For one thing, minor entries are cross-referenced only to the system to which they belong, and there is not that much cross-referencing among systems, or if there is, it is strictly indexical and not conceptual. And many minor entries also remain undigested into any larger system, so that in the end the signifier of totality is simply the material container of the book. Indeed, while there is a residual discourse of unity in Chambers, we could argue that by the time of the EB, systematicity has come to mean method rather than totality. Parts of knowledge are “digested” into systems or treatises: a dead metaphor that we will see operating more luridly in Hegel. But these “digests” are themselves parts. They are just more comprehensively gathered up than in the growing number of periodicals that also provided summaries of books, including foreign books, so as to establish a transnational public sphere of communication. [1] 

5.         In fact, more than Chambers and his early modern precursors such as Vincent of Beauvais, who still pay lip-service to the circle or course of knowledge, the EB stands on the cusp of a transition from encyclopedic knowledge to information, already confessing that there “is some inconvenience in ... perusing a whole system when we only want to consult a particular topic” (2 ed. iv). Or as Tom MacArthur puts it, certain kinds of data – existing in catalogues, directories, dictionaries etc.—are better off outside the brain: just as we do with things, so too we can put “mental objects in the equivalent of bags" and carry them around. (7). While information is nothing new, what we do see in material encyclopedias is a shift in sensibility wherein by our own time, the modular, informational model will extend to the whole of knowledge, the very re-purposing of the word encyclopedia being a symptom of this shift.

Smooth vs. Tangled Systems: the Principles of System in Kant, Hegel, Schelling, and Novalis

6.         It is in this environment that Hegel undertakes his “philosophical” as opposed to “ordinary” encyclopedia, [2]  and that Friedrich Schlegel says that the “encyclopedia of the French is totally a wrong tendency –whereas this project is native to Germany” (qd. Behler 284). Not that there were no ordinary encyclopedias in Germany, but the argument here is for an Idealist and/or Romantic rather than empiricist or technological encyclopedia like Diderot and d’Alembert’s Encyclopédie. Thus Hegel’s aim, and less systematically Schelling’s in his lectures on University Studies, is both to preserve the coherence of a circle or cycle of disciplines and to expand the provenance of philosophy beyond Kant’s politically cautious limitation of it to a lower faculty (Conflict 43-58). It is to bring “Idealism ... into all the sciences,” as Schelling puts it (World-Soul 94). With that in mind, while expanding the reach of philosophy to the life sciences, aesthetics etc., Hegel also strictly limits himself to “philosophical sciences,” participating in a tradition that goes back to Christian Wolff’s division of philosophical from historical or empirical knowledge, and forward to Husserl’s narrower distinction between “eidetic” and “factual” sciences ( Husserl, Ideas 62-4). Hegel does include sciences such as aesthetics “that exist for themselves outside of philosophy in general,” but have a “rational basis” which also allows them to be treated philosophically (Encyclopedia 53). But he excludes “pseudosciences” such as heraldry that are “thoroughly positive” (53): a dig at British encyclopedias that include this topic, in one case as a way of securing commercial patronage.

7.         Most of all Hegel is concerned to protect “philosophy” from the “English” confusion of it with “experimental physics” (or natural philosophy), so that “electrical machines ... pumps and the like are called philosophical instruments” (Encyclopedia 49)– a use of “philosophy” that we do indeed find in British scientific journals at the time. Reading all knowledge that matters through philosophy, Hegel’s system therefore strives to be a totality. This is to say that Hegel does not conceive his Encyclopedia as a multi-use resource but as an integrated system of knowledge, in which ‘system’ is tied up with the seriousness of knowledge and the education (“Bildung” [3] ) of self-consciousness as spirit, what Derrida calls an auto- and onto-encyclopedia of spirit (“Age of Hegel” 148). Hence the constant emphasis on system, in Hegel’s insistence that knowledge can only be “expounded as ... system” (Phenomenology 13-14), and in Schelling’s constant search for a system and his unworking of his various systems. Hence also Hegel’s narrativizing of system as something more than merely structural, when he divides his Encyclopedia into three parts that take the form of a journey or phenomenology of consciousness: “1) logic, the science of the idea in and for itself; 2) the philosophy of nature, as the science of the idea in its otherness; 3) the philosophy of spirit, the science of the idea as it returns to itself from its otherness” (54). But needless to say this travel outwards to the margins of philosophy, in Hegel’s increasingly complex and multicomponent system, will result in multiple infractions from these margins that threaten philosophy’s systematic self-concept.

8.         Underpinning Hegel’s conception of system according to a pars pro toto logic (Encylopedia 51) is Kant’s notion of architectonic, introduced as early as the lectures on Physical Geography, where it is connected to the idea of the encyclopedia. Here Kant writes that we “need to become acquainted with the objects of our experience as a whole,” so that our knowledge will form “not an aggregation but a system; for in a system the whole is prior to the parts, while in an aggregation the parts have priority” (446). In the first Critique Kant further develops this concept of “architectonic,” repeating his distinction between system/science and aggregates. System is not just method, but the “unity of the manifold cognitions under one idea,” within a whole in which “the position of the parts with respect to each other is determined a priori.” Kant’s image for this whole from which parts cannot be “contingent[ly]” added or subtracted is the body, a figure to which we will return (691). But suffice it to say that Kant’s notion of the body is essentially aesthetic, where aesthetics, in Baumgarten’s terms, is “ars pulchre cogitandi,” the art of thinking beautifully (#533). This is to say that Kant’s notion of system differs from Hegel’s in being purely spatial, diagrammatic. As such it is a “schema” (Reason 691), and in the schematic mode, as Schelling says, the universal has not been unified with the particular; the schema is only a “rule” governing production (Philosophy of Art 46-7). Kant’s spatial, synchronic conception of the body, and the fact that he operates within Baumgarten’s idea of “aesthetics as “the analogy of reason” and a supplement to logic, results in a smooth system, securely –even if only from a transcendental perspective– under the governance of philosophy. [4] 

9.         The terms smooth and tangled are Bruno Latour’s version of Ludwig von Bertalanffy’s closed vs. open systems, which I extend here to the architecture of knowledge. Objects that we understand smoothly have defined boundaries: we grasp them separately, and changes in them are accidents that do not affect their substance. Tangled objects are affected by neighbouring objects and unwork, destabilize and rework knowledge (Latour 20-3). While Kant’s work was not restricted to philosophy – he also lectured on anthropology and geography – he always begins by mapping the space of knowledge and delimiting the place of a field within it. Within a larger architectonic that Kant (unlike his successors) did not presume to construct, “the position of the parts” or individual disciplines “with respect to each other” is “determined a priori” by philosophy (Reason 691). More specifically, “every science [has] its determinate position in the encyclopedia of the sciences” and if “it is a philosophical science, then we must assign it its position in either its theoretical or its practical part” (Judgment 285). As Kant zooms in to a particular zone of the map, the smoothness of this distinction is maintained, and the margins of philosophy are given their a priori location. So for instance, in the lectures on Physical Geography, Kant first evokes the larger map, and divides knowledge into the rational and empirical. And he then divides the latter into knowledge of the internal or the soul and knowledge of the external, the second being subdivided into knowledge of man or the world and knowledge of nature. The former is anthropology and is pragmatic rather than speculative, and the latter is physical geography (445-6).

10.         Following this rational/empirical division, Kant is also careful to delimit philosophy and not to hybridize it, even though the reality of his circumstances was that he had to teach outside philosophy, which had not yet institutionally become a Fachwissenschaft (or special subject). Thus even in the pre-Critical phase, his lectures on the Encyclopedia which he gave ten times between 1767 and 1782, really deal only with the encyclopedia of philosophy, and unlike Hegel’s History of Philosophy, which entangles philosophy with its history, they do so from a purely transcendental perspective. [5]  Kant begins by distinguishing historical sciences, which are forms of learnedness, from rational sciences which are sciences of insight, and he then subdivides the latter into philosophy as a discursive science and mathematics as a science of construction. As an encyclopedia in the sense of a digest or “kurzer Auszug” of philosophy (Vorlesung 31-2), the lectures then sketch the principles of what would become Kant’s critical philosophy. In other words Kant’s sense of system, whether it is the total system of knowledge or the system of an individual part, is of a structure laid out in a “striated” or divisible space, and then partitioned according to an a priori logic. He therefore conceives the totality of knowledge as a smooth rather than tangled system, in which the parts may be thought through analogy but are always kept firmly separate and do not bleed into one another. For Kant there are no mixtures or “intersciences,” as Derrida calls them, and no new forms of thought that emerge in the interstices between existing fields. As he says quite definitely, “no science can belong to the transition” from one domain to the other “since that signifies only the articulation or organization of the system and not a place within it” (Judgment 285).

11.         In his early lectures on University Studies, Schelling also uses the figure of the body to think the system of knowledge synchronically, but with a crucial difference. Drawing on a Spinozist vocabulary of emanations from or modes of a single substance, Schelling describes how all knowledge, “flow[s] from a single centre”: “Those sciences which reflect primordial knowledge most directly ... are ... the sensorium of the organic body of knowledge. We must start from the central organs and trace the life that flows from them through various channels to the outermost parts” (42). But as mystical as this articulation of the body is, and as close as it remains to what Deleuze calls the “organism” as distinct from the decentralized “body without organs” (44-8), Schelling does not conceive the body architectonically as a striated space, but rather in terms of flows. We will return to this metaphor of “fluidity” in both Schelling and Hegel. Suffice it to say that Schelling conceives the space of knowledge as “smooth” in Deleuze and Guattari’s very particular sense of that term, which is virtually the opposite of Latour’s. Both usages valorize open over closed systems. But while Latour defines smooth objects as bounded and divided off, Deleuze and Guattari oppose an open space that they call “smooth” to a more conventional “striated” space, which is divisible, segmented and thus bounded (Thousand Plateaus 361-2). Schelling, we could say, wants to have both kinds of smoothness. He wants a system that is open and not inorganically divided up. And yet he also wants one that is smooth in the sense of being a totality, which is impossible, as is evident when he writes about the world of nature, whose tangled systems transferentially affect the way system itself is conceived.

12.         For purposes of this paper, I will not take up Schelling except as a dialogical gloss on Hegel. [6]  For even during the period that saw the publication of his most idealistic work, including On University Studies (1803) and The Philosophy of Art (1803/4), Schelling already recognized system as perspectival, constructing several systems: a System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), but on the other hand numerous systems of nature. Indeed the experimentalism of these systems can be seen in the fact that Schelling uses, almost interchangeably, the words “system,” “first outline [Entwurf]” “ideas for” and “introduction” to a philosophy of nature, which he may or may not be able to bring into identity with transcendental philosophy so as to create a system of the whole. This Naturphilosophie, in turn, is sometimes focalized through physics and chemistry, as in Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797/1803). But sometimes it is focused through the life sciences, with physics and chemistry being part of the life sciences rather than the hard sciences, as in First Outline for a System of the Philosophy of Nature (1799), which itself is nit one but several “systems.” Even from the beginning, then, and despite the smooth system he articulates in On University Studies, Schelling’s practice is always mobilized by what he calls “asystasy.” As he later says in “On the Nature of Philosophy as Science” (1821), “the idea of finding a system of human knowledge, or ... of contemplating human knowledge within a system, within a form of coexistence, presupposes, of course, that originally and of itself it does not exist in a system, hence that it is an ... [asystaton], ... something that is in inner conflict” (210).

13.         Leaving aside Schelling, then, I focus on Hegel, who wants to construct a comprehensive, complexly articulated architecture of knowledge rather than a “rhapsody” (Kant, Reason 691). According to Karl Rosenkranz, during the early Jena years when many of the elements of the encylopedia were introduced and when Schelling (or one side of him) was still committed to the Identity Philosophy, Schelling worked out the critical foundations of absolute philosophy in synchronic fashion, while Hegel set to work developing it as a “cycle of sciences” (qtd. by Vater 82). Yet the cycle is not necessarily the circle, and Hegel’s multiple, supplementary figures for his system compromise its smooth ambitions by entangling the architectonic within the temporal and the body within its organic complexities. This paper will explore three such figures: the line, the circle, and the body. Together they bring Hegel closer to, and yet mark his difference from, another idea of the encyclopedia which forms part of the contemporary context of Hegel’s project, but is at the opposite extreme from Kant’s architectonic: Novalis’ “encyclopedistics.”

14.         In Novalis’ Notes for a Romantic Encyclopedia (1798), which despite its organization in fragments has its own systematic principles, the units of the system are also emergent disciplines and fields. But the relations of parts and whole are tangled and rhizomatic, not hierarchical and smooth. The whole cannot determine the part as in architectonic; but unlike in an aggregative system, the part does not remain finite and in its own sphere, as it possesses generative consequences for the whole of knowledge. “Application of the system to the parts,” Novalis writes, “and the parts to the system and the parts to the parts” (#460).

15.         For Novalis, then, the Encyclopedia is not an organization of knowledge but an asystaton that is a thought-environment for mixtures. Mixtures were anathema to Kant, who felt that each science should be placed in “a special system so that it constitutes a science of its own kind, in order to guard against the uncertainty arising from mixing things together” (Metaphysical Foundations, 9). Indeed Kant even proposes disentangling troublesome subsystems from the whole so as to purify them and then reinsert them into the whole (12-13). But as Walter Moser says, “mixture” was one of the key concepts in chemistry at the time, and chemistry occupied a privileged position among the early Romantics “as a discourse model that becomes the source” of “interdiscursive translation” (16, 6). This translation, in turn, realizes the creative, and not simply critical, potential of a tangled system. And what Novalis provides is a toolkit for such translation that involves “potentiation” and “application” as related procedures in the “encyclopedization of a science” (Novalis #161). Through the “vertical” procedure of potentiation (Moser 12) or “genuine raising to a higher power, every science can pass over into a higher philosophical science” (Novalis #487). It is application, however, that allows for the creation of a new science out of an already existing one (Moser 13), for instance psychopathology or psychoanalysis out of pathology, as we shall see. The goal of encyclopedic education is the “encyclopedization of a science” that occurs when the analogical implications of a science or even a “molecule of science” are potentiated so that the empirical, instead of being determined by the transcendental, retroacts upon it (Novalis #161, #489). The key here is analogy as a constitutive and not just the regulative procedure it is in Kant. “A science becomes applied,” according to Novalis, “if it serves as the analogous model and stimulus” for the development of another science, a process that is reciprocal, because it is also “the self-(post) development” of this other science (#487). To be sure, mixtures were not the goal from which Hegel started. But his system, unfolding philosophy through a series of histories and attempting to wrest the transcendental from the empirical, is nothing if not mixed.

Circles Within Circles

16.         Let us turn, then, to Hegel’s figures for system. The most prominent is the circle, which goes back to the root meaning of enkyklos paideia, and which he defines through its radii “as that which takes account of the difference within it and so reaches a complete determinateness” (Nature 33). One might think of the circle as a smooth structure. Yet this is no ordinary circle. The philosophical encyclopedia consists of parts, each of which “is a circle of totality containing itself within itself, “ though the “philosophical idea is also within each particular determinacy or element. ” “The circle of Nature” is thus only one circle in Philosophy. The whole is then “a circle of circles” (Encyclopedia 51; Nature 2): an immensely complicated structure like Milton’s cosmos: “Cycle and Epicycle, Orb in Orb” (Paradise Lost VIII.84).

17.         The image of circles within circles differs from the smoother image of the building or group of buildings that Kant, despite conceiving the whole as a “body” (Reason 691), also uses for knowledge. For Kant “every science is of itself a system” and though we may move from one building to another each is a “freestanding building” (Judgment 252-3). Hegel’s figure, by contrast, has several hazards. First, while the circle is a figure of self-enclosure and containment, he sees as a breach the proceeding of one circle into another, which in more modern terms is the process of mediation or “the adapting ... of findings from one level to another” (Jameson 39-40). Hegel writes: “The individual circle thus ruptures itself because it is in itself a totality, it breaks through the limits of its own elements and establishes another sphere” (Encyclopedia 51). Although the circle of circles is meant to contain multiplicity in unity, what Hegel describes here is an exceeding of containment. To be sure, this is in one sense the famous procedure of Aufhebung or sublation. Hegel annotates this process further, when he says that sciences which are not positive “recognize their concepts as finite,” thus undergoing “a transition into a higher sphere” (54). A rupture, however, is also an infraction, a breaking of one circle into another, or rather of both into each other. Elsewhere I have described one such instance of mediation in the last section of the Philosophy of Nature, where Hegel projects his own three-part dialectic onto the physiological schema of sensibility, irritability and reproduction that was common at the time (Rajan “(In)Digestible Material”). Reading physiological processes in philosophical language, Hegel produces a psychosomatics of Spirit that is both a psychoanalysis in embryo and one of the new disciplines that Novalis was fond of imagining: “pathological philosophy” (#638). [7] 

18.         As this example indicates, there is no guarantee that the breaking of the circle, the transition from one domain to another that Kant sees as incidental, is a transition into a higher sphere. The emergence of psychoanalysis from philosophy’s bringing of “Idealism” into the science of medicine is a transformative breaking of the circles of both empirical medicine and philosophy itself. It occurs precisely through potentiation: the elevation of physiology and medicine from empirical into philosophical sciences. And it also occurs through analogy: the analogical application of philosophy to physiology, which produces a new science through what Novalis calls “encyclopedization.” But this transition of one sphere into another establishes “another” and not a “higher” sphere. Indeed, rather than following an a priori logic, there is something of the accidental about it. And moreover it moves in more than one direction, inasmuch as physiology can also be analogically applied to philosophy to produce pathological philosophy, resulting in “the self-(post) development” of philosophy (Novalis #487). No doubt this is not exactly an accident Hegel wanted. Hence he must, so to speak, burn his work, so that “like the phoenix” Nature can “come forth from this externality rejuvenated as Spirit” and “reconcile itself with itself” (Nature 444). But then Hegel also embraces such accidents, which are built into his seeing “substance as subject” and therefore, crucially, as “negativity.”As he writes in the Phenomenology: “The circle that remains self-enclosed and, like substance, holds its moments together, is an immediate relationship, one therefore which has nothing astonishing about it. But that an accident as such, detached from what circumscribes it, ... should attain an existence of its own and a separate freedom –this is the tremendous power of the negative” (10, 18-19).

19.         Related to the “proceeding” of one circle into another is a further problem, which is the entanglement of micro and macrosystems. Where material encyclopedias move from the bottom up, trying to fit individual systems into a system of the whole which never really overcomes the empiricism of aggregation, Idealism starts deductively with a whole into which the parts are supposedly fitted. Nevertheless, Hegel includes many of the minute details we might expect to find in material encyclopedias: discussions of meteors, limestone, lizards, and experiments in natural philosophy that show his familiarity with British journals of the time. The sheer complexity of Hegel’s system results in a disseminative multiplication of the parts within the whole. [8]  Moreover, circles become “spheres,” a word that Hegel uses to describe both concepts like existence and negativity and fields of knowledge such as physics and mechanics. Spheres are not quite circles: whereas the circle is a two-dimensional schema, the sphere has a volume and “mass” (Nature 79), which Hegel must struggle to keep under control. Thus as M.J. Petry explains, the “spheres” are supposed to be “levels” in a “hierarchy” which is like the Chain of Being (21-39). The “sphere of physics” is part of the “sphere of Nature” (Hegel, Nature 26, 23), and “each sphere ... complete[s] itself by passing into another higher one” (21), a logic Hegel evokes in the “transition” from Nature to Spirit at the end of the Philosophy of Nature (445). But this logic of subsumption can equally be one of complication, in which the levels risk becoming spheres in their own right. For as Schelling says, using the same term as Hegel, within each “determinate sphere of formation” “other spheres are again formed, and in these spheres others” (First Outline 43-4). The result is intimated by Goethe, when he says that sciences “destroy themselves in two ways: by the breadth they reach and by the depth they plumb” (305).

20.         The logic is that of Leibniz’ Monadology, adapted by Schelling in The First Outline into a “dynamic atomism” (21) that doubles as a physics of knowledge. For Leibniz the monad is both a simple unity and is infinitely subdivisible into further monads. Kant resolved this paradox by arguing that monads are not to be conceived as physically filling a space but rather as spheres or “orbits of activity”: it is thus not the actual substance of the monad but its sphere of activity that is infinitely divided (Physical Monadology 53-7). [9]  Ideally for Hegel these multiple monads or spheres will be unified by the fiction of their “pre-established harmony”; thus for Leibniz individual monads, though self-contained, are all supposedly comprehended in the supreme Monad which is God (or absolute knowledge). But inversely, as Schelling recognizes, these monads, which externally appear as simple unities, are infinitely subdivisible into further and further monads, each with its own life (Leibniz 261, 266, 268).

21.         Thus even as Hegel’s macrosystems (of nature, art etc.) are compounded into ever larger unities, they are also infinitely particularized into microsystems with their own logic and so are complexly self-differing. In this way the sphere of “Organics” in the Philosophy of Nature is subdivided into the geological, vegetable and animal organisms, which can be placed in a hierarchy, but between which there are also rhizomatic connections. The animal organism is studied in terms of the sphere of physiology, which contains the sphere of pathology, which is inapplicable to the geological organism and unique to the animal (429). British Idealism is in many ways less tangled than its German parent, and thinkers such as Erasmus Darwin, John Abernethy, Joseph Henry Green, and (less successfully) Coleridge, contained pathology within physiology as a negative illustration of the laws of normal life, with the understanding that these laws could be better understood through deviations from them. But while this may also be Hegel’s aim, Hegel never returns from the pathological to the normal, as The Philosophy of Nature ends with a section entitled “The Disease of the Individual” that derails the intended transition from Nature to Spirit. This last section becomes an accident detached from what circumscribes it, but one that affects the substance of Hegel’s thought precisely because that substance is actualized through a subject. The problem confronting Hegel is not unlike the dis-integration of the macro- by the micropedia in the work of his materialist rivals. But it has this difference, that the connections or disconnections that remain external in material encyclopedias are internalized as part of self-consciousness in encyclopedics, or perhaps, internalized as part of the text’s unconscious.

The Endangered Line

22.         This brings us to the next problem, the entanglement of the of the circle and line. The encyclopedia is not just a spatial curriculum that one traverses from the outside, but a process of Bildung or inner development. It is a “path” the “length” of which “has to be endured,” since knowledge is “a necessary and complete process of becoming” (Phenomenology 17, 20). Hegel criticized Schelling for being insufficiently dialectical (History of Philosophy III. 334, 341-3), and by dialectic he did not simply mean a form of argumentation but a profoundly temporal experience: a process of remembering and working through, of engaging the ideal with the real, and a transposition of the philosophical into the historical. Unlike the Schelling of Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797/1803), System of Transcendental Idealism (1800), Bruno (1802), and On University Studies, (1803), Hegel could not conceive of the eternal and temporal or the ideal and real as synchronic, in the manner of Blake’s fourfold vision. [10]  Thus to a degree Hegel’s distinction between the sciences of nature and spirit corresponds to Schelling’s distinction between the real (or life) sciences and the ideal sciences such as philosophy, mathematics, and religion (University Studies 103-4). But for Hegel, as for the post-Jena Schelling of the Freedom essay (1809), the emergence of freedom from necessity must be earned through the struggle of nature to become spirit, which occurs along a “path,” “road” or temporal line.

23.         This struggle is not only thematized through what Findlay calls the “dialectical journey” (Phenomenology 528); it also provides the structure for Hegel’s organization of knowledge. For if the eighteenth century sees a “temporalizing of the Chain of Being” (Lovejoy 242-3, 271-80), Hegel also temporalizes the cycle of disciplines along this evolutionary Chain of Being. [11]  Thus the third section of the Philosophy of Nature takes in geology, meteorology, botany, physiology and medicine, among others. These sciences are part of the broader system of “Organics,” which is preceded by mechanics and physics. The three together comprise the sphere of Nature, which is a sphere in a scale of disciplines that parallels the Chain of Being, since their subject-matter proceeds from the inorganic to the organic, and from lower to higher organizations along this chain. The Philosophy of Nature, in turn, is a level that is surpassed by the sciences of Spirit. Altogether the cycle of learning in which consciousness learns how to become Spirit unfolds as an ascent from matter to Spirit, or necessity to freedom, through the progression from the real to the ideal sciences. Indeed “Nature” herself learns to be Spirit by proceeding through the phenomena, from molluscs to animals, that are the objects of the various sciences. Here Hegel is totally unlike the Schelling of the lectures On University Studies, whose arrangement of chapters on disciplines is random rather than following a thematic progression anchored in the development of a subject.

24.         Not that there are no other systems which thematize a progressing ‘line’ of knowledge, for instance that projected by Coleridge, consisting of Logic, Natural [Philosophy] and Theology" (Notebooks #5417). Indeed, working to put the ever-troublesome life sciences in their a priori place within this architectonic of knowledge, his friend and executor Joseph Henry Green more clearly executes Coleridge’s project of absorbing physiological into political “constitution,” or Nature into Spirit, by following Vital Dynamics (1840) with Mental Dynamics or Groundwork of a Professional Education (1847) and then Spiritual Philosophy (1865), as a means to the Bildung of Coleridge’s “clerisy.” Green, though more immersed in Schelling, had read some Hegel and studied with Solger in Berlin in 1817, the year Solger helped to bring Hegel to the University of Berlin. Nevertheless it is only Hegel who traverses this “road” as a “pathway of doubt” (Phenomenology 49), in which the sciences are not analytic systems but phenomenological expressions of what, in an almost fantastical prosopopeia, he calls “Nature’s” struggle to become Spirit. Thus, even if against their grain, the sciences form what Novalis calls a “pathological philosophy” in which each science is profoundly lacking, and must “shatter” the “inadequate form” of its “circle,” only to expose its own inadequacy (Nature 443).

25.         So as Nature, in Hegel’s personification or self-projection, struggles for self-consciousness, consciousness too is exposed to its human nature in the shapes or Gestaltungen (Phenomenology 9) that it gives itself in its sciences. Hence the line that Hegel wants to organize smoothly within the synthetic paradigm of the dialectic is beset by accidents that disclose the “tremendous power of the negative.” Indeed this “road,” which he calls an “inwardizing [Er-Innerung] and Calvary” of Spirit (Phenomenology 51, 493), is littered with such accidents, which Hegel, after “tarrying” with the “negative” (19), tries unconvincingly to elide through various figural somersaults. For instance as the Philosophy of Nature disastrously concludes with "The Disease of the Individual," Hegel claims that the “goal of Nature,” mired as it is in “an ever-increasing wealth of detail,” is to “destroy itself ... to consume itself like the phoenix in order to come forth from this externality rejuvenated as spirit” (444). Similarly at the end of the Aesthetics, almost all of which is about how this discipline of thinking beautifully falls afoul of the actual history of art, Hegel famously proclaims the end of art. The circle is likewise one of these figures that tries to perform what the Idea and the Concept cannot do. The circle is “the line returning into itself” and the “paralysis” of the dimensions of time such that present, past and future are “closed together in a unity,” their distinctions “sublated” (Nature 43-4). It is “the path of a purely uniform motion” (70). In the closure of the circle the point “has been already at the place it is reaching” (43-4); the “end” is already in the “beginning” (Phenomenology 10).

26.         Yet this closure of the circle is a form of damage control exerted on the line, path, or journey. For the line figures a form of experience in which the immanent unfolding of the “Idea” in time and history risks removing the transcendental guarantees that exist in the early Schelling’s synchronicity of the eternal and temporal, or “true” and “appearing Nature” (Ideas 272). Hence Hegel finds the circle limited as well as complete, referring to each circular totalization as an “inadequate form” and suggesting that there is something simplistic in the circle that “holds its moments together” (Nature 443; Phenomenology 18-19). This is to say that if Hegel needs to repair the line with the circle, he conversely needs the line to supply the dialectic, or as Schelling will later call it “realism,” [12]  that is lacking in what Hegel critiques as Absolute Idealism. In the Preface to the Phenomenology, which famously caused the rift with Schelling, though it also formatively changed Schelling’s work, Hegel calls Absolute Idealism “the night in which all cows are black” (9). He describes it as a “monochromatic formalism” that ignores “the living Substance” as a “self-originating, self-differentiating wealth of shapes” and “begins straight away with absolute knowledge” (9-10, 16). The “long way” that Spirit must “travel,” the line as opposed to the circle, figures the process of remembering and working through that is the labour of the negative (10, 15). [13]  The circle is nothing without the line, which undoes the circle.

The Nervous Body

27.         Let us turn now to our final figure, the body which, like the circle, projects a system that holds its moments together. Thus in the Phenomenology Hegel writes that Spirit “articulates its body into a variety of functions, and allots one particular part for only one function” (197). In the Philosophy of Nature he echoes Kant’s contrast between knowledge that is “heaped together” and knowledge as an “articulated” whole which, like the “animal body,” grows “internally” and not “externally” by “contingent addition” (Kant, Reason 591). In the same vein of an external and aggregated vs. internal and integrated growth, Hegel too argues that plants grow only in size, but when the animal increases in size it “remains one shape” (Nature 304).

28.         Like Kant, then, Hegel wants to conceive the body as a whole that keeps parts in their place. Thus implicitly he aligns material encyclopedias with the aggregative structure of the vegetable body, while his own philosophical encyclopedia is like the animal body that grows internally and retains “one shape.” But does not such a unification become coercive when it is extended to the body politic or the body of knowledge? And indeed can Hegel uphold his analogy? For Kant’s body, as we have seen, is aesthetic or at best anatomical, where anatomy maps the volume of organs on a flat surface. But Hegel is sensitive to the difference between structure and process. Describing the “ordinary view of anatomy” as “the knowledge of the parts of the body regarded as inanimate,” Hegel writes in his “Preface: On Scientific Cognition” that in anatomy we “do not as yet possess the subject-matter itself,” since we do not know “the particulars” (Phenomenology 1). He later adds that in such a system, “the organism is apprehended from the abstract aspect of a dead existence; its moments so taken pertain to anatomy and the corpse, not to cognition and the living organism.” “The moments have really ceased to be for they cease to be processes.” It is only within these processes, within their transitions (to pick up the word Kant dismisses), that “anatomical parts,” or by analogy disciplines, “have a meaning,” since only then can “what is forcibly detached and fixed as an individual system” be returned to being a “fluid moment” (166).

29.         Moreover, unlike Kant, Hegel also writes at length on the real body in the last major division of his Philosophy of Nature on “Organics.” And it is the physiological and not the anatomical body that he treats, breaking the circle in which the earlier Schelling had closed off the dangers of physiology by synchronizing it with anatomy (University Studies 141). As we have seen, for Hegel the animal body (which includes the human) is distinguished from the plant in terms of the unity of the animal as an “organism” vs. the structure of the plant as an “aggregate” (Nature 394). Plants grow only in size, whereas when the animal increases in size it “remains one shape” (304). Correspondingly plants “fall apart” into “a number of individuals, the whole plant being rather the basis (Boden) for these individuals than a subjective unity of members” (303). The plant “is thus impotent to hold its members in its power” and indeed does not have “true members [Gliedern]” (276); or as Hegel says elsewhere “every branch is a new plant and not at all ... just a single member” (Aesthetics I.137). By contrast, in the animal organism members are subordinate to the whole, even as the whole “is articulated into parts that are separate and distinct,” so that “each member is reciprocally end and means” (Nature 303, 377). Yet as a “totality of articulated members” (377) that respects differences the animal body is beset by problems, the first of which is its multiple, overlapping systems: “three” systems, like the Encyclopedia itself, or as Hegel admits, “a good many more” (Nature 359; Phenomenology 166). While the body “contain[s]” these systems, their very unification “produce[s] a general, concrete interpenetration” of systems by “one another,” so that a particular system is not confined to its place “but permeates all the other systems of the organism” (Nature 372; Phenomenology 162). The relation of parts to the whole here is dangerously close to Novalis’ application of the parts to the whole. This is to say that unity itself may be something of a pharmakon, if we allow one system, for instance physiology, to affect another, such as the body politic, which is also discussed in terms of the biopolitical language of “members.” [14] 

30.         Indeed Schelling emphasizes precisely such “accidents”that occur through integration in a body, when he uses the body as a figure for complex systems. Schelling writes that the body contains multiple systems (“digestive etc.”), and favourably contrasts this tangled body to Kant’s use of geometry as a model for philosophy: “It is as though one preferred a stereometrically regular crystal to the human body for the reason that the former has no possibility of falling ill, while the latter hosts germs of every possible illness” ( “On the Nature of Philosophy” 212-13). Working out of the same speculative image cluster in which “a system or organ” establishing itself in “isolation” is condemned as disease (Hegel, Nature 428), Schelling had already attributed a positive value to disease in the Freedom essay (1809): “An individual body part [Glied], like the eye, is only possible within the whole of an organism; nonetheless, it has its own life for itself, indeed, its own kind of freedom, which it obviously proves through the disease of which it is capable” (18). But if it is Schelling who ambivalently valorizes this separateness as freedom, it is Hegel who allows, through his concept of “fluidity,” for the obstinacy of the part to have consequences for the whole.

31.         While there is no space here for an extensive reading of the section on the “Animal Organism,” suffice it to say that just as Schelling’s dynamic atomism doubles as a physics of knowledge, so too Hegel’s discussions of the body double as a physiology, or indeed pathography, of the “full body of articulated cognition” (Phenomenology 9). [15]  This is all the more so given the use of the word “systems” throughout the section on the body, and given that the same words and concepts are often used both in the epistemic and physiological registers. Thus the aggregate and the organism describe plants vs. animals but also the form that Hegel wants a science to take: it “must present itself as an organism” rather than being “a simple aggregate” (Nature 6). Indeed, it is because of his investment in organic, inward knowledge with deep rather than surface, metamorphic connections that Hegel thinks poorly of plants. In a similar mirroring of the literal and metaphorical, Hegel concludes the Phenomenology by saying that through its long journey the Self has “to penetrate and digest (verdauen) the entire wealth of its substance” (492). In the section on the organism in the Philosophy of Nature he then has an extensive account of digestion that is overdetermined by psycho-philosophical concerns that make it impossible not to apply his physiology to his philosophy. In short the Philosophy of Nature, this “weak link in the dialectical chain” (Gasché 3), is a mise-en-abime of the Encyclopedia itself. It is, as Hegel says, “the Idea in the form of otherness” (Nature 13), and as such generates a number of reflexive figures for the functioning of the larger system.

32.         This is not to say with Werner Hamacher, who is similarly sensitive to Hegel’s work as “writing,” that Hegel’s philosophy, “closed as it is in order to round out the circle of the encyclopedic system,” draws “every critique which contests it, every new reading which addresses it, back into its own circle” (1). On the contrary Hegel, tarrying as he does with the negative, is pushed again and again to break the circle that he wants to close, and to expose his auto-encyclopedia of Spirit to its auto-immunity. Auto-immunity is Derrida’s word for the tendency of an organism to destroy “its own immunitary protections,” which he sees as a kind of vitality (Rogues 124, 55). And for Hegel too this auto-immunity is precisely what characterizes the organism, even though he hopes to endure and overcome it: “A stone cannot become diseased,” but the “living creature is always exposed to danger, always bears within itself an other, but can endure this contradiction, which the inorganic cannot” (Nature 429, 274). Or as he also says, noting the specific character of an organism as an inside facing an outside, a “wound ... only becomes dangerous through exposure to air. Organic life alone is characterized by its perpetual self-restoration in the process of its destruction” (109).

33.         As a mirror within the Encyclopedia, the Philosophy of Nature generates a number of figures that react on the larger system. Let me briefly touch on three in the section on the animal body: digestion, disease and fluidity. First, digestion or “assimilation” (381): the “adaptation of the non-organic to the purposes of the living creature” (381), which Hegel also calls “mediation” (402). We often extend the verbs “digest” and “assimilate” to knowledge. Indeed, repeating his opposition of the organism to the non-organic, Hegel produces a peculiarly vexed metaphor for knowledge as a struggle with resistant material: “all externality is non-organic; as, e.g., for the individual, the sciences are his non-organic nature,” which he has “to make his own” (276). Throughout the Philosophy of Nature, which Hegel describes as an “alien existence” that is “refractory towards the unity of the Notion” (3, 444), we see the pathos and agon of Hegel’s attempt to organize these sciences within a larger system so as to convert “externality” into a “self-like unity” (393). These attempts at organization, at accessing “structure, as alive” (377), are always bound up with some kind of pain. Take, for instance, the weirdly catachrestic mediation of anatomical into psycho-philosophical language in Hegel’s glossing of a description of bones that he borrows from Autenreith’s Handbuch der empirischen menschlichen Physiologie (1801):

‘Bones, simply on account of the larger number of their vessels in general possess more vitality’ (in comparison with cartilages); ‘and this is evidenced by their susceptibility to inflammation and pathological changes ....’ Bone, i.e. the sensibility belonging to shape as such is, like the wood of the plant, the simple and therefore dead force which is not yet a process, but abstract reflection-into-self. At the same time, however, it is the dead force reflected into self. (361)
Or take the neuropathically intense, psychoanalytically prescient description of how the “sensibility which has withdrawn into itself,” produces a “system not yet separated out,” the sympathetic nervous system. “This system forms ganglia [Nervenknoten] which can be regarded as little brains in the abdomen.” Here according to Autenreith digestion “is withdrawn from our control” into an absent body, a lapse that Hegel glosses as follows: “In the sommanbulistic state ...self-consciousness is turned inwards [and] this internal vitality passes into the ganglia, and into the brain of this dark independent self-consciousness” (364). If the passage on bones is an example of mediation, the analysis of the sympathetic nervous system is something else: one of those accidents to which Hegel refers, which unsettles his intentions and is part of the “self-(post) development” of philosophy, inasmuch as another “sphere” is beginning to be formed within physiology, namely psychoanalysis.

34.         In contrast to the more thoughtful, recursive term “inwardizing” or Er-Innerung, digestion names an aggressive process of sublating these “externalities” or “accidents” that assault Spirit in Hegel’s reading of the scientific manuals of his time. Indeed the aggression of philosophy’s attempt to organize the “non-organic” material of physiology is evident in Hegel’s account of digestion as a process in which the “appetitive organism” is turned “outwards” and “provided with weapons” (393). The organism “overcome[s] and digest[s]” “the object or the negative” into its “subjectivity,” so as to master its own unwanted “involvement with the outer world” (395): an aggression that is bound to fail, given Hegel’s description of the subject itself as pure negativity, or as he also says “lack” (385). But what happens when the animal cannot fully digest what is external? Elsewhere I have described the complex psycho-metaphorics of digestion, in which it is not clear whether “the non-organic ‘potency’” (403) is outside or also inside. The animal must digest what is external, but is “repell[ed]” by itself because of its “entanglement with the outer thing,” and so must also cast out this outside that is inside. The “conclusion of the process of assimilation” is thus “excretion,” by which the animal, instead of making the external internal, “makes itself external to itself” (404): “Excrement has, therefore, no other significance than this, that the organism recognizing its error, gets rid of its entanglement with outside things” (405), and thus “rid[s] itself of [its] lack of self-confidence” (403).

35.         But as this oddly ethical and psychological language indicates, this outside was never fully outside. On the one hand, excretion has to follow digestion in normal assimilation and so is a sign that digestive appropriation has succeeded: excrement, we are told, “consists mainly of digested matter, or what the organism itself has added to the digested material” (405). But on the other hand, excretion also seems a form of indigestion, since “even in the healthiest animals” the excrement is not “homogeneous” but contains “undecomposed food” (405), which is to say that excrement is a rem(a)inder of failed assimilation. [16]  No wonder, then, that in digestion “the organism in angrily opposing itself to the outer world is divided within itself” (402). Or that digestion proves to be a turning on oneself, as the “organism converts its own members into a non-organic nature, ... lives on itself and produces its own self,” becoming a “self-like unity” only through a repression in which digestion is, in effect, a form of abjection (377, 393). If philosophy is what the organism has added to external matter, then the sheer weirdness of the way Hegel catachrestically converts matter into the language of Spirit makes philosophy a kind of undigested excrement. The result is that the text, whose attempt to heal the wound of nature recalls the genre of spiritual autobiography, is more accurately described as a pathography of the philosophical spirit.

36.         The vexed nature of digestion opens up another sphere in the discussion of the animal organism, namely disease, which occurs when one of the body’s “systems or organs ... establishes itself in isolation [sich fur sich festsetzt] and persists in its particular activity against the activity of the whole” (428). Disease, in other words, is the part’s resistance to being digested by the whole, or the whole’s failure to digest its parts. Indeed Hegel goes so far as to describe disease as “an indigestibility in general” (433), and the language of toxicity crosses between digestion and illness. Digestion, “the power” of life “over its non-organic object,” is an “infection” (395), a curious word, since it is not clear whether the food or the body is being infected. On the other hand, the medicine for disease is an “indigestible substance” that forces the organism to rally and digest what is external to it (434, 436).

37.         These ambivalences towards digestion bring Hegel closer than we might expect to Schelling, who, as we have seen, confers a value on disease as the freedom of the part from the whole (although he too is not without ambivalence). For on the surface Hegel does seem more committed than his erstwhile friend to the containment of members in a whole, and less inclined to say, as Schelling does, that “disease is a completely relative concept” and that what is disease in one organism may be part of another organism’s functioning (First Outline 160). But it is significant that in his allegorization of the stages through which disease passes Hegel translates the physiological term “irritability” into a word with great value in his philosophical system: negativity. Combining terms from the physiology of Haller, Blumenbach, and Kielmeyer– terms that had preoccupied him from the Jena years and the Phenomenology onwards–eHegel postulates three “moments” in the normal organism that are also moments in a disease: sensibility, irritability and reproduction. In effect, he then maps his three-part dialectic onto these moments. [17]  In sensibility the organism as “being-within-self” verges on the passive, on “insensibility” (Phenomenology 161; Nature 361). Likewise in disease, in the phase of sensibility the disease is “virtually (an sich) present, but without any actual morbidity” (Nature 433). At the threshold of sensibility, the organism arrives at a “moment of difference” in the “nervous system,” which is “directed outwards and involved in external relationships” (361-5). This leads to the next phase, namely irritability, associated with the muscular rather than nervous system, where the organism is involved with “difference” and an “active maintenance of self” (365, 359). Finally Hegel draws on Blumenbach’s Bildungstrieb, which was influential for Kant’s notion of teleology, to theorize his third moment of “reproduction.” In the normal state reproduction simply means the organism’s reproduction of its parts or of further organisms, or in an interesting variant, the constructive instinct of birds, for instance, building nests (Phenomenology 161; Nature 407). But tellingly, in the pathography of The Philosophy of Nature’s last section, the only reproduction that the organism can manage is excrement, as if to dis-figure teleology and epigenesis as the organism’s progressive self-organization over time.

38.         Of particular interest here is the second moment of irritability and the form it takes in the section on disease. For irritability as difference can be simply aggressive: plants are sensitive, animals irritable. It is in only connection with disease that it becomes associated with the more self-scrutinizing language of negativity. Here irritability takes on a psychic dimension as the part’s separation of itself from the whole: “There is established in the self and in opposition to it as universal, a determinateness which makes its own self into a fixed self,” and now the organism, concentrated in a part of itself, is “restricted to itself” and “possesses within its own self the negative of itself” (Nature 433, 438). The self is “turned against its structure” and the “negative thing is the structure itself” (429). While this obstinacy of the part is not desirable for Hegel’s architectonic notion of the body, it cannot be wholly undesirable, given that the negative (albeit as negativity rather than determinate negation) is the motor of Hegel’s system.

39.         In short, the separation of the part from the whole is seen as disease, but it is this “indigestibility” which seems the condition of possibility for a negativity to which Hegel is deeply committed. Schelling’s discussion elsewhere of “indecomposable” substances provides an interesting parallel to Hegel’s indigestible material. Working out of Kant’s argument that anything which is divisible cannot be “free from composition” or utterly “simple” (Physical Monadology 55), Schelling distinguishes between “decomposable” substances like soil, and those that are “absolute[ly] indecomposable” or “absolute[ly] incomposable.” Perhaps confusingly, he insists that the latter are also “absolute[ly] composable”: “Indecomposability and absolute composability ... always coexist” (First Outline 29-31). Schelling’s point is to keep indecomposability as a way for something to resist appropriation, to preserve its integrity, while allowing that such dead-ends, which do not fit into a system, are also always be composable, capable of being dissolved and dissipated in order to be recreated. Hence just as “nature makes the absolutely indecomposable substances composable through decomposition, so the absolutely indecomposable substances, conversely, are inserted once again into the universal circulation of matter through composition” (31). Schelling’s terms, developed as they are in the subject-less realm of physics, lack the affect of Hegel’s indigestibility, whose environment is the psycho-physiology of the organism. But the point bears on Hegel: the indigestible that resists assimilation, causing a dis-ease within the system or even an absolute stoppage, can also be decomposed and put back into intellectual circulation.

40.         One such undigested or uncomposed remnant is the curious passage on the sympathetic nervous system as withdrawn into a “somnambulistic state” that conceals a “dark independent self-consciousness” (Nature 364). Like the bits of information in the EB, Hegel’s translation of the ganglia into the terms of mesmerism as well as philosophy is neither digested nor cast out from his larger system. But from a later perspective we can compose it in another order, where it becomes part of “the self-(post) development” of Romantic philosophy as a laboratory for psychoanalysis, at that time a “system not yet separated out” from physiology (364).

41.         In Novalis’ terms, this encyclopedization of a molecule of knowledge becomes possible by “applying” the physiological concept of “fluidity” to knowledge, thus potentializing it in the epistemic register. Fluidity is an important concept for both Hegel and Schelling. In Schelling’s First Outline the universal fluid is the unconditioned (Unbedingt) that precedes Nature’s composition of products or “figures” (26, 27n), which are “bound” forms that must be decomposed or unbound in order to be composed again, or taken up “into the universal process of organization” (31). For Schelling, as Coleridge recognized in adapting him, this Primary Imagination at the level of Nature is the ground and analogue for the workings of the Secondary Imagination mediated by mind (Biographia 304). More agonistically, Hegel adapts this fluidity to disease, thinking the part-whole relationship through his ambivalence about chronic vs. acute illness. For in disease, as we have seen, one system isolates itself and establishes itself against the whole, “the fluidity and all-pervading process of which is thus obstructed,” whereas in health all the body’s “organs are fluid in the universal” (Nature 428).

42.         But the problem, which has ramifications for cognitive as well as physiological behaviour, is that this “derange[ment]” of the organism by one of its parts can involve either chronic or acute illness. In chronic illness, the disease “remains in one organ,” while other functions are “quite unimpaired, ” but in acute illness the entire organism is “morbidly affected”(432). And Hegel is uncertain which is less disastrous. On the one hand, as long as the disease “is peculiar to” and “confined” within “one particular system” such as the philosophy of nature, “it is easier to cure because only one organ is irritated or depressed.” “The system has only to be extricated from its entanglement with its non-organic nature and kept within bounds” (433), as Hegel tries to do in moving on from nature to spirit. On the other hand, chronic disease is also particularly associated with obstruction, as in “hardening of the liver” (432). We can understand this through Merleau-Ponty’s analysis of pathological behaviour as something “rigid” and not “integrated into a coherent and flexible field of meaning” (Wild xv; Merleau-Ponty 86, 178). Hence when “one system” makes itself “the independent centre of activity... the organism too can no longer, as an independent whole, come to itself,” which is to say that the disease has not really been isolated in a part. So Hegel also says that medicine prefers acute illness, since if the whole organism is affected, “the activity of the whole organism too, can be released” (Nature 432). Acute illness restores fluidity, facilitating a cure through what is, in effect, a kathartic “general, concrete interpenetration” of the systems earlier described (372), but with the proviso that until this katharsis happens, the rigidity, not unlike uncomposability, also protects what the existing field of meaning is not ready to integrate.

43.         It is clear that Hegel himself cannot confine intellectual dis-ease, the restlessness of the negative, in one system. The distinction between acute and chronic illness is followed by an uncomposed Zusatz “A third form of disease is that which originates in the universal subject, especially man. These are diseases of the soul ... which can even result in death” (432). The point simply sits there, in a silent confinement, briefly offered as information rather than knowledge, an uncomposed remnant of Hegel’s encyclopedic reading in the scientific literature of his time. Yet diseases of the soul return in another system, the Anthropology, which is part of the philosophy of Spirit. But conversely, it also seems that neither Hegel nor Schelling are quite ready to release the depression of one system into the whole. For even the latter’s discussion of disease in the First Outline, whose germinal importance Krell has analysed (103-15), lies uncomposed in an appendix, and the larger work in which it is released, namely the unpublished 1815 Ages of the World, is not a whole.

44.         Stepping back, we see in the tremendous complexity of Hegel’s Encyclopedia what Bertalanffy calls an open rather than closed system. For Bertalanffy open systems emerge on the threshold between physics and biology. Whereas physics and mathematics model closed systems, what he calls “organismic” biology makes possible a system characterized by “continuous change, regulation, and apparent teleology,” but constantly thwarted and complicated by feedback loops (6, 89-92). But Bertalanffy provides an imperfect parallel on two grounds. In the feedback loop information is fed back and recombined till “the goal or target is reached,” so that his open systems are still characterized by homeostasis or the maintenance of balance (43-6). Second, in Hegel’s and Schelling’s turn away from Spinoza, substance is subject. But for Bertalanffy though substance is process, it is not subject; the open system in Bertalanffy or Deleuze has a subject-less, absolute immanence that is without what Schelling calls “personality” (Freedom 33, 75). It is therefore characterized by a certain utopianism and abstraction, whereas Hegel’s work suffers through time. Hegel’s sympathetic nervous system also provides a model for the circulation of information in complex systems; indeed as the symptom of what it describes, the Philosophy of Nature is a system that is at once digestive, nervous and productive. This is to say that encyclopedics, the struggle of a single subject to organize knowledge, is the labour of the negative, a difficult education subject to accident and at times ruin. Sometimes, as in the Phenomenology and the Introduction to the Encyclopedia, this struggle with the negative that is Bildung is cast as a spiritual autobiography. But sometimes, as in the Philosophy of Nature, it is the pathography of Spirit’s attempt “to orient [itself] in the world of sickness” and to heal itself (Musselman 6), which is possible only if we think of healing as an interminable analysis.

The author acknowledges the support of the Canada Research Chairs Program in the preparation of this article.

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Notes

[1] For instance the Intelligenzblatt Der Jenaischen Allgemeine Literatur Zeitung (1804-41) provides notices of recent publications under a number of disciplinary headings. In addition the 1818 issues of this monthly journal, for example, include notices of lecture courses at the University of Berlin, lists of books for sale and people who received doctorates. The journal is a heterogeneous attempt to cover the sphere of knowledge. In Britain the Edinburgh Philosophical Journal has a section on “Scientific Intelligence” arranged under various areas.The short-lived German Museum (1800-1) reviews new publications in Germany, and then has a Supplement broken down into different subject areas. BACK

[2] I capitalize Hegel’s Encyclopedia only when referring to the work that consists of the Logic, Philosophy of Nature, and Philosophy of Mind. The Encyclopedia project itself is much larger, including lectures on aesthetics and on religion edited and published by Hegel’s students. Hegel published very little: among his well-known texts, only the Phenomenology (1807), The Science of Logic (1812, 1813, 1816), the Philosophy of Right (1821), and the Heidelberg Encyclopedia (1817) and Berlin Encyclopedia (1827/30), which are outlines. Hegel’s many lecture courses are subsystems that develop parts of the macrosystem that exists in outline, and which he began to conceptualize well before 1817, in his earlier Jena system, which he also did not publish. Even the Philosophy of Nature as it comes down to us is an eclectic text, consisting of those parts of the outline that pertain to nature, with Zusätze or expansions added by K.L. Michelet from notes by Hegel’s students. We should not dismiss these eclectic texts or Zusätze as not truly Hegel’s simply because he did not publish them: this is to be bound by notions of final authorial intention that are fundamentally not Romantic. Hegel did not publish his lectures because his living system had to be endlessly annotated, expanded, qualified, and complicated: because he was not the closed thinker posited by Derrida (Glas, "The Age of Hegel" ) and Hamacher. The format of the Zusatz is brilliantly addressed by Jean-Luc Nancy in The Speculative Remark. We should note, and indeed insist, that the Zusatz or supplement is also intrinsic to the kind of “system” represented by an encyclopedia. BACK

[3] Miller sometimes translates the word Bildung as “culture” and sometimes as “education” (Phenomenology 8, 16; Phänomenologie 18, 28). In addition to its associations with Blumenbach’s Bildungstrieb, the German word is also connected with Bild (picture or image), the word Hegel uses at the end of the text to describe Spirit as having traversed a “gallery of images” in its education. It is therefore unfortunate that at the end of the text, where Hegel couples Bild with Bildung, Miller does not translate the word at all (Phenomenology 428; Phänomenologie 566). BACK

[4] Unlike Husserl, who continues the German Idealist tradition of separating transcendental from empirical (or eidetic from factual) sciences, Kant is not driven by a passion to eradicate the “natural standpoint.” It simply does not fall within his domain, and when he deals with empirical matters such as universal history or perpetual peace, his concern is how to use the critical apparatus so as to think about these domains. BACK

[5] See Zammito (286-92) on the course entitled “Encyclopedia of Philosophy as a Whole with an abridged History of Philosophy Based on Feder’s Sketch.” Zammito speculates that there was more of this course than survives in printed form, and mentions that the Encyclopedia lectures were bound (by a buyer) with those on physical geography and physics (287). He thus argues for a closer connection of this course to the work of the Popularphilosoph Johann Feder than seems warranted by the Enzyklopädievorlesung published by Gerhard Lehmann, and this in turn is because he follows a division between the pre-Critical and Critical Kant, and sees the former, prior to the break with Herder, as still allied with “anthropology.” But as noted by Louden (434), Kant was required to use a textbook for his courses and generally paid little attention to his chosen text. Feder probably played this role in the Encyclopedia course, while Kant’s own contribution to the course is the Enzyklopädievorlesung printed by Lehmann. In other words, while Kant may have been aware that one could think of the “encyclopedia” in a broader (mixed empirical and transcendental) sense, his own treatment of areas other than philosophy such as Anthropology and Physical Geography was consistent with the architectonic mapped out in the first Critique, which rigorously separates the “rational” from the “empirical” parts of disciplines. BACK

[6] But for further discussion of Schelling see my articles “First Outline of a System of Theory” and “The Abyss of the Past.” BACK

[7] As always, Novalis provides little elaboration, but pathological philosophy seems to be a philosophy open to failure: “An absolute drive for perfection and completeness is morbid, as soon as it shows itself to be destructive and adverse to what is imperfect, and incomplete.” BACK

[8] Arkady Plotnitsky also takes up this complexity in terms of Deleuze’s concept of the baroque: a “defining feature of the Baroque is the multiplicity of varying and curved –convex and concave– mirrors .... Baroque houses are full of mirrors and seem to need mirrors more than windows” (Plotnitsky 120). But while also reading Hegel against the grain and emphasizing the complexity of the folds within what he calls his “superfold” (121), Plotnitsky sees the totality of Hegel’s work as a “divergent harmony” (132) in which the “upward movement of Spirit and humanity,” albeit in “diagonal” form (127), is not jeopardized. BACK

[9] For a helpful discussion of this issue, see Michael Friedman, Introduction to Kant’s Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science, vii-x. BACK

[10] In Ideas for a Philosophy of Nature (1797/1803) Schelling writes: “In Nature, therefore, the whole absolute is knowable, although appearing Nature produces only successively, and in (for us) endless development, what in true Nature exists all at once and in an eternal fashion” (272). BACK

[11] We should bear in mind that for Hegel evolution, as the emergence of one natural form from another, is not an actual series of events but a series of “ideal” relationships (Nature 20-1) BACK

[12] In the Freedom essay Schelling writes: “Idealism, if it does not have as its basis a living realism, becomes just as empty and abstract a system as that of Leibniz, Spinoza, or any other dogmatist.... Idealism is the soul of philosophy; realism is the body; only both together can constitute a living whole” (26). In Ages of the World he writes, “Whoever does not acknowledge the priority of Realism wants evolution without the involution that preceded it. ... The greatest glory of development is not expected from what easily unfolds. It is expected from what has been excluded and which only decides to unfold with opposition (107). BACK

[13] Erinnerung or remembering, occasionally spelled as Er-Innerung or inwardizing, is a word used throughout the henomenology. The English translation of “knowledge” as having to “travel a long way and work its passage” (15) loses the proto-Freudian force of the original: “Um zum eigentlichen Wissen zu werden ... hat er durch einen langen Weg sich hindurchzuarbeiten” (Phänomenologie 28). BACK

[14] In the Philosophy of Right, “members” are consistently opposed to “self-sufficient individuals” or "parts" (64, 199-200, 264, 328; cf. also 315 which specifically evokes the animal organism). Members are separate but in the end subordinate to a whole. BACK

[15] The “body” of cognition is the metaphor of Hegel’s translator A.V.Miller, but is in the spirit of Hegel, who does begin his Preface by using anatomy to think about the nature of knowledge. Green Musselman uses the term “pathography” to describe “autobiographical memoirs written by modern-day physicians who suffer an illness” (6). BACK

[16] See my article “(In)Digestible Material” (226-9). Hegel is not the only Romantic writer obsessed with his digestion, Coleridge and de Quincey also being examples. BACK

[17] This schema is discussed in both the Phenomenology (160-70) and the Philosophy of Nature, but the former does not include a discussion of disease. The dialectic and the explicit relation of irritability to negativity come in only in the discussion of disease in the latter. BACK

Published @ RC

March 2016

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