Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Ethos of Modernity: A City for Redemption

I have never lived in a city before I arrived in Amsterdam. I come from a small, suburban town in Connecticut, where all the houses and people look relatively identical. My house is in a quiet neighborhood where you rarely see anybody, besides those walking their dogs in the afternoon. Needless to say, I was somewhat intimidated by the thought of coming to live in Amsterdam. I could hardly imagine what living in a city would be like, let alone this city, known worldwide for its legalized prostitution and drugs. A city famous for its progressive policy and extremely liberal culture. A city that I worried would be far too modern for my relatively conservative upbringing.

I got off the airplane at the Schipol airport, which was packed with people. I took the cab through overly crowded streets to my new home. As I walked around the city in the following days, I could hardly help but feel intimidated by the suffocating presence of other anonymous human beings, surrounding me everywhere I went. They were inescapable. The smell of people, the constant and unavoidable physical contact with strangers – strangers who all look and sound alike. I felt the city as a mass of indistinguishable beings, where “everyone [amounted] only to those qualities by which he or she can replace everyone else.” [1] The city was to me a perfect embodiment of Horkheimer and Adorno’s description of Enlightenment culture: that fascist society where the individual is universalized; where personal identity and freedom are murdered by the culture industry and by the other barbaric forms that have sprung from the “tendency toward self-destruction [that] has been inherent in rationality from the first.” [2] I felt as if I had been snatched up and flung mercilessly into “the crowd” of Baudelaire’s poems, and the shock was, at first, overwhelming. [3]

Eventually the shock began to wear off as I grew accustomed to the masses and began to understand them as an inevitable part of city life. However, just as I had begun to resign myself to the fact that Amsterdam was just as barbaric and indifferent as any other city, I experienced a moment of realization similar to that which one finds in Baudelaire’s poem, “A Une Passante.” As I stood outside a shop on Damrak, waiting for a friend inside, I began to look around me – to really look at the masses filing past me. And I began to see more than just a mass. In the poem, the narrator finds himself in a similar position: “The darkening street was howling round me when a woman passed on her way, so tall and slender, all in black mourning, majestical in her grief… And I, tense as a man out of his wits, drank from her eye.” [4] Individuals began to stand out from the crowd – two Muslim women with faces covered, a Dutch mother with her three kids hanging off the bike, a young couple with hemp clothing and dread-locked hair, a businessman, some slick-looking twenty-year-olds.

Suddenly I understood the mass to be more than just a barbaric incarnation of cultural regression, for these people were unique! (In fact, they were far more unique and various than the people from my hometown, who dress the same, listen to the same music, share the same friends, and even look essentially the same.) Just as Baudelaire’s narrator thinks to the woman, “Oh you whom I could have loved, Oh you who knew it,” [5] I suddenly felt overcome by a feeling of potentiality in the crowd. I suddenly understood that these people were not just anonymous objects in my way, these were my neighbors. These were people from whom I could potentially learn; whom I could potentially befriend; with whom I could potentially experiment.

Foucault describes (and agrees with) Baudelaire’s ideal modern man as “not the man who goes off to discover himself, his secrets, and his hidden truth; [but] he is the man who tries to invent himself.” [6] It is this self-invention, obvious in the very physical uniqueness of every single person who walked by me at that moment on the street, that made me so aware of Amsterdam as a center of modernity. Living here, I am more than just another member of the masses; I am an active individual among a multitude of actively self-inventing individuals. I thought about my roommate who had just gotten her nose pierced, and my other friend who had gotten her first tattoo, and I suddenly understood that here in this city I possess a freedom in my limitless possibilities of self-invention and experimentation – possibilities which had never really been open to me before. This awareness of possibility and drive to invent oneself exemplify Foucault’s definition of modernity as an ethos, “a way of thinking and feeling; a way, too, of acting and behaving.” [7] Modernity is the very understanding and embracing of personal possibility, and I had never felt this ethos so much as in this city.

Nevertheless, as I began to reflect further upon these possibilities of self-invention, I began to feel a bit overwhelmed. What would I do in my remaining time here? What had I already done? What should I do? Questions like these, which nearly everyone who comes to Amsterdam finds himself asking, made me realize that perhaps this freedom is more than a mere privilege, but also a responsibility. I found myself faced with the fundamental challenge of Foucault’s limit-attitude, “both to grasp the points where change is possible and desirable, and to determine the precise form this change should take.” [8] Sure, I could try all the drugs in the city that I cannot find at home, and spend time with prostitutes which are illegal in the United States, or even go out to clubs every night and party like I could never even imagine in my rural university setting; but perhaps I shouldn’t. I could not ignore the fact that the new decisions I make here, insofar as they contribute to my own self-invention, require a critical preconsideration – a critique similar to that found in Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals.

As I began to wonder about ways I could take advantage of this new modern life in the city, I found myself thinking back on my life leading up to Amsterdam. The question, “what should I do here?” necessarily raised another question: “what have I done before?” Only through a critical examination of my past could I even begin to think about changing myself in the present, and this is precisely the attitude that Nietzsche adopts in his genealogical inquiries about morality. Nietzsche initially states the goal of his work, “we need a critique of moral values, the value of these values should itself, for once, be examined,” but he then goes on to explain that in order to achieve this critique “we need to know about the conditions and circumstances under which the values grew up, developed and changed.” [9] This idea of continuous critique is a fundamental characteristic of the ethos of modernity (as Foucault, Baudelaire, and Nietzsche all agree); but, even more importantly, a continuous critique of history is the only true method of affecting positive change in the present. Whether that be on a personal or universal level.

One might conclude that this permanent critique of history leaves us in a state of perpetual skepticism – a nihilistic attitude in which we are left with nothing but atheism, moral insecurity, historical futility, and an impossibility of truth (consequences which Jacobi argues are the only results of nihilism). But where Jacobi finds hopelessness, I find only opportunity. Sure, a consequence of the freedom in the city is a kind of disappearance of a universal morality; but is this really a bad thing? Nietzsche’s parable of the madman, in his The Gay Science, raises these very issues. After accusing the crowd of murdering God, the madman goes on to ask of them, “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us – for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.” [10] Through the madman, Nietzsche admits that modern man is left without a God; but in this regard, modern man has essentially enabled himself to take God’s place. No longer are we subject to a strict universal code of morality, but we have a new freedom to create our own present and future through critiquing our past and inventing our own moralities. This is precisely the freedom of modernity that I and so many others have found in the city, where the individual is able to decide what is right and wrong for himself, and may in this way invent himself.

Having arrived at this understanding of the ethos of modernity, I find myself not just critically examining my own past, but beginning to draw a kind of broader comparison between Amsterdam and my hometown. What is it about the city that so fosters this attitude of modernity, and is it present in my hometown? Will my sense of freedom disappear when I return to the smaller, more socially controlled environment? Do I feel as though I have been given a privilege to live in the city, or is it a fundamental right that all individuals ought to demand? As David Harvey puts it, “The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city… The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is… one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.” [11] By considering the city in these terms, Harvey unites the individual with the mass in a common goal of inventing not only personal identities, but also collective urban identities; in other words, it is a common goal of furthering human culture in general. It seems to me that Walter Benjamin shares Harvey’s ideal, and believes that the potential victory of the ethos of modernity that is so clearly offered by the city is a “redemption” of the failures of our previous generations (the kind of redemption that Nietzsche’s madman prophesized). [12]

Thus I find myself and my neighbors in the city not only offered the freedom of self-invention, but also charged with the responsibility of historical and moral critique. From this critique we as individuals invent ourselves, construct ourselves; and since we all share in this same freedom, we are all contributors to a broader cultural construction. Insofar as the city of Amsterdam fosters this ethos of modernity, and provides a favorable setting for real cultural and moral progress – and perhaps even redemption – can it truly be called a modern city.

10/11/08

Footnotes:
[1] Adorno, Max, and Theodor Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford: SUP, 2002, pp. 116-117.

[2] Adorno, Max, and Theodor Horkheimer. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford: SUP, 2002, p. xix.

[3] Benjamin, Walter. “On Some Motifs in Baudelaire.” Illuminations. London: Pinlico, 1999, p. 162.

[4] Baudelaire, Charles. “A Une Passante.” The Complete Verse. Edited and Translated by Francis Scarte. London: Anvile Press Poetry, 1986, p. 186.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Foucault, Michel. “What is Enlightenment?” The Foucault Reader. Edited by Paul Rabinow. New York: Pantheon Books, 1984, p. 42.

[7] Ibid, p. 39.

[8] Ibid, p. 47.

[9] Nietzsche, Friedrich. “Preface.” On the Genealogy of Morality. Edited by Keith Ansell-Pearton. Translated by Carol Diethe. GM Preface 6, p. 8.

[10] Nietzsche, Friedrich. The Gay Science. Edited by Walter Kaufmann. New York: Vintage, 1974, pp. 181-82.

[11] Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” New Left Review 53 (September/October 2008): p. 23.

[12] Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations. London: Pinlico, 1999, p. 245.


Sunday, November 16, 2008

The Implications of a Philosophy Embodied by its Author

In his Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche claims that, “what every great philosophy has hitherto been [is] a confession on the part of its author and a kind of involuntary and unconscious memoir.” As such, Nietzsche believes that every philosopher’s moral theory is entirely personal and representative of “who he is” – i.e., according to Nietzsche, the way he thinks of the world based upon “the order of rank [of the] innermost drives of his nature.” This definition of one’s character, as a hierarchy of drives, is an interesting comment by Nietzsche, and warrants consideration. Nietzsche begins his discussion of drives earlier when he announces that he does “not believe a ‘drive to knowledge’ to be the father of philosophy, but that another drive has, here as elsewhere, only employed knowledge… as a tool.” This statement of Nietzsche’s initially causes alarm in the audience, as it seems to suggest that we have reason to suspect the motives of philosophers in general – are philosopher’s merely pronouncing theory for their own self-aggrandizement, and not for the contribution to overall knowledge of our world and our place in it? However, upon closer reading, Nietzsche does not appear to be denouncing philosophy in general as plagued with bias (though indeed, he does endorse critical examination of philosophers and, more specifically, dogmatists).

What initially leads the audience to alarm is Nietzsche’s vague phrasing of “the basic drives of mankind” that “have all at one time or other practiced philosophy.” When one thinks of the basic drives, any number of concepts come to mind: the drive for sustenance, the drive for reproduction, the selfish drives of greed and pride. If Nietzsche were referring to pride or greed, clearly he would be announcing that the basis of philosophy is to be suspected – insofar as true knowledge would have been neither the aim nor the outcome of any philosophical theory. And yet, could we not imagine a different set of basic drives to which Nietzsche may be referring? Could it not be that Nietzsche is providing us with a more effective way to understanding philosophical theories, by explaining that every philosophical theory is an effort to satisfy some more profound basic human need? By examining philosophical texts in this way, we are now given a new set of criteria for judging the veracity of philosophical theories entirely based upon the connection between the philosopher’s most essential drive and the outcome of his theory. Under these new criteria it seems that a theory fails if its author does not embody its conclusions – for in this way, the philosopher would merely be trying to fulfill an imagined basic human drive, as opposed to actually fulfilling his own human drive and therefore an actual human desire. Let us investigate some theories, and then try and discover to what extent each philosopher embodies his work.

Kant’s theory of morality, as established in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, begins with the assertion that the only thing “which can be regarded as good without qualification [is a] good will” (page 7). Kant goes on to conclude that the good will is that which is always in accord with the Categorical Imperative. Kant deduces three essentially synonymous formulations of the Categorical Imperative: 1) “act only according to the maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (page 30); 2) “Act in such a way that you treat humanity… always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means” (page 36); 3) “A rational being belongs to the kingdom of ends as a member when he legislates in it universal laws while also being himself subject to these laws” (page 40). Thus Kant’s most valued person is one who decides every maxim of action based upon a consideration of the Categorical Imperative. Such an individual would be one characterized by strict adherence to moral law and exhibiting a rigorous commitment to determining the most ethical maxim through considering universality.

Hegel’s ideal differs from Kant’s in that his seems to be less of a moral ideal. In his Phenomenology of the Spirit, Hegel examines various aspects humanity as people attempt to locate themselves in the world. In this work, Hegel rationally observes the different conditions of human beings in general and their approaches to reality, and he systematically moves from one to the next – always tending toward his ultimate ideal (though we do not know what that ideal is explicitly until he reaches it in the end). He begins with an examination of Consciousness where the essence of reality is considered to be objects in the external world. When Consciousness fails, he moves on to examine Self-Consciousness, where truth is thought to be found only in the self. This theory fails as well, but it brings Hegel to his final theoretical approach: Reason. It is here that we come to see Hegel’s ideal: where “Reason is Spirit when its certainty of being all reality has been raised to truth, and it is conscious of itself as its own world, and of the world as itself” (#438). Put differently, Hegel’s ultimate ideal is the integration of the individual with the community, where everyone knows himself to be an embodiment of Spirit, which exists in both the individual and in itself. Knowing himself to be Spirit, he is also able to find real connection between himself and essentially every aspect of existence – insofar as Spirit is everywhere and in everything. Thus, Hegel’s ideal seems to be one not characterized by the sort of rigorous adherence to any law, as in Kant’s; instead, the model for Hegel is a person who has come to possess a transcendent or complete understanding of the world and all that is included within it.

Schopenhauer’s morality, in his The World as Will and Representation, appears at first to be one of compassion, where the only criterion of good is one’s intention to help ease the suffering of others. He arrives at this first conclusion through a development of the idea of the Will as reality. He agrees with Kant that our experience of objects is entirely limited to appearances, because we can only experience objects through our own concepts of Time, Space, and Causality. However, Schopenhauer does conclude that there is one thing which we can know in itself: our own wills. Having established this, he goes on to say that we can project the idea of the will upon the entire world, and in this way we can understand the world as a thing in itself. Because everything is essentially will, Schopenhauer concludes that everything is fundamentally connected; therefore, the pain of another is really one’s own pain. Thus, compassion arises as the necessary morality, where one assumes everyone’s suffering and tries to alleviate it. However, this task of mitigating suffering is so great that it is ultimately to be abandoned. Therefore, Schopenhauer ultimately concludes that the only value of life is to realize that life has no value. As a result, Schopenhauer’s ideal person becomes one who actively opposes the will’s influence over him. His model becomes the ascetic, who has come to know the truth of reality – that happiness is impossible – and who has realized that one is left only with the choice of denying the will as an active rebellion against the inevitable dissatisfaction caused by it.

Having established the most basic outline of each philosopher’s ideal, we must now address the question as to whether they embody their professed archetypes. If they truly are an embodiment of their ideal, then their moral theory succeeds insofar as it exists as a fulfillment of a basic human drive. And yet how are we to determine each philosopher’s character? It seems to me that our most reliable source would be the philosopher’s own voice as related to us in the works themselves. By examining not the content, but style of each work, not the ideal at all, but the voice, we can learn something about each author as an individual and thus as a hierarchy of desires. Finally, after deciding whether or not the embodiment aligns with the ideal, we can conclude that their ideals were motivated by a specific desire. The only remaining step is then to determine what that desire was.

Kant’s construction of his theoretical works is almost painfully logical. One can see this most clearly in his Critique of Pure Reason, where every single word is deliberate and clearly carefully considered. As a result, the writing ends up as rather cut and dry, very straightforward and no-nonsense. Even when he speculates, he provides a firm and rationally sound basis for such speculation. As we return to consider the character of his ideal person, it seems that the two really do coincide. His ideal person is one committed to rigorous employment of reason – and Kant clearly approaches his philosophical theories as such. His ideal person is one who thoroughly understands the requirements of the Categorical Imperative as a moral law, and clearly Kant does understand this. Indeed, in his examples throughout his Grounding, Kant seems to remove himself entirely from any sort of compassion or moral feeling – for example, his discussion of the supposed right to lie does not permit any sort of feeling of compassion, but only a reasoned consideration of the required universality of maxims. Thus, it is fair to conclude that Kant represents his own ideal, for his voice in at least two of his works is clearly the voice of the person committed to moral law as determined by reason.

Having concluded that Kant does represent his own ideal, we must next inquire as to what drive motivated his theoretical conclusions. By determining this drive, we will see how it ultimately addresses and fulfills a basic human need and therefore succeeds as a theory. Kant’s ideal is a person who seems merely to have found himself existing in a world about which he can know nothing in itself. Furthermore, this person has also found that he possesses a peculiar faculty, that of reason. Thus we have a person in an unavoidable situation but who at the same time holds a tool for helping him to live. Thus, we find as motivation behind Kant’s conclusions about morality a fundamental desire to cope with our existence. It is as if he has decided, “well, this is the way things are, so we might as well make the best of it by putting our reason to use.”

For Hegel it appears a bit trickier to determine whether he embodies his own ideal. But let us begin with a look at the way that his Phenomenology is composed. The most characteristic feature of the construction of this work is without a doubt its carefully considered ordering. Hegel knows where he must start when considering humanity’s approach to reality, and he knows why he ought to start there – i.e. because Consciousness is the most basic approach, and, when it fails, it leads logically into Self-Consciousness. Again, Self-Consciousness fails and what naturally follows from it is Reason. Thus, Hegel’s understanding of humanity and its basic functions is vastly comprehensive. By looking at the world rationally, he is able to compose an entirely rational and goal-oriented work. He does not write in an analytic or purely logical fashion, as did Kant; but instead seems to be offering only his personal observations supported by both observed and reasoned evidence. Thus, by the sheer comprehensiveness of his understanding of human beings and their various approaches and implicit aims, Hegel seems actually to have attained, to a certain extent, the kind of full understanding present in his ideal person. His very ability to explain the mode of relation between the individual and the Unchangeable, speaks to the likelihood that he himself has at the very least approached such a reconciliation, if not found it completely.

Hegel’s motivating drive differs entirely from Kant’s desire to cope with existence. Instead, Hegel’s most fundamental drive seems to be more of a desire to reconcile our existence in the world. Hegel does not set out to explain how we ought to live, but instead sets out to explain how we can locate ourselves within this world. He wants to explain that we do not just seem to find ourselves here in a world about which we can truly know nothing; but ultimately we belong in this world, as we are the very embodiments of the Spirit which is the world. Thus Hegel’s work is an effort to help people understand that their existence is not merely accidental and one that might as well be made the best of (as in Kant’s), but that their existence is one characterized by themselves.

Schopenhauer is perhaps the most difficult of the three to prove as an embodiment of his own ideal, and here it seems necessary that we approach him in the opposite direction – i.e. start with the desire behind his ideal, and then deduce whether or not he could potentially embody that desire. Assuming his ideal does respond to a real and basic human drive (i.e. assuming that Schopenhauer is fundamentally characterized by this drive), his ideal seems to be motivated entirely by a desire to revolt against the existence in which we find ourselves. Can we find such a desire within his writing? If not, perhaps we will have to look also at what we know about him as a person.

Schopenhauer’s World as Will and Representation can be characterized best by its sensuous appeal. His similes and metaphors are vivid and illuminating. His discussion of aesthetics harkens images and sounds to mind and causes one to find freedom from the will even within one’s own imagination. And yet, his ultimate ideal is one of asceticism. Would an ascetic really use such appealing descriptions, and spend so much time considering the pleasures of the arts? It seems highly unlikely, and thus we have some cause for concern as to whether Schopenhauer really does embody his ideal. We find greater concern in the knowledge of his penchant for sensuous delights – he centered his life around pleasures, parties, and good company. Thus, must we conclude that Schopenhauer’s philosophy has failed? Is it only an imagined drive that he has attempted to fulfill, and not a real one?

At this point, we must return to the desire to revolt, and move away from considering whether he has fulfilled the ascetic ideal. For the ascetic ideal represents only an attempt by Schopenhauer to achieve such a rebellion of existence – and perhaps it is merely one mode of rebellion, of many. Perhaps Schopenhauer personally satisfies his desire to revolt by a different route than asceticism. Could it not be that his consumption of the world is a type of rebellion in itself? As if he were saying, “having found myself to exist in this world and having found myself to be subject to the Will, I will take it upon myself to consciously use its contents for my own pleasure, even beyond the extent to which the Will urges me.” If this is the case, does his theory of asceticism fail? Certainly not, for Schopenhauer does embody the desire that motivated his ascetic theory, though he does not embody the one particular ideal in his work. In other words, the basic human drive that led him to his ascetic ideal is real, as proven by the fact that he does embody a form of revolt. With this understanding of the basic drive, Schopenhauer it seems would be able to compose multiple theories for the satisfaction of that goal. Indeed, his very composing of the ascetic ideal represents a revolt in itself against the Will, insofar as he has now offered to even more people an option for rebellion.

Through analyzing these three philosophers according to the new way provided by Nietzsche, we are able to understand their theories as succeeding in a different sense than previously considered. No longer do we see philosophers only as trying to establish the most accurate theory of our understanding of the world according to a “drive to knowledge.” Instead, we can now understand a slightly different purpose behind each work – that of satisfying a basic human drive, a basic human approach to the world that perhaps previously had not found a way to be satisfied. By offering ideals, these philosophers are providing solutions to peoples’ predisposed approaches to the world. This approach to philosophy seems to coincide with Nietzsche’s approach to life in general – where, as seen in The Gay Science, responsibility for coming to conclusions about existence and reality is placed upon the individual. Every person is moved by a different hierarchy of drives, and thus, the philosopher’s job becomes that of offering ways in which those drives, at the individual level, can be accomplished.

5/8/08


A few somewhat relevent links (personality tests)

http://www.colorquiz.com

http://www.similarminds.com/embj.html

http://www.similarminds.com/personality_tests.html

Friday, November 14, 2008

Olympia: A Timeless Challenge and Artistic Success

Edouard Manet’s Olympia, exhibited in the Salon des Refuses in 1865, incited an uproar among the large audience of art enthusiasts and critics. People were appalled at the flagrant nakedness of the woman in the scene, the evil and inappropriate symbol of the cat at her feet, and the rather sketchy composition of the work. Many people extended open and insulting criticism not only toward the painting, but also toward Manet himself – rather similar to the responses elicited by his The Bath. Critic Ernest Chesneau claimed, “We cannot accept this as a perfectly chaste work… and I deplore, even more than the composition itself, the intention that inspired it… Manet wants to achieve fame by shocking the bourgeois” (Manet booklet 49-50). Yet Manet’s response, “How foolish must one be to have said that!… I render as simply as can be the things that I see. Take Olympia, for example, could anything be plainer? There are hard parts, I’ve been told. They were there. I saw them. I painted what I saw” (Manet booklet 61), proves that the criticisms and attacks disheartened and disappointed the artist and failed to grasp Manet’s true intentions. Manet’s Olympia is an attempt at something for more real than simply fame through subversion; the painting is far too complex, progressive, and challenging to be reduced to some cheap and meaningless ploy for attention.

While Manet did not intend for to stir up such scandal with his painting, that outcome seems inevitable when Olympia is compared to other works exhibited in the Salon around the same time. Take, for example, Alexandre Cabanel’s The Birth of Venus (Manet Booklet 49), another nude painting that, instead, gained praise from the very same critics. One fundamental and important difference between Manet’s and Cabanel’s works is the subject matter: Manet portrayed a nude prostitute, Cabanel portrayed a goddess. The divinity of Cabanel’s woman – she is surrounded by flittering cherubs and floating on top of the waves – justified her nudity to critics, earning her the praise of being “in exquisite taste” (Manet Booklet 49). On the other hand, Manet’s woman is so blatantly real, so blatantly human, that the nudity earns contempt and is deemed vulgar. Ironically, the Venus is posed much more seductively, stretching her naked body out upon the sea, her bare chest raised to the sky, her arms reaching above her head, her legs seeming to rub against each other; while Manet’s woman rests much more fixedly, covering herself with one hand, holding onto the blanket below her with the other, and crossing her legs. The style and setting of the painting also play a factor in the different reactions. Cabanel’s nude is glossy, the lines of her body are smooth and seem to blend in with the sky and sea and nature around her – emphasizing her godliness and majesty. Whereas Manet’s nude sits starkly upon the white couch, while dark shadows and stark contrasts emphasize her reality and reiterate the sense in the audience that she truly is of this world – physically no different than any other woman. Probably the utterly bared humanity of the woman, unashamed and unflinching in front of an audience neither accustomed to nor supportive of human nakedness, scandalized viewers. Perhaps Manet hoped to advance society’s taste with his painting by challenging their conceptions of the socially appropriate and inappropriate, and highlighting the idylls which are embraced and the realities which are covered up.

To further understand Manet’s objective, one must look at the inspiration for his Olympia: Titian’s Venus of Urbino. The scene in Titian’s original is very similar to Manet’s, yet a few differences stand out, and in these differences one can further understand Manet’s intentions. Like Cabanel’s, Titian’s nude is a goddess – Venus – emphasized by her glossy texture, her almost blurry and smooth complexion like ivory, her curvaceous body, her majestic, regal, reposed, and utterly relaxed presence. Again, Manet’s Olympia has sharper contrast throughout the painting – between her skin and the wall, between the wall and her bed, especially between her servant’s dark complexion and the white dress she wears. These differences reinforce the idea that Manet strove to paint a real woman, not some ideal and perfect deity. Also enlightening is Manet’s decision to juxtapose a prostitute with the goddess of love and fertility. Perhaps Manet really sought to establish a full and developed character, as I have said, a real woman. The fact that she is a whore and yet placed in this divine position proves to further complexify and humanize Olympia. Perhaps Manet was trying to give his subject a heart, to suggest that she maybe loved someone, or was loved by someone (as suggested by the flowers carried by the servant) – that there is something more below the surface of what we see in the woman that can only be called human. Perhaps Olympia is Manet’s vision of the modern day goddess of love and he believes that just because she is a prostitute makes her no less regal, no less majestic. That could add to his challenge to the audience – to accept this woman in the full knowledge of her promiscuity and prostitution, not only as a real human being, but also as one deserving consideration, regard, and respect.

Interestingly, Manet had previously more recreated Titan’s work much more exactly (Manet Booklet 57), so his modernized form of the work begs the question: Why keep addressing this piece? Manet’s effort seems to be a look at the modern day Venus – an utter female under the challenging scrutiny and criticism of modern society. The smirk on Olympia’s lips personifies Manet’s challenge. She knows herself; she has the confidence to lie nude with only a hand and some jewelry covering herself, and to give the audience an opportunity either to understand and accept her realness, or simply to brush her to the side in some huff. Titian’s goddess, made in the 16th century, offers no such challenge, no such smirk. She is a goddess of the ancients, one already regarded and respected and known and without a doubt about her place in society. The image of Titian’s sleeping puppy at the goddess’s feet supports the sense of confidence and contentedness in Venus’s demeanor; while the tensed up cat at Olympia’s feet supports the idea that while confident with herself, Olympia’s role according society is far from comfortable. Whereas Titian’s nude reclines completely with natural comfort, Olympia sits slightly (but very noticeably) upright, with her head more lifted and fingers more tensed, legs straighter and arms looking slightly less at ease – as if Olympia is trying to mask some unknown tension (perhaps the glares from her audience) with a fa├žade of perfect comfort. Even the difference of the backgrounds presents a challenge. Titian depicts a woman and child preoccupied in the background and hardly even noticeable in the picture. Manet depicts a servant of Olympia in the immediate background with skin so black that she almost blends in with the wall, and yet also with a dress and bouquet of flowers so bright one can almost not look away. Perhaps Manet suggests that the ideal is overrated and society should move on and he presents us with not one social outcast, but two. Perhaps Manet even wants the servant to be recognized as human. The challenging of social conventions is an undeniable theme in Manet’s work.

Manet’s attempt with Olympia satisfies what Joseph Conrad, in his preface to “The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’”, considers the ultimate goal of art: “art itself may be defined as a single-minded attempt to render the highest kind of justice to the visible universe, by bringing to light the truth, manifold and one, underlying its every aspect… The artist, then, seeks the truth and makes his appeal” (Heart Of Darkness 279). Olympia seems an attempt at such an absolute candidness. Manet made no effort to cover up any reality for the sake of being more socially accepted even though he could very easily have predicted his audience’s negative response based upon The Bath. Instead, Manet took great pains to uncover a reality. What could be more just? What could be more honest? Manet created his truth and made his appeal; even though a negative reception of the work was more than likely. Though he hoped that his audience would be ready to handle the truth, he was “entirely unable to resist giving in to those irreverent impulses that would lead to even greater commotion” (Manet Booklet 59). In his commitment and belief in his work, Manet fulfills Conrad’s characterization of a true artist, “The sincere endeavor to accomplish that creative task, to go as far on that road as his strength will carry him, to go undeterred by faltering, weariness or reproach, is the only valid justification for the worker in prose” (HOD 281). Thus art serves as more than a simple preoccupation, more than a distraction from reality; in fact very much the opposite. According to both Manet and Conrad, art should grab hold of society and not let go until every single citizen has been aroused or even accused. Manet’s Olympia is a success for that very reason. Not only did the piece challenge modern society then, it challenges modern society now, and “its effect endures forever” (HOD 280).

12/6/06




Works Cited
Cachin, Francoise. Manet – The Influence of the Modern. Trans. Rachel Kaplan. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1995.

Conrad, Joseph. “Heart of Darkness”. United States of America: W.W. Norton & Company, 2006.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Unhappy Consciousness as Approaching Spirit

In his Phenomenology of Spirit, Hegel endeavors to uncover the true nature of reality through an examination of the usual theoretical and practical frameworks. He begins with the most common first approach, Consciousness, in which he investigates whether any truth is to be found from considering our experience of the content of the natural world to be the true. Having concluded that the theories for establishing reality based only upon Consciousness fail, Hegel moves on to his section entitled Self-Consciousness. The Self-Consciousness which Hegel seeks to examine represents the alternative theory of discovering the nature of reality in which the subject now seeks truth through considering himself as a self-conscious being to be its only true object (as opposed to the subject seeking truth through external objects in the natural world). He begins the section with a number of practical, real life situations in which man struggles to establish that one’s own self-consciousness as the only true reality (e.g. Desire, the Life and Death Struggle, and the Lord Bondsman relationship); however each one ultimately fails. Thus, Hegel moves on to more theoretical approaches of Self-Consciousness: Stoicism, Skepticism, and the Unhappy Consciousness. Stoicism and Skepticism both fail to produce any truths about reality because each possesses inherent problems of partial content and contradiction; however, with his investigation of the Unhappy Consciousness, Hegel ultimately succeeds in solving the fundamental problems of the previous approaches and accomplishes a portrayal of the idea of Spirit in man, and thus an essential truth about the nature of reality.

Hegel’s examination of Self-Consciousness as a means to truth, from a more theoretical perspective, begins with an examination of Stoicism as an approach to life. As in other forms of Self-Consciousness, the fundamental goal of the Stoic is to establish oneself as free, to establish the self as the ultimate reality. The key to this approach, as Hegel sees it, rests in the activity of thinking; through thought, Hegel explains, “I am free, because I am not in an other, but remain simply and solely in communion with myself, and the object, which is for me the essential being, is in undivided unity with myself” (#197). Theoretically, this approach seems to succeed. Through actively thinking, it seems, one can turn all of his energy inwards and essentially reject external objects, and through this rejection, emerge as a self that is entirely insular, purely self, and therefore wholly essential; or, as Hegel puts it, “Its principle is that consciousness is a being that thinks, and that consciousness holds something to be essentially important, or true and good only insofar as it thinks it to be such” (#198). Thus, by declaring himself the only judge of value, the Stoic claims himself to be of absolute value.

And yet, the Stoic’s approach seems suspicious to the phenomenological observer, for one cannot help but realize that the claim to independence is essentially an empty pronouncement, a “contentless thought” (#200). And indeed, Hegel challenges the Stoic’s self-proclaimed freedom when he argues, “Freedom in thought has only pure thought as its truth, a truth lacking the fullness of life. Hence freedom in thought, too, is only the Notion of freedom, not the living reality of freedom itself” (#200). Instead of achieving its desired “absolute negation” of the natural world, it has achieved only “incomplete negation… [and] withdrawn from existence only into itself” (#201).

According to Hegel, Skepticism follows naturally from Stoicism in that “skepticism is the realization of that of which Stoicism was only the Notion, and is the actual experience of what freedom of thought is” (#202). Essentially, Skepticism is a state in which the natural world is not rejected, but merely denied. The Skeptic does not withdraw into himself entirely and refuse to acknowledge the natural world; instead, for the Skeptic “the wholly unessential and nonindependent character of this ‘other’ becomes explicit for [it]; the abstract thought becomes concrete thinking which annihilates the being of the world… and comes to know itself in the many and varied forms of life as a real negativity” (#202). Thus we can see how Skepticism approaches the ultimate goal of the Stoic – i.e. to determine its essentiality through active negation of external objects’ reality – by acknowledging the natural world’s presence and experiencing its existence, and yet still denying its significance. In this way, the Stoic “procures for its own self the certainty of its freedom, generates the experience of that freedom, and thereby raises it to truth” (#204).

The very fact that the Skeptic does not refuse to experience the world, and indeed does experience the world, ultimately proves problematic for Skepticism as a theory. Hegel observes in the Skeptic a fundamental dialectic: he achieves pure self-consciousness through absolute negation, and yet he exists entirely contingently insofar as he does experience the empirical world. This produces in the Skeptic a “confused medley, the dizziness of a perpetually self-engendered disorder” as he struggles to reconcile the two opposing sides of his consciousness (#205). Even though he is able to negate the objects outside of himself through thought, he is fundamentally unable to negate that side of himself which perceives those empirical objects. The Skeptic scrambles “back and forth from the one extreme of self-identical self-consciousness to the other extreme of the contingent consciousness that is both bewildered and bewildering… It affirms the nullity of seeing, hearing, etc., yet it is itself seeing, hearing, etc.” (#205).

Skepticism fails to settle the internal contradiction between the two “I”s – the conscious individual that perceives the world, and the self-conscious individual that considers itself free of the world – due to what Hegel deems a “lack of thought” (#206). This lack of thought fails to recognize the fact that ultimately these two apparently contradictory selves, are “in fact one consciousness which contains within itself these two modes” (#206). Skepticism initially strives to maintain its desired status as purely self-conscious and therefore free; however, as it becomes more developed, as it begins to think about itself, it finally is forced to admit that it is also at the same time fundamentally an irreconcilable duality. Thus, for Hegel, Skepticism fails to achieve a condition of pure self-consciousness, but “from [it] emerges a new form of consciousness which brings together the two thoughts which Skepticism holds apart” (#206) – i.e. the Unhappy Consciousness.

What the phenomenological observer now sees in the Skeptic is in fact a “dual consciousness of itself, as self-liberating, unchangeable, and self-identical [i.e. purely self-conscious], and as self-bewildering and self-perverting [i.e. both self-conscious and conscious]” (#206). It is this “dual consciousness” that Hegel calls the Unhappy Consciousness. This consciousness is unhappy insofar as it is certain of its independence as purely self-conscious, self-determining, and free; and yet, at the very same time, it cannot escape the fact of its own duality, its knowledge that it is in fact not purely self-conscious. In this way, Hegel describes, consciousness itself is duplicated “within itself” and is, essentially, two distinct consciousnesses “now lodged in one [individual]” (#206).

At this point, it is important to note that the existence of these two separate consciousnesses within one individual is “essential in the Notion of Spirit” insofar as we now have both a thesis (the consciousness aware of its own oneness) and an antithesis (the consciousness only able to see its own duality) waiting to be synthesized (#206). Hegel’s task is now one of describing how the individual can reconcile this internal dialectic and ultimately, in doing so, discover the “Notion of Spirit that has become a living Spirit, and has achieved an actual existence because it already possesses as a single undivided consciousness a dual nature” (#207). Ultimately, Hegel explains, the Unhappy Consciousness must realize that it is “the gazing of one self-consciousness into another, and itself is both, and [is also] the unity of both” (#207); however, at this point, the Unhappy Consciousness cannot understand how it could possibly be both and, furthermore, how both could ever be united. Thus, Hegel explains that, “to begin with, [the Unhappy Consciousness] is only the immediate unity of the two [consciousnesses within it]” (#208).

Because it cannot see itself to be the unity of both consciousnesses, and “because it is itself the consciousness of this contradiction” (#208), the Unhappy Consciousness declares itself to be only that consciousness of duality, and deems the other consciousness one foreign to itself: the Unchangeable. In other words, as the Unhappy Consciousness looks at its own condition, it essentially decides that it could not be the Unchangeable because it is still unhappy – the Unchangeable would be that unity which it still does not understand; thus, since it is not satisfied in the understanding of its unity, “it identifies itself with the changeable consciousness, and takes itself to be the unessential Being” (#208). But what is it really that these terms Changeable and Unchangeable mean? What do they represent and what are the implications of this representation for understanding Hegel’s ultimate reason for investigating the Unhappy Consciousness?

When Hegel begins his discussion of the Unchangeable and the Changeable, it appears that he is simply speaking about two different aspects of the individual self. However, as he gets further into his discussion of the relationship between the two, he begins to refer to the Unchangeable in a way that increasingly calls to mind God. Indeed, by substituting the word God for Unchangeable, one can understand Hegel’s descriptions of the Unhappy Consciousness to be directly linked to Christianity. With this connection in mind, one can see how Hegel’s investigation of the reconciliation between the individual and the Unchangeable is in fact an examination of how Christianity achieves that same goal of uniting the individual with God. Thus we can see that Hegel’s observations are essentially an examination of two aspects of Christianity: firstly, an analysis of the ways in which the individual relates to God, and secondly, an explanation of the process through which Christianity achieves its ultimate goal (i.e. “the reconciliation of the individual with the universal” #210).

Hegel concludes that there are three fundamental modes in which the Unhappy Consciousness relates itself to the Unchangeable. The first mode of relation that Hegel examines clearly refers to God. Hegel describes the Unhappy Consciousness as considering the Unchangeable to be “an alien Being who passes judgment on the particular individual” (#210); indeed, no one can deny that most people relate to God in an identical way. Obviously such a relationship, however, does not succeed in attaining any sort of reconciliation, for under such circumstances the consciousness is left only in “a struggle against an enemy, to vanquish whom is really to suffer defeat, where victory in one consciousness is really lost in its opposite” (#208). Thus Hegel moves on to the next relationship between man and God – one in which God appears as an incarnate form of the Universal.

The relationship between man and the incarnate Unchangeable (represented by Jesus Christ in Christianity), seemingly has the potential for a more successful connection between the individual and God, insofar as now “consciousness learns that individuality belongs to the Unchangeable itself” (#210). Logically it would seem that, as an individual, it would be easier for the Unhappy Consciousness to relate to an Unchangeable that is also an individual; however, Hegel explains that in actuality the incarnate form of God “confronts him [only] as an opaque sensuous unit with all the obstinacy of what is actual” (#212). Thus, Hegel ultimately concludes again that “the antithesis persists,” and “the hope of becoming one with it must remain a hope… for between the hope and it fulfillment there [now] stands precisely the absolute contingency or inflexible indifference which lies in the very assumption of definite form, which was [originally] the ground of hope” (#212). When one considers the situation it makes sense – would it not be easier for a person to become one with a spiritual force than with a physical individual? Thus, the Unhappy Consciousness comes to learn that its desired objective lies in considering the Unchangeable not as an alien or incarnate being; instead, as Hegel explains, it must ultimately “find its own self as this particular individual of the Unchangeable” (#210).

Having settled upon the nature of the necessary mode of relation between the Unhappy Consciousness and the Unchangeable, Hegel moves on to investigate how this relationship between the individual and the spiritual God is accomplished. He concludes that there are three ways in which the Unhappy Consciousness strives to reconcile its own duality with the Unchangeable: “first, as pure consciousness; second as a particular individual who approaches the actual world in the forms of desire and work; and third, as consciousness that is aware of its own being-for-self” (#214).

Hegel’s description of the consciousness as searching for a connection to the Unchangeable through considering itself to be a pure consciousness is essentially a reiteration of the goal of all approaches from a Self-Conscious standpoint. In both Stoicism and Skepticism, the individual sought to declare his own self-consciousness to be the essential nature of reality (such a condition would be one of pure consciousness). As explained previously by Hegel, “the incarnate Unchangeable when it is an object for pure consciousness seems to be present in its own proper nature” (#215); however, as Hegel has also shown in his look at the Unhappy Consciousness, “this [pure consciousness], its own proper nature, has not yet come into existence” (#215). Thus, we know that the Unchangeable is that other consciousness which is aware of the individual as a unity, but the Unhappy Consciousness itself “does not know that its object, the Unchangeable… is its own self, is itself the individuality of consciousness” (#216).

Nevertheless, the Unhappy Consciousness is closer to its desired self-understanding than in either of its previous modes. Having “advanced beyond both [Stoicism and Skepticism],” the Unhappy Consciousness now exists in an “intermediate position where abstract thinking is in contact with the individuality of consciousness qua individuality” (#216). In this way, Hegel makes an important observation when he characterizes the Unhappy consciousness’s condition now to be a “movement towards thinking,” where pure thought is pure consciousness (#217). Now we can see in the Unhappy Consciousness more than a frustration at its own duality, but an “inward movement of the pure heart which feels itself, but itself as agonizingly self-divided, the movement of an infinite yearning which is certain that its essence is such a pure heart, a pure thinking which thinks of itself as a particular individuality” (#216). Put simply, the Unhappy Consciousness feels certain of its own individuality, knows that ultimately it is itself a pure consciousness, even in spite of the knowledge that it is a duality. Thus, Hegel explains, we can understand this condition as “a movement towards thinking, and so [as] devotion” (#217). Here, again, with his use of the word “devotion,” we can see an explicit reference to Christianity, and, consequently, we can relate more realistically to what exactly is going on in this individual. As devoted, we can now understand the Unhappy Consciousness to be making its first real attempt at incorporating pure thought into relation with God. Although Hegel characterizes the acts performed out of devotion as “no more than the chaotic jingling of bells, or a mist of warm incense, a musical thinking that does not get as far as the Notion” (#217), nevertheless, the individual is making forward progress toward uniting the two consciousnesses.

The next condition of the Unhappy Consciousness Hegel examines stems directly from that described above, and represents a more sophisticated and developed approach to God. Instead of a reaching for God in some “unattainable beyond” through ritualized actions (#217), consciousness begins to look more and more toward its immediate surroundings and takes a more active approach to the Unchangeable. The Consciousness, now a self-feeling consciousness, “comes to view its second relationship, that of desire and work in which [it] finds confirmation of that inner certainty of itself… by overcoming and enjoying the existence alien to it, viz. existence in the form of independent things” (#218). It is interesting to note Hegel’s return to the concepts of Desire and Work, which he investigated at length earlier in the book; and indeed, since he is reiterating a previous point, he does not take the time to explain the real implications of these two behaviors. To summarize: through desire, the consciousness seeks to establish its own pure consciousness by claiming that the essence of external objects is only his consciousness itself (originally this fails both because the object is consumed and a new object must be found, and because any satisfaction from consuming the object is only temporary). However, desire paired with work yields more sufficient results – through work, the consciousness finds that objects are no longer foreign threats to the consciousness’s self-sufficiency, but instead are a reflection of the consciousness’s active placement of the universal idea into the world. However, just as before, Hegel announces that even “The Unhappy Consciousness [still] merely finds itself desiring and working; it is not aware that to find itself active in this way implies that it is in fact certain of itself, and that its feeling of the alien existence is this self-feeling” (#218).

At this point it is prudent to step back and inquire as to why Hegel has come so far with his phenomenological examination only to return to previously covered topics. Were those previous conditions the same as what Hegel is now describing, only lacking in full detail? Has our individual reverted to a previous condition? Clearly this is not the case. Instead, the Unhappy Consciousness has evolved far beyond a merely self-conscious being of desire and work, and far beyond a mere stoic and skeptic. Instead, having transcended the contentless pure thinking of the stoic, and having surpassed the frustration of its own duality in Skepticism, the Unhappy Consciousness is now an individual both approaching pure thought and consciously striving for the Unchangeable. As such, the Unhappy Consciousness has reached a level of abstraction through which it is able to find in desire and work not frustration, but “actual satisfaction” insofar as it “reflects this activity back into the other extreme, which is thus exhibited as a pure universal… which is the essence both of the self-dividing extremes as they at first appeared, and of their interchanging relationship with itself” (#222, #221). Yet what is the Unhappy Consciousness’s next decision? Still unable to recognize its own pure individuality, and still unable claim credit for its own satisfaction, the Unhappy Consciousness “gives thanks… i.e. denies itself the satisfaction of being conscious of its independence, and assigns the essence of its action not to itself but to the beyond” (#222).

Nevertheless, the Unhappy consciousness has undoubtedly made progress from the Stoic or the Skeptic. Hegel explains the Unhappy Consciousness’s professed appreciation in such a way that indeed, the Unhappy Consciousness turns out to be the closest we have come yet to finding an individual reconciled with the Unchangeable: “its giving of thanks, in which it acknowledges the other extreme [i.e. God] as the essential Being and counts itself nothing, is its own act which counterbalances the action of the other extreme, and meets the self-sacrificing beneficence with a like action” (#222). In other words, through expressing appreciation, the Unhappy Consciousness asserts itself to be capable of asserting itself as an individual, even to the Unchangeable; in terms of Christianity, one can see how a sincere giving of thanks to God for enjoyment in the empirical world, is an assertion of communion or mutual recognition between the individual and the Divine. God is no longer some distant force, but an accessible companion who has offered enjoyment and earns for himself a respectful acknowledgement – acknowledgement which the individual now feels capable of offering. In this way, the Unhappy Consciousness to a certain extent has placed itself on if not the same level, then a very near one to that of the Unchangeable, and “does not let itself be deceived by its own seeming renunciation, for the truth of the matter is that it has not renounced itself [at all]” (#222); in this way, “consciousness has experienced itself as actual and effective, or knows that it is in truth in and for itself” (#223).

One can here again witness in the Unhappy Consciousness an active negation. As observed in the Skeptic, active negation of the external world is the only way to approach pure self-consciousness; however, by negating the world through an expression of appreciation, the Unhappy Consciousness now does achieves this negation in a more complete and non-contradictory way than the Skeptic. As Hegel summarizes, “In work and enjoyment… it can directly forget itself, and the consciousness of its own particular role in this realization is cancelled out by the act of thankful acknowledgement. But this canceling-out is in truth a return of consciousness into itself… as the actuality which it knows to be true” (#224). Thus, having now “proved itself to be independent, by its will and deed” (#223), the Unhappy Consciousness approaches its definitive mode of relation to God where “this true actuality is one of the terms [in] the relation of that actuality, as a nothingness, to the universal Being” (#224).

Having successfully negated its entire experience of the world even more completely then in Skepticism, the Unhappy Consciousness has undergone a fundamental shift in its self-awareness. Now knowing all empirical reality to be a nothingness, the Unhappy Consciousness’s “actual doing thus becomes a doing of nothing, its enjoyment a feeling of its wretchedness” (#225). As one can see in members of Christianity, such a feeling of wretchedness stems from a feeling that nothing done in the world has actual significance, for there is some existence of more ultimate importance – i.e. the spiritual world, or Heaven. With this unavoidably in mind, “work and enjoyment lose all universal content and significance… Both withdraw into their mere particularity… [and] Consciousness is aware of itself as this actual individual in the animal functions” (#225). Having negated all empirical existence through appreciation, the Unhappy Consciousness now finds the world to be without meaning; as such, every “animal function,” every action like eating, drinking, sleeping – or, most explicit in Christianity, fornicating – appear as an “enemy,” a threat to one’s own pure individuality insofar as they represent “the merest particular” (#225). Thus we initially see the Unhappy Consciousness as “a personality brooding over itself, as wretched as it is impoverished” (#225).

And yet, the Unhappy Consciousness has also reached a level beyond mere wallowing in frustration, as we have seen above; it is again able to abstract from its apparent failures and find solace in the thought of the Unchangeable: “to both of these moments, the feeling of its wretchedness and the poverty of its actions, is linked the consciousness of its unity with the Unchangeable. For the attempted direct destruction of what it actually is is mediated by the thought of the Unchangeable, and takes place in relation to it” (#226). The idea of mediation is essential to the ultimate unity of the Unchangeable and the individual, as Hegel explains, “the mediated relation constitutes the essence of the negative movement in which consciousness turns against its particular individuality, but which, qua relation, is in itself positive, and will bring consciousness itself to an awareness of its unity with the Unchangeable” (#226). Thus, Hegel concludes, “the mediated relation is thus a syllogism in which individuality, initially fixed in its antithesis to the in-itself, is united with this other extreme only through a third term” (#227).

Here Hegel finally arrives at the way in which the thesis and antithesis are ultimately synthesized and combined to reveal the “Notion of Spirit that has become a living Spirit, and has achieved an actual existence” (#206). Only through a third party, a separate “conscious Being [the mediator]” (#227), which “presents the two extremes to one another, and ministers to each in its dealings with the other” (#227), can the individual and Unchangeable be united (in Christianity, the priest is the one to assume this role of mediator between man and God). Hegel makes it clear that the mediator provides a necessary function that the individual could never perform by himself, that of detaching itself from its worldly existence: “In the mediator, then, this consciousness frees itself from action and enjoyment so far as they are regarded as its own. As a separate, independent extreme, it rejects the essence of its will, and casts upon the mediator its own freedom of decision, and herewith the responsibility of its action” (#228). In this way, the individual’s action “ceases, as regards the doing or the willing of it” (#228), to be its own; the feelings of wretchedness and poverty once elicited by worldly enjoyment evaporate, for all responsibility has been assumed by the priest. Put differently, the individual gains innocence, freedom from the corruption or sin associated with its unavoidable “animal actions.”

Furthermore, under the mediator’s “advice on what is right” (#228), the individual becomes an ascetic as it goes on to renounce even “the objective aspect, viz. the fruit of is labour, and its enjoyment” (#228). Thus, we are left with an individual who has rejected not only any responsibility for his actions, but even the contents of those actions; as Hegel puts it, “Through these moments of surrender… it truly and completely deprives itself of the consciousness of inner and outer freedom, of the actuality in which consciousness exists for itself. It has the certainty… of having turned its immediate self-consciousness into a Thing, into an objective existence” (#229).

Hegel takes a special effort, however, to emphasize the fact that this sacrifice made by the individual, the surrendering of his will, was “not a one-sided action, but contained within itself the action of the other” (#230). This is an essential concept to the synthesis of individual and God, for it proves the unity of the two – “the surrender of one’s own will is only from one aspect negative; in principle, however… its is at the same time positive, viz. the positing of will as the will of an ‘other,’ and specifically of will, not as a particular, but as a universal will” (#230). Thus we can see how by following the advice of the mediator, who is in a “direct relationship with the unchangeable Being” (#228), the individual comes to embody the will of the Unchangeable. Were it not for the mediator, the individual would have no way of determining this universal will, but by being told what to do, he can effect its completion.

Thus we see the Unhappy Consciousness as an embodiment of the Unchangeable, and Hegel has revealed to us the unity of individual and God through the mediating priest. But has Hegel truly revealed the highest stage of unity between the individual and the Unchangeable? Without a doubt he has shown us one way that the individual can reconcile himself with the Unchangeable, but is there potentially more left to be accomplished? As he approaches the end of his section on Self-Consciousness, Hegel announces that there is still more to be investigated in terms of discovering the ultimate nature of reality: “For consciousness, its will does indeed become universal and essential will, but consciousness itself does not take itself to be this essential will. The surrender of its own will, as a particular will, is not taken by it to be in principle the positive aspect of universal will… [it] is not regarded as its own doing” (#230).

At this point, Hegel seems to be saying that even still the individual has not come to the full realization that it is itself the universal will, but instead only considers itself to be an embodiment of that will – instead, “it lets the mediating minister express this certainty… that its misery is only in principle the reverse … But for itself, action and its own actual doing remain pitiable, its enjoyment remains pain, and the overcoming of these in a positive sense remains a beyond” (#230). As such, we now see the individual as merely dependent, as believing not in God, but only in what the priest claims of God. Could this be Hegel’s ideal? Certainly not. However, as in every previous case, Hegel explains that we have learned something essential: the direction of our next inquiry. In this case, Hegel announces that, “there has [now] arisen for consciousness the idea of Reason, of the certainty that, in its particular individuality, it has being absolutely in itself, or is all reality” (#230). And so Hegel enters his final section entitled “Reason.”
5/9/08