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Gary Shapiro THE OWL OF MINERVA AND THE COLORS OF THE NIGHT Hegel is known to many readers mainly for a few striking figurative passages which he himself excluded from the central structures of his major texts as extrinsic remarks. His mature system justifies this exclusion by claiming that philosophy operates in the realm of the pure concept, having surpassed the sensuous narrative images of art and religion. Nevertheless, the very forcefulness of the passages themselves indicates that the mature Hegel may never have peacefully aufgehoben the young man who believed in 1796 that philosophy, in order to resume its original role as educator of mankind, must become aesthetic, mythological, and poetic. (I am assuming that Hegel either wrote "the earliest system-program of German idealism" or endorsed its principles.) A reading of the famous elegiac passage in the "Preface" to the Philosophy of Right suggests not only problems of meaning, but of philosophical rhetoric: One more word about giving instruction as to what the world ought to be. Philosophy in any case always comes on the scene too late to give it. As the thought of the world, it appears only when actuality is already there cut and dried after its process of formation has been completed. The teaching of the concept, which is also history's inescapable lesson, is that it is only when actuality is mature that the ideal first appears over against the real and that the ideal apprehends this same real world in its substance and builds it up for itself into the shape of an intellectual realm. When philosophy paints its gray in gray, then has a shape of life grown old. By philosophy's gray in gray it cannot be rejuvenated but only understood. The owl of Minerva spreads its wings only with the falling of the dusk.1 The first focus of attention here is usually on the mood of philosophical resignation in which completion of a rational development leaves no room for action or advice. Theory must necessarily give up any Utopian 276 Gary Shapiro277 or activist pretentions it may have harbored once it sees that it can only describe what has been. Despite the fact that Hegelian actuality (Wirklichkeit) is the result of a rational and dialectical process, ascetic renunciation of any relation to action puts Hegel in the strange company of nineteenth century positivists and empiricists; it also establishes a tone fundamentally different from classical European political philosophy of thinkers like Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Rousseau, a tone which Marx, provoked by Hegel, was to revive. The statement can also be read on a scale much larger than the political, in which it suggests a resigned acceptance of the completion of Western philosophy and civilization. Hegel is notorious for his view that spirit (Geist), the fundamental reality, has completed itself through the self-knowledge which it attains in his system of philosophy. That he sometimes speaks of his enterprise as a Wissen or Wissenschaft (knowledge, science, or wisdom) suggests how far he has come from the Socratic conception of philosophy as always characterized by a lack of that which it loves. It would be intriguing to explore these themes. Such exploration would involve a more thorough knowledge of what Hegel understands by end, completion, and fulfillment when he speaks of political life and the higher forms of spirit—art, religion, and philosophy. We might even be led by such an inquiry into Hegel's meaning to see his claims as historically and philosophically plausible and to reconsider our own resistance to believing that we live in a deepening twilight. What I wish to do, however, is to call attention to the manner in which Hegel speaks of Minerva's owl and to juxtapose both the manner and the substance of his thought about the twilight of philosophy and civilization with some of Hölderlin's dichterisch and Heidegger's denkerisch meditations on similar themes. For if Hegel has announced the coming of the night, Hölderlin and Heidegger have sought to make the night their very own territory and to comprehend it from within. If Hegel has rather gingerly allowed himself to lapse into that famous figurative discourse of the...


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