The language of mastery and the mastery of language: the recognition of rhetoric in Hegel.
For well over two thousand years of Western intellectual history, rhetoric and philosophy have been at odds. Socrates, as Cicero pointed out, could be given considerable credit or blame for the divorce between these two discursive approaches to truth, reality, and politics.(2) While different ages and thinkers did try with varying success to bring these disciplines together, the uniqueness of their relationship lies, I think, in the fact that it has almost always been cast as a struggle (regardless of intended or actual outcome). Other discursive fields--mathematics, the natural sciences, psychology, theology--certainly have, at times, crossed swords with philosophy. But often they either supported each other or were allowed to exist side by side, even if on different levels of abstraction. Struggle, however, seems central to the interaction between philosophy and rhetoric. The debates around deconstruction are in this regard the last in the series of conflicts between two "kinds of writing,"(3) with each side hoping to emerge victorious.
The greatest contribution that Donald Phillip Verene has made to the understanding of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit has been his interpretation of its argumentative development as a struggle between philosophy and rhetoric, or in his and Hegel's terms, between Vorstellung or Bild (image) and Begriff (concept). Thus he writes in the preface to Hegel's Recollection: "In the Phenomenology there is a struggle between imagistic or pictorial ways of thinking and the concept. In this work Hegel is struggling to give the concept birth." He goes on to say that the "Phenomenology is organized through a number of master metaphors and ironic twists of meaning" (x). Verene would see both this truggle between modes of presentation and the organization of the work under the sign of a more general operation, that of "recollection" or Erinnerung as the "master key for understanding how to read the Phenomenology as a special process of the inwardizing of the subject" (3). By doing this, Verene strives for a harmonizing, albeit not tensionless, relationship whereby the concept (philosophy) "is forever in friendly opposition to the image [rhetoric]" (13) at the same time as the latter is ultimately contained within the former. Indeed, he sees the Phenomenology as "a grand project to accomplish [the] separation of the concept from the image" (xii). The result of the struggle seems to be yet another playing out of the divorce between rhetoric and philosophy, with one arising out of the Aufhebung in a clear position of master.
In this essay, I would like to pursue rigorously the implications of these formulations of struggle and mastery in order to go in a different direction than does Verene with his emphasis on Erinnerung. In particular, if we are to understand the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in Hegel as a struggle, I shall interpret it in terms of one of the most significant dialectics of struggle presented by Hegel, namely, that of the master's and slave's battle to the death for recognition (which Verene considers, in a telling formulation in a book about recollection, "the most memorable section of the Phenomenology"; 59; also 12).(4) In so doing, I hope to provide an account of the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy, focusing on the case of Hegel, that reveals them to be intractably engaged in a conflict that is never resolved but only "recognized." The opposition is not necessarily so "friendly" since it rests in fact on a potential struggle to the death. Indeed, the death of the other often arises as the fantasmatic end and desired "ought" of both rhetoric and philosophy.(5) The question of mastery is central here, since what is at stake is whether the concept can ultimately master the "master" rhetorical figures that so powerfully shape our thought.(6) That this struggle is not played out to the demise of one or the other opponent means that some mode of recognition--not just recollection--needs, or we shall see, "ought," to be established between them. It will not come as a surprise to anyone who is familiar with Verene's reading, that this recognition and its "ought" will be almost dizzyingly ironic. In their struggle for mastery, rhetoric and philosophy will exchange positions in a fundamentally unstable structure because there is no ultimate guarantor of the recognition they can grant each other. What we should expect to learn from this struggle, especially as it is played out in (Verene's) Hegel, is thus not which side can subsume the other but, rather, what the conditions of our discursive consciousness are. As in the playing out of the master-slave dialectic (between individuals and nations), this struggle makes a certain type of consciousness and relationality possible, a type that is by no means the highest or only form. My goal, then, will be to follow Verene in looking at the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy in terms of a struggle, to pursue this relationship occasionally beyond Verene to its limit, in order ultimately, and largely in accord with Verene, to see how a critique of this relationship at a deeper level would have to be initiated.(7)
To get at the way my approach differs from, or, perhaps better, literally "takes off from" Verene's, I shall briefly consider a paragraph from Hegel's later version of his system, The Philosophy of Spirit. While Verene explicitly and legitimately limits his focus to the earlier Phenomenology, we see in this passage from 1817-1830 how Hegel, fully confirming Verene's reading, sees the need for an internalization and recollection of the Bild into philosophy. Moreover, he casts this argument in the language of mastery. Consider, then, the Addition to $456 of the Encyclopedia, where he deals with the relationship between the Bild and the universal in terms of a struggle:
Diese Einhit, die Verbildlichung des Allgemeinen und die Varallgemei-
nerung des Bildes kommt naher dadurch zustande, dass die allgemeine
Vorstellung sich nicht zu einem neutralen, sozusagen chemischen Pro-
dukte mit dem Bilde vereinigt, sondern sich als die substantielle Macht
uber das Bild betatigt und bewahrt, dasselbe als ein Akzidentelles
sich unterwirft, sich zu dessen Seele macht, in ihm fur sich wird,
sich erinnert, sich selber manifestiert.
(This unity, the imaging of the general and the generalization of the
image does not come about, more precisely, by a uniting of the
general representation with the image as a neutral or so to speak
chemical product; rather, the general representation activates and
proves itself as the substantial power over the image, subordinates
the image to an accidental, becomes its soul, comes to be for itself
in the image, internalizes and manifests itself.)
While Hegel sees this chiastic (re)production of a unifying totality as the culmination of the "activity of representation" (vorstellende Tatigkeit) and thus related to ar, the same thoughts could certainly be applied to philosophy. The unity of individual and universal is played out through the twin movements of interiorization and expression. But what needs to be stressed here is that the unity he is discussing is the result of a process that cannot be grasped as a "chemical" mixture, perhaps with the associations of "elective affinities" taken from contemporary natural philosophy, but only as the mastery of the willful soul over matter. Interestingly, however, it is not the usual model (the soul eats the matter and thus transforms it through incorporation, see Encyclopedia, [sections]381) but, rather, a masterful occupation of the matter by the soul, a struggle risking death (e.g., how the universal ego "poisons and transfigures," "vergiftet und verklart," matter). To do this process justice, we need to add to the peaceful process of the Spirit's "memorization" of its Other the more agonistic model of the master/slave dialectic.(8) Only by bringing out the deeply rooted agon and "substantial power" at the heart of philosophical consciousness can we see what is at stake in questioning it. That is, if we keep it peaceful, we might not ever think we need to question it fully.
If Hegel's philosophy unfolds in a dialectical movement, points that hold a particular significance and fascination are the transitions where a conceptual shift of positions actually occurs. Verene echoes this eminently Hegelian mode of structuration in his book, where one of the most interesting points occurs at the transition from Chapter IV, on the verkehrte Welt, to Chapter V, on Masterhood and Servitude. I would like to focus on it briefly to show how the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy is implicitly cast in terms of the mastery of language in the double, objective and subjective, sense of mastery by language and mastery over language, whereby the masterslave dialectic serves a crucial function in shifting the nature of that mastery for Verene.
Verene summarizes the argument of the Phenomenology up until that point, emphasizing the role of language. The first stage of consciousness presented in the Phenomenology, that of sense-certainty, is, Verene states succinctly, "moved by the 'divine nature' of language to double meaning" (57f.). This captures nicely the move of the first chapter of the Phenomenology in which the consciousness of sensecertainty is "tricked" into recognizing that its most "concrete" words ("this," "that," "here," "now," even "I" and "Mein[ung]") are in fact not simple concretes but already universals that are "double" because they not only refer to some particular but also have the possibility of referring generally to "any" this, that, here, now, I, etc. Verene goes on to summarize the experience of the understanding, in which consciousness is again brought to a stage of self-criticism by means of its own use of language (which in this case creates a verkehrte Welt): "It [consciousness] is moved to the standpoint of self-consciousness by the power of language systematically to double itself into two complete worlds of meaning, one the reverse of the other" (58; my emphasis).
I do not intend to summarize Verene's insightful reading of the chapter on "Force and Understanding," which helps "move" consciousness to this standpoint, because my interest is in the relationship he establishes in principle between consciousness and language. He is saying that, up through the initial three chapters of the Phenomenology, language clearly is given "power" over consciousness. Its "divine nature" resides in language's ability to split, double, disseminate, ironize, invert, pervert, and disrupt the conceptions of the world that consciousness has formed. Language, in short, is the master. But this is the point of a crucial shift, according to Verene. "Now [with the section on self-consciousness, the dialectic of masterhood and servitude] the power of language must be re-learned so that it becomes the speech of the I" (58). That is, Verene sees the master-slave dialectic as the point where language gets put back into the service of the I. Whereas previously consciousness was passive ("is moved") and thus structurally the "slave" of language, something happens in the following section on self-consciousness such that the I can come to master language. That next section, of course, plays out precisely the dialectic of mastery and the struggle for recognition. Thus, what happens in the master-slave dialectic is the struggle between language and consciousness, representational and conceptual expression, rhetoric and philosophy, whereby the former poles of these binarisms are to be associated with the "master" and the latter with the "slave" who emerges victorious. A great deal rides on this dialectic. Furthermore, we shall see that the oppositions are not as clear cut and stable as they first appear.
Given the weight of this dialectic for Verene's own analysis and approach, it is understandable that he characterizes it in the opening paragraphs with superlatives:
Hegel's metaphor of masterhood and servitude, his portrait of the
Herr (master) and Knecht (servant), is the most memorable section
of the Phenomenology. Once read, it is impossible to forget. It is a
memory image that stretches out in all directions and allows the
reader to recall his own struggles of existence. Suddenly the reader
feels he can make some sense of the webs, the entanglements, he
has felt himself to be in. The we that is observing the process of
consciousness in the stages of the Phenomenology takes on a new
attitude of alertness as to what it may learn from its regard of this
development. Hegel gives the we a new reason to keep awake at
just the point where the passivity involved in knowing the object
had allowed the we to believe it was really just an observer. (59)
This passage demonstrates the rich, self-reflexive nature of Verene's approach. The movement he is claiming to find within the text of the Phenomenology, according to which a new active mode of consciousness emerges vis-a-vis the dobuling tricks that language has been playing with it thus far, parallels the effect of the text on the reader. The irony involved here is dizzying: The powers of language in, and the masterful rhetoric of, the Phenomenology are put here in the service of a consciousness expected to become its own master, i.e., become self-consciousness. The relationship between master and slave is thus played out in terms of three simultaneous struggles: that between two consciousnesses, that between a controlling language and the emergent self-consciousness, and that between Hegel's manipulative rhetoric and the reader's independent thinking. The masterslave dialectic and the dialectic between rhetoric and philosophy are thus inseparable. Let us look at their ironic play of inverting and interchanging positions.
To reestablish the context of this most memorable of passages, we should recall that Hegel is attempting to develop a different model of self-consciousness than the one based on self-reflection.(9) That is, having dealt with three inadequate modes of relating to objects (self-certainty, perception, and understanding), the Phenomenology now turns to the other pole, the subject, as if to say: "If those modes could not deal adequately with the object--just look at what fools they make of themselves when confronted with the force of their own language!--maybe it's because they have not dealt with those objects as objects for consciousness. Let's consider what this could mean by looking at the phenomenon of consciousness itself, i.e., self-consciousness." This, I think, is how we can understand Verene's discussion of the "double Ansich" (esp. 62). The entire logic of the Phenomenology, he claims, rests on continual truns from "a consciousness of something" to "a consciousness that this something is an object for consciousness" (15f.) and back again. And in turning to consciousness (of) itself, Hegel avoids the obvious trap of considering it along the same lines as the models he just debunked. After all, one of the main problems of models of self-consciousness is that they try to deal with the self as a special object of consciousness.(10) Self-consciousness, it turns out, however, grows out of a different relationship. It arises not out of the reflection: "I am conscious of (object) X, whereby X is myself," but out of the process: "I desire (X) and in so doing something special happens to engender self-consciousness...." That "something else" is the complicated process which is the master-slave dialectic. Hegel has reached the point where he has shown that the model of consciousness is (1) inadequate and (2) in need specifically of a notion of self-consciousness. It follows, then, that he must shift the ground of analysis, get us, the readers, to stop thinking merely in terms of subjects facing off against (and trying to know) objects (Gegen-stande). How does this shift of ground take place? It will be a question of power and struggle.
At the heart of Verene's chapter, at, as it turns out, very nearly the center of his entire book, we find a brief discussion of Ernesto Grassi's Die Macht der Phantasie (The Power of Imagination). Given the dedication of the book to Grassi, we know we are touching a major force in Verene's thought. What unfolds here is the parallelism we saw above among three levels of thought: a different relationship of consciousness to itself and objects; the structure of Hegel's own argument and its effects on the reader; and an understanding of how language works in general, especially the relationship between rhetorical and conceptual language. The deep structure that makes the parallelism work is that of ironic reversals of power in a struggle for recognition. Let me explain.
The master-slave dialectic itself, the first level, is the easiest and most familiar inversion. In fact, Verene hardly runs through it again for us. We know, however, that self-consciousness arises not by a simple turning of the vector of consciousness from some known object to the self but, rather, by means of the struggle for recognition. Verene's summary captures the essence: "Recognition here does not mean a high spiritual experience but an acknowledgement that the other is there in the world as a force to be dealt with. Each seeks the death of the other. Each engages in the risk of self-sacrifice. Hegel says: 'it is only through staking one's life that freedom is won' (Miller, 187)" (67). And, we can add, it is only by such risk that self-consciousness is achieved--provided, of course, that both partners in the struggle survive, the stronger allowing the weaker to live. The outcome, one hardly needs to be reminded, is that the slave attains self-consciousness by transforming the desire to consume into the rewarding force to create.
To see how this familiar argument forms a significant parallel to the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric, let us consider the second level and what Verene says about the effective unfolding of Hegel's argument. What we see here is a double movement ("The theme of doubleness runs throughout this section on self-consciousness ..." 62). On the one hand, we have Hegel the master rhetorician, the theater director playing with the audience's expectations, leading the readers down the blind alleys of consciousness only to reveal "the I standing on the stage" (64) all along. He uses rhetorical means to achieve an ultimately conceptual end. But on the other hand, Verene is arguing that Hegel is doing the exact opposite at the same time, namely, using this book of philosophy not so much to make a deductive point from some first principle or ground as to "bring forth," or as I said earlier, to shift "the ground itself" (64). In the first case, Hegel is master language-maniplator and the truth/concept plays the role of the ultimately victorious slave in the wings; in the second, Hegel the master philosopher is ultimately superseded by the power of his ("slave") images to produce effects in what proves to be a more insightful way.
Now we can turn to the third level of "struggle" and see why the discussion of Grassi and Verene's fundamental views on language would appear precisely here. What we have here is the struggle not just between master and slave, and not just Hegel's struggles in and with effective language, but, at the most general level, the very struggle between rhetoric and philosophy as they are shown to exchange positions of master and slave. Thus, what we saw as Hegel's use of rhetoric to make a philosophical point is characterized as a movement in which language has a "poetic-presentational power through which the real is also shown" (64). Rhetoric plays the master here so that philosophy's concepts, like slaves, can be recognized at the end of the struggle as the true force to be reckoned with. But the second movement is also played out for Verene on a more abstract level, since it is not just Hegel who happens to use metaphors that make us see things differently; in fact, this is the very "power of imagination" (Grassi), the force of rhetoric and metaphor to outlive (and live in) philosophy. Verene writes:
This kind of speech is something that philosophers use but seldom
like to talk about. It is mythic or poetic speaking. To have a
beginning point for thought requires a metaphor. Metaphors are
not derived. They are originals. The mind simply goes into itself
and brings them forth. (64)
On the first view, then, this chapter of the Phenomenology completes the process we saw unfolding in the first three: Masterful rhetoric is overcome ultimately by the slave philosophy insofar as language, which had seemed so powerful, now becomes the tool of an active, conceptual self-consciousness. But on the second view, the master narrative of the philosophical argument is overcome by the slave rhetoric insofar as thought, which had seemed so powerful, now is revealed to be derivative of the actions of metaphor. Such are the ironic reversals of dependency and independence in the struggle for recognition between rhetoric and philosophy.
We can summarize this argument by looking at Verene's summary of the "conceptual process" of the Phenomenology. It is played out as a struggle of two "powers of speech"--but consider which is master, which slave:
As consciousness proceeds with this conceptual process,
supplemented with sub-metaphors along the way, the original metaphor,
the beginning, is worn out. It loses all its power. But the Begriff
has enriched itself with this Bild and drawn power from it. The
Begriff comes to an end point, where it once again requires the
ingenuity of the Bild to renew its own dialectical ingenuity. Hegel
continually employs these two powers of speech against each other,
as does consciousness itself in its actual structuring of the world.
We have here the three levels: the formation of consciousness, Hegel's employment of rhetorical and dialectical arguments, and the interaction between two modes of representation. But most important, we have the reversals of positions: the concept is clearly cast as master, "enriching" itself on the mythic work and delayed gratification of the image (slave). But in that case, we all know that it is the slave, the Bild, who ultimately wins out and gains self-consciousness through such Bildung.(11) And yet, to "gain self-consciousness" at this stage would mean precisely that rhetoric, the slave, in becoming master, in fact becomes philosophy. We seem to be in a paradoxical situation in which rhetoric and philosophy are struggling to the death, risking death at the hands of the other, even as they can never die because they merely shift positions incessantly.
Let me take the analogy between the "struggle" of rhetoric with philosophy over truth and the "struggle" of masters and slaves for the prize of self-consciousness one step further. In so doing I hope to bring this logic of mastery and slavery, of struggle for recognition to its limit. Up until now I have been trying to work out the agonistic nature of the relationship of rhetoric and philosophy, showing how, by pursuing Verene's reading, we see this struggle at the heart of Hegel's enterprise. By now taking this struggle to its extreme we can see the need for and possibility of conceiving of the relationship differently; we can make some more connections within Hegel and from Hegel to Verene, and beyond. We move toward the limit of this model by asking a simple question: Having focused on struggle, why not call it all out war? After all, where rhetoric and philosophy are engaged, the military seems not far behind.(12) Moreover, Hegel approaches the subject of war explicitly from the perspective of the master-slave dialectic near the end of the Philosophy of Right. And Verene has written one of his most interesting essays on Hegel's concept of war, namely "Hegel's Account of War."(13) Let us pursue some consequences of these interrelationships.
Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1821) culminates in a theory of the state. The state is, for Hegel, the realization of the ethical idea ([section]257), the synthesis of abstract legality and self-reflexive morality. The state is the highest, i.e., most general form in which the will can know itself and carry out its own directives (e.g., through governmental institutions). This ultimate formation of the will, even in its universality, is in essence individuated, since it would cease to exist without its sovereignty. Hegel says: "The state as actual is essentially an individual state..." ([section]259, Addition). And again: "the state has individuality, which is [present] essentially as an individual and, in the sovereign [Souveran], as an actual and immediate individual" ([section]321). This individual status of the state means not only that it has the ability to turn in upon itself in giving itself directives as a whole but also that it is exclusionary of other individual states.
Individuality, as exclusive being-for-itself, appers as the relation [of
the state] to other states, each of which is independent [selbstandig]
in relation to the others. Since the being-for-itself of the actual spirit
has its existence [Dasein] in this independence, the latter is the primary
freedom and supreme dignity of a nation [eines Volkes]. ([section]322; see
That dignity of independence is gained only "in the eyes of others, i.e., [to the extent that a state is] recognized by them" ([section]331). In this valorization of the state's individual independence, we hear a clear echo of the model of self-consciousness from the Phenomenology (Chapter IV A: "Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness; Masterhood and Servitude") and thus it comes as no surprise that Hegel analyzes the conflictual arena of international relations in terms of the master-slave dialectic. Indeed, in the passage that condenses this argument in the Encyclopedia, Hegel explicitly refers back to his discussion of the master-slave dialectic.(14)
This connection between individual states at war and individual self-consciousnesses struggling for recognition leads to two reflections that can prove useful for our discussion of rhetoric and philosophy. First, we see at the level of states the way this structure leads to the impossibility of perpetual peace. The best possible status of a peace between nation states rests on an "ought" (Sollen) that they "should" respect and recognize each other (and any agreements and treaties). Given the principle of the sovereignty of particular states, however, this "ought" can never be more than that, an unguaranteed and unsecurable principle, because the individuality of each state means it in essence has no reason to obey any higher authority than its own self-given laws.(15) That is, while the state is the ethical reality that stands above the individual person, guaranteeing that he or she lives in conformity with the law, Hegel conceives of no institutional instance above the states. True, some kind of "united nations" could be established, but hegel sees--again, given the underlying condition of sovereignty--that the will of such an institution would either be that of one state imposed on the others or an empty "ought" that has no weight beyond the agreement of the states to participate. His analysis, considering the fact that it supposedly is a wise owl taking off only at the end of a historical development, has extraordinarily prophetic power to account for our own political world. We shall see its metaphorical implications in the area of rhetoric and philosophy below.
We gain access to the second reflection that Hegel's parallel between the individual's and the state's struggle for recognition opens up by pursuing Verene's basic point about the basis of Hegel's account of war. Verene points out that Hegel's account actually contains a tension between two moments, namely, the way an individual risks death for his or her country in order to be subsumed willingly by the higher organization of the state, and the one we just reviewed dealing with the states' struggles for recognition. And moreover, he indicates that these moments could lead, and have led, to different evaluations of Hegel as war-mongerer, peace-keeper, or cold-blooded observer. But, and this is his key turn, Verene approaches these issues by shifting ground. Rather than engage in a defense of any one of these conflicting sides of and arguments about Hegel, Verene in the essay turns to the view that was eventually to become the central concern of his Hegel study: Verene argues, namely, that to understand Hegel and debates about him we need to consider the argumentative status of his propositions. In his words:
The solution to the problem of the oscillation between a prescriptive
and a descriptive interpretation [of war] rests not on a closer reading
of the texts byt on a placing of Hegel's statements on war in their
proper relation to his philosophy in general. In order to solve the
problem of what Hegel's statements on war mean we must ask
what philosophical statements themselves are for Hegel. ("Hegel's
Account of War," 172)
This means, as we have seen Verene develop it later in his book on the Phenomenology, that Hegel's statements have a unique status that is neither (and both) descriptive and prescriptive. They are descriptive in that they take the real as their point of departure, and prescriptive in that they give and reveal an (ideal) form of reality.(16) In the case of the account of war, this insight leads Verene (along the road of Jaspers) to a recognition of the deeply rooted structures of war in the formation of consciousness of warriors. The link between the Philosophy of Right and the Phenomenology leads us to consider "the relationship of war to human consciousness and ... to the state" (179). For Verene, then, if we are to understand (and either accept or criticize) Hegel, there is no way around the fundamental structures that form consciousness. That's where critique must intervene. And that, I hope to have shown, involves the struggles not just between individuals for recognition but also between the mind and language for mastery, and between conceptual and rhetorical language for discursive domination. In other words, Hegel's account of war leads us to consider both the discursive form of that account and the formation of consciousness underlying war itself. Both of them are tied up with struggles for recognition.
Putting these findings together, we see that, in considering the war between rhetoric and philosophy, Verene could shift the ground to see how this war, like war in general, is rooted in the very formation of consciousness. In both cases we have a similar potential for criticism. Crudely put: If we don't like the instable balance and shifting hierarchies that arise from wars between states, or we are dissatisfied with the "unhappy consciousness" that arises from the struggle for self-consciousness, or we want to begin conceiving of alternative modes of thinking and writing beyond the combat between rhetoric and philosophy--in all these cases, we need first to get to the site where these conditions are initially played out.(17) We cannot simply choose sides but must look to the dialectics of consciousness-formation out of which the sides emerge. That Verene points us to a Hegel who envisions this project of uncovering the multiple dynamics of struggles for recognition, is, in my view, one of his lasting contributions.
In order to get at what might be at stake in questioning the very foundation of the consciousness that emerges out of the master-slave dialectic, i.e., the foundation of the kind of thought and writing that emerges out of the rhetoric-philosophy dialectic, let us consider some options.
First, by working through the struggle, we can develop an alternative to the problematic notion of mastery or "containment." To see how this might be possible, consider the two modes of dealing with the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric or conceptual and imagistic language which one finds in Hegel and interpreters (including, occasionally, Verene). The one is, so to speak, structural; its primary relation is "containment" as in Hegel's view that "the ideal must contain the real" (see Encyclopedia, [sections]403) or critical accounts that would "contain Hegelian containment" by putting Hegel's totalizing system in its place within a more open rhetorical economy.(18) In the positive and exciting sense that Verene uses this model, he reminds us that "containment" is itself ambiguous and double insofar as the containment of otherness both restricts it and gives it a uniquely disruptive force within the container. Thus we need to think these two moments together. And the other relationship, that of "struggle," can help us do just that. To this end we can use Verene and Hegel to work out what this struggle could look like and thus turn to the dialectic of struggle (which also has a central place in Verene's work), that of masterhood and servitude. Perhaps beyond Verene, however, I want to show that the aim of "mutual recognition" that he and Hegel so nobly pursue is complicated by deeper ambiguities and inadequacies in that dialectic. Namely, the exchangeability of positions--we can posit rhetoric = master and philosophy = slave, or vice versa--leads us to question the very status of even this model. In other words, we use struggle to displace the notion of containment, but then must also question the absoluteness of the struggle (without regressing to the belief that one of the two sides will subsume or subject the other).
Second, we can use these terms to see the appeal and limitations of the Derridean position. Consider the fact that one of Derrida's early and influential essays, "From Limited to General Economy: A Hegelianism without Reserve," focuses on the inability of the master-slave dialectic to get at what he wants, namely, neither a language of mastery nor a mastery of language but a form of unmasterable language, a language without mastery.(19) Derrida would thus have us follow Bataille beyond the master-slave dialectic, and thereby beyond Hegelian recognition, to a position of "sovereignty" and laughter.(20) In an essay criticizing Derrida, Joseph Flay has argued that Derrida has been too strongly influenced by Kojeve's reading. Since Kojeve saw the master-slave dialectic as the pivotal point of Hegel's thought, Flay argues, in following him one could, like Derrida, mistakenly conclude that to criticize it is to undermine Hegel.(21) The point that I am trying to make, in part with and against Verene and Derrida, is that, far from deconstructing Hegel, a full analysis of the master-slave dialectic and of rhetoric and philosophy in terms of that dialectic reveals both its descriptive power and the way it points to a critique of the very origin of (discursive) consciousness. Judith Butler, in her brief response to Flay, formulates one possibility very nicely. Her point is that precisely in the struggle for recognition and in the process of Aufhebung, not against it, we need to see also a moment of Hegelian "humor":
I wonder whether Aufhebung itself is as self-serious, totalizing, and
appropriative as Bataille, Derrida, and indeed, Flay suggest. Indeed,
I would suggest that Aufhebung is actually more comic than its critics
tend to realize, and that its sense of humour is generally underrated.
Moreover, I would like to suggest further that once one has
understood this peculiarly Hegelian sense of humour, one can see that
Aufhebung is not a purely appropriative structure and, moreover,
cannot be easily equated with a project of totaliztion. (175)
This interpretive movement from Hegel's dialectic, through its "serious" rendition by Kojeve and its critique by Derrida, to a return to it from a different, ironic perspective, is one I have tried to trace myself with the help of Verene.
Thus, finally, we can formulate the position that I see emerging out of a critical reading of Verene. If in this reading the master-slave dialectic is granted a special status, it is not because it is the be-all and end-all but, rather, because it best allows us to see the nature of the historical struggle between rhetoric and philosophy. And what we see there is twofold. First, through a multileveled analysis of the dialectic of self-consciousness, Hegel's argumentative strategies, and his notions of modes of representation, we see that the struggle is by no means stable and has no single outcome. We experience instead the ironic exchanging of positions between Bild and Begriff, between mastery by language and mastery over language, between rhetoric and philosophy. In this experience, we do not "overcome" or simply move beyond the dialectic of recognition. Rather, we experience it as precisely the place where we need to question the deepest. That is, and here we have the second insight from our critical reading of Verene, having taken the deadly earnestness of this struggle to its extreme, we come out the other end and see it as ironically self-cancelling. Just as we saw the perpetual war among states leading us to question the very consciousness of the warrior who perpetuates it, here I propose that the ceaseless struggle between rhetoric and philosophy should lead us to abandon hopes for victory, or even for containment or "friendly opposition," and turn instead to the deep irony that resides in the very formation of discursive self-consciousness.
Analyzing Hegel, according to Verene, is not just an academic exercise in tracing dialectical twists and turns. As is implicit in the essay on war, and explicit in the section on masterhood and servitude, he is interested in Hegel's contribution to "an understanding of a praxis of individual existence, including the praxis of the individual philosopher's existence" (59). For Verene, this means that the master-slave dialectic is in a fundamental sense about the philosopher. He interprets that concretely as the philosopher occupying the role of the slave opposed to politics and the state (not rhetoric, although we know they are related) as the master. The philosopher must learn, then, not only to survive by means of conceptual work (Arbeit) but also to supersede the powers that be by means of its self-formation (sich bilden). My argument, however, has been to push Verene's stance further in the very direction he points us. Just as the essay on war would have us turn to the very status of Hegel's statements and thereby question the foundations of the warrior's primal relation to the state, so too, I think the reading of the interaction between rhetoric and philosophy in terms of the master-slave dialectic could lead to a rethinking of the praxis of philosophical consciousness. Rather than trying to emerge victorious from their duels, the rhetorician and philosopher can now look back at the memorable images presented by Hegel in the hopes of attaining a phenomenological shift of gestalt and relating differently to both these modes of representation. Verene, through his reading of Hegel and his recognition of rhetoric, begins the process of rethinking the formation of (philosophical) consciousness out of a struggle between individuals or between rhetorical and conceptual modes of representation. Just as Hegel displaced and sublated the model of reflection, so too Verene pushes the model of mastery to its limits. At this stage, all we know about the new model is that it is neither a dominating master or subversively victorious slave; rather it will emerge out of the thorough rethinking and recognition of the roots of both rhetoric and philosophy.
University of California, Irvine Irvine, California
(1.)Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel's Recollection: A Study of Images in the "Phenomenology of Spirit" (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 66.
(2.)Cicero on Socrates. See my Spirit and Its Letter: Traces of Rhetoric in Hegel's Philosophy of "Bildung" (Ithaca: Cornell UP, 1988). Here is a very partial list of some recent books on the debate between philosophy and rhetoric (from different perspectives): Helmut Schanze and Josef Kopperschmidt, eds., Rhetorik und Philosophie (Munich: W. Fink, 1989); Helmut Kramer, Rhetorik: Philosophie versus Rhetorik, rhetorische Theorie und Didaktik (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1982); Steve Fuller, Philosophy, Rhetoric, and the End of Knowledge: The Coming of Science and Technology Studies (Madison: U of Wisconsin P, 1993); Rhetoric and Philosophy, ed. Richard Cherwitz (Hillsdale, NJ: L. Erlbaum Assoc., 1990); Samuel Ijsseling, Rhetoric and Philosophy in Conflict: An Historical Overview (The Hague: M. Nijhoff, 1976); Ernesto Grassi, Rhetoric as Philosophy: The Humanist Tradition (University Park: Pennsylvania State UP, 1980); Ian Angus and Lenore Langsdorff, eds., The Critical Turn: Rhetoric and Philosophy in Postmodern discourse (Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 1993).
(3.)The phrase is Richard Rorty's: "Philosophy as a Kind of Writing: An Essay on Derrida," New Literary History 10 (1984):1-23.
(4.)There is considerable debate about the relative weight that this "most memorable" of sections should be given in an interpretation of Hegel. One view argues that the master-slave dialectic isn't so important because it is overcome in Hegel's own system. Patrick Riley argues this in his study, Will and Political Legitimacy: A Critical Exposition of Social Contract Theory in Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel (Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1982), esp. 190. He focuses on [sections]57 of the Philosophy of Right in which Hegel argues that slavery is a precondition of the objective spirit and is thus left behind as a prior mode of consciousness. And yet the late [sections]436 of the Encyclopedia claims that this dialectic has the "speculative" nature of being the foundation of all kinds of relations. Thus, as "speculative" it is a Bild with a uniquely powerful status. This fits Verene's view nicely that in the Phenomenology we look in order to see (23). The master-slave dialectic is a model insofar as it leads to a new mode of vision.
A second approach to the master-slave dialectic downplays it by simultaneously putting a limit on Kojeve's reading. Riley does this and so does Joseph Flay (see below). My response to that is like the response to the first point: I do not use this dialectic to open up an "existential" reading; rather I see it as a powerful metaphor. That is, the master-slave dialectic can be given a special status without turning Hegel fully into an existential anthropology.
Finally, there's a view with which I have greater sympathy, namely, that of Robert R. Williams in his study, Recognition: Fichte and Hegel on the Other (Albany: SUNY Press, 1992). Williams sees the master-slave struggle as just one mode of striving for recognition. My view is that likewise the consciousness that arises out of it is just one formation and needs to be subject to questioning.
(5.)As in analytical philosophy's imperative to speak clearly, non-rhetorically, or not at all; or deconstruction's occasionally oversimplified calls for the end of metaphysics.
(6.)The use of the passive voice in Verene's statement that the Phenomenology "is organized through a number of master metaphors and ironic twists of meaning" (x) leaves open the subject of that organizing.
(7.)In this, both I and Verene could be seen to be fundamentally Hegelian in showing that a criticism of a position that reveals its limits also can show how that position contained within itself the possibility of superseding those limits.
(8.)I will not be able to pursue here the implications of my argument in terms of the other great philosopher of the agon (between rhetoric and philosophy, or between individual consciousnesses), namely Nietzsche. The reading of Hegel I am implying here brings out the level of willful struggle that is also present in Nietzsche. I do not see the relationship between them as dialectic versus antidialectic, or negation versus affirmation (as does Deleuze in Nietzsche and Philosophy). Rather, I would argue that the difference lies in the way Hegel uses the master-slave dialectic to establish independent self-consciousnesses that then continue to struggle unhappily in their recognition, whereas Nietzsche would open the door to an alternative conception based, in part, on the affects and the breakdown of independent self-consciousnesses beyond recognition.
(9.)This is Stephen Houlgate's argument on Hegel's overcoming of metaphysics, in his Hegel, Nietzsche and the Criticism of Metaphysics (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1986). See also Edith Wyschogrod, Spirit in Ashes: Hegel, Heidegger, and Man-Made Mass Death (New Haven: Yale UP, 1985), e.g., xii-xiii.
(10.)For a recent analysis of the phenomenon of self-consciousness, see Frederick Neuhouser, Fichte's Theory of Subjectivity (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1990). He uses both historical arguments from Idealism and contemporary debates in German philosophy (Tugendhat, Henrich, et al.). The problem is to avoid saying that self-consciousness is a special form of the relationship "X is conscious of Y," whereby Y just happens to be X. After all, Hegel has just shown how problematic the relation "X is conscious of Y" is in principle.
(11.)On this notion of Bildung in the master-slave dialectic and the relationship between rhetoric and educative formation of consciousness, see my study, The Spirit and Its Letter.
(12.)One need only think of one of the most widely quoted passages marking this struggle, Nietzsche's famous line in "On Truth and Lie in an Extramoral Sense": "What, then, is truth? An mobile army (ein bewegliches Heer) of metaphors, metonymies, anthropomorphisms...."
(13.)In Z. A. Pelczynski, ed., Hegel's Political Philosophy: Problems and Perspectives. A Collection of New Essays (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1971), 168-80.
(14.)Hegal writes in [sections]547: "In the state of war the independence of States is at stake. In one case the result may be the mutual recognition of free national individualities ([sections]430)..." The reference to [sections]430 takes us to the sections of the Philosophy of Subjective Spirit on "Das anerkennende Bewu[beta]tsein."
(15.)See Errol E. Harris, "Hegel's Theory of Sovereignty, International Relations, and War," Henry Paolucci, "Hegel and the Nation-State System of International Relations," and Joseph C. Flay's and Paul Thomas' responses, in Hegel's Social and Political Thought, ed. Donald Phillip Verene (New Jersey: Humanities Press, 1980), 137-76. For a discussion of these issues also within a historical context, see Shlomo Avineri, Hegel's Theory of the Modern State (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1972). Also Wyschogrod (cited above), 128-30.
(16.)Verene writes: "Hegel's statements have a descriptive element in that they grow from reflection on actual states of affairs. They have a prescriptive element in that they cause us to consider alternatives. Hegel's statements, unlike descriptions, do not form facts but form the frameworks through which facts can be formed; and, unlike prescriptions, they do not form actions but form the frameworks wherein actions can be formed" ("Hegel's Account of War," 173).
(17.)In fact, one might perfectly well respond that it is neither necessary nor desirable to get beyond perpetual war and conflict (at least in these areas of intersubjectivity). But even in this case, it would be crucial to consider the conditions of this conflict in the very formation (Bildung) of a kind of consciousness.
(18.)For a critique of this approach in and to Hegel, see my "U-Topian Hegel: Dialectic and Its Other in Poststructuralism," German Quarterly (Spring 1987): 237-61, esp. 248f.
(19.)In Writing and Difference, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1978).
(20.)I would point to certain problems in Derrida's formulation of the critique. The "sovereign" discourse is thus problematically named since it leads to the view that it is outside the struggle, whereas maybe it is in fact the very condition of it, i.e., not the laughter outside but the laughter or irony within. Moreover, "sovereignty" is precisely one of the problems of the master-slave dialectic (esp. as it is worked out in the Encyclopedia and the Philosophy of Right), not something somehow opposed to it.
(21.)In William Desmond, ed., Hegel and His Critics: Philosophy in the Aftermath of Hegel (Albany: SUNY Press, 1989).
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|Title Annotation:||Donald Phillip Verene, Memory and Imagination: Hegel, Vico, and Cassirer|
|Author:||Smith, John H.|
|Date:||Jun 22, 1994|
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