Tuesday, September 13, 2011

revisiting hegel: some preliminary thoughts

And....we're back. Siete pronti?

I can still remember my first time with Hegel. I jumped into the Phenomenology of Spirit with nothing more than blind ambition, the text itself, and a notebook of blank pages within which my na├»ve and superficial observations might be inscribed. It was a thrill. It was a puzzle. It was a trial. Foucault writes about spirals of pleasure, power, and knowledge and indeed, my journey with Hegel took the form of this Foucauldian corkscrew. Each paragraph represented a micro-bildungsroman, these cognitive sojourns from darkness to light culminated in—to employ a Renaissance euphemism—the intellectual equivalent of little deaths. From time to time I find myself returning to this ecstasy, extolling the virtues of Hegelian methods, proclaiming the dialectic as a proto-postmodern "truth"-dealer and the progenitor of plurality.

My most recent return to Hegel comes on the heels of finally, proverbially, hunkering down with Judith Butler, preparing to read her early work, Subjects of Desire. However, before delving into Butler’s transcendent rhetoric, I decided to shelve my pride and acquire a guide. Sara Salih’s analysis has been, thus far, illuminating, straightforward, and admittedly non-comprehensive. I anticipate a slightly less rocky road ahead—Gender Trouble and Subjects looming large on my intellectual horizon. In priming the reader for Subjects, Salih provides a particularly lucid explanation of Hegel’s sublation:

“Literally translated, [aufhebung] means ‘sublation’; again, any definition of this word will inevitably be reductive and simplistic, since the German verb aufheben contains three distinct meanings: 1) to raise, hold lift up; 2) to annul, abolish, destroy, cancel; and 3) to keep, save or preserve…Aufhebung therefore refers to the unifying or synthesizing of opposites into a form in which they are simultaneously cancelled and preserved.” [1]

Indeed, the notion of sublation is yet another expression of the dialectic: a process of interaction between the ostensibly oppositional resulting in unification and transcendence. After reading the aforequoted passage, I found myself explaining to a student that "Beethoven trios are like Hegel." His blank stare notwithstanding, my point was that in a chamber music setting, both the individual player's voice and sound are at once preserved, annulled, and transcended. Furthermore, as I internally interrogated my assertion, I concluded that it is not only this musical sublation, nor merely classical phrase structure that reflects the oft-referenced and over-simplified Hegel (thesis-antithesis-synthesis) [2], but also the very process of performance and pedagogy. Like Hegel’s dialectic, musico-pedagogical practices also proceed in asymptotic fashion: each new input spurring an outcome ever-closer, yet condemned to approximate, that which is infinite.

[1] Salih, Sara. Judith Butler. London: Routledge, 2002. (25)
[2] If Zizek says it, it must be so.

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