6. Hegel, Glas, and the Broader Modernity
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s i x Hegel, Glas, and the Broader Modernity 1. Glas is nothing if not an exceptional book, a book whose architecture and scope place it at the farthest reaches of book culture. Yet its highly singular bicolumnar format not only establishes a textual modality of reverberation , supplementarity, chiasmatic reversal, and constriction. In its persistent recurrence back to Hegel as synthesizer of a Western metaphysical mainstream and to Genet as the poet of an amoral and homoerotic counterculture , whose text nonetheless interweaves many of the images and figures pivotal to the Hegelian enterprise, this outlandish book on the verge of being a nonbook also brackets two decisive if not definitive limits to the broader modernity. In no empirical way, Glas delimits a certain epoch in the history of Western culture(s) at the same time as it stages a tympanic modality of reversal and echoing evident in all textual articulation and elaboration . In this chapter, I would like to explore and elaborate what Glas’s historical remark might be. 2. The consummate performative irony of Glas is that certain of the metaphors that Hegel appropriates in consolidating a cluster of attitudes 163 ................. 17885$ $CH6 10-20-10 14:49:38 PS 164 Hegel, Glas, and Modernity defining a secular, modern ‘‘mainstream’’ of Western culture are common to the figures that Genet explores in elaborating the ‘‘other,’’ sensational facet of the same tradition. Language, whether the language of poetic figures or logic, is expansive enough to entertain antipodal, radically different polysemic significations of and scenarios for common terms. Glas, in its typographic architecture and its motifs of splitting, reverberating, ringing, and castrating, to name a few, performs the relation between the ideology of Western culture(s) and its margins, the reflexive achievements of speculation and the mirror’s tain,1 the dialectical, organic, and consummate fate for the West that Hegel envisioned and Genet’s gay-criminal ‘‘underworld.’’ Glas’s purview, the term of its ‘‘validity,’’ is ‘‘eternal’’ and it isn’t. We can surmise some vague Derridean ‘‘universality’’ characterizing the tension between a general ideology at play in all cultures, times, etc. and its linguistically ‘‘organized’’ undercurrent. We can hypostasize some ideologically structured center to every culture, at whatever stage of technology, during whatever historical period, wherever located, and however exclusively oriented to idealism. And of all philosophers, Derrida most elaborately enumerated the remains that cannot be appropriated by this ‘‘center,’’ even if this focal ‘‘site’’ is itself, as in Chinese and South Asian civilizations, differentiated and fragmented. Yet supplementing this general, ongoing play between ideological machine and linguistic byproduct, a play whose nondialectical nature Derrida went to great pains to reinforce, is the ‘‘time specific’’ drama of idealism in Hegel’s philosophy and the particular cultural epoch it characterizes. Hegel imposes specifications upon Western cultures at the same time and in the same act as he imposes them upon organicodialectical philosophical discourse. The brilliant, I’m tempted to say ‘‘comprehensive ,’’ job of reconstructing and extrapolating Hegelian ideology that Derrida performs in Glas includes among its elements: Christian humanism as opposed to Judaic (and graphic) formalism and death; altruism as the single legitimate model of love and social interaction; and an altruism-based sacrifice of the familial, particular, and idiosyncratic in the interest of an overarching social good. These metaphysical attitudes more or less buttress Western ideology(ies) from Hegel’s late Enlightenment moment until they go out of fashion, just before or during the moment of Genet. This is all by way of saying that there is an implicit architecture of history in Glas, a historiographic accompaniment to the knell by which ideology’s appeal sounds its silent echo. And on this architectural blueprint, Hegel and PAGE 164 ................. 17885$ $CH6 10-20-10 14:49:38 PS Hegel, Glas, and Modernity 165 Genet are (intertwined, reverberating) columns framing a certain (epistemological and cultural more than historical) epoch. There is some utility in characterizing this epoch as the major span of the broader modernity, which can be defined as the age in which subjectivity achieves an irremediable splitting and suspension between multiple and often conflicting obligations, and in which linguistic and poetic facility both epitomize and constitute the only available means of circumventing, suspending this (losing) predicament . Projected into time, the architecture of Glas may be read as the historiographic map of an epoch—under certain of whose conditions and delusions we still labor, even in the endeavor of intellectual work...

Subject Headings

  • Criticism.
  • Social systems.
  • Literature -- Philosophy.
  • Books -- History.
  • Books and reading -- Sociological aspects.
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