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  • Re-: Re-flecting, Re-membering, Re-collecting, Re-selecting, Re-warding, Re-wording, Re-iterating, Re-et-cetra-ing,...(in) Hegel
  • Arkady Plotnitsky

Hegel’s philosophy and its impact can be mapped in a variety of ways, and they resist any unique or definitive mapping. One could argue, however, that the jucture of three concepts—consciousness, history, and economy—persists across, if not defines, Hegel’s work. Adam Smith’s political economy was a major influence on Hegel during his work on The Phenomenology of Spirit. No less significant was the very political economy surrounding the emergence or production (in either sense) of the book, which is both one of the greatest documents of and one of the greatest reflections on the rise of industrial and politico-economic modernity. From the Phenomenology on, economic thematics never left the horizon of Hegel’s thought, the emergence of which also coincides with the rise of economics as a science, which conjunction is, of course, hardly a coincidence. “Hegel’s standpoint,” Marx once said, “is that of modern political economy [Hegel steht auf dem Standpunkt der modernen Nationalökonomie].”1 This is a profound insight into Hegel’s thought and work—his labor—and the conditions of their emergence. Both in terms of the historical conditions of these thoughts and work—their political economy (broadly conceived)—and in terms of the resulting philosophical system, one can speak of the fundamental, and fundamentally interactive, juncture of history, consciousness, and (political) economy in Hegel.2 Economic thematics have had central significance in a number of key developments in modern and postmodern, in a word post-Hegelian, intellectual history—in Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger, Bataille, Lacan, Althusser, Deleuze, Derrida, Irigaray, and others. From this perspective, one could even suggest that all post-Hegelian criticism and theory is fundamentally “economic”—post-Smithian. They are profoundly related to economic models, metaphors, and modes of inquiry; or conversely, and often interactively, to dislocations or deconstructions (here understood as constructive dislocations) of such “economies” as traditionally or classically conceived.

This essay explores the implications of the conjunction of consciousness, memory, history, and economy in Hegel, strategically centering this conjunction around the concept of economy and linking it to the economy and the economics of collecting. Taking advantage of the double meaning of both the German word “Sammlung” and the English word “collection” as signifying both accumulation and selection, and of the English signifier “recollection” as a translation of German Erinnerung, I consider the conjunction of selecting, accumulating (or conserving), and expending principles operative in Hegel’s work and the processes at stake there.3

Although most of Hegel’s texts may be invoked here, I shall refer most specifically to The Phenomenology of Spirit, particularly the last chapter, “Absolute Knowledge,” and the long closing paragraph of the book. This paragraph begins with the image of a gallery—“the gallery of images, endowed with all the riches of Spirit”—and ends with Hegel’s concept of history in one of its most condensed but also most powerful articulations. The concept of history as a collection emerges as a culmination of, interactively (and sometimes conflictually), both the closure or enclosure (which may here be distinguished from the “end”) of history and of Hegel’s book itself, and perhaps, as Derrida says, the (en)closure of the book as a structure, and, one might add, as an economy and a form of collecting. Hegel, Derrida says in Of Grammatology, “is the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing”—two very different forms of economy and of collecting.4

I consider this economic configuration and the transformation of the key concepts involved in it via Bataille’s concept of general economy, which may be seen both, and often simultaneously, as the most radical extension and the most radical dislocation of the Hegelian economy. The relationships between Hegel’s and Bataille’s economic frameworks reflect a more general situation or a possibility of reading Hegel, which has played a significant role on the modern intellectual scene, from Nietzsche and Heidegger to Deleuze, Derrida and Irigaray, and which I consider here in terms of economies of collecting. This situation may be described...

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