Welcome to the weblog for the Hegel Reading Group at Centre for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths. This site is very much a work in progress but it can be useful for organizing meeting times, reading assignments, posting links, and continuing discussions. In order to be granted 'user' status email me at jeff@sakerna.se

Friday, July 21, 2006

The tattered remains of the group (Scott, Maude and myself) met at Maude's last night - but rather than wading our way through Perception as perhaps we should have done, Maude and I had an argument (in a good way, I hope) about one of the passages in Lordship and Bondage. This was more or less resolved at the time - if only so that I could get on a train - but I'm sure there's more to say. Pehaps the conversation can continue, as it was an interesting one and I was enjoying it

The bone of contention was the last sentence of paragraph 188, below (this is a copy of the Bailey translation, free on marxists.org, not the Miller one that we've been using - but the wording is essentially the same):

Φ 188. This trial by death, however, cancels both the truth which was to result from it, and therewith the certainty of self altogether. For just as life is the natural “position” of consciousness, independence without absolute negativity, so death is the natural “negation” of consciousness, negation without independence, which thus remains without the requisite significance of actual recognition. Through death, doubtless, there has arisen the certainty that both did stake their life, and held it lightly both in their own case and in the case of the other; but that is not for those who underwent this struggle. They cancel their consciousness which had its place in this alien element of natural existence; in other words, they cancel themselves and are sublated as terms or extremes seeking to have existence on their own account. But along with this there vanishes from the play of change the essential moment, viz. that of breaking up into extremes with opposite characteristics; and the middle term collapses into a lifeless unity which is broken up into lifeless extremes, merely existent and not opposed. And the two do not mutually give and receive one another back from each other through consciousness; they let one another go quite indifferently, like things. Their act is abstract negation, not the negation characteristic of consciousness, which cancels in such a way that it preserves and maintains what is sublated, and thereby survives its being sublated.

Now, as I understood it at the time, Maude's argument (and I apologise if I misrepresent it) was based on Hegel's statement that the negation that takes place here is "abstract negation", and "not the negation characteristic of consciousness." Maude's claim (and again, If I misrepresent this I'm sorry) is that negations take place in the Phenomenology that are not sublations ("they are not characteristic of consciousness").

I think she's right - but only in so far as these negations are mistakes, contradictions, fuck ups in the dialectic which immediately require a new stage, and are thus sublated. The stage that supersedes them is directly informed by and results from this error, and on this basis I disagree that they fall outside the movement of Spirit.

My understanding of this passage is that it is at this point in the narrative that the two consciousnesses have engaged in the struggle to the death, in order to prove their distinction from Life (the objective world). Each consciousness wants to supersede the other, to use the other as its means of being self consciousness ("it must supersede the other independent being in order thereby to become certain of itself as the essential being; secondly, in so doing it proceeds to supersede its own self, for this other is itself" p.111) and as such they enter in to a struggle to the death.

But in the passage in question we see the immediate result of this struggle, in which on the one hand consciousness becomes negation (death, distinction from the objective world of life) and is thus shown to be consciousness, but has no independence (its fucking dead), whilst on the other consciousness as survivor becomes indistinguishable from life. Consciousness no longer has a consciousness to recognise. My claim is that this a contradiction which is then resolved into the relationship of lord and bondsman (where the loser in the struggle, instead of being killed off, is preserved as bondsman), which arises in the following passage (189, p.115).

In order to develop this claim, we might look back to a moment in The Truth of Self Certainty which echoes this movement. At that point in the text we see something very similar happening:

In The Truth of Self Certainty consciousness becomes desire ("self-consciousness is desire in general," p.105), and desires the object (which here becomes 'life': "the object has become life", p.106) - for it is through negating the object (consuming it, doing away with it) that it becomes self-consciousness. But if consciousness negates the object it will no longer have anything to bring it to self consciousness. The object which it wants to do away with is essential to its negating activity, and if the object has been done away with, this activity won't be possible. In this respect consciousness learns that the object must have independence. "...self certainty comes from superseding this other: in order that this supersession can take place, there must be this other. Thus self consciousness, by its negative relation to the object, is unable to supersede it; it is really because of that relation that it produces the object again, and the desire as well." (p.109).

Because of this contradiction the dialectic moves forward - we now come to realise that the object which provides desire with satisfaction (i.e. consciousness becoming self-consciousness) must be independent, and must negate itself ("On account of this independence of the object, therefore, it can achieve satisfaction only when the object itself effects the negation within itself; and it must carry out this negation of itself in itself, for it is in itself the negative, and must be for the other what it is." p.109) The object thus becomes another consciousness, and we now have two consciousnesses in relation with one another: "A self-consciousness exists for a self-consciousness. Only so is it in fact self-conscoiusness; for only in this way does the unity of itself in its otherness become explicit for it." (p.110)

So conscciousness learns here that it can't negate the object completely. Doing so results in a contradiction - and the result is that the dialectic moves forwards, and we end up with two conscoiusnesses rather than a consciousness and an object. On the basis of this inadequacy we move forwards, and in this respect the contradiction has been sublated into the next stage.

With this in mind - if we now go back to the passage from Lordship and Bondage, I think we can see something similar happening with the immediate result of the life and death struggle between the two consciousnesses.

Now, death is shown to be the negation of consciousness, but a negation without independence, "which thus remains without the required significance of recognition...Death certainly shows that each staked his life and held it of no account, both in himself and in the other; but that is not for those who survived this struggle."

So he's talking about victors and vanquished here - and he's talking about both as plurals. Both are killed off, both survive. This stems from the claims made on p.112, paragraph 182 (and throughout this section):

"Each sees the other do the same as it does; each does itself what it demands of the other, and therefore also does what it does only in so far as the other does the same. Action by one side would be useless because what is to happen can only be brought about by both"

Each seeks the death of the other. Each seeks their own perpetuation. Because what is happening to one is happening to both, we have a sense in the struggle to the death that both lose their connection to life, and yet both survive. He's also stressing in this passage that life is indepndence without negativity, whilst death is negativity without independence ("For just as life is the natural setting of consciousness, independence without absolute negativity, so death is the natural negation of consciousness, negation without independence..." p.114).

So, with death the two consciousnesses are shown to be consciousness, but no longer have independent existance (i.e. they're fucking dead); with life, i.e. survival, those that live no longer have negativity, i.e. they can no longer be classed as consciousness, and can no longer be distinguished from life (the objective world). As such they become "like things".

So again, just as was the case in The Truth of Self Certainty, we've reached a contradiction. Just like when desire did away with the object, which then had to change into a consciousness, we now have a contradiction in that the two consciousnesses cannot do away with each other. We've ended up with "an abstract negation, not the negation coming from consciousness, which supersedes in such a way as to preserve what is superseded, and consequently survives its own supersession." In other words, the negation that we've just enacted (killing off consciousness) hasn't worked, and has demonstrated itself to be inadequate. We now need to move forwards, and that's precisely what happens next:

"In this experience, self-consciousness learns that life is as essential to it as pure self-consciousness."(paragraph 189, p.115). Consciousness has learned that self consciousness cannot be distinguished absolutely from life - doing so ends up with an 'abstract negation,' a dead end. In learning this, it sublates this contradiction into a new form: the relationship of lord and bondsman. The victor does not kill the vanquished, but keeps him in a subordinate role.

SO: after that long, tedious explanation - I don't see why this isn't an example of sublation. we reach a contradiction in paragraph 188, in that the negation that consciousness undertook turns out to be flawed. This is then remedied in 189, and in this respect the error is sublated into a new form.

Have a good weekend,



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