Hegel and Voltron

This weekend I read the SEP article on Hegel to try to get some kind of grasp on the major trends in Hegel scholarship. From that article, I get the impression that a kind of “literalistic” reading of Hegel prevailed up until the last few decades — basically, everyone thinks Hegel believes there “really is” an entity called Spirit that emerges out of the unfolding of human reason, perhaps a kind of Voltron of Reason. This entity is closely analogous to God and has only fully actualized itself in modern times.

I found this to be pretty shocking. Recently reading Phenomenology of Spirit, it seemed to me that everything pretty much hung together fine without positing a “real” Spirit-as-Voltron kind of entity. Obviously I come at things primarily from Zizek’s Lacan-inflected reading, though it seems to me that at least on this particular question, Zizek is close to people like Gillian Rose or Robert Pippin — so it’d be pretty remarkable if he’d written a huge Gnostic myth (is Cyril O’Regan assuming the “literal” reading of Hegel?), but then it turned out to be pretty much coherent if you dropped that aspect completely.

More importantly, though, it struck me as crazy that Hegel would have had such influence if he really subscribed to the Spirit-as-Voltron idea (which may or may not be a good description, but I think it’s pretty funny and am totally going with it).

9 thoughts on “Hegel and Voltron

  1. I suspect that the world-history lectures are to blame for some of this. They’ve always been popular far in excess of their merit, and I think it’s easier to get a Voltronic picture of Absolute Spirit from them. Oriental despotism, Greek beauty, Christian religion, and the modern nation-state are the various robot cats that combine to form Absolute Spirit/Germany/Voltron at the end of the episode, who then proceeds to win at everything and then the credits roll.

    I don’t know Rose and won’t speak to Zizek, but Pippin is self-consciously reacting against the reading of Hegel you get in Charles Taylor (and more recently Fred Beiser): Pippin’s is an avowedly transcendental idealist Hegel, and there is a sort of metaphysics his Hegel wants to do without. His Hegel is a nihilist in Jacobi’s sense, is one way I’ve heard him put it. He has a very, very hard time handling some passages in Hegel, and he knows it (philosophy’s sole object is God, philosophy without metaphysics is like a temple without a holy of holies, etc. — I’ve seen him pressed on these points a couple of times, and he just doesn’t have a deep story to tell here). The Kreines articles Redding cites are really good on this stuff.

    Oh, it just occurred to me what the obvious explanation for this part of Hegel’s reception-history is: The British Idealists read Hegel as positing a curious sort of metaphysical monism, and it was Bradley/McTaggart/Green/Bosanquet that Moore/Russell/Popper and the other famous “critics” of Hegelianism in England were reacting against. And then it’s only natural that English-language defenders of Hegel will try to rehabilitate him initially by taking on those critics, and so the version of Hegel they rehabilitate will be British Idealist-y. And since the British Idealists straightforwardly argued that time/space/finite things/finite minds are illusory and there exists only a single logical subject of all possible judgements, you’ll get a very weird Voltronic picture of Hegel in the end. And philosophers who argued that time is just flat-out an illusion on the part of finite minds really were influential in Victorian England, somehow. Philosophy’s weird.

    Also I want to read more about Hegel and giant mecha shows now. I’m sure there are dissertations about this in Japanese.

  2. In The Indivisible Remainder, Zizek basically admits that the “crazy” stuff really is there in Hegel, but it’s just not what Zizek finds most important or interesting about him. (He says something similar about the “structuralist” reading of Lacan.)

  3. “It gets kind of old.”

    Another thing that is really getting kind of old in the classrooms around the country is this nonsense about how Hegel thought that the history of philosophy has ended with him…

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