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The Journal of Speculative Philosophy 14.1 (2000) 36-61

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Re-Spiriting Hegel and the Passage of Deconstruction: Jean Hyppolite and the General Theory of Epochal Transformation

Rajesh Sampath

Philosophy is the liberation of spirit from the insufficiency and one-sidedness of all forms of life; in passing beyond them, they are nevertheless preserved and grounded. The whole is the whole of movements maintaining its concrete identity in all its passages.

--Hegel, Encyclopaedia 284

[T]hough ordinary thinking everywhere has contradiction for its content, it does not become aware of it, but remains an external reflection which passes from likeness to unlikeness, or from the negative relation to the reflection-into-self, of the distinct sides. It holds these two determinations over against one another and has in mind only them, but not their transition, which is the essential point and which contains the contradiction. Intelligent reflection, to mention this here, consists, on the contrary, in grasping and asserting contradiction. Even though it does not express the Notion of things and their relationships and has for its material and content only the determinations of ordinary thinking, it does bring these into a relation that contains their contradiction and allows their Notion to show or shine through the contradiction. Thinking reason, however, sharpens, so to say, the blunt [End Page 36] difference of diverse terms, into opposition. Only when the manifold terms have been driven to the point of contradiction do they become active and lively towards one another, receiving in contradiction the negativity which is the indwelling pulsation of self-movement and spontaneous activity (Lebendigkeit).

--Hegel, The Science of Logic 442


From probably his most sustained philosophical work, which takes the form of a commentary, Genesis and Structure of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit (1946), to his exploration of the early G. W. F. Hegel in Introduction to Hegel's Philosophy of History (1948), to his philosophically inventive study on the relation between Hegel's Phenomenology and The Science of Logic, namely, Logic and Existence (1953), to his critical comparison of Hegel and Karl Marx on the philosophy of history, Studies in Marx and Hegel (1955), Jean Hyppolite displays remarkable breadth and intelligence. One discovers a program of thought that is at once exegetic, historical, and philosophical. In his analyses of the state, freedom, tragedy, theology, and even a certain materiality central to the Hegelian notion of 'life', Hyppolite reveals a number of secrets buried in speculative idealism. 1 However, given his diverse studies and the myriad dimensions of their themes, one finds an uncanny pattern strung through his entire corpus; a limit, an impasse, an uncrossable boundary reveals itself at various moments. The impasse concerns the problem of an authentically speculative form of historical temporalization. A consideration of this mode of temporalization can help us frame the problem of epochal transformation in Hegel's final overture--the passage to 'absolute knowing', the 'absolute spirit' or the 'absolute idea'. This darkest and deepest enigma in Hegel is a great void. It is a void that determined subsequent limits and barriers in the history of continental philosophy; from Karl Marx to Friedrich Nietzsche to Martin Heidegger to Michel Foucault, the problem of the void of 'absolute knowing' has been filled, avoided, or even voided, as if in an attempt to delete the problem itself. 2 The history of Hegelian scholarship, and those who have studied Hegel, can attest to various reasons why 'absolute knowing' presents itself as an abyss. 3

This is precisely where the work of Hyppolite plays such a critical role. Hyppolite opens up the seemingly infinitesimal complexity of 'absolute knowing' in relation to the whole of the Phenomenology; no doubt, this includes the Phenomenology's function--as a transition--within the entire Hegelian corpus. Thus, a particular moment in a philosophical system is imbued with a general ontological significance concerning the fundamental question of metaphysics: time vs. eternity. 4 Hyppolite's work constitutes a specific philosophical horizon in itself: we shall call it the horizon of temporalization, which...


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