- The Spirit of the TimeDerrida’s Reading of Hegel in the 1964–65 Lecture Course
If there were a definition of différance, it would be precisely the limit, the interruption, the destruction of the Hegelian relève [aufgeben] wherever it operates. What is at stake here is enormous.—Jacques Derrida, Positions
Pure difference is not absolutely different (from nondifference). Hegel’s critique of the concept of pure difference is for us here, doubtless, the most uncircumventable theme. Hegel thought absolute difference, and showed that it can be pure only by being impure.—Jacques Derrida, “Violence and Metaphysics”
The specter that haunts all of Derrida’s work is the specter of Hegel’s Geist. Derrida considered Hegel as summing up the Western onto-theological tradition but also as someone whose dialectic would always already [End Page 49] outflank any full-frontal confrontation with his logic, since any countermove would only be sublated (relève) by the dialectic itself. Like Foucault and other readers of Hyppolite, Derrida argues that to think Western metaphysics to its end is to presume that one’s move of opposition or critique would already be a moment in the Hegelian system, and thus any philosopher after Hegel must work through the fantasy of absolute systematicity. Taking up Derrida’s reception of Hegel means considering how one speaks to a ghost that haunts all of twentieth-century French philosophy after Kojève’s lectures of the 1930s. And like the ghost that, as Derrida noted in Specters of Marx (1994), disrupts any coherence to questioning its presence or absence, its identity or heterogeneity, and so on, the identity of the Hegel whose specter haunts Derrida’s works is multiple: his earliest writings, including his 1964–65 lecture course, which will be the focus of this essay, target Kojève’s anthropocentric version of Hegel, disrupt the sovereignty and partial reading of Bataille’s Hegel, and finally take on the view of Hegelian “whole” informed by his engagement with Hyppolite, with whom he had an intellectually close professional relationship in the 1960s. While Bataille and Kojève read Hegel, as did Sartre and others, through the master-slave dialectic, Derrida joins Hyppolite in privileging his writings on logic and history, all as part of an overall move toward the antihumanism for which the sixties generation became known (Hyppolite 1997, 177–78). But more importantly, Hegel became the lens through which Derrida understood his own reading of Heidegger—a figure, as is well known, whose reception in France changed radically not least due to Derrida’s own writings in the 1960s. While Derrida’s 1964–65 lecture course Heidegger: la question de l’Être et l’Histoire at the l’ENS-Ulm is largely dedicated to Heidegger, it reveals how indebted “deconstruction,” a term used by Derrida for the first time in these pages, is to thinking the relation between Heideggerian “Destruktion” and Hegelian “Aufhebung.”1 In sum, deconstruction gets under way in Derrida’s thought by thinking the difference between Hegelian and Heideggerian modes of thought—strikingly reading one in terms of the other throughout these lectures (and in “Ousia and Grammē,” “The Ends of Man,” and other crucial early works). For Derrida, Hegel is not simply the ultimate thinker of totalization and homogeneity—as, say, Jean-François Lyotard would depict him in The Postmodern Condition (Lyotard 1984, 33–34)—but [End Page 50] is also the tradition’s preeminent thinker of difference and relationality. While of course the difference between difference and identity is sublated under identity in the Hegelian logic, Derrida recognizes Hegel, as he put in famously in Of Grammatology, as the last philosopher of the book and the first thinker of writing. “The horizon of absolute knowledge,” Derrida writes, “is the effacement of writing in the logos … the reappropriation of difference” (Derrida 1976, 26). Nevertheless, “all that Hegel thought within this horizon, all that is except eschatology”—which Derrida’s thinking of finitude must reject for reasons discussed below, since any eschatology is a determination of the future from the present—“may be reread as a meditation on writing” (26). Thus, “Hegel is also the thinker of...