YouTube: Quartet of German Idealism / Playlist

In this seventh masterclass on Žižek’s philosophy we are focusing on the quartet of German Idealism.

Žižek builds his entire philosophical program on what happens in-between the emergence of Immanuel Kant and Georg Hegel.  This moves temporally from Kant to Fichte to Schelling to Hegel; and Žižek refers to this emergence as an unbearable density of thought.

In some ways Žižek would even go so far as saying that philosophy proper only emerges with these four thinkers, and retroactively they change what we think of as philosophy.

What these four thinkers ultimately try to do is work through the consequence of Newtonian science for human beings, thought and history; which brings us to the philosophical interpretation of the rupture of modernity itself.

Starting with Kant.

Kant brings our attention to a priori categories, which are important to understand because when we think from this perspective, we are no longer thinking about space and time as an external outside (i.e. the Newtonian absolute space and time).  Instead we are thinking about space and time as categories of the understanding.  These are thus internal concepts that humans use to organize their reality and make sense of the world.  This distinction massively shifts our ability to make scientific interpretations.

Second, Fichte focuses on political rupture, specifically the rupture of the French and American Revolutions.  Fichte was interested in a form of radical freedom, not as a romantic gesture, but as something that involves terror, something that involves the fear of a total break with a previous normative order.  What does this radical rupture mean or signify for the future potential of political action?

Third, Schelling focuses the power of art.  Art before the modern period was often used by political-monarchical structures, or other forms of power, to solidify their order, to solidify their being.  However, in modernity the power of art is unleashed in a new way, the power of art is radically reduced down to the level of the individual itself.  For Schelling’s philosophy, art brings us much closer, and even into direct contact with the absolute itself in its becoming.

Fourth, Hegel attempts to summarise the progress from Kant to Fichte to Schelling.  Hegel focuses on the relationship between Law and Love.  For Hegel, the problem is how we understand the power of Love and the phenomenon of Love for the historical process as a whole.

Žižek attempts to engage philosophically with what these four thinkers represent for the 21st century.  According to Žižek, Kant forces us to switch our focus from given being, or the universal structure of being, to possible beings, possible conceptual a priori structures, which could change the way in which being is constituted.

For Fichte, he brings our attention to engaged subjectivity.  He forces us to shift from given being to what it means for different forms of engaged subjectivity to change fundamentally that normative order.

Schelling brings our attention to the pre-logical heart.  When we think about the power of art, it is not necessarily logical or scientific, but rather is imagistic and intuitive.  Schelling’s assertion is that this brings us closer to the absolute, towards the pre-logical rupture, and a type of identification with the unconscious.

Hegel brings our attention to the one as a cut and as temporality.  Instead of thinking about the one as an absolute fixed-static idea, or instead of thinking about the one as a unity that closes a becoming; Hegel thinks about the motion of Love, the one as internally cut.  Hegel is not thinking about a fall from a perfect one and a return to a perfect one, but the way in which a perfect one intersects or traverses us as our temporal reality.

This allows us to think ultimately a historical absolute, instead of an absolute that is eternal and non-historical.  Such thinking is possible because Kant brings to our attention a priori frames of reference, the conceptual frame itself.  The conceptual frame itself allows us to shift from thinking one conceptual frame, or one conceptual schema, like a God, or a Newtonian absolute space and time.

Fichte’s focus on politics, engaged subjectivity, and the ruptures of politics, forces us to think trans-subjective reality and its desire for freedom.  What is the consequences of this trans-subjective desire for freedom?

Schelling asks us to think the drive and the motion that is not logical, or the illogic within logic.  Schelling asks us to think the motion which precedes any logical or rational formation, its emotive core.

Finally, Hegel asks us to think how this pre-logical or pre-rational space of a drive or a motion becomes articulated in an unconscious narrative, the becoming of the narrative itself.  This means owning fully your speech in history is the becoming of the absolute, and the dialectic between Law and Love.

Owning your own speech is the historical responsibility; it is the importance of understanding the power of your own speech.  In some sense, when you own your own words, and own your own speech, you are participating in the historical absolute as spirit.  That is ultimately Hegel’s message.

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