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Henry Sussman. The Hegelian Aftermath: Readings in Hegel, Kierkegaard, Freud, Proust, and James. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Univ. Press, 1982. 260 pp Two facets of the fuU title to this impressive text present themselves to us as especially noteworthy. The first is the word "aftermath." There may be times when the reader wonders which aftermath the text is reaUy in, the HegeUan or the Derridean; but it is always in some sort of aftermath or other. We Uterati seem aU to be in the culture of aftermath these days— perhaps because we fear we are in the aftermath of culture. We are said to be experiencing poststructuraUsm, post-Marxism , postindustrialism, even that oxymoronic thing caUed postmodernism. (On this last score, Sussman works to reassure: not only is postmodernism not really "post," but modernism itself is somehow not really "modern." It is stiU Hegel's discourse, even Kant's, despite appearances.) "Aftermath" is much Uke these signposts; a HegeUan marker, it designates a condition of Oedipal revolt, where what is canceUed and transcended is still preserved. As described in Hegel's famous term Aufhebung, this postness is never quite pastness; like the ghost of Hamlet's father, our would-be past Uves on zombie-like, continuing to issue injunctions we can neither fully carry out nor finally ignore. The title thus gives the instant clue that much of Suss man's text wiU have the effect of undermining the optimistic, teleological aspects of Hegel, with their assumptions of progress toward absolute knowledge: one could say it explores the "downside" of the Aufhebung, the discredited past that Uves on. The second facet of interest is in the subtitle, the word "readings." For this text strikes one, despite the assertion of a developing thesis, more as a series of weUcrafted essays than as a continuous argument . I will aim to suggest reasons for this not necessarily doleful fact in a moment. For now, I confine myself to the judgment that the truest value of the text Ues not in its grander generalizations, which often have a "hey-presto" flavor. ("History is the emperor who wears no clothes" [p. 7] is an early instance of these sweeping declarations , often drawn from modest data.) It is when he is most attentive to the twists of a particular text that Sussman, apparently most at home, is most rewarding. Paradoxically, the first section on Hegel may be the least Ukely of aU to withstand scrutiny. In part this merely confirms the legendary difficulty of writing about Hegel. In addition, though, Sussman sees the HegeUan project in the Phenomenology of Spirit, which is essentially the Hegel he chooses to treat, as a continuation of the formalist inquiry undertaken by Immanuel Kant, especiaUy as it arises in Kant's Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics. Combined with Critique of Pure Reason, the Prolegomena "anticipated a Kantian reading of the Phenomenology, even though there was as yet no Phenomenology" (p. 21). This gesture aUows Sussman to read Hegel as an extension of Kantian formaUsm, and not as the philosopher who more than any previously tried to account for the dynamical altering of form by content. Sussman audaciously argues that what Hegel commentators such as Alexandre Kojeve and Jean HyppoUte thought was so crucial to the unfolding of the Phenomenology—the chapters on lordship and bondage, or the unhappy consciousness—are mere backdrop changes for the action of formal tropes that recur throughout Hegel's work: "the primary contribution of the first four chapters is to generate the logical terms and formal tropes that will structure the subsequent discourse, and . . . the accounts of religion, art, and poUtics in the latter sections of the text presuppose these structures and belong to a history of cultural forms" (p. 50). Given the valence assigned the term "history ," as we have seen, this is supposed to mean that the crucial things about Hegel's text—the conditions of its possibiUty as language, to paraphrase Kant—are aU set, virtuaUy from the start, and that aU subsequent development, despite what importance Hegel himself seems to have placed upon it, is merely a matter of feeding through different content. It is not surprising , then, that Hegel's objection...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6555
Print ISSN
0273-0340
Pages
pp. 139-143
Launched on MUSE
2010-03-25
Open Access
No
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