Why Hegel? (was Re: butlering along)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at osu.edu
Thu Feb 4 19:50:23 PST 1999

Jim Heartfield writes to Chuck Grimes:
>>Unfortunately, my interest is not
>>for what she has to say, but why she chose Hegel as a foil.
>I am still trying to work out what Butler's critique of Hegel's Master-
>slave dialectic is. Can anyone help? I can see that she does not like
>the psychological portrait of the unhappy consciousness, but what is it
>she does not like about it?

Why Hegel? In the chapter on Hegel's "Unhappy Consciousness," Butler uses Hegel (and Freud + Nietzsche) to supplement Foucault; at the same time Butler uses Foucault to criticize Hegel's (and Freud's) dialectical method.

(1) Hegel's account of the Master/Slave dialectic in general and of the Unhappy Consciousness in particular is an influential text that may be said to have opened a terrain of critical investigation of morality and self-consciousness that eventually gave rise to the following felicitous statement by Foucault: "the soul is the prison of the body."

What are the points of convergence and divergence in Hegel, Nietzsche, and Foucault on the structure of subjection? Hegel's account in "The Unhappy Consciousness" prefigures a critical discourse on ethical positions that not only seek to institute the denial or sacrifice of bodily life, but that fall into instructive paradoxes when they do. Hegel shows that if the suppression of the body requires an instrumental movement of and by the body, then the body is inadvertently _preserved_ in and by the instrument of its suppression. (Butler _The Psychic Life of Power_, 33)

(2) However, Hegel's text forecloses the afore-mentioned critical terrain (of what may be called genealogies of morals) "in the transition to Spirit" (34).

At this juncture [when the abjected consciousness meets the counsel of the priest] Hegel departs from what has been the pattern of explanation, in which a _self-negating_ posture is understood as a _posture_, a phenomenalization that refutes the negation it seeks to institute. In the place of such an explanation, Hegel asserts that the will of another operates through the self-sacrificial actions of the penitent. In effect, self-sacrifice is not refuted through the claim that self-sacrifice is itself a willful activity; rather, Hegel asserts that in self-sacrifice one enacts another's will. One might expect that the penitent would be shown to be reveling in himself, self-aggrandizing, narcissistic, that his self-punishments would culminate in a pleasurable assertion of self. But Hegel eschews this explanation and thus breaks with the pattern of explanation in the chapter [on the unhappy consciousness"] in favor of a religious solution in Spirit.

Indeed, at this juncture one might well imagine a set of closing transitions for "The Unhappy Consciousness" different from the ones Hegel supplies, a set that is, nevertheless, perhaps more properly Hegelian than Hegel himself. The penitent disclaims his act as his own, avowing that another's will, the priest's, operates through his self-sacrifice, and further, that the priest's will is determined by God's. Installed thus in a great chain of wills, the abject consciousness enters into a community of wills. Although its will is determinate, it is nevertheless bound to the priest's; in this unity, the notion of Spirit is first discerned. The mediator or priest consels the penitent that his pain will be repaid with everlasting abundance, that his misery will be rewarded with everlasting happiness; misery and pain imply a future transformation into their opposites. In this sense, the minister reformulates the dialectical reversal and establishes the inversion of values as an absolute principle. Whereas in all of the earlier examples of self-nagation pleasure was understood to _inhere_ in pain (the pleasurable aggrandizement of the stoic, the pleasurable sadism of the skeptic), pleasure is here temporally removed from pain, figured as its future compensation. For Hegel, this eschatological transformation of the pain of this world into the pleasure of the next establishes the transition from self-consciousness to reason. And self-consciousness's recognition of itself as part of a religious community of wills effects the transition from self-consciousness to Spirit.(emphasis mine, 51-3)

In other words, the eschatological movement of the Hegelian dialectic makes Hegel himself 'forget' the interpenetration of pain and pleasure (an immanently deconstructive relationship between them, unlike a Hegelian dialectical one that anticipates the sublation through the third term, according to Butler) that structures his explanations of the Unhappy Consciousness.

(3) In Hegel, the 'body' is presumed--a problem which Hegel shares with Freud and which Foucault corrects, or so says Butler.

Here we see that Foucault departs from the kind of dialectical reversal we followed in Hegel. In Foucault, the suppression of the body not only requires and produces the very body it seeks to suppress, it goes further by extending the bodily domain to be regulated, proliferating sites of control, discipline, and suppression. In other words, the body _presumed_ by the Hegelian explanation is incessantly produced and proliferated in order to extend the domain of juridical power. In this sense, the restrictions placed _on_ the body not only _require_ and _produce_ the body they seek to restrict, but _proliferate_ the domain of the bodily beyond the domain targeted by the original restriction. (58-9)

(4) However, both Hegel and Freud pose the question of "stabborn attatchment" to the regulatory regime, which Foucault seems to overlook when he postulates that: "this proliferation of the body by juridical regimes beyond the terms of dialectical reversal is also the site of possible resistance" (59). On the question of "stabborn attachment," Butler comments:

Does the regulatory regime not only produce desire, but become produced by the cultivation of a certain attatchment _to_ the rule of subjection? If part of what regulatory regimes do is to constrain the formation and attachments of desire, then it seems that from the start a certain detachability of impulse is presumed, a certain incommensurability between the capacity for a bodily attachment, on the one hand, and the site where it is confined, on the other. Foucault appears to presume precisely this detachability of desire in claiming that incitements and reversals are to some degree _unforeseeable_, that they have the capacity, central to the notion of resistance, to _exceed_ the regulatory aims for which they were produced. (60)

However, Hegel implies and Nietzsche + Freud theorize that "a subject will attach to pain rather than not attach at all" or that "the will would rather will nothingness than not will at all," and it is this very 'stabbornness of attachment' that Butler seeks to take account in her book _The Psyhic Life of Power_.

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