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  • Fredric Jameson's Anti-speculative Hegelianism:Jameson's The Hegel Variations
  • Sergio Valverde (bio)
Fredric Jameson , The Hegel Variations: On the Phenomenology of Spirit, London: Verso, 2010, 144. p $24.95 (cloth), ISBN-10: 1844676161 ISBN-13: 978-1844676163

Leading Marxist theorist Fredric Jameson gives the Phenomenology a pride of place in the Hegelian corpus. He considers this landmark work an "open-ended … heterogeneous mixture of subjects" (14). The Phenomenology contains a set of juxtaposed narratives that reveals "organizational problems", "productive uncertainties and "hesitant formal issues" (8). The Phenomenology's ambiguous and problematic status in Hegel's work adds more force to these aspects. Jameson considers the Phenomenology an exception in Hegel's system; the work contains a rich practice of dialectical thinking in which form matters as much as content. "The very heterogeneity of the book", Jameson writes, "has prevented any one of them from being fully assimilated to some homogeneous dimension of philosophical thought and discourse" (7). The Phenomenology's insights on language in its first chapters compares to contemporary philosophy's critiques of a fully present subject. The Phenomenology posits "the problem of consciousness but not of any unified subjectivity" (17). Jameson tells us, "[Dialectics'] kinship with deconstruction here is to be found not so much in simple failure or incapacity as rather in the way in which language sets an intention which it is constitutively incapable of keeping" (40). The Phenomenology's inner diversity fits well with Jameson's conception of theory. Critical of ideological "isms" (as Hegelian-ism or Marx-ism), theory "makes no systematic or philosophical claims" (52). Jameson presents a young Hegel free of "metaphysical" (speculative, philosophical) taints. The Phenomenology, in Jameson's masterful reading, emerges as an allegorical and fragmented work of theory, not a philosophy with totalizing claims. Jameson's fondness for the Phenomenology places him in good company with a long tradition of Marxists. Sartre, Kojève, Hyppolite, and the young Lukács favored this ground-breaking text over Hegel's more mature productions.

Yet, at the same time, Jameson sees Hegel, for all of his radicalism in this early work, as being complicit with the negative myths that surround him, with a Hegelianism that later became ideology. For Jameson, the root of the problem (the source of what will become orthodox Hegelianism) is the notion of the speculative. The speculative, according to Hegel, is the unity of opposite concepts and ideas (subject and object, freedom and necessity, ideality and reality) Concepts are defined through opposite terms, originating co-dependently. Opposite concepts give each other identity through their difference; concepts constitute their difference by being related. But the speculative, in Jameson's view, debases dialectical thinking. The speculative is too metaphysical, "a leap of faith," and "a purely philosophical concept" (7). This vulgarization ultimately blocks the rich mindscape offered by the Phenomenology. Moreover, to argue, as many do, for a textual unity in the Phenomenology is to approve of the speculative dimension in Hegel: "Indeed it is this organizational primacy of the category of unity both in the object and the subject which will constitute Hegel's first evidence for that ultimate unity of subject and substances which he calls the speculative (and which is beyond all proof)" (49). In sum, Jameson understands Hegel's notion of speculation as a final unity or collapse of opposites, in which difference and multiplicity disappear in the Spirit's final reconciliation with itself. "It is more appropriate," -Jameson writes, "to say that Hegel sublates the dilemma of subject and object by projecting a new dimension of thinking, called speculative, which presupposes their identity in advance" (9). In this sense, Jameson stays with standard readings of Hegel. He concludes The Hegel Variations with a passage that deserves to be quoted in some length,

We may as well register one fundamental source of dissatisfaction aroused by the ideal of the speculative - or the ultimate identity of the subject and object - in Hegel … Narcissism seems to me a better way of identifying what may be sometimes be felt to be repulsive in the Hegelian system as such. It is not so much the all-encompassing ambition of the Hegelian philosophical project - sometimes stigmatized as totalizationwhich is...

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