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Month: April, 2021

On the Narratology of Concept-Being, Lecture 2: Moby Dick, or Herman Melville’s “Loomings”

The Word Made Blubber: G.W.F. Hegel and Melville’s “Loomings”

Et miraris quod paucis placeo cui cum paucis convenit, cui omnia fere aliter videntur ac vulgo, a quo semper quod longissime abest id penitus rectum iter censeo.

 [And you wonder that few men like me, even though I only get along with a few men—I who perceive almost everything differently than does the crowd and who always consider the right path to be the one that is as far as possible from the crowd].

Petrarch, Epistolae de Rebus Familiaribus, XIX: VII.

Perhaps the central question that the Philosophy of Nature seeks to address is this: given the otherness of nature, why should we care about it at all?

Jeffrey Reid[1]

           Greetings, ladies and gentlemen. Last time we met for a longer talk we discussed Hegel and the Natural Law on the way to a better understanding of where literary practice stands, might stand, or once stood, as concerns the essence and structure of narrativity. We subsequently, online, confirmed that one has never understood why it must be capitalism, fascism, or socialism; that all three are terrible, and worse, proof that the tentacle-stupidity of mankind is a thirst that shall only be at last quenched with Apocalypse. Likewise, moving past mere preordained economics, I broached the notion that there are no ‘real’ characters in a given text but ideas and ideals processed through intertextual dialectics, or from the dialogical point of view, the oscillation between technological nihilism and the interpretative being of the world. No character ‘is’ anyone. Collective perception remains subjective; for every being who thinks that they are a character, well – such is singular universality. And the dialogical is fomented in struggle, which really creates a goldmine of our own age, beneath the veneer of its psychopathologies and simulations, often one and the same. For if all beings did not relate to all characters there would be no book, or being, as being is a essentially a work of literature. Keeping with the notion above of tentacles, I thought we’d remain submerged under water while moving toward what is called literature, namely an old friend of mine, one of the few who never let me down, in Herman Melville. Thus now we circumnavigate Moby Dick, the first chapter “Loomings”, while incorporating such of the philosophical directions glossed in the previous lecture.

            “Why did the poor poet of Tennessee,” Ishmael asks in the opening chapter of Moby Dick, “upon suddenly receiving two handfuls of silver, deliberate whether to buy him a coat, which he sadly needed, or invest his money in a pedestrian trip to Rockaway Beach?” (29). This is part of Ishmael’s broader meditation on the allure of the sea, which focuses the novel’s opening chapter. This allure, however, is not only felt by poor poets, and indigent novelists, but also by the numberless masses of Wall Street, who are “pent up in lathe and plaster, tied to counters, nailed to benches, clenched to desks.” All of these, for Ishmael, are yearning to be at sea. Here the chapter’s title, “Loomings,” refers both to Ishmael’s meditations, but also more specifically, in its nautical sense, to the coming into view, coming into clarity of, in Ishmael’s case an idea, but also quite literally the coming into view of a ship. The ship that comes into view for readers of Moby Dick is, of course, the Pequod, the whaling vessel we step foot aboard in Chapter 16. But what exactly is the Pequod?

            In the novel’s critical history, the ship has been read in various terms: Calvinist, arithmetical, cosmopolitan and Zoroastrian.[2] Perhaps the most familiar reading is to think about the ship as a version of the nation-state, and more particularly, a version of America itself.[3] This of course relates to the novel’s canonical status as the American novel, and so not only the Pequod but virtually every aspect of the novel can and has been read in terms of American national identity. But in what follows, I would like to propose a different way of thinking about what the Pequod might represent, one that draws upon Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirt (1807), and in particular, Hegel’s notion of the Geist. For Hegel, the Geist is a spirit moving through time, but one that can be seen as embodied by certain historical actors and forces. This embodiment is hardly stable, it is an instance in itself, it is a culmination, and it is a signal of a future development. One oft-cited example of this is Hegel’s supposed viewing of Napoleon on horseback entering Jena in 1806, the sight of which prompted him to say, “There is the world-spirit.”[4] For Hegel, this meant that Napoleon represented a culmination of history and also a complete destruction of that history (and reality as it was known for the people there) as the world-spirit, embodied by Napoleon, pulled them into a new unknown reality. What is notable about Hegel’s words is that there is nothing particularly new about an invading spirit; what is new is that Napoleon represents a new way to understand the history of the world.

            Hegel’s thoughts, I would suggest, allow us to think about the first chapter of Moby Dick in ways that depart from the tradition interpretation of national identity. In the first instance, there is nothing particularly new about a novel opening with a sailor longing to go to sea, nor about a sailor ashore looking about himself and feeling restless. But this time it is different.  Just as Hegel sees Napoleon on horseback looming into sight, representing so much more than an instance of military invasion, so too does the sea voyage looming into sight for Ismail represent so much more than vocational opportunity. What we find in “Loomings” is the convergence of a future that will be revealed to us over the next several hundred pages, and an aftermath that Ismail now lives within. In Hegel’s terms, in other words, “Loomings” functions narratively as culmination, destruction, view of a yet unknown future. The trauma that drives Ishmael to Ahab is inestimably magnified in the character’s years before the close of Moby Dick and his famous opening words. In her book Mourning Sickness: Hegel and French Revolution, Rebecca Comay notes: “My interest is philosophical trauma… with the “German misery” as its exemplary model and Hegel, of all people, its most lucid theorist… [t]he German encounter with the French Revolution is an extreme case of the structural anachronism that afflicts all historical experience. The clocks are never synchronized, the schedules never coordinated, every epoch is a discordant mix of divergent rhythms, unequal durations, and variable speeds” (Comay 4). With “Loomings” as the initial – and thus key – aspect to the narrative scaffolding for Moby Dick, we at once make the Hegelian turn to Melville’s imaginative theodicy and eschatology, epitomized in Ishmael’s dual poetic and philosophical style with which he introduces himself to us.

While it is perhaps a poet’s obligation to exude what Jonathan A. Cook, for instance, observes in his Inscrutable Malice, “[That] Melville was long concerned with the injustices of the human condition and the problematic nature of modern Christianity.” However, it is what follows that makes Cook’s observation a prescient meditation on a dual historiographical concept: Melville’s fictional use of it, and Melville’s austere place within it: “[I]n his preoccupation with evil we may class him in company with some of the leading philosophical and creative minds… of the two general attitudes toward evil – the “rationalist” and the “empiricist” – [like Hegel, Melville] envisaged the realm of history as a setting for overcoming human suffering (273).[5]

As with Cook, the author sees something of a justifiably neglected ven-diagram when it comes to the narratological prospect of distinguishing genre, difference, and authorial architectonics in both the philosopher and prose poet, or fictive practitioner; for in a sense it appears less insane than thoughtful to consider the philosophy of Moby Dick and the plot and characters of Hegel’s Phenomenology. Both writers are ultimately concerned with an ontic liberation that transpires inwardly, and through which Ishmael is the closest thing to a totality of its aesthetic expression.[6] Taking Melville’s oft-neglected place as a leading literarily philosophical mind into consideration alongside Cornel West’s recent observation(s)[7] we arrive at a parallel in Hegel’s rejection of philosophy’s then-contemporaneous post-Kantian presuppositionless ambition (Bristow 207); but the parallel is the character of Ishmael and his ideology of rejection, epiphany, and freedom. Furthermore, the conceptual notion which Hegel and Melville envision cannot exist without an exterior/state apparatus whose inescapable crisis is a manufactured dependence upon religious collective memory[8] as laid out in Halbwachs.  

Likewise, Moby Dick circumnavigated through both key and scarcer elements of Hegel’s system and aesthetic thought lead us straightaway to the other side of the pond: industrial pluralism breaks down for Ishmael; its problematic dissemination of Numerical Being, as in the case of the Hegelian author Alexandre Kojeve, paves the way for a global petrification and is directly tied to the problem of individual and suicide (Atheism 70).  Poetical transubstantiation comes at the cost of banishment and is, furthermore, a bestowed scarcity rather commodity exchange; it is preferably dealt with posthumously, rendering an avalanching effect down the mountain of time, history, and literature.

Melville and his reader are well-equated with textual circumnavigation; but in “Loomings” a surmounting deleterious havoc is heightened by Elizabethan rhapsody and has a way of buoying as the Pequod is anchored, thereafter becoming a style spontaneously paralleling the reflective psychic anxiety of narrative-nautical pursuit. Melvillean style – King James Version, Shakespeare, Milton – is in a sense Rabelaisian, fitting as Melville greatly admired Gargantua and Pantagruel (Lawrance 19); it is a joyous gob of spit in the generational moral propagandists proclaiming the ‘prohibition of laughter’ (Rabelais ix). Both authors – Melville and Ishmael – shall now break with contemporaries; they have ‘made up their minds to be annihilated.’ Ishmael’s scattered dialogism is for a moment frozen, and thus revealed: Method precedes purgatorial cetology, incongruity making way for totality; the abstract essence of triumph conjoins astonishment and bliss. His vanishing and reappearing can be taken as a play on the sailor’s typological interchangeability; but it can also be understood that Moby Dick is about the World-Spirit that is the Pequod, whose guests are chronicled in narratological time range from Miltonian apocalypse to Elizabethan superfluity, cetological data entry to proto-existential satire. If we are to grasp his process and reality, we are to do so through the topoi of Hegelian – technological-feudal – alienation, a recurring theme in a host of contemporaneous literary-theoretical scholar conceptualizing Hegel’s foundational role in the prehistory of Theory.[9]

                For Ishmael, a host of symbolic and typological explanations converge to hoist the reader in by way of calamitous universals – all men’s frenzied desire to escape society – proceeding from his litany of epigraphs. Either spectacle – Emperor and Pequod – attracts crowds; but the masses differ when it comes down to participation, especially with regard to those “seemingly bound for a dive.” There is a duality of imminent carnage in soldierly participation, debris of passersby and those caught in the crosshairs that goes beyond the shipyard’s magnetic pull in peacetime with its chance for perishing not immediate but obscure. On the one hand there are mountains of corpses, and on the other ocean floor. Nevertheless, beneath the land that has given way to its other, water, resides a mythic nemesis whose manifestation gives way to its opposite’s object of terrifying reverence: the Napoleonic Force, and all its cumulative firepower, against the vastest of mammals in the Whale. Sightseers pace straight for the water; the soldiers pace straight toward homicidal subjugation. Former wars have given way to Geist; its posthumous particle showers have culminated in this invincible unit of unlimited ammunition and lunging, gleaming sword; its compression will in the end reduplicate, giving way to the imperceptible. But for the present either man – authorial philosopher or philosophical author – must be content with textual structure, moving toward eclipse of dialectical reason, or the extremest limit of land. The conceptual horizon of organic futures has given way to assumption and subjectivity falling apart in the form of establishment collapsing into termination.

That Ishmael’s case the opening words are, like Hegel’s Preface, ‘written last’, is worth noting (It is something more than incidental in transcending horizontal, vertical narratology, culminating rather in epiphanic circularity); and moving from mammalian apocalypse to superfluity. If we are to grasp his process and reality, we are to do so through the topoi of alienation. His collage-like recollections mirror coffin shards; he realizes through authorial cognition that he became a metaphor long ago, standing before those very warehouses that granted him escape. In the opening lines we are granted snippets of the seaman’s life, flickering shadows in the daunting, all-engulfing shadow of whale in ascendancy. In comprehending the lights, like aspects of Hegel’s Science, Ishmael apprehends that which disables him from mere Fiction (As Hegel moved from Text to System). Method precedes purgatorial cetology, incongruity making way for totality; the abstract essence of triumph conjoins astonishment and bliss.

We discreetly learn that Ishmael has taken some years (“never mind how long precisely”) since the Pequod’s apotheosis, and in this time he has found the voice in prose that he could not find on the street: graced with alienation, he can at last make himself understood in narratology. This mutual incompatibility – fish and whale, Ishmael and onlookers – supplant one another’s station through rhetorical interiority. Ishmael, like Hegel, is engulfed in otherness. This mutual alienation is intensified by familiarity; Hegel’s Napoleon on the eve of philosophical breakthrough, Ishmael in the conscience of approaching a body of water that is an end for all but himself, for whom it is but the beginning. Incompatibility – dockside fish and whale, philosopher and emperor, Ishmael and onlookers – supplant one another’s station through rhetorical interiority. Despite appearing near-ready for a dive, the men go against their Industrialized Sirens; their objective is to get as close as possible to the water without falling in, and through mutual necessity invoke that piratical and fluid nature that is seafaring, as the sailors arrive preferring to march past them, offering a glimpse of the nautical spirit of a sifting anarchical hermitage. The very act of walking for Ishmael shakes up stagnation, although it must be a walking that is not predicated upon the bondage of returning on time to wherever it is one was briefly granted leave. Rather, it must for Ishmael be like the very act of sailing itself, for he shuns the notion of anything other than ‘going as a simple sailor.’ This notion is akin, in the Hegelian sense, to the experiential formulations of developing consciousness.

As with Hegel’s conviction that the end of history is not unlike universal vindication through causality’s last, triumphal act, Ishmael’s end is apprehended with pneumonic self-emptying and rendered an indexical system. This system, or memory theater, is of course the novel and its chapters; but its stages on the way to freedom indicate that an apparent immemorial freeing up is a matter of seaside proximity. It is upon us. By walking with a sense of redemptive, cosmic locality about him, Ishmael becomes at last the polar opposite of men chained to desks, benches, tied, nailed, clinched. For now Ishmael knows that misery lies in paralysis; that paralysis dwells in fear; and that fear eats the soul; and that, lastly, it is fear of the concept of fear that is the history and truth of the clinched and the nailed become crystal clear where once incomprehensibility abounded. Neither nailed nor clinched, crucified nor married, beholden to neither money nor property, his boundless joy is that of the Desert Fathers; their forefathers – Ishmael’s once-ambitions – slaughtered by Nero in particular on down, the blood worked like rain upon soil, formulating the indestructible roots of sainthood, and now alive to witness the twilight of the gods: Geist shall soon have the nails removed from its wrists, the looming Pequod’s anchor in time shall rise.

Working against time in another fugitive realm, now writing forward and thinking backward, Ishmael’s narrative sifts from one specter of hiddenness to the next in Wall Street down to the Pequod. From Corlears Hook one looks out upon Williamsburg. Walking clockwise, Ishmael saunters down to Coenties Slip, what with its view of Brooklyn Heights. He has supplanted the statuesque with the cadence of a lyrical mutiny. Passersby are given glimpses into what appears reality in the latter, watching international ships pack up and unload, whereas at Wall Street we are offered glimpses of Bartleby’s source of eventual rebellion, first chronicled by Ishmael: Thousands upon thousands of men, like silent sentinels (28), watching what they are unable to cherish. They in turn accept rejection, and therein reject acceptance, as ship after ship grows microscopic then vanishes; comprehension of life at sea degenerates into little lunch break disagreements in perceptivity. The little fish turn up for bait, their captors never grasping nautical proximity to its distant, infernal machination in the White Whale. Men are, in their seaside variations, objects of a future museum. By rejecting abstract thought for the sake of picturesque solicitude, they have sacrificed themselves by failing to envision themselves in a thoroughly cosmological light. Obelisks of the flesh, even unchained from their desks there is a collective aura about them, frozen in time to Ishmael, embodying manifest movements and yet rearising, forever, at nothing outside of assimilated negation. There in the shadows of towering concrete, angular chrome, he dreams of mother whale eyeless, walking through the unhappy consciousness, and into Geist.

Subjective idealism for Ishmael converges with – again in the Hegelian sense – the realization that there is no being that is entirely independent and self-sustaining; and that this is a linguistic contradiction (McGowan 90). Ocean reveries, foregone myths, mental pictures of folkloric vindication; such useless servanthood is for Ishmael the rejection of life in the spirit. He is convinced that they all seek the same thing: to reject the family, the state, its origins and its eschatologists, to abandon landmen and landswomen altogether, and be at one with seamen, at last, in useful servanthood. But they cannot move from their stationary windows, when all the Geist demands that the window be thrown out of the window. Seaward peeps; their tragedy is lessened in its tense. But en route to looming shipyard it is the unhappy consciousness all over again, trapped between Augustinian immutability and Keatsian ode, men unable to commit to greatness, bound by lath and plaster; it is an industrial misreading of Shelley’s “Triumph of Life”, spectators equal parts magnetized and damned by torture of unreason. “On fairest bosoms & the sunniest hair/Fell, and were melted by the youthful glow/”Which they extinguished; for like tears, they were/A veil to those from whose faint lids they rained/In drops of sorrow.” Of course, the green fields are not gone, although it is a curious question on Ishmael’s part. Firstly, it is aimed at persons climbing high atop the riggings of anchored, docked ships. Secondly, their ascent is a perfect symbol of tragic contradiction, forever climbing in order to display perceptive disfigurement; thereby it remains an austere, locked horizon. Having been the Idea, degeneration renders it novelty item (No shipyard or religious architecture is ever built specifically for daytrip touristry; yet neither escapes this fate). Thirdly, its celebratory gesturing indicates a ponderous implication, like a new lens for a broken camera. Likewise, what if green fields do remain from some observational vantage point? That is for Ishmael a twofold dead-end, neither sea (Freedom) nor stoic freedom (Thought of Freedom) from the agony of power and its World Spirit’s bondsmen made free from its burning sphere of numerical beings, i.e. Napoleonic soldiers and Ahab’s seamen: “the world spirit progresses from lower determinations to higher principles and concepts of its own nature, to more fully developed expressions of the [aforementioned] Idea” (Introduction 63).     

The Cook – with all his later subterranean readings of Judges – is, perhaps more-so than the Stoic, warranted the chance of ‘considerable’ glory. We see that the cook is also something of an officer. That in attending to foodstuff, reading his Judges in isolation, the literal cook of the Pequod has about him the cavernous polarity of an Ahab, albeit to a much more subdued extent. The cook’s wisdom is in his care for the interior of the exterior – the seamen’s needs which subtract them from the Pequod’s daily, nightly tasks in order to take in periodic supping – whose developing narrative in mimetic culmination of harpooning disaster is granted incremental peace by way of the cook’s concoctions. That Ishmael links roasted river horse to the Egyptians is itself rather interesting from a literary-historical point of view; for throughout War and Peace panicked periodicity is often exemplified in the characters’ varied, albeit united, fears of having to eventually eat their horses. For Tolstoy’s characters the sacrifice and subsequent devouring is the last act before death. For Ishmael the ancient Egyptian processions are a testament to a living death, bound the museum of fascinating, albeit odious, eyes of the tourist. Proto-Tolstoian hindsight furthermore bestows upon Ishmael chronicles of Napoleonic Russia – where the World Spirit begins its own end, mirroring the Pequod, in a destruction wrought by monomania, occultic vindication, the twilight of the gods and all its religious fervor, ending in the guillotines dismantled and the installation of ecclesiastical industrialism. The ‘end of history’, from Hegel to Marx and Fukuyama, is revealed temporal eschatology at odds with itself; and the return to eschatology, as with Melville and Hegel, exclusively vindicates that dialectic of desire and recognition. Judiciously buttered onto a judgmatical salting and peppering – but of course! The cook, as vessel of the vessel, is that odd culminated symbol of commodity exchange. Be it interns, cooks, factory workers, cashiers – it is always these vital organs who are deemed fit for manipulation; it is a woeful exchange, dating back to those Egyptian bricklayers. The tables are forever skewed: it is less capitalistic than it is anthropological. For who recalls the very bricklayers of those bake-houses? Who recalls the cook, the simple sailor? None! Unless he has sold his coat, bought a sword, and brandishing some leftover coin, acquired loose-leaf, pencils, and sharpener.

            As we see in Ishmael’s coffins, tombs, and other ‘idolatrous dotings’, consciousness changes throughout the hieroglyphic ages by breaking free from the illusion of bondage to alien powers. False predictions tally up as persons first singularly, then collectively recapture their senses in the painful process of reconsidering dogmatic facticity, be it religious or its opposite. It looks the negative in the face and dwells with it: “[The] life of Spirit is not the life that shrinks from death and keeps itself untouched by devastation, but rather the life that endures it and maintains itself in it. It wins its truth only when, in utter dismemberment, it finds itself. It is this power, not as something positive, which closes its eyes to the negative, as when we say of something that it is nothing or is false, and then, having done with it, turn away and pass on to something else; on the contrary, Spirit is this power only by looking the negative in the face, and tarrying with it. This tarrying with the negative is the magical power that converts it into being” (Hegel 19). As with Hegel, come the third chase day’s end we shall see that mind alone is infinite by means of cognition that begets record-keeping; but the record is itself fallible, rendering chroniclers an aura of endurability rather than impenetrable. Authorial mind as aura of eternity is, at last mirage; yet conviction in the mirage appoints one likelier to tap into the hermeneutic circle as pertains to the content of one’s medium. That the end is unfathomable lends congruency to the text (Mind); through contemplating this finite circularity one is thereby closer to the process of resolution by way of fictionality. In other words, Hegel is not writing about the mind.[10] And Melville is not writing about Ishmael’s memory. They are both writing about Mind, having apprehended that in achieving what was only a possibility, their objects become their own truths.

The sailor’s goal, formed by Ishmael’s experience with pedagogical stoicism, wears off in time (30). At a glance it mirrors Stoicism-as-school, which according to Ishmael – who ends with Job – can serve as nothing more than a doctrinal prelude to sense-certainty and perception. The Hegelian key is that Stoicism discerned, actualized, and lived, brings one to the cusp of culmination in its authentic freedom of thought: “Stoicism is just as free in a slave in chains (Epictetus) as in an emperor on the throne (Aurelius)… it is a step in the right direction, but it is not really an emergence from servile consciousness – or, at best, it is a very partial emergence” (Lauer 114). That Ishmael is able to make the complete break from schoolmaster to sailor entails the seeming contradiction of revealed religion: that whoever loses his life will find it. Hence decocting stoicism, despite the durability of Seneca’s work and the implied societal crisis that entails both structural reputation and reputational structure – the schoolmaster – enables the ‘simple sailor’ the idea of fulfillment of the unseen. This source of conceptual understanding, moving from Athens to Jerusalem, curtails the dialogical melancholy woven into the fabric of an exhausted ‘sense of honor.’ For Ishmael, as for Hegel, it’s been abandoned alongside circuitous, monetary benches in a sawdust debris of nails, limbs, hammers, cloth, and staples. Reliance upon the unfolding Spirit again enables the Christological prospect for Ishmael (Who has already asked, ““What does this amount to, say, in the scales of the New Testament?”) of God riding a lowly ass, when the peoples expected Homeric warhorse; of God befriending fishermen, lepers, and prostitutes, and setting doves loose from cages; of the schoolmaster, therein moving from Seneca to Logos, bypassing Wall Street for an apocalyptic odyssey that shall make no sense until it is recorded (And that shall be left to the Fates alone – Ishmael was well-versed and lived in circumnavigated horror stories – where annihilation renders textual procession onto the next freed-up, scrivening seaman). 

Rather than stagnate, Ishmael apprehends the intuition of the instant, cognizant but disillusioned as concerns the American tycoon bloodlines. This temporal lucre wears off for Ishmael less to subside than to transform itself into a textual chronicling of atrophied moguls, provided ideological ammunition by an external system of poetical philosophy; it takes sequential root in the seaside consternation between irony and gravity might be seen as undergoing a matter of imaginative alchemy. For now he is brought up for air, having been baptized by the fire of the mind, the instantaneous price on his head be damned. Ishmael’s historical-Hegelian retribution shakes loose its own decaying bloodline flashbacks into a narrative of authentic  philosophical inquiry’s elimination of the contingent: “We must bring to history the belief and conviction that the realm of the will is not at the mercy of contingency… we find a hollow reality which ought to accord with the spirit but does not yet do so; and for this reason, it must be destroyed” (Introduction 28-9). Therefore, in destroying the aspect of himself that sought in a sense the Promethean bondage of the factory window or school-desk, the anarchic hermit draws the ire of a nation’s titans. He ruins his name, and thereby cements it. He goes down to the dogs, and sees they are but shadows of dogs. He has killed confusion by killing options.

Thus, for Ishmael the physical or metaphysical point of view of truth sets aside temporal persons, stages, motivations, and renders the careless sailor less oceanic troubadour than capable of ontological justification. Ishmael’s necessity of aim becomes less abstract than demonstrative; insubstantial reflection begins to surrender, therein mirroring his conceptual existence. His next assertion is swift, dispelling contradiction: “the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck” (31) are aspects of nautical ontology that intuition reverts from epiphanic dialogism to a sense of dissolved alienation. Weary of Cartesian circuitry, Ishmael declares mutiny upon both dogmas and empiricism; this allows him to reconsider what it means to believe anything at all, and thereby to apprehend eternity and death, rendering it foundation. The exercise of not-being grants the alienated sailor an experience that religion can no longer consistently distribute. Ishmael’s Absolute, the Sea, parallels Hegel’s as it is “not to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited” (Hegel 4). This cannot make complete sense to us (Not unlike the vanishing ship as seen from spectator’s eyes) unless we consider Ishmael’s “Finally” (31).

Without either saying it a summit is reached by World Spirit on the one hand, landlessness on the other, and both in their ways a lived freedom from the Jamesonian prison house of language’s dialectic of Identity/Difference.[11] Governance and expression, as desired by Ishmael, are borne of a proximity to Spirit, or Pequod; it is transcendence and overcoming over both the immediacy of conceptual religion and the ideological crisis of doctrinal probity (Houlgate 266). Satisfaction and security cannot coexist with this Hegelian criteriology. Melville’s cognition of the lived universal manifests itself through a seismic inner change. Gazing himself out at the sea of reliability, he knows nothing less than extremity will at last beget prerequisitional agency of selfhood, collective memory, give way to spiritual deconstructing of the history of the concept of time. Whereas Hegel employs Philosophy, Melville wagers Fiction. Both, done well, unlock the nature of both nominal thought and chaos at the eschatological end of Thought, or flesh. Conception and oblivion proceed as one; becoming unfolds into prevalence, astern winds, and Pythagorean beans (31). For Ishmael’s narrative, like Hegel’s, is a reconceptualization of differential suppression: “The invisible police officer of the fates” (31) extends its varied bait to arouse the desire to bite: wealth of substance attained in epiphanic deconstruction has had an effect like that of Plato’s cave. It is not that Ishmael or Hegel has seen anything new, but that they have tasted, seen, period.

For either writer, consciousness of the state-endorsed reality is revealed not least of all by the psychological equivalent of placing every written word in quotations marks. Linguistic amputation thus conceptualizes what was previously experienced as a wealth of substance, rendering it formational, multileveled scaffolding, and presenting the narratological opportunity to both seek and find more than worms, dirt, and water (Hegel 5), and “It came in as a sort of brief interlude and solo between more extensive performances” (Melville 31). Moving from the world-as-is, a providential thread of light becomes one or the other: heavenly providence, or imperceptible futility. There is middle-ground, and it is in fact near unanimously agreed upon; but Ishmael cannot help equating it with nonexistence. The Pequod thus fulfills the light’s direction, offering a lived community in the world but not of it. Posthumous anxieties give way through a glass cleared of fog, coming face-to-face with the Spirit, not unlike Nennius, a history extracted from its shallow grave.

The Whale has likewise stolen the intents of the Spirit’s passengers. But it is a good thief, like Plato’s noble liar, or better yet a Thief in the Night. Its vindication is that compact mass of blubber, all stinking ton after wretched ton of it, an avalanche of black, boiling blubber on fire, for pails, vomitous buckets, singed nostrils, swinging lanterns, cracking candles, old midnight hair gel, spit shine and a glass of mist, moonlit skull by mirror, with young men crying, screaming, old hobos being whipped at the rungs, cannibals with clad-iron, invisible men contemplating suicide in the crushing halls of blubber, breathing blubber all day and night, out in the middle of what is called an ocean upon what is called a planet, that word made blubber – which fulfills once-empty depth and breadth through sheer force[12] and multiplicity, as yet skirting negative asymmetricalism, otherness and negation (Bowman 244). Superficiality – cognition of an unrealized Concept – likewise remains landlocked (Bowman 58). Stargazing is natural and its egg basket vainglorious, there where the spirit of otherness has been abolished both in the street and in collective memory. Commodified, empty husks, distillation and distraction, high tragedy and jolly parts in farces (31) – it is all apprehended in the Hegelian submersion of transformation’s labor, where Spirit – Pequod – is only as great as its [commemorative-imaginative] expression. But Ishmael sees both spirit and object in his hazy rapture. Foggy, untrammeled terrain lends itself to prophetic talk without limit; for where the parameters exist for negativity’s sake there can be no home in finitude, and thus no lack of thievery. From there Ishmael escapes in order to Escape, much later, blubber without restraint.

Working from Shakespeare’s world-stage, the Spirit takes hold in a fashion of Judgement and Comprehension: this dialectical fusion is the essence of Pequod, and oneself as another, in effigy: the burning of Thomistic straw,[13] or coming to the end of one’s self. High tragedy – that too is Rabelaisian tissue. For Ishmael the culture industry and all its pilloried marble demand the person become a fragment – a mere passenger, or cook (29-30) – and thus had for so long proceeded as a numerical self, eyes without a face. Principles and general points of view are out of the question for industrial culture; this would lead to a general conception of oligarchical systematic and would thence in a fortnight see it razed to the ground. Differential classification precludes the true nautical desire in proceeding as a simple sailor. Other than this, prospective employment begets lifelong structuring of station, and thus do not render one the lowly freedom to jump from spar to spar like a grasshopper in May meadow (30). Penetration by means of a thoroughgoing narratological descent into knowledge and judgment is in the cards; but the shape of the truth may be defined by nothing other than comprehension of its construction and science.

Ishmael’s next assertion is swift, dispelling contradiction: “the wholesome exercise and pure air of the forecastle deck” (31) are aspects of nautical ontology that intuition reverts from epiphanic dialogism to a sense of being-not, or the negation of unconscienced historicism. The exercise of not-being grants the alienated sailor an experience that religion can no longer consistently distribute. His thoughts upon Manhattan stroll grant access to a special knowledge: carnivalesque vindication of the mind. Ishmael’s Absolute, the Sea, parallels Hegel’s as it is “not to be comprehended, it is to be felt and intuited” (Hegel 4). This cannot make complete sense to us, as with vanishing ships seen from spectator’s eyes. Whatever may transpire is thus preordained, predestined: “I abominate all honourable respectable toils, trials, and tribulations of every kind whatsoever… the invisible police officer of the Fates…” (Moby 29, 31). Aesthetic martyrology is thus connected to a sense of purity, itself reconnected to the sense of danger, in an effort to cleanse the world; and as this is impossible, they resurrect the aforementioned golden chain, granting restoration to the next individual who, having undergone the understanding that community does not possess the consciousness of what it is (Phenomenology 477). The not-author, then, seek Eliadean sacrifice, and find one at the core at on the initial hand, archaic ontology, and on the revealed hand, picture-thought: “If, then, in the picture-thinking consciousness the inwardizing of natural self-consciousness was the real existence of evil, that inwardizing in the element of self-consciousness is the knowledge of evil as something implicit in existence. This knowledge is, of course, a genesis of evil, and is therefore recognized as the first moment of reconciliation” (Phenomenology 474).  

            In transitioning from “Loomings” to “The Carpet-Bag” Melville, like Hegel, “understands division and synthesis as a process of actualization that entails externalization and recollection” (Zambrana 42) in self-negation. This self-negation is critical to both Melville and Hegel, who undergo the mysteries of death and resurrection in their texts. But this is no matter of cliché, or a nostalgia for the present. Rather, this is the culmination of objective incidentalness, paved in deliberate steps, and summoning the reciprocal individual. Dasein, then, paves posthumous groundwork; mediated being establishes the nature of nature, finally comprehending that recollection is the activity of synthesis in two senses, dialectically opposed, distinguished, and reproduced in annulled time (Zambrana 43-6), and in essence takes the form of counteractive nothingness, thrust into what is called ‘the world.’ World-Concept is revealed both Master and Whale. It reveals itself as pragmatic and prescriptive but is pulled toward contradiction like a magnet, seeking yet comprehending neither the noumenal character of nature’s unchangeability, destabilized by the end of the end, nor the past annihilation of discursive thinking and life as such (Nuzzo 353-8), unto Geist, like a snow hill in the air, or Whale: “By reason of these things, then, the whaling voyage was welcome; the great flood-gates of the wonder-world swung open, and, in the wild conceits that swayed me to my purpose, two and two there floated into my inmost soul, endless processions of the whale, and mid most of them all, one grand hooded phantom, like a snow hill in the air” (Moby 32).

Both Melville and Hegel lay the groundwork for an ontological alienation. The phenomenology of mind’s threshold is imbedded within semiotic limits not unlike an ocean floor as the sea, like cosmos, reveals and retracts; and then Ishmael begins to tell us all about his Origenian carpet-bag.[14] Like Melville, Hegel “[charts] a social transformation over the course of history, the end point at which slaves recognize themselves and recognize their masters as being dependent on slaves” (Cole 77); and in this regard Melville replicates Hegel’s own speculative method, which he referred to as a circle (Cole 55). Its beginning is enmeshed with the end, “The end occurs when the process of self-completion in which the substance-subject (Which for Hegel is the ‘essence’) engages, finally fulfills its task, that is, when the whole is complete or established precisely as the whole” (Nuzzo 264-5). The end of days implicates the structure whereby days may well end; but this structure is incapable of receding, for it is the days thereof whereby one ponders nonexistence in light of the immovable. Finitude’s delinquency is constitutive rather than criteriological; it is conscious of what it can’t know. Its ceilings are in years revealed doormats: “Fathoms down, fathoms down, how I’ll dream fast asleep/I feel it stealing now. Sentry, are you there? / Just ease these darbies at the wrist, / And roll me over fair. / I am sleepy, and the oozy weeds about me twist.”[15]

As we are dealing with an autobiographical excerpt from Hegel’s letters and what it implies, let us for a moment recall Ishmael’s maker; to read the dreadful affair of Herman Melville’s life in the wake of Moby Dick’s composition and publication evokes a simultaneous familiarity at once human and inhumane. For in his unforeseen, then-imperceptible[16] literary-dialectic of transcendence (Stewart 23) the author of exotic seafaring novels brought forth a book from which there is no escape (Young 87); and like Hegel, he sought the acquisition by the individual of the experience of the species (Young 470), for Melville both did the miraculous by setting the eternal into words[17] through autotelic Elizabethan dialogism on the way to reconceptualizing novelistic epistemology (Holquist 17), whilst posthumously sacrificing himself upon the secular altar of prosaic pleroma and metaphysical poetics: “I am quick to perceive a horror – would they let me – since it is but well to be on friendly terms with all the inmates of the place one lodges in” (Moby 32); and of equal observational distinction, in the words of Henry Murray, ‘… lucky it was for the tongueless sailors that this sensitive and manly fellow stepped out of his class to live among them, and then returned to embody their best sentiments in language that had stuff in it’ (Spark 4); and paralleling Homeric portraiture, ‘he tells stories that could never happen in real life but because he has a conception of man that experience alone could not have given him’ (Auerbach 3), like G.W.F. Hegel Herman Melville ‘identifies in this caesura a reconciliation between humanity and divinity’ (Comay 46); for, in the words of the first Frenchman to translate Moby Dick, ‘a life’s work is of no interest unless it’s a relentless struggle with the great unknown’ (Giono 45). 

We begin with a society synonymous with alienation, therein offering Ishmael a choice: suicide or evacuation. With this arrangement Moby Dick establishes its own structurally dialectical and societally enmeshed ontology as the novel of a man who, in hypothesizing – and later meeting – the worst case scenario with opprobrium nuclei, now prepares to go down in the company of Old Testament prophets (Lawrance 54), with Melville having preliminarily written that, “Every age makes its own guide-books, and the old ones are used for wastepaper” (Redburn 180). Further rumblings are detected in White Jacket, where Melville announced his heart’s comradely yearning, understanding for one “bolted in the mill of adversary” (White 83); but through the simultaneous destruction and epiphany of authenticity’s becoming, Melville’s nautical consciousness purveys the masochistic totality of middle-ground cetology while setting an ecliptic scaffolding for a labyrinthine stage, preparations in the nail in the coffin for inquirers contemplating this word and object. It is from these seeds that today one is able to situate both the nature of philosophy[18] and the philosophy of nature[19] through characters within the kraken’s shadow. And it is thus appropriate that Ishmael, when we meet him, has been gazing upon coffin warehouses (Moby 27): the outcome of his author’s text.

By historically placing oneself within the Ishmaelean realm of Egypt, Seneca, the Old Testament, we are on the road to the early Christians. We might then pause to turn toward Hegel’s Aesthetics, wheretheir dialogical deficiency is perhaps the purest account of a wedded insanity and mirth available in Christological historiography. Though a second wave comes to us in the Crusades, particularly with Runciman’s accounts of Peter the Hermit, as far as getting to the holy insanity of Christ and his colleagues, the first handful of centuries suffice. Incidentally, they reach an unparalleled canonical account in Augustine. It is is with great interest that we turn in closing to Douglas Finn’s work on Hegel and Augustine. For instance, Ishmael’s seaside sauntering, transcending the workers, offers us a chance to take that Melvillean establishment of the heroic one step closer to emancipation in Hegelian light: “For Hegel, the heroes are the vital agents of change, because through their singularly passionate drive, they give concrete universal reality to the rational idea, in whose light their otherwise vastly destructive actions come to make sense” (Finn 127). The passage invites a Melvillean hypothesis, whereby we ponder just how not just the crew Ishmael shall soon meet are agents of internal change, but the agents of change Ishmael passes by and through on his iconic walk on down to the shipyard. Ishmael’s thoughts, like Finn’s Hegel and Augustine, give tangible reconsideration to the concept of the balanced idea, in whose light their otherwise vastly destructive actions come to make sense. Nearby in the text Finn makes an observation that is startingly prescient in conclusively recalling Hegel’s Napoleonic vision in light of the Pequod: “Spirit, the universal, can realize its ends only by means of the particular, and passion is what drives the world historical individual to strive wholeheartedly to actualize the universal in the world. Thus, from Hegel’s point of view, the hero does pursue personal ends, but they are the same as that of Spirit” (Finn 125).[20]

Ishmael sees the fundamental sickness of society present, as Hegel saw the fundamental structures of feudalism present (Cole 75-7), and both affirmatively deal their diagnostic cards. This allows us Melvillean nautical culmination concerning the interior conscience of a surmounting technological feudalism and Hegel’s proximity to the French Revolution, both from which the state’s medieval origins are brought further to the dialectical light of theory. It therefore all the more effective that is unclear until culmination that Ishmael is writing after the fact, and in this regard Melville replicates Hegel’s own speculative method, which he referred to as a circle (Cole 55). Its beginning is enmeshed with the end, “The end occurs when the process of self-completion in which the substance-subject (Which for Hegel is the ‘essence’) engages, finally fulfills its task, that is, when the whole is complete or established precisely as the whole” (Nuzzo 264-5). He would have to first meet Ahab and the crew, float the shipwrecked in casket, as adrift and as alone whence he began, but at last now with a book to write. The narrative’s opening words clarify that stability has nothing to do with innovation, where refined as perpetual latter is, it is too thereby curtailed by manufactured disbelief. This mass production of objects, then as now, vacillates industrial culture’s mirroring the machinations of psychological and laborious automatism, in applying the technical acceleration of machinery to language. This exilic annihilation of the individual is for Melville, Ishmael an etymological matter fixed in orphanage and social ostracization. Authentic invention cannot be, for it is; thereby Ishmael cannot stay where he is coming from outside of mind. Ishmael has at last come to breathe the air of Socrates – know that he does not know, and thereby knows all – but it will take a tattooed cannibal, ponderous religious topography, before he can embrace the prosaic Dionysian tub in earnest. His opening remarks reveal a rejected world that is itself as familiar as it is foreign, pragmatic as it is prescriptive, but in which genuine intellectual probity is pulled toward contradiction like a magnet.[21] Ishmael is seeking yet comprehending neither the noumenal character of nature’s unchangeability, destabilized by the end of the end, nor the past annihilation of discursive thinking and life as such (Nuzzo 353-8), unto Geist, like a snow hill in the air, or Whale.

And the word was made blubber. For Melville had written a wicked book and felt as spotless as a lamb; such was the summit of his Pauline elaboration on “freedom of will within the divine law of predestination” (Lawrance 24). In a perfect instance of critical reverse typology, Ishmael is the lamb who is decidedly not sacrificed. His maker, Melville, went the other way; that of Schopenhauer’s target no one can see. Like the Lord of his lifelong, haunting Calvinism (Lawrance 4-6, 18), he was contemporaneously sacrificed at the profane, Pharisaic altar of intellectual despotism. Stoned and dethroned, the White Whale went over about as well as Christ’s chorded whip,[22] Melville therein going the way of prophets: condemned, exiled, and at last admitted self-evident. In joining the sacrificial ranks of secular martyrdom, he lost everything for the sake of chance of being recalled, something traced in the earlier Redburn.[23] Comprehending Melville is obligatory in assessing the pre-Hegelian conceptions of Theory, and comprehending Melville is, further, comprehending Ishmael. Likewise, Hegel’s ploughed gaze upon Napoleon converges in Ishmael’s looming proximity to the ship. Here – from the point of view of one authoring the Conception of Theory – the ashes of the Second Temple reignite in the flames of Revolution; the blood that waters the tree of martyrs is mixed in with the sacramental wine of both philosopher and author. The former gives way to the Phenomenology, latter Moby Dick. Geist is made variationally incarnate in the Pequod. Ishmael, through Geist, gets his hands on the controls of selfhood. The holy sacrifice of altruism is conceived, commenced; its dogmatic empiricisms are at last granted trial by fire before the phenomenological mast.


Atashi, Laleh. “An Ecocritical Reading of Melville’s Bartleby the Scrivener.” 

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Bakhtin, Mikhail. Rabelais and His World. Indiana Univ. Press, 2009.

Bowman, Brady. Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015.

Brenner, William H. “Theology as Straw: An Essay on Wittgenstein and Aquinas.” New Blackfriars, vol. 93, no. 1046, 2012.

            Butler, Clark (ed.) Hegel: The Letters. Purdue Research Foundation, 1984.

            Cole, Andrew. The Birth of Theory. Univ. of Chicago Press, 2014.

Comay, Rebecca. Mourning Sickness: Hegel and the French Revolution. Stanford Univ. Press, 2010.

Cook, Jonathan A. Inscrutable Malice: Theodicy, Eschatology, and the Biblical Sources of Moby-Dick. Northern Illinois Univ. Press, 2012.

Edelstein, Sari. ” May I Never Be a Man”: Melville’s Redburn and the Failure to Come of Age in Young America.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 59.4 (2013).

Finn, Douglas. Life in the Spirit: Trinitarian Grammar and Pneumatic Community in Hegel and Augustine. Univ. of Notre Dame Press, 2017.

Giono, Jean. Melville: A Novel. NYRB Classics, 2017.

Habib, M.A.R. Hegel and the Foundations of Literary Theory. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2019.

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Herbert Jr, T. Walter. “Calvinism and Cosmic Evil in” Moby-Dick”.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1969).

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Hurh, Paul. American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville. Stanford Univ. Press, 2015.

Kojeve, Alexandre. Atheism. Columbia Univ. Press, 2019.

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Lubac, Henri de. History and Spirit. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2017.

Mane, Shashank B. “A Marxist Reading of Melville’s Bartleby.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 10.2 (2019).

McCall, Corey, and Tom Nurmi. Melville Among the Philosophers. Lanham: Lexington

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McGowan, Todd. Emancipation After Hegel: Achieving a Contradictory Revolution. Columbia Univ. Press, 2019.

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—. Moby Dick. Barnes & Noble Classics Series, 2003.

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Parker, Hershel. “Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius.” Living with a Writer. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2004.

Patell, Cyrus RK. “Cosmopolitanism and Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick.” The Turn Around Religion in America. Routledge, 2016.

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Reid, Jeffrey. “Comets and Moons: The For-another in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.” The Owl of Minerva 45.1/2 (2013).

Spark, Clare L. Hunting Captain Ahab: Psychological Warfare and the Melville Revival. The Kent State Univ. Press, 2006.

Thompson, Lawrance. Melville’s Quarrel with God. Princeton Univ. Press, 2015.

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[1] Reid, Jeffrey. “Comets and Moons: The For-another in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.” The Owl of Minerva 45.1/2 (2013): 11n25.

[2] Herbert Jr, T. Walter. “Calvinism and Cosmic Evil in” Moby-Dick”.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America (1969): 1613-1619; Hart, Sarah. “Ahab’s Arithmetic; or, the mathematics of Moby-Dick.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1903.12102 (2019); Patell, Cyrus RK. “Cosmopolitanism and Zoroastrianism in Moby-Dick.” The Turn Around Religion in America. Routledge, 2016. 45-62.

[3] Hurh, Paul. “The Uneven Balance: Dialectical Terror in Moby-Dick.” American Terror: The Feeling of Thinking in Edwards, Poe, and Melville. Stanford University Press, 2015. 161-202; Brian Yothers’s Melville’s Mirrors Camden House, 2011, cf. “Aspects of America: Democracy, Nationalism, and War”, pp. 119-49.

[4] [October 13, 1806]: “I saw the Emperor –this soul of the world– go out from the city to survey his reign; it is a truly wonderful sensation to see such an individual, who, concentrating on one point while seated on a horse, stretches over the world and dominates it.” Butler, Clark (ed.) Hegel: The Letters. Purdue Research Foundation, 1984, p.114.

[5] In other words, I wager that while it is difficult to pry the mythical, solitary author from a singular, often damned, historical place, that it will be helpful to consider Cook’s observation more generally as pertains to Melville scholarship. Or, that his singular, tragic place is-itself because there has not been much of a move to consider Melville alongside much of anyone in the 19th besides Hawthorne. Melville’s historiographical style, then, might be well reconsidered in what I have referred to in a forthcoming talk (“Kinsmen of the Flesh: Flaubertian Aspects of the Fathers”, 2020) as ‘formalistic perceptivity’, a method constructed in the spirit of M.M. Bakhtin and Fredric Jameson. Through it we wrestle with Melville’s way of describing historical events; then we reconsider Melville’s place in literary historiography; then we are one step closer to be prepared to consider the philosophy-qua-philosophy of his ‘fiction.’

[6] See also, of course, Knox’s two-volume translation of Hegel’s Aesthetics (Oxford, 1998). Also forthcoming: “Tracing Ishmael in Hegel’s Aesthetics: On Melville’s Creative-Poetic Intuition in the 15 Chapters Before the Pequod Sets Sail”

[7] “We live in the age of Melville – an age of spiritual blackout and moral meltdown against the backdrop of an American empire in cultural collapse and political breakdown” (McCall 123).

[8] Ishmael’s American is anchored as a literal and figurative sightseer, rejecting freedom for its opposite: overworking through an addiction to abstract rather than concrete. Such persons cannot answer why one does precisely what one does. For Hegel, a similar (Albeit less self-inflicted, due in part to Germany’s age and reluctance to abandon feudalism with the brevity of her neighbors) paralysis for persons’ inability to process the reality of revolution and the ontology of money. This is amplified by contrived religion’s creation of an unhappy conscious. Both authors – again, we might even consider the Phenomenology of Spirit as a novel in some regards (As done by Henry Sussman, SUNY Press 1996) – chronicle the Numerical Self, submerged in the industrial mustard-seeded dirt of what today has become the full-blown manufactured subculture. Its dependency is hereditarily opposed to the self-evident wellness of a people. They must, then, be unwell; and such, until the mythical epiphanic moment of collision, is the Joycean trailing navelcord of unhappy consciousness.

[9] Three writers working with Hegel and Literary Theory to whom I am indebted include Andrew Cole, M.A.R. Habib, and Angelica Nuzzo (Nuzzo working with Hegel and Melville, specifically). Andrew Cole’s The Birth of Theory (Chicago, 2014) and Angelica Nuzzo’s Approaching Hegel’s Logic, Obliquely (SUNY Press, 2018) are briefly referenced in this lecture’s version; for time – for the time being – prohibits a proper systematic treatise, or response. Nevertheless, Habib considers Hegel’s place in literary criticism thusly: “Theory’s critical instrument is derived from Hegel himself – the dialectic as arrested in its second or ‘negative’ phase. [M]ost modern European systems of thought arose as modifications of, or reactions against, Hegel’s dialectic. Hegel has enabled our worlds of thought on many levels, even those that are vehemently opposed to him… His system inscribes and prefigures the internal structure of capitalism, its ability to absorb everything else – art, literature, religion, love, socialism, other cultures – into its own structures of economic value and significance, into its own expansive and ever-changing identity” Hegel and the Foundations of Literary Theory (Cambridge University Press, 2018) pp. 5-11. Therefore, a prospective Hegelian reading of Moby Dick simultaneously re-envisions literary history while apprehending what Rita Felski calls critique’s ‘limits.’ See also Stephen Houlgate’s Freedom, Truth, and History: An Introduction to Hegel (Blackwell, 2005): pp. 12-20, 51, 164-82.

[10] See Kolakowski’s “The Origins of Dialectic” in vol. 1 of Main Currents of Marxism (Clarendon Press, 1978), pp. 57-65.

[11] “a relatively synchronic phenomenon, the relationship, in a given moment of time or history, of the literary system to neighboring and more distant ones in the totality of experience… But where all history is understood as the operation of a single mechanism, it is transformed back into synchrony, and time itself becomes a kind of a-historical, relatively mechanical repetition” (Jameson 96).

[12] See also Robert Brandom, who puts it – Hegelian ‘force’ as a logical-scientific formalism – thusly: “The moves made under the headings of the ‘doubling of forces’ and the ‘play of forces’ must be understood so as to apply to genes and bosons, qua purely theoretical – that is, exclusively inferentially accessible kinds of things – as well as to literal forces… [t]he ontological categorical conception of particulars as substrates of many sense universals also envisages unobservables knowable only by inference from their observable manifestations. What the allegory of force and its expression is allegorical for is the relation between purely theoretical, postulated entities and the observables on the basis of which those theoretical entities are inferentially accessible.” A Spirit of Trust. Belknap Harvard: 2019, p. 175.

[13] Shortly before his death Thomas Aquinas reflected on his life’s work, referring to it as ‘straw’: Brenner, William H. “Theology as Straw: An Essay on Wittgenstein and Aquinas.” New Blackfriars, vol. 93, no. 1046, 2012, pp. 412–425.

[14] Whereas Andrew Cole worked through Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, and Nicholas of Cusa in terms of a systematic gloss of the prolegomenal Hegelian foundations in Theory, the scholar would likewise benefit from its unpacking. Here Origen (d. 253) is linked in the pre-Plotinian conception of Theory, and in this case a full-length study of Melville and various other works through the lens of a pre-theoretical dialectic of Identity/Difference in History and Spirit (for our purposes, Geist): history exhausts itself as it unfolds. This conceptual exhaustion contradicts the notion of universal progress; it is not something that flows concurrently into living consciousness, but a realm of shadows and symbols which is preparation for something else. The order of history introduces us to truths, for Origen, but never the history of the order of truth. It is spirit in as much as it is analogy. Origen, like Ishmael, foresaw the addiction to arbitrariness; he was as inconceivable to the Hellenic mind as ours. See Henri de Lubac’s History and Spirit, esp. pp. 317-25. Ignatius Press: San Francisco, 2007.

[15] Melville’s Collected Poems, Library of America (2019), pp.

[16] This is not careless, flowery language but instead a literal description of the text in Melville’s lifetime: a future comparative study that engages Chapter 16 of Moby Dick with the first dozen pages of the Phenomenology after Hegel’s “Preface”, and a survey of receptions and authorial perspectives of reception.

[17] By this it is meant that Moby Dick has such a universal appeal that were America to cease existence, scholars and divine amateurs – Parker’s way of putting it in Melville Biography (Northwestern University Press, 2012) – would preserve Moby Dick. In one sense it is like Joyce’s Ulysses in this regard, a guide for rebuilding Dublin should it Borgesionally vanish. Thus, in thinking of the text as historical object, there is a Hegelian counterpart re: method of apperception in Michael Forster’s apprehended totality of the Phenomenology, whichmirrors our narratological theory: “[T]he character of the Phenomenology as a wholetends to be passed over rather quickly, and where dealt with dealt not particularly well. This is very unfortunate because many of the most philosophically interesting ideas of the work are to be found at the level of the work as a whole and are not at all clearly visible from the standpoint of particular sections” (2-4), elucidating both the impressiveness and attractiveness of text as architectonic whole.

[18] Atashi, Laleh. “An Ecocritical Reading of Melville’s” Bartleby the Scrivener”.” International Letters of Social and Humanistic Sciences 73 (2016): 7-16.

[19] Mane, Shashank B. “A Marxist Reading of Melville’s Bartleby.” Labyrinth: An International Refereed Journal of Postmodern Studies 10.2 (2019).

[20] See also: “Hegel detects a connection between Trinitarian theology, martyrdom, and religio-political oppression; as a theoretical counterproposal, he introduces the world historical individual, who becomes the true martyr of Spirit on its way to free self-conscious realization in the modern state.” (Finn’s “Grace and Forgiveness: The Hero as Hegelian Martyr” / 114-128) 

[21] “Even if it doesn’t lead to authoritarianism, the great danger of modernity is not a powerful state that impinges on individual freedom but the failure to recognize the state as a state and to mistake civil society for it… The danger that Hegel saw in 1821 has come to fruition.” Todd McGowan, Emancipation After Hegel (Columbia Univ. Press, 2019), p. 205.

[22] See Parker, Hershel. “Damned by Dollars: Moby-Dick and the Price of Genius.” Living with a Writer. Palgrave Macmillan, London, 2004. 202-222. Furthermore, while Christological aspects of Hegel and Melville are another lecture (course?) entirely, Douglas Finn’s book on Hegel and Augustine seems to provide something of a groundwork commenced in a working chapter on “The Carpet-Bag.”

[23] Sari Edelstein makes her case with the unlikely but amicable novelistic source. This article also takes into account a history of the adolescent male’s growing up in 19th c. America. ” May I Never Be a Man”: Melville’s Redburn and the Failure to Come of Age in Young America.” ESQ: A Journal of the American Renaissance 59.4 (2013): 553-584.


On the Narratology of Concept-Being: Lecture 1, Hegel and the Natural Law

or, The Living Bones of Paralyzed Intellect: on Hegel’s Natural Law


But when empiricism seems to go to war with theory, it usually turns out that the one like the other is a vision already contaminated and superseded by reflection and a perverted reason.[1]


The themes which monastic discipline assigned to friars for meditation were designed to turn them away from the world and its affairs. The thoughts we are developing here have a similar aim.

Walter Benjamin[2]


Welcome back, ladies and gentlemen. A few weeks ago our discussion moved from Eric Voegelin’s brilliant essay on Hegel and sorcery to the seemingly irreconcilable prospect of an orthodox understanding of Natural Law therein. But rather than remain split into camps, as it were, I have decided that we need to understand what Hegel himself had to say about the Natural Law. We can take the conversation further into aspects of his System, the concept of Theory, and the dialogic imagination in light of political theology, only after we have at minimum glossed the overlapping portion of our harrowing Venn-diagram, as it were.

Hegel’s theory of natural law is predicated upon the concern to preserve the unity between thought and reality while expositing his then-formulating System with a single-minded concern to avoid what Whitehead called “the fallacy of misplaced concreteness.” These concerns entail an effort to comprehend and thereafter transcend a merely manipulative understanding of the world, with Hegel contemptuous of the possible distortions rendered arbitrarily cartographic by the isolation of geographical subjectivity and subjective geography;[3] he seeks a universality that is connected to philosophy and thus free from intellectual opium. Reading the text today offers another level to a geographical isolation Hegel was concerned with among empiricists claiming universals while bound to subjectivity and, furthermore, overconfident in an empirical architectonic that necessarily was disengaged from the Hegelian Absolute, Pure Concept, or Infinity: we can consider an equivalent today in technological isolation that makes itself evidenced in linguistic ambiguities that create imitators of delusory triumphalism as concerns currents in a false universality that is, at least in America, in diametrical opposition to the natural law.[4] But it cannot be doubted that the seemingly endless Hegelian bracketing within genres and subgenres has at least something to do with a dialectical fusion of ambiguity and unclassifiability;[5] and it for this reason that I believe a close-reading of Hegel’s natural law will both clear up the groundwork for his well-known texts as well as shed light on insights highly relevant to our own age. For both Hegel’s world and ours concern a “a world in reverse”;[6] but by closely reading his Natural Law while tracing parallels in our own age, we will better understand Hegel; better grasp the magnitude of our digital feudalism; and, for those interested in the natural law but distraught over mainstream culture, see that there is both nothing new under the sun and that exterior distress must be met with, in the spirit of Ephesians 6:12, interior precision. Thus, our survey this afternoon argues that Hegel’s natural law theory has imminent value as both a precursor to canonized Hegelian thought and direct correlation to contemporaneous issues or crises permeating, or settled within, culture that are antithetical to America’s founding, degeneration, and the practice of natural law more generally.

            Let us begin with Descartes. For Hegel, Descartes is said to be “a dualism in the culture of modern history of our northwestern world, the decline of a whole mode of aging life, of which the quieter transformations of the public life of men and the noisy revolutions in politics and religion are only variegated manifestations.”[7] This Cartesian split amidst Christian societies rendered Hegel in an earlier text to argue that when Christ’s teachings were interpreted in the Judaic authoritative sense of rationality rather than in the Socratic spirit of comradely collectiveness, despotic manifestations transpired; that Socrates’s teachings being rendered unto subjects who naturally considered themselves equals to Socrates[8] spoke to the philosophy of spirit, and that the philosophy of spirit is an aesthetic philosophy; and that Cartesian atomization dislodged poetry as the teacher of mankind.[9]

            It is philosophy’s task, in and through the natural law, to correct this complex error. Hegel’s understanding of the natural law thus operates in terms of uncriticized pre-philosophical categories which philosophy must then apprehend and unite in the name of reason; the conceptual Absolute must be totalized, and thence resurrected, in order to move beyond preliminarily hovering over faith and reason’s synonymous corpse, and thus confronting the Absolute. Harmonized oppositions fall into place whilst mirroring technological forms beget contextual genres-as-forms.[10] For the debased, albeit dogmatic method of permanent crisis turns from physical combat to psychological combat.[11] This incessant warfare cannot be questioned. In the first case it might get one killed, and in the second render one ostracized. Yet because of its incessant nature it negates itself; permanent warfare is no longer warfare, in that warfare has a pre-war state and post-war state. Negation is however nothing more than the veil before the first step in apprehending the conceptual-absolute: political religion, “of immaterial and material bodies, hidden powers and mere appearances.”[12]

            Hegel thus rejects the idea that society is made of pre-existing individuals; and for both Shelling and Hegel, “Morality is better able than logical argument in order to move from the merely relative and incomplete (the sphere of understanding) to the absolute whole (the object of the reason).[13][14] The very activity of enforcing law destroys it… [and] Hegel “anticipates his later argument that coercision is in a sense impossible among rational beings and that morality and law are continuous and inseparable.”[15]

            The society thus is less ambivalent to the natural law than it is antagonistically hostile is predicated upon the appearance of a necessary transition. Propaganda’s litany is strewn together at the font of societal construction and offered up for sacrifice in the name of hollow words and slogans. Equality thus in the end has nothing to do with equality and everything to do with inversion and subjugation; it is not so much that historicism’s villains were wrong in their homicidal actions, but rather that the victims had for themselves no victims. So long as one bears anything but the swastika, Goebbels’ doctrine is a matter of course: a man must become a woman in the way that Nazi Germany’s circle became a square: “Complexity may engender a certain amount of confusion, but naively complex confusion is less misleading than simplified abstraction.”[16] The origins of moral propaganda are beholden to a process and consciousness that entails an intermediary symbolic freedom that claims a power of the rational that shall overcome the sensible attractions of individual desire. Hegel is thus working with and through Kant in ways that are brought into fruition by understanding that morality is not contingent and not localized or a matter of degree. Kant believed that the state and the church could coexist; but the church that seeks inauthentic power through magnetic proximity to secular affairs chips away at its ethereal core until it is caught between a rock (petros) and a hard place (perversion). At worst it is an abject failure (“abortion”; “feminism”; “gender ideology”); at best it strives for political religiosity whilst resulting in Gnosticism, and a negatively temporal dismantling of human understanding in history.[17]

            Like America in 2020, Hegel’s Germany offered a constitution that was only merely a thought and no longer a sovereign power’s blueprint,[18] having fallen victim to the romance language process of ornamental decay, whereby confidence is first unrecognizable, and then altogether lost (Zutrauen). That which is unrecognizable has down through the imperceptible process of degraded Becoming; it can only be understood as itself when the populous has outstripped uncertainty and fallen into interior disarray. It is also at this point that those who believe they are hard-fought victors, who have been dictating and hence stifling public discourse all the while, are exposed as perfect charlatans. Thus the process of falling away from – in the Hegelian sense aesthetic – natural law and into spurious ideality are first violently cast into the pits of hell of their own making (Revolution), thereafter transferred into the subjectively delusional scrapbook of mediated corporate historicism. The national fall from grace is at last figurative and literal.

Hegel argues that Kant’s system of morality proceeded on a straight line of anxiety: in fulfillment would arrive annihilation. Again, the tier and reality of becoming perfected in Christianity is replaced by a state of becoming that negates itself in both success and failure. The idea of corporate charity comes to replace the virtue of charity; the concept engulfs what is to-become unrivaled paradox in morality. This degeneration works in another specific way on both collective memory and linguistics when the spirit is universalized: selfhood, by way of maxim, transforms into principle. That which is tangible becomes that which is impossible, albeit concentrated in ideality. Thus, “By patriotism the individual is attached to those particular men who form this particular society rather than to all patriots everywhere. The society is a whole, not a class, and each member is a part rather than an instance.”[19] We might here consider a chronological unraveling: “Fichte, Schelling and Hegel are all regarded as ‘successors’ of Kant, each of them wrote works of significance during Kant’s lifetime in which they considered themselves developing views they had obtained from him.”[20] If we are to consider Perpetual Peace a pamphlet rather than a text, all three writers published texts on the philosophy of law before Kant; and these texts, chiseled down, contend that morality is a matter of intention. Hegel severs himself from this method of principality in retaining, elucidating a systematic of intention, or architectonics on the stage-setting crux of intentionality as it proceeds within the phenomenological totality of method in connaturality. Mutual security prepares a place for guarantee there where the prospect had become unfathomable; and these guarantees are exclusively obtained if a third party, like Hobbes’s or Schmitt’s sovereign, demands that its subjects conflate economical facticity with freedom of choice: “When an individual violates the right of another he does so in order to obtain something that he wants. If, however, he is sure that by violating the rights of another he will not get what he wants but something he emphatically does not want, he will keep within his sphere and not invade the spheres of others.”[21]

            Legal alteration implies a potential destruction, or at least for Hegel negative alteration in state documents, that attuned citizens acknowledge. No protest can hope to prevent this natural process or even thwart division through contradiction in hostile enlightenment, which implies that “Everyone recognizes that, even in a well-ordered state, the executive has the power to interfere with the working of the constitution and may even pervert or destroy it.”[22] Hegel’s view is that philosophy is in the business of overcoming division; this includes division predicated upon the absolute desecration of nature in a feigned sense of “freedom” that is, in its essence, absolute subjugation. The insistence upon depravity is likewise correlative to unequal minds and bodies of men and women; complimentary organics are injected with the spirit of destruction, “an atomistic, lifeless plurality, the elements of which are absolutely opposed substances.” It is thus inevitable that man falls prey to machination, “would be made into a mere machine.” Such is similar to Fichte, for whom the state “exists in that unsentimental arena where wary dealers squeeze the utmost out of one another.” But on the other hand:

Threats cannot make a free man do what the utterer of them wants him to do, since the free man can accept the penalty rather than do what he is being required to do. In the last resort he can die rather than submit and so the victory is his: ‘By his ability to die the subject proves himself free and entirely above all coercion. Death is the absolute subjugator (die absolute Bezwingung).’”[23] Hegel writes further that “If freedom is an absolute it cannot be a means to something else and cannot be described in terms of the finite categories of the understanding.” Likewise, a convicted and hanged man is for instance subdued and overcome but not coerced.[24]

            If actions are to be real and objective they must also make their place in a system of social institutions that is enveloped by an indexical, Lockean law: that which is seen, in print, and that which is invisible, written in nature; the Fall dismantles willing perceptivity to the Thomistic Good; male/female complementarity; the hermeneutic facticity of metaphysics.[25] For Hegel, Kant’s ‘perpetual peace’ would lead institutions to become static and lifeless and would bring about their ultimate decay, being less innovative than Babel variations. For although the destruction of one or two institutional staples, or departments, may not destroy the body as a whole, these staples or departments are nothing without the body; the social whole is ‘in’ the individuals.[26] Numerical Beings[27] may find it extraordinary to say that the pulse is the whole because we think of the pulse as a physical process of a physical thing, and physical things are themselves and nothing else. But H.B. Acton writes:

“This way of looking at society and the individual, Hegel believed, must influence the way in which we view the relation of law and the state to what is ordinarily called morality. Morality is often if not always regarded as a personal or interpersonal affair, concerned with the motives and intentions, the actions and virtues and vices of individual men and women. Hegel, however, quoting Aristotle’s ‘The state comes by nature before the individual,’ holds that the virtues of individual men depend upon the ethical totality and ethical life which surrounds them’.”[28]

Therefore, according to Hegel, an individual can be virtuous because law and the state provide the paths and directions; outside of this pre-platonic “already-out-there-now” the state is an innocuous matter of incidentality, which having gone against nature must in turn go against itself. Its manner of proceeding is a spontaneous delaying of annihilation.

From this stage, the ontological comprehension of statehood’s bestowal, Hegel adapts classes and virtues in tandem with Plato’s Republic, modified by industrialism, i.e., again noted by Acton:

“Plato divided his ideal society into three classes, the Guardians whose characteristic virtue is wisdom, the auxiliaries or fighting men whose characteristic virtue is courage, and the traders, workers, whose characteristic virtue is temperance. Hegel’s divisions and virtues are reached on a different principle, since he asks which class is free and which is not and takes risking one’s life as the criterion. The aristocratic or noble class, he says, had work to do, but not the work that consists in transforming raw materials for purposes of consumption. It is the twofold task of risking their lives in defense of the whole and developing the political life of the whole. In risking their lives they transcend nature and are free, and they inhabit the infinite and rational sphere of ethical life. The second class do not risk their lives but seek to accumulate and to enjoy comfort. They are therefore not free and inhabit the world of the understanding with the state as a means to their personal satisfaction and with the bad infinity of unlimited gain as their inspiration”.[29]

Under the Roman Empire the first class had capitulated and everyone, as Gibbon put it, had ‘sunk into the languid indifference of private life,’ and this could happen in modern society too if the second class developed at the expense of the others. Schelling defined history in an 1802 lecture as nature at a high power (Potenz), “this great mirror of the world-spirit, this eternal poem of the divine understanding.”[30] As in the case above with Plato, Hegel takes sees the imaginative pillar as more than one, while retaining its unity, albeit among many. Schelling then tapped into less a thing-in-itself than an open propaedeutic. Thus, for Hegel it is “the tragedy which the Absolute eternally enacts with itself, by eternally giving birth to itself into objectivity, submitting in this objective form to suffering and death, and rising from its ashes to glory.” But this begs the ontological questions that occur when, beginning with the industrial specter of revolution, end in the technological modernities and eschatological totalities of unrestrained subversion. Metaphysical transposition and plot give way to a cosmic Jackson Pollock: it is there, and recognized as-itself, despite implication, forewarnings, and a permanent mastery of illusory cultural cusps and firsts. Scientism, as we know it – is it absolute? No. Subjective? Certainly all that is required for subjective fundamentalists to control both the methods and means of communication, and the difference between abstract and concrete universals “History as a whole is a tragedy because in history, as in tragedy, an inorganic element of necessity – like economic necessity within the ethical totality – is encountered as a fate with which the individual has to become reconciled.”[31]

            Unity removed from the natural law is an empty concept; its identity as a negative absolute doubles in contemporaneous totality, wherein problems multiply. Indifference to infinity is predicated upon an unlimited dependence in the likewise inapplicable; in this way tyranny is the organic extension of liberation so long as said liberation is conceptually bound by what D.C. Schindler has rightly called “freedom from reality.”

            For natural law is an essentially philosophical science against dependence upon empirical subjectivity. The Absolute alone transcends the sphere of scientific knowledge, continually conscious of man’s place in the cosmos.[32] As concerns numerological empiricism, one thinks of Heidegger’s history of the concept of time; but this is more of a Hegelian extension.[33] Likewise, natural law’s freedom from fixed concepts lies in an ever-present cognition of technological contaminations and abominations. Logos is thus actualized in Christological freedom; for science is free so long as its higher context and necessity is made clear in stripping its severance from societal intuition.[34]

            Between reality, nothing, and the empty force of identity, the natural law contains for Hegel a potentiality of metaphysical transcendence. Barbarism’s confinements, too romanticized by cultures of inverted narcissism, return to a sense of the Absolute, thereby canceling its former self in the name of abandonment to divine providence. Nonetheless, this is a chance rather than a guarantee[35] so far as Hegel understands natural law en route to his System. Terminological absolute negativity[36] becomes the infinity that cannot, and thus decidedly must, be comprehended. But as the finite being cannot utterly grasp infinite, this comprehension is thus a cosmic locality brought into being by Christological obedience.[37] By bearing directly on the ethical, the natural law concerns itself with the empirical shape of the ethical. This morphs into natural law’s expression of universality as being rather than as moralistic propaganda. Outside of this absolute unity empty abstractions reign unrestrained; here, one may claim the altar of science while rejecting all elementary biological qualities of being. Negative absoluteness demands its arbiters cling to empty forces of identity, or a cruder form of platonic forms:

With the principle of absolute opposition, or of the absoluteness of the purely ideal, the absolute principle of empiricism is posited; and therefore, with reference to perception, the syntheses, insofar as they are not supposed to have just the purely negative meaning of annulling one side of the opposition but also a positive meaning of perception, portray only perceptions.[38]

Through voluntarily renouncing critical philosophy the opponent of natural law imagines that it is free from philosophical criticism. This notion is enhanced by technological surveillance and censorship, in addition to the corporatization of Western canons. In its increasingly estranged place from reality, the dissident collective acquired ironical condescension; what has no end must be extended out of desperation in order to keep hidden that the advertised solution is nothing more than a flash of absolute negativity. For “the totality of the organic is precisely what cannot be thereby attained, and the remainder of the relation, excluded from the determinate aspect that was selected, falls under the dominion of this aspect which is elevated to be the essence and purpose of the relation.”[39]

With the whole organic relation delimited and contaminated, spectacular technology takes hold. That which proceeds from the natural law cannot be conclusively appropriated in temporal terms without having deformed the otherwise immutable form of Christological unity. Thus, exegetical derision comes in waves, and the martyrs’ blood replenishes the tree that is the Book of Life, which itself takes on various esoteric aestheticisms.[40] The pure Concept, in Hegelian terms, is thus emblematic of the mystery that remains mysterious in its unwillingness to indefensibly abscond to deconstruction. The dialectical convergence of materiality is presupposed on grounds of misunderstanding; and such a golden chained totality of empirical knowledge has embers in minds ranging from Cicero, whose Orator we shall later read, to Chrysostom (‘But the science which you have is superior to every kind of storm—the power of a philosophic soul—which is stronger than ten thousand armies, more powerful than arms, and more secure than towers and bulwarks’ Letter to Olympias”) to Bernard Lonergan, parts of whose Insight will be read toward the end of semester, and may itself be classified as adherence to the natural law: the Absolute remains Absolute in light of its opposite (i.e., the grass fades, the flower withers, etc.). Otherwise, for Hegel, chaos reigns in both the physical and the ethical world:

Chaos is conceived now by the imagination more in the image of existence, as the state of nature, now by empirical psychology more in the form of potentiality and abstraction, as a list of the capacities found in man, as the nature and destiny of man. In this way, what on the one hand is asserted to be simply necessary in itself, absolute, is at the same time acknowledged on the other hand to be something not real, purely imaginary, an ens rationis – in the first case to be fiction, in the second a mere possibility; and this is the harshest contradiction.[41]

Dogmatic empiricism and the first cause deforms into a construction of reality reliant upon the temporal decimation, extinction of particularities and opposites. One against nature does not learn; for each lesson is a reminder in the agony of mutated power that lies in the blurring between the accidental and the necessary. Demonstration gives way to capacity, quality to quantity; formality to ideality. This severance that is bound to ideality connotates the phenomenological predicates of symbolic exchange that is formless and external, in “society” and “state.”[42] The divine is thus not abolished but made a debased, soulless form of depiction. To extinguish it outright is simply to replace the saints’ shrines with the revolutionaries’, the ecclesiastical altar with the corporate auditory stage. Conceptual collective selfhood in proximity to God annihilates the intuition of the instant, determined to violate the indestructible, i.e. ‘the Kingdom of God is in you.’ For “the natural would have to be regarded in an ethical relation as something to be sacrificed.”[43] Ethical nature disintegrates into nature-worship.[44]

            Opposition to the natural thus results in a process of perpetual vindication. It has made a conscious break from psalmody (“The Lord is my vindication”) and taken that which is organically delimiting and made into something “like a building, which silently displays the spirit of its creator in its outspread mass, although the image of the creator himself, concentrated in a unity, is not exhibited there.”[45] Intuition’s subordination is less a power move than it is an unveiling of a completely hollow, or political, universality.[46] Baseless coercion no longer builds upon the good, but rather submerges itself in an avalanche of problematic laws, rational ends, and rational principles. But rationality in its most natural light speaks for itself in simply being-itself. It does not need to explain what it is doing unless a force diametrically opposed to it should seek a testimony it already knows the answer to, therein buying time while depending upon obstinate opposition to an authentically empirical unraveling of an artificial framework of principles.[47] Recalcitrant labeling, such as “common sense laws”, rely upon the predicated cloud of unquestioning. It invokes the ad hominem because it is gone against nature and lost. Such is most thoroughly proven in a progression that begets absolute negativity in its self-fulfillment by way of biological contradiction. This mode of production, Hegel wagers, is a vacillation of infinity that goes against philosophy itself: “Now principles and laws are boastfully advanced against philosophy, and philosophy is set aside as incompetent to judge of such absolute truths in which the understanding is stuck; now philosophy is misused for the purpose of ratiocination, in the nature of philosophy.”[48] The debate is thus uncomplicated on grounds of logical dissection, but the transgressive erosion of law’s blurred lines of potential dialogical appropriation make the rational, or natural, impossible; it is a crystal clear sea, the idyllic method of dialogical inquiry, that is incessantly clouded by spurts of ink through which generally invisible tentacles wind.

            This observation brings Hegel into confrontation with an issue running from Parmenides to W. Norris Clarke: the one and the many. The irrational are many; such is brought to light when subsistence has given way to unnatural disunity. What is real is now proclaimed outside of reason, as the proponents of progress must begin to buckle-down on the tools they have otherwise spent their existences condemning. Ethical reason begets absolute unity; but it does so at a long-term cost that even social memory has about as much control of its as a machine does in the hands of its operator. A more Plotinian idea, in the One, makes itself known through the unconscious in ecumenicism and through the spirit in a more Masonic tradition of a Supreme Being. In terms of warfare, this principle is taken as the ends justifying the means; for there is nary an historiographical instance of class warfare that does not result in the ‘revolutionary’ conditions making the overcome conditions pale in comparison as concerns the willingness to resort to evil. This utopian unconscious “is as much superseded as posited.”[49]  In order to get to the sum of things one must dilute conviction; and in diluting conviction one opens up the realm of neglecting historical erudition and thus falling prey to the proponents of nihilistic temporality. Conceptual futures thus belong to futures past; to look to a time is to look through it. Such is the feudal dialectic of identity and difference, or unity in multiplicity: “Philosophy, not ordinary consciousness, is at fault for having chosen the appearance of the immoral, and for having imagined that it had the true absolute in the negative absolute of infinity.”[50] Despite the convictions of a guard’s master, to let it down is to invoke rekindling visions of destruction. In the Lockean sense, or even that of Merleau-Ponty’s, both visible and invisible are affected in ways prone to preclude maximal perception: temporality depends on it. But moral formalism adopts a position whose very move is apparently an action that concerns issues greater than longevity; and it is in such machinations of incomprehension that matter and form contradict one another.[51] For Hegel the latter is Platonic, the former delimited; the strain breaks down into Heideggerian Marxist issues concerning the calculatedly symbolic power of language;[52] this architectonics swings back and forth between the corporeal and the banal, as one cannot do without the other. However, the former maintains a desired stability or proximity to connaturality, while the other works in the degenerated language of slogans and deceptive symbology. Today this aura is most evident in economic pleas for matters that never quite seem to resolve themselves, as in the case of politics and cancer, where “pain is lifted by the force of perception from feeling, where it is something accidental and contingent, into unity and the shape of something objective and absolutely necessary.”[53] Such is the stifled reality of everyday politicization.

            Decaying distinctiveness thereby gives rise to fanaticism rather than devotion, manipulative instrumentation rather than adherence, with the difference being that whereas in the latter case man works from revelation in a similar sense to the face that two plus two equaled four 4,000 years ago and shall still in another 4,000, the former party latches onto situational suspicion with a religiosity it cannot face within itself, thereby rendering reality as an abstraction that is all but serving as a gasoline fueling its refuted flames while clamping down ever harder on epistemological and technological temporality. In this sense it mirrors the technological gadgetry through which is announces itself: it begins as luxury, as in the luxury of peacetime, and soon becomes mandatory. This force ensures a greater potential for depravity, in that the ideology and its instrumentation contain sources that the practitioner cannot see, let alone fathom. Such ideology must be short-sighted in its declaration of universality; for it is a perpetual temporality that is unaware of itself, and thus leads to movements (Pelagianism, structuralism, post-structuralism, feminism, liberalism) rather than Movement. No vindication is found through recollection of intention; the damage has been done, and persons have witnessed that such a systematic is nothing more than mutiny upon a ship, desperate to bring as many persons on board out of desperation masquerading as renegade enlightenment. Concept and legality here come together in a hostile union that, again for Hegel, provide the historiographers with subject matter, but are in essence part of a vaster plan than any subsect would dare admit or fathom; for had it the ability to do so – confront absolute negativity, or Infinity – it would have chosen reality over reprobation. For the cult of the martyrs is not an ancient past, contemporaneously bleeds into the secular.

            Here the most pathetic sense is also the most literal, and thus taboo: interior and exterior conflict come face to face with the Nostalgia Industry and Numerical Beings. Conceptual equality has summoned these Hegelian forces to the fore at the brink of cultural destitution, or physiology: “Against the hierarchy of compulsion descending from the supreme power through all its branches down to every individual, a similar pyramid is in turn supposed to rise upwards from the individual to the supreme pinnacle of counterpressure meeting the descending pressure.”[54] Such an observation is less prophetic than it is pragmatic; for Hegel these processes were unaffiliated with a historical cognition modeled as it is today in a sort of odiously optimistic fashion. Rather, the totality of infinity defies both beginning and end, and is up to man made in the image of God – who is endowed with an apparently definite beginning and end – from which the absolute is added to or subtracted from. It is a level of consciousness that warrants the death-knell to all politics and political movements and opens the door for phenomenological consciousness. But before he would move there, there would need be a dissection of the corporate farce that is on the mind and t-shirt of so many diametrically opposed to the natural law: revolutionary historicism. This mode of recording and comprehending is delimited by individuals who are “incapability of constituting themselves as a general will.”[55] Yet here a twofold consideration of power interests Hegel. First, the power of power, or power as it is represented in light of societal consciousness, or at least clues, as pertains to the unity of a given government and its relation to the doctrinal rule of law. A government cannot move away from its state doctrine without causing flashes of panic among the people. As this panic is temporal, it appeals to those antithetical to the natural law, or founding document that assumedly has some relation to, again, the Lockean bodies both visible and invisible.[56] Here the fragmentary process that is a transition phase from one form of governance to the next is in limbo, and as such sets it on its literal and figurative guard. Formerly unfathomable means of surveillance, imprisonment, and public displays of weaponry emerge from this purgatorial realm as staples of safety incarnate.

            “Next,” writes Hegel, “natural or original freedom is to be limited to the concept of universal freedom.” Such an inherent contradiction is magnified by technological means: first through trade, then industrialism and the airplane, and then the specter of instantaneous connection through the internet. Interconnectivity is promoted while the degradation of individuals picks up steam, to a bathetic fusion of slave labor and violent proximities. It is the technological process of crystallizing both mental and physical enslavement of all nations that drives the unquestionable idea of universal freedom, which in time manifests from Kojeve’s lectures on Hegel to the world-stage.

But here let us apprehend a contemporaneous parallel. Persons are conceived equally, but are not born equal. Slaveowners wrote otherwise, and the crises which have plagued the world for all of its recorded history have not been dissolved by technology. This is in spite of the technological subject, or Numerical Being’s, obsession with conjoining gadgetry and ontology. Returning to the sentiment, that all are “created equally”, and taking advantage of this reality, global pluralism converges with moral relativism so as to give way to a prospect neither sought nor desired by anyone who can see beyond the daily propaganda into the reality that, if persons possess different gifts, some possess adherence to a natural law, fixed in divine providence, that cannot be removed from them because it is Spirit. But what can be removed is all proof that such modes of thoughts and being ever did exist, which a good deal of the world already lives through both in the street and on the screen: “In the concept of coercion itself, something external to freedom is immediately posited. But a freedom for which something is genuinely external and alien is no freedom; its essence and its formal definition is just that nothing is absolutely external.” The unnegotiable structure of the natural law resides in the fact that language flows from it, and not for it; and “freedom is just the opposite; nothing is external for it, so that for it no coercion is possible.”[57]

            With freedom assigned purely empirical characteristics, coercion is a matter of oppositional singularity: “For the individual is singularity, and freedom is the annihilation of singularity.”[58] The dilution of the invisible is made manifest in the stranglehold upon that which is visible; Marxian alienation that thus arises out of such a disconnection of man from Being is less philosophically interesting than it is a pathetic duplication of ontological alienation. A refusal of the mystery of faith (Logos) does not deter the mystery of faith (beginning in earnest with the Pythagorean cold waters flowing from the lake of memory); for all its complexity this revolutionary spirit seldom accomplishes more than temporally negating the immutable. For the revolutionary determination is nothing more than a debased metal variation on false messianic expectations, where the unreal political offering of “choice” is subsumed by a manipulative impatience. Rather than face limitations under the living sign of infinity, finite limitations arise to the lesser surface of presuppositionless, frenzied utopianism unto a poverty of self-awareness: “The possibility of abstracting from determinations is without restriction… there is no determination which is absolute, for this would be a direct self-contradiction. But freedom itself (or infinity) is indeed the negative and yet the absolute, and the subject’s individual being is absolute singularity taken up into the concept, is negatively absolute infinity, pure freedom.” The negative is the absolute in that man is apparently the singular being conscious of its end, which signals either a living eternity or a return to pre-birth nothingness. This differentiated magnitude is both simple and incomprehensible, the alpha and omega of Geist: “Death is the absolute subjugator.”[59] The sheer magnetism of such a polarity also ushers in a refusal of navigational dialogue; one side cannot help but see the other side as condemned.

Individuality is thus the absolute liberation that is also the testament of flourishing aesthetic cultures: for each aesthetic movement on the world stage comprehends the difference between ignoring what is not there and demanding that the letter B is in truth the first letter of the English alphabet. As in the mythic cult of assassinated, neglected, and suicided poets, punishment is the restoration of freedom,[60] with the Cross as its cumulative highest symbol. For even he who rejects the Cross in earnest who has brought good into the world perishes in a manner far more Christlike than he who has simply adorned the symbol in latent, enabling hypocrisy: “the individual proves his unity with the people unmistakably through the danger of death alone” (93). Outside of this on the world-stage aspect is conflated with totality, “just as the blowing of the winds preserves the sea from the foulness which would result from a continual calm, so also corruption would result for peoples under continual or indeed ‘perpetual’ peace.”[61]

Infinity is the negation from which life is, containing the characteristics of manifold reality; its presence unshackles one from quantity and into the realm of quality, the apex of which is first laid out in Plato. The move from shadows to reality does not concern linearity but cosmic typology as concretized in prose. This being the case, such formlessness and simplicity renders conscientious perceptivity a blow should it seek to retain a linear, or constructive vision of historiography. Reconstruction in difference extinguishes utopianism, rendering nostalgic death rather than elusive whim; but it is further evidenced in life, eternity, that the thing that requires extensive effort is the thing that contains within itself, should it be good and true, that which is of the greatest value: cognitive inviolability. The timelessness of conversion tales speak to this unchangeable circumstance, which itself mirrors the Kierkegaardian unchangeability of God; it is a permanent astonishment that holds tight to the dedicated convert, perhaps first literarily fused – Judaica by Platonism – in Augustine. The conversion to a magnitude of this inimitable sort has passed from the cancellation of undifferentiated self-awareness [and is] restored through an annihilation of perceptions.”[62] Ethical spheres and stages therefore reveal themselves to the formerly quantitative, or finite mind, as such:

The equating and calculating or inequality not only has its limits, owing to the fixed determination which implies an absolute opposition, and, like geometry, encounters incommensurability, but – since it remains wholly in determinacy and yet cannot abstract, as geometry can; but, being involved in living relationships, is always confronted by whole bundles of such determinacies – it also encounters endless contradictions.[63]

Comprehension of comprehension freely confronts inequality, while the masses fail to see that this system is one of codependence upon which their ability to “seek” “justice” is allowed as a foggy, predetermined privilege rather than a right. The result, again predetermined, is a tension without limits; its technological source both creates and encourages its opposite, before putting in place an ideological fence to ensure nothing resembling actual “justice” is ever even approximated.

For the adherent of natural law this is the true crisis: if, as Hegel writes, lacking an authentic abstraction of the situations at hand in times of unlimited secularism leads to endless contradictions, it is the endlessness of this scenario and a pragmatic exhaustion that begins to take place, or acedia: “Thus it cannot be a good thing to apply a universally simply rule to what is never simple.” Hegel therein cites Politicus and moves to the sphere of human affairs, where “as implicit as it is empty, there is nothing absolute in it except just pure abstraction, the utterly vacuous thought of unity.”[64] If that which appears most “revolutionary” is itself a manufactured subculture – an idea – then, “we must recognize that what is here called ‘idea’ is inherently null and void, and that perfect legislation is inherently impossible, just as true justice, corresponding to the determinacy of the law, is impossible in concreto (in the exercise of the power of jurisdiction.” Here the convictions of judges comes into play. But as this is neither pure nor unbiased, a societal “absorption of the relation into indifference itself”, or societal acedia, transpires.

With faith lost in mammalian systems, “an actuality and difference which ethical life cannot surmount”[65] comes into the fore. Its most dramatic form is martyrdom; its most untouched form counters Thoreau’s ‘quiet lives of desperation’ with a quiet life of conviction. This natural atmosphere of sanctity allows ethical organization to “remain pure in the real world only if the negative is prevented from spreading all through it and is kept to one side.” Here one cannot help but recall Allan Bloom.[66] For if the decay of relativism must do away with distinction, it must end with going away with Being. “Hate” is, in wicked hands, nothing more than the odious heights self-contradicting subjectivity. Although silenced, here members of a society become acutely aware of the degrading process beneath the delusional veneer of equality; it is the degradation of the soul, in order to subjugate first the mind and then the body. It is the technological height of unnaturalistic despotism, which Hegel illustrates by citing Edward Gibbon: “The principle of universality and equality first had so to master the whole that instead of separating the classes it amalgamated them… the minds of men were gradually reduced to the same level, the fire of genius was extinguished… personal valor remained, but without public courage.”[67] This paragraph’s concluding Platonic citation is also worth referencing in full, in order to assess the Hegelian aspects of Rome and Athens alike, in order to greater comprehend the totality of natural law’s enemies, and where a society degenerating in its vice grip goes (and that it is, perhaps most tragically of all, nothing new under the sun):

“They will easily discover for themselves the many things that have to be laid down about these matters… if God grants them secure possession of a truly ethical constitution. Otherwise they will pass their lives multiplying petty laws and amending them, thinking that at last they will reach perfection… They live like invalids who from impertinence will not give up their bad diet… By all their remedies they achieve nothing except engendering and multiplying greater diseases, while always hoping that someone will advise a drug to make them better… Equally charming are those who make laws on matters like those mentioned and constantly amend them in the belief that they will reach finality – unaware that in fact they are just cutting off a Hydra’s head” (Republic 425c-426e).

God grants a people their truly ethical constitution; it is thus a matter reverence and obedience in the image of Logos that warrants the objective good. Freedom, then, is not physical or mental degeneration, or infanticide, but the means by which to apprehend and condemn such fatalistically deceptive concept-freedoms for what they are: bondage.[68] Liberation which presents itself as beyond questioning can of course never be liberation, which would be glad to explain itself. Thereby like Plato, Hegel doubts that a society can collectively comprehend both the form and objectivity required to comprehend the Absolute in selflessness, which again prefaces the Concept of the Good:

“The Divine in its form and objectivity is immediately double-natured, and its life is the absolute unity of these natures. But the movement of the absolute contradiction between these two natures presents itself in the Divine nature (which in this movement has comprehended itself) as courage, whereby the first nature frees itself from death inherent in the other conflicting nature. Yet through this liberation it gives its own life, since that life is only in connection with this other life, and yet just as absolutely is resurrected out of it, since in this death (as the sacrifice of the second nature), death is mastered.”[69]

            Symbolic inferentiality and the eternal recurrence of mythological reconciliation next converge in the form of an “opposition [that] may present itself as a divinity.”[70] But this performance, despite being demanded, will in time – as it operates in a prioritized sphere of pre-linguistic order, or timelessness – be understood as a farce of its formless faith and its underlying illusion (which is darkest where it is brightest), it being already lost and in the wrong when it futilely imagines itself in the arms of justice, trustworthiness, and pleasure.[71] “The comedy so separates the two zones of the ethical that it allows each to proceed entirely on its own, so that in the one the conflicts and the finite are shadows without substance, while in the other the Absolute is an illusion.” But the not-me, though through-me, unto the highest energy of infinity begets the situational (ontological) affirmation that is real, that the spirit is higher than nature.[72]

            Hegel next notes the difference between an individual’s ethical life and the “real, absolute” ethical life. Such is the bedrock upon which theoretical democracies, deformed republics are revolutionarily supplied historical scaffoldings. This is for Hegel however synonymous with the scientific morality and natural law of an institutional (or corporation) of people.[73] Ethical life of the person must be that of the people, in that it is universally good. With the benefit of hindsight, a people can see what has been weighed and found catastrophic. As a guidepost it can then, on the ideological-structural basis of its government, pursue or brush aside these examples. Scientific hostility plays into the latter’s hands; it is perceptually against the people, with scientific work upheld, even in constant error, with religious reverence. And it religious, and not near-religious, because in this technological scenario Science must transcend God if it is to fulfill itself. Thus rendered despotic, it is vindicated by gadgetry and the claim to having broken up a people’s cloud of political unknowing. It has, for Hegel, here gone against the Pure Concept of Infinity, and simultaneously dismantled the ideal scenario of science working in tandem with an individual ethics mirrors in governance connected “as much as the aether which permeates nature [and is] the inseparable essence of the configurations of nature, and as space (the ideality of nature’s appearances) is not at all in any of them.”[74] Structural natures outside of this harmony acquire a permanent state of negativity, as in going against the natural law dogmatic moralism deals exclusively with the deleterious and incomplete; it rejects Logos and thereby assumes the disastrous air of Savior. For it has missed the point completely, that the true positive is the natural law, and never its reversal: “Natural law is to construct how ethical nature attains its true right.” Deconstruction, or “revolution”, is thus perpetually inadequate by volition of its essence as both its sign and signifier; before it even takes hold, that which is against nature cannot do more than lead straight into a destruction that cannot ever even know itself.

            From here we zoom out in order to reveal the dialectic or identity and difference. Scientific ethics, ethical science; neither is alien nor in accordance with the Absolute. For Hegel these brackets are surface-level concerning an ontological issue outlined in the preceding paragraph. He contends that:

A science of this morality is thus, first, a knowledge of these relations themselves, so that insofar as they are studied with reference to ethical life, a reference that can only be formal owing to their absolute fixity, the above-mentioned annunciation of tautology finds its place here: the relation is only this relation… A lack of skill in formulating the true ethical principles as laws, and the fear of thinking these principles, of regarding them, as one’s own, and acknowledging them, is the sign of barbarism.[75]

This like much else in Hegel’s theory of natural law rings ominously true. To his credit this is, again, less a matter of prophecy than insight: “We learn from history that we do not learn from history.” By breaking free from linearity one severs the ties of polarity, or at least chisels them down to a clear modicum whereby that which is good both in the present and in the long-term is identifiable. The truth is like Augustine’s lion, which does not need to be defended, but rather is set free and defends itself. Thus, it may take a pummeling in dark times; but the lion’s strength is never in authentic doubt. Furthermore, in Hegel’s words above we see the reality of “hateful” speech. Historiography’s atrocity exhibition renders the barbarian his unending, unnatural sickness: that while barbarism spends its days condemning both that which is stable, prosperous, and true, while identifying its target as its opposite, as in “Nazis”, we at last come to see an authentic unfolding of methodological revelation: that the opponents of nature are less condemning specific things and actions than they are enraged that they did not have the chance to instrument such things themselves; working from a stage that is preliminarily slated for demolition, means and ends converge into a tapestry of delusive theorizing and moral propaganda. By raging against the natural law such historical revolutionaries unconsciously prepare themselves to eclipse the evils of that which they initially sought out to overcome. The tide of propaganda distends no other way: “Whether something is a subjective view or an objective idea, an opinion or a truth, philosophy alone can decide… Philosophy can exhibit its ideas in experience; the reason for this lies directly in the ambiguous nature of what is called experience.”[76] We thus see that subjectivity is in a sense ambiguity, in that its totality depends upon its objective, which itself depends upon the concrete science of ethical law and natural propaedeutic, a harmony that is in the judged by Infinity:

For the ethical vitality of the people lies precisely in the fact that the people has a shape in which a specific character is present – though not as something positive (in our use of the word so far) but as something absolutely united with universality and animated by it. And this aspect is very important also, partly in order to recognize how philosophy learns to honor necessity; partly because this aspect is a whole, and only a narrow view sees merely the individual detail and rejects it as accidental; and partly also because this aspect cancels the view of the individual and accidental by showing that it does not inherently hinder life, but that life, on the contrary, by letting the individual and accidental persist as they are of necessity, removes them from this necessity and permeates and vitalizes them… the world-spirit, in every one of its shapes, has enjoyed its self-awareness.[77]

Hegel ranges from the fish to the water, the polyp, nightingale, and lion, identifying natural – national – identity with “particular or universal culture” (127). In doing so he negates global-equity utopianisms and observes that the universe is united in its distinguishing; it is a twofold Judaic-Christian observation that comprehends both Creation and Babel without any desire to tear down canonical dogma: God is well pleased in his creation, and man’s attempt(s) at forced intermixing dispel the organic nature of differentiated universality, “weaker or more developed but always absolute; it has enjoyed itself and its own essence in every nation under every system of laws and customs.” Misfortune is, furthermore, a matter of preference that brings the subjugated down into the realm of animal reality; it has given up universal ideality and thus sacrificed higher law for the crumbs of personality.[78] As with Montesquieu, Hegel dispels empirical reason-for-itself by deconstructing feigned empirical reason into neither reason, experience, nor common sense a-priori.[79] Empirical reason thus does not shed light on accidents within political and legal systems because what appears as common experience is in fact the aforementioned unified differentiation which is the living individuality of a nation rather than an archetypical puzzle-piece of political theology; the distinctions among nations are this severe, that parallelism is a matter of proximity rather than crystallization, as this crystallization is achieved at the ontological level of world-spirit, or Geist, alone. Its dispersed characteristics include both the immemorial and historical scarcities, “ejected and dead… if the whole does not advance in step with the growth of the individual law and ethos separate; the living unity binding the members together is weakened and there is no longer any absolute cohesion and necessity in the present life of the whole. At this stage, therefore, the individual cannot be understood on his own.” The tiers and reality of individual recognition have been since Hegel simultaneously inverted and withered out by Numerical Being. It entails a psychological reality that all members of a society are a part of in private, representing themselves in a way that is impossible to hold weight in alienated reality. Aesthetic decay gives birth to the manufactured subculture, which in turn ensures that widespread moral reconciliation is impossible. It is, like Hegel’s observations on feudalism in light of natural law, no longer a matter of what the people even want. The moment of defending life in the spirit has set sail, interrupted by platform-oligarchy. In turn the person once created in God’s image is a number; the person atop the list of wealthiest persons in the world is a number with a number of slaves, proceeding criminally for a number of years. This Aristotelian perversity, cosmic numeracy deflowered, thus annihilates individuality; respect for the individual cannot coincide with a modernity far beyond restraint, and into the technological pit of factories and sweatshops.

            But as technological revelation comes blindingly to light through this unnatural furnace of godless numeracy, a greater spirit is at work whose aura is ever enhanced by flames. If it were not evident throughout history and made manifest in secret this would, of course, be nothing more than a delusional whim. However, we might consider this aura by way of analogy: its breadth and range of perception are imperceptible to the extent that the Desert Fathers and those who dwelt among them would have seemed unfathomable to Roman citizenry of the day. And while popular books take on this theme, as in the Benedict Option, by its very nature the unfolding of consciousness is a structural form that less defies than precedes group assignment or any sort of utopian musing. Taken in this light evil is both necessary and unacceptable. The natural law thus invokes singularity in a plane whereupon concomitance is a daily event. Hegel likewise does not envision a utopian overcoming, but an insular spirit that ideally magnetizes men to one another. This natural law concerns being, but begins and ends with being-proper: birth and death of the singular being are given a chance to live a life of the spirit. Being thereby mirrors the natural law, which is attained and abandoned as per the terms of phenomenological conception. It demands a man be in the world and not of it. His other options-as-being are lukewarmth or reprobation. Only philosophy can prevent such scientific isolation.[80]

            With all of this mind, that inner contradiction spills over into public, legal life is mandatory: “If something has no true ground in the present, its ground lies in the past; and so we must look for a time in which the specific feature, fixed in law but now dead, was a living ethos and in harmony with the rest of the laws.”[81]  Unchecked, religious and philosophical discourse do not only appear to disintegrate, but their disintegration is stabilized, maintained, and carried out to the bitter end. The individual’s despair is all-consuming whereby this nightmarish stability presents itself as the singular offer beside an interior and exterior life fixed in apathetic dialogism:

Among the positive and the dead there must not merely be counted what belongs entirely to a past and what no longer has any living present and possesses only an unintelligent and, for lack of an inner meaning, shameless power; but that too which establishes the negative (i.e., disintegration and severance from the ethical whole) is devoid of genuinely positive truth. The former is the history of a past life, the latter the definite representation of present death.[82]

By taking on form, decline presents its authorial intricacies in a matter that can be identified only when it is too late. It is therefore in the endless a matter of skepticism or nihilism that constitutes a lost care, trust of the individual in a society, and thus the inability to led culture flow or even conceive of renaissance. This task is left to moralistic propaganda, which is entrenched within the system of stabilized disintegration; it seeks neither to outlaw philosophy, literature, nor acknowledge past excellence, but renders a people psychologically incapable of living lives that contain room for intellectual development:

The absolute totality restricts itself as necessity in each of its spheres, produces itself out of them as a totality, and recapitulates there the preceding spheres just as it anticipates the succeeding ones… although nature, within a specific form, advances with a uniform (not mechanically uniform, but uniformly accelerated) movement, it still enjoys a new form which it acquires. As nature enters that form, so it remains in it, just as a shell starts suddenly toward its zenith and then rests for a moment in it; metal, when heated, does not turn soft like wax, but all at once becomes liquid and remains so – for this phenomenon is the transition into the absolute opposite and so is the infinite, and this emergence of the opposite out of infinity or out nothingness is a leap.[83]

The false absolute has thus acquired the means by which to feign authorial command over the Absolute; its contradistinction in light of natural law and letters more generally cannot work but in the orthodox dialectical realm of unity through opposition, albeit as a misaligned moment in history. The Cartesian fortunes once gripped by a Machiavellian rungs and culminated in an ideology against nature by propping up an inverted nature is revealed predicated upon a logical fallacy of false premises.

However, Hegel identifies the non-Absolute as a Form not to overcome but to comprehended in the realm of hermeneutical judgement; indeed, Hegel’s recurring stature as a prelude to Marx, or as the philosopher “Marx turned on his head”, implies that Marx is an organic extension of Hegel, and furthermore that he was “right.” But this can only be believed by those who are both dogmatically Marxist and proclaim a poverty of knowledge as concerns actually reading Hegel. For these reasons it cannot surprise us that Hegel’s envisioned crisis predicated upon empirical fallacy mirrors his own canonical reputation, which in the Marxist light must be read without God, Spirit, or Infinity, and thus is to from stage one misread Hegel altogether. It is restricted necessitation that both concerns the authorial procedure of Hegel and the posthumous orations at once:

“For the restrictedness of what belongs to necessity, even if it is absolutely absorbed into indifference, is only a part of necessity, not absolute necessity itself, and so it is always an incongruity between absolute spirit and its shape. But it cannot attain this absolute shape by escaping into shapelessness or cosmopolitanism, still less into the void of the Rights of Man, or the like void of a league of nations or a world republic. These are abstractions and formalisms filled with exactly the opposite of ethical vitality and which in their essence are protestants against individuality and are revolutionary, while philosophy must descry the most beautiful shape befitting the high Idea of absolute ethical life. Since the absolute Idea is in itself absolute intuition, its construction immediately determines also the purest and freest individuality in which spirit intuits and beholds itself with perfect objectivity in its shape, and, without returning into itself, and by that very recognition is absolute spirit and perfect ethical life” (133).

            This life, writes Hegel, is the way in which one is purified of the negative. Neither Thomas Paine nor Marquis de Sade, he believes, will do as models as pertains to the totality and infinity of the Idea that is life in the spirit; for they ultimately vanquish the individual – which is emblematic and adherent for and to his people – for the sake of corporate, self-defeating revolution. It is, especially in light of the Hegelian resurgence in the foundations of literary theory, not unlike Gustave Flaubert’s advice in recommending the author be like God: present everywhere and visible nowhere. In this way both Plato and Hegel predate what we would call a ‘hermeneutic circle’, and yet the Form and Idea remind us of the parallel interwoven within the Book of Life that is the Natural Law. But this is not to say that either end – republican or democrat – is not without its merits; but that it cannot be conflated, whatsoever, with the Absolute Idea. The highest moments of world-history – Grecian philosophy, Roman law, Judaic theology, European and American literature – are, for Hegel, to an extent the rungs that devise a Jacob’s Ladder of cosmos and mind, of nature and law, poetic intuition and exemplary pedagogy unto the family and the student, the expert and the novice, the rich and the poor. Such bands are finite brackets that may well at times appear to do nothing to prevent darkening upon the heart that is suffering, but cannot extinguish the multi-scaled legacy – on the local, national, and global levels alike – of a life lived in accordance with the Idea regardless of whether the society within which finds oneself is in opposition or accordance with the Concept, Infinity. Hegel’s Absolute is societal by proxy; it means that swings with a pendulum beyond singular control or available to contemplate in the ontological process of historiography, rendering adherence and availability to a practitioner, like prayer, interior and incapable of ever being taken away (And thus the object of hostility).


            Benjamin, Walter. Selected Writings, 4: 1938-1940. Harvard Univ. Press, 2006. 

            Bourdieu, Pierre. Symbolic Power of Language. Harvard Univ. Press, 1991.

Bowman, Brady. Hegel’s Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity. Cambridge Univ. Press, 2015.

Brooks, Thom. “Between natural law and legal positivism: Dworkin and Hegel on legal theory.” Ga. St. UL Rev. 23 (2006).

Budziszewski, J. The Line through the Heart. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2009.

Burns, Tony. “Hegel and natural law theory.” Politics 15, no. 1 (1995).

Butler, Clark. The Dialectical Method: A Treatise Hegel Never Wrote. Humanities Press, 2011.

Cole, Andrew. The Birth of Theory. Princeton Univ. Press, 2014.

Cropsey, Joseph (ed.). History of Political Philosophy, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987.

Farber, Marvin. “Max Scheler on the Place of Man in the Cosmos.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 14, no. 3 (1954).

Hegel, G.W.F. Early Theological Writings. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.

            —. On the Natural Law. Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1975.

McGrath, Sean. “Populism and the Late Schelling on Mythology, Ideology, and Revelation.” Analecta Hermeneutica 9 (2018).

Voegelin, Eric. “On Hegel—A Study in Sorcery.” In The Study of Time, pp. 418-451. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1972.

Woods, Robert E. Hegel’s Introduction to the System. Univ. of Toronto Press, 2014.

[1] Natural Law: The Scientific Ways of Treating Natural Law, Its Place in Moral Philosophy, and Its Relation to the Positive Sciences of Law. Hegel, G.W.F., (trans. T.M. Knox). Univ. of Pennsylvania Press, 1975, p. 69.

[2] Selected Writings, Volume Four, “On the Concept ofHistory”, X: p. 393.

[3] NL, p. 7.

[4] Concerning international theory we see a parallel in postcolonial loopholes of subjectivity and incomprehension.  

[5] Brooks, Thom. “Between natural law and legal positivism: Dworkin and Hegel on legal theory.” Ga. St. UL Rev. 23 (2006): 514-16.

[6] NL, p. 9.

[7] NL, p. 9.

[8] Hegel’s Early Theological Writings, pp. 81-2/102-3.

[9] NL, p. 13.

[10] Rather than hypothesize variations on the misguided cliché of the “Hegelian dialectic”, genre-as-form of being is more concretely surveyed in the forming history of dialectical exchange (See Butler, Cole, Magee/Hilton, Nicholas of Cusa, Boehme).

[11] Revisiting Eric Voegelin’s “On Hegel—A Study in Sorcery.” In this article Voegelin states that Hegel is not proto-Marxian as in the case of Karl Popper, nor a [theologically] misunderstood Christian, but an occultist steeped in Hermetic sorcery ala Giordano Bruno. The Study of Time, pp. 418-451. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg, 1972. So a student might ask, what happened from the time of the Natural Law writings to the System, if Voegelin is correct? Perhaps that is a biographical-historical occasion for a longer study, if its findings were to go past the findings of G. Magee’s 2004 masterpiece Hegel and the Hermetic Tradition.

[12] NL, p. 14.

[13] See Sean McGrath’s “Populism and the Late Schelling on Mythology, Ideology, and Revelation.” Analecta Hermeneutica 9 (2018), pp. 4-7.

[14] See also Schelling’s Introduction to the History of Mythology, on the process of mythology’s ‘facts’ open to philosophical scrutiny or otherwise forfeiting the right to any absolute claims of the Absolute; p. 151, SUNY Press, 2007.

[15] NL, p. 16-7.

[16] NL, p. 19.

[17] Cf. Robert E. Woods’s Hegel’s Introduction to the System (Univ. of Toronto Press, 2014), pp. 53-7.

[18] NL, p. 23.

[19] NL, pp. 26-7.

[20] NL, p. 28.

[23] NL, pp. 29-32.

[24] NL, p. 33.

[25] As in Budziszewski’s The Line through the Heart. pp. 18, 42-5, 145.

[26] NL, pp. 35-6.

[27] Numerical Beings refers to the united opposites of a two-pronged contemporaneous slave labor, as in the prison on one hand, the corporate factory, workplace on the other. This affect trickles into present technological being: one disintegrates from being to number. Its fuel is a conceptual equality that does not and cannot exist. The constitutional being created in the image of God is destroyed for the sake, or chance, of divine fulfillment; the Numerical Being is destroyed mentally and physically because of nothing less than demonic oligarchy run amok on the world-stage of digital feudalism. Thus, Numerical Being relishes its infinite technological fulfillment at the cost of Christological meaning-in-life. Numerical Being can only come into existence where a culture has sufficiently lost track of the invaluable stature of man-created-in the Image of God, or Logos. With this lost, he is a numerical animal processed through digital feudalism, and thus rendered a Numerical Being.

[28] NL, p. 38.

[29] NL, p 40.

[30] NL, pp. 41-2.

[31] NL, p. 42.

[32] Cf. Marvin Farber’s “Max Scheler on the Place of Man in the Cosmos.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 14, no. 3 (1954): 393-399.

[33] Heidegger: “It is not that Hegel’s philosophy has broken down. Rather, his contemporaries and successors have not ever yet stood up so that they can be measured against his greatness.” As quoted in Woods, p. 3.

[34] NL, p. 56.

[35] Tony Burns glosses this in “Hegel and natural law theory.” Politics 15, no. 1 (1995): 27-32. Hegel’s noncommittal stance is also described by Pierre Hassner as a ‘very prudent reserve’ in this regard because of historical and social conditions; such necessarily co-requisite concrete application to universal principals where rationality has usurped connaturality rendered Hegel less an apathetic ambiguity than a crisis of proto-phenomenological Understanding. History of Political Philosophy, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987, p. 741.

[36] See Brady Bowman’s Hegel and the Metaphysics of Absolute Negativity, cf.  pp. 54-6.

[37] NL, p. 57.

[38] NL, p. 59.

[39] NL., pp. 59-60.

[40] See esp. Cyril O’Regan for Hegel’s influences in the realm of mysticism, eschatology, and occultism:  “Theology and the Spaces of Apocalyptic.” The Père Marquette Lecture in Theology Series 40 (2009): 9-160; “Hegelian Philosophy of Religion and Eckhartian Mysticism.” Proceedings of the Hegel Society of America 11 (1992): 109-129.

[41] NL, p. 63.

[42] NL, p. 65.

[43] NL, p. 66.

[44] “Perhaps the central question that the Philosophy of Nature seeks to address is this: given the otherness of nature, why should we care about it at all?” Jeffrey Reid’s “Comets and Moons: The For-another in Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature.” The Owl of Minerva 45, no. 1/2 (2013): 11n25.

[45] NL, p. 67.

[46] NL, p. 68.

[47] NL, p. 69.

[48] NL, p. 70.

[49] NL, p. 73.

[50] NL, p. 75.

[51] NL, p. 79.

[52] As noted by Pierre Bourdieu: “[The] verbalism of abstract virtue engenders fanaticism and terrorism… all of it participates in the logic of double-dealing, of the ego and its double which underlies the subjectively and objectively legitimate usurpation of the delegate”, Language and Symbolic Power, Harvard Univ. Press, 1991, p. 213. See also Philosophy of Right sec. 140. End-of-world cults must reduplicate and retitle themselves every decade, for theirs is nothing more than secular eschatology, itself a long-winded reflection of a meaningless, finite world, as seen from the imagistic orbits of NASA cameras.

[53] NL, p. 81

[54] NL, p. 86.

[55] NL, p. 87.

[56] On the medieval origins of the modern state and its political theory, see Joseph Strayer’s Medieval Origins of the Modern State (Princeton, 2016) and Ernst Kantorowicz’s The King’s Two Bodies (Princeton, 2016).

[57] NL: p. 89.

[58] NL, p. 90.

[59] NL, p. 91.

[60] NL, p. 92.

[61] NL, p. 93.

[62] NL, p. 94.

[63] NL, p. 94-5.

[64] NL, p. 97.

[65] NL, p. 99.

[66] The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Simon & Schuster, 2012.

[67] NL, pp. 101-2.

[68] See also in this sense Augusto Del Noce in general: The Age of Secularization (McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2017); The Crisis of Modernity (McGill-Queen’s Univ. Press, 2015).

[69] NL, p. 104.

[70] NL, p. 106.

[71] NL, pp. 107-8.

[72] See Andrew Cole re: Nicholas of Cusa in his Birth of Theory, as a prelude to digital feudalism.

[73] NL, p. 112.

[74] NL, pp. 112-13.

[75] NL, pp. 114-16.

[76] NL, p. 118.

[77] NL, pp. 126-7.

[78] NL, p. 128.

[79] NL, p. 129.

[80] NL, p. 124.

[81] NL, p. 130.

[82] NL, pp. 130-1.

[83] NL, pp. 131-2.