restricted access 6. Tremble
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152 6 Tremble It felt the fear of death, the absolute master. In that feeling, it had internally fallen into dissolution, trembled inwardly in every fiber of its being, and all that was fixed within it had been shaken loose. —Phenomenology, § 194 Tremble becomes an explicit topic in the Phenomenology in a brief but memorable moment toward the end of the section on “Self-Sufficiency and Non-Self-Sufficiency of Self-Consciousness; Mastery and Servitude.” In one of the Phenomenology’s frequent parabases, the phenomenologist communicates to the reader a truth about the protagonist of which the protagonist is unaware: whereas the servant’s self-image is that of someone who is exclusively attached to and defined by his physical existence, the phenomenologist points out that the servant’s true self encompasses absolute negativity—and its power: Servitude has this truth of pure negativity . . . in fact in servitude itself, for servitude has experienced this essence in servitude. This consciousness was not driven with anxiety about just this or that matter, nor did it have anxiety at just this or that moment; rather, it had anxiety about its entire essence. It felt the fear of death, the absolute master. In that feeling, it had internally fallen into dissolution, trembled inwardly in every fiber of its being, and all that was fixed within it had been shaken loose [Es ist darin innerlich aufgelöst worden hat durchaus in sich selbst erzittert, und alles Fixe hat in ihm gebebt]. However, this pure universal movement, this way in which all durable existence becomes absolutely fluid [das absolute Flüssigwerden alles Bestehens], is the simple essence of self-consciousness; it is absolute negativity, pure being-for-itself, which thereby exists in this consciousness. (§ 194, trans. modified) In its fear of death, the enchained consciousness experiences its own essence as absolute negativity. It is not hard to imagine that chains 153 T R E M B L E would be unable to restrain a body that is thus spiritualized: trembles turn loose. The moment of absolute fear must be considered as the most precious moment of the protagonist’s development so far. The shakes and trembles of absolute fear not only actualize the servant’s being-for-himself, negate his mere being-for-others, and allow him to access his own power of negativity; they also shift the operative value of the dialectic of mastery and servitude from abstract negativity to absolute negativity.1 Negation by fear exemplifies a non-abstract mode of negation, one that does not result in death or nothingness. Instead, the trembles dissolve the protagonist’s inert being and set it in motion. Moved by fear, consciousness is able to apprehend and express itself “not merely as substance but also equally as subject” (§ 17).2 The feeling of absolute fear facilitates the shift in self-comprehension. Trembling is a mode of self-reflection. Not only will the servant have understood the true structure of his relation to the master; his embrace of absolute fear will also have changed his situation. Mastery and servitude are founded on the repression of absolute fear. Only the fear of absolute fear is able to arrest and enchain a consciousness that is capable of absolute fluidity. The actual experience of absolute fear destroys the fantasy of mastery and catapults consciousness out of servitude. As speculative negation, absolute fear is a productive force, an “instrument of progression ,” the motor for development (Cixous 1991, 255).3 Yet consciousness, the protagonist of the Phenomenology, is not able to experience absolute fear in the fullest sense of the word “experience .” When Hegel, in the above-quoted passage, maintains that “servitude has . . . experienced this [truth of pure negativity] in servitude” (die Knechtschaft . . . hat diese Wahrheit der reinen Negativität . . . an ihr erfahren), the structure of the parabasis belies the phenomenologist’s very observation . The fact that the phenomenologist here separates from the protagonist , who remains absorbed in the scene, and addresses the audience behind the servant’s back, means that the servant cannot exactly benefit from the information. What is more, an ihr, of an ihr erfahren, indicates spatial contiguity but not conscious awareness; it means “in itself,” not “for itself.” The phenomenologist thus indicates that the servant underwent a fear that was unavailable for consciousness. To be precise, the servant cannot even have unconsciously lived through absolute fear, since he, strictly speaking, wasn’t there (yet) to do so. The figure of the servant was only constituted as a reaction to...


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