In the eighth masterclass on Žižek’s philosophy we are going to be focusing on the 21st century meaning of Hegelian philosophy.
The central dimension of 21st century Hegel means being able to think the relationship between epistemology and ontology. Another way of saying this is that Hegelian philosophy asks us to think the relation between knowledge and being.
In other words, in Hegelian philosophy, we are not just focused on being in-itself independent of our knowledge, and we are not just thinking about our knowledge independent of being, but rather the interaction between the two. You may say, to use a common term in modern science, that knowledge and being are entangled.
In Hegel, there is an interest in how this entanglement is unfolding as a historical process. This would be the location of Hegel’s absolute in a becoming.
Because Hegel is focused on the relation between knowledge and being, what he is interested in is the division, not the unity. If knowledge practices are interacting with being, and vice versa, that means there must be a division between the two.
This division opens up the space for the narrativization process. In this sense, that is where Hegel locates the absolute itself, in the division and becoming of the narrative.
Hegelian metaphysics offers us a way to approach a very important division for our contemporary knowledge structures. As Žižek has mentioned many times, perhaps the fundamental antagonism in our current knowledge practices is the relationship between scientific materialism on the one hand, and discursive historicism on the other hand.
What scientific materialism focuses on is a naive notion of objectivity, an objectivity independent of human subjects, an objectivity that is non-emotional, passionless, with no pre-logical drives, and with no concern for the nature of the in-itself of subjectivity.
On the other hand, discursive historicism attempts to deconstruct and relativize and render every form of knowledge practice contingent to our historical location.
What Hegel offers is a way to synthesize these two opposites. Hegel offers us a way to think both the in-itself of being, and the freedom of our narratives/the openness of our discursivity.
This, again, would be the location of the absolute becoming. Hegel is asking us to think about the way in which a particular frame of reference emerges and structures a necessary stage of free becoming.
In terms of high level philosophy, Žižek offers us a way to use Hegel in a way that engages the most common presuppositions in contemporary philosophy.
Contemporary philosophy often focuses on the contingency of being, the alterity of being, and the heterogeneity of being. It means philosophy focuses on an external being that could be otherwise (contingent); the otherness of being distinct from the self (alterity); and finally difference and multiplicity (heterogeneity).
In contrast to these dominant notions, Hegelian philosophy asks us to think the opposite of these terms: instead of contingency, necessity; instead of alterity, self-realization; instead of heterogeneity, unity.
However, all of these three terms deployed in Hegelian metaphysics can often be constructed to make a straw-man of Hegel. When Hegel thinks of necessity, he is thinking about a sublated contingency. He is thinking about contingent events that become necessary, and they become necessary through self-realization. That means they become necessary through the transformative power of the subject itself.
Finally, heterogeneity is also subject to this same process, where differences are sublated into the unity of the self. This does not mean the self’s unity is a perfect sphere; it is still an open becoming, it is constantly being sublated.
This means that Hegelian philosophy in the 21st century would ask us to think about paradoxes of accidents, the way in which accidents, contingent events, can become fundamental and necessary to the historical process. It also asks us to think the importance of observers, the way in which observers are always already necessary for the revelation of an otherness, or an alternative to the self.
Finally, Hegel asks us to think cuts, the paradox between division and unity. This paradox is that a unity, a self, is fundamentally only possible because it is cutting into reality, it is itself, its own unity, a cut or division in being.
This offers us a first step towards thinking the Hegelian thing-in-itself. The Hegelian thing-in-itself is not an independent objective being out there, but rather a historical becoming. This means that Hegel would interpret science as a particular world stage. Science is not an end and absolute form of knowledge, but a particular form of absolute revelation.
The mystery of science is its historical consequences, the fact that it transforms the given conditions and possibilities for being. This also means that the thing-in-itself asks us to think the in-itself of discursive freedom: the fact that we can freely create and freely use narrative to change being, to bring forth new realities, new possibilities of being.
Finally, the thing-in-itself is inherently a part of self-positing. That means that our own becoming, and our own self-realization, our own free use of language, is the location of the thing-in-itself. In order to go deeper into what that really means, and locate your own speech with the absolute, we would need to go deeper, because we would need to use psychoanalysis.
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