Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel II

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for the last 8 days, and have found it difficult to keep up with blogging. One thing I have been doing is correcting a conference paper for publication in proceedings. That relates to the 2012 Hegel Gesellschaft conference in Istanbul, which will be published as a yearbook in 2014, presumably by Oldenbourg Akademie Verlag, who have published previous proceedings. As publication is some way, I think it’s perfectly in order to post the paper in parts, which anyway lack the formatting, pagination, proofing and copy editing of what will be the published version. As it’s based on an oral presentation it’s simple and direct by the standards of philosophy papers. The paper is part of work on progress on Philosophy of Literary Judgement. It draws on blogging and teaching preparation, so is an example of interaction between different forms of academic communication)

When the ethical order becomes more concerned with universality, as in Stoicism, and then Christianity, art is dying, in particular literature, and it is tragedy that Hegel dwells on most as the artistic form that finds its end in this context. Antigone in particular appears as the work of literature than can explain the formation of divine law, and the tensions within it between the king as judge and the action of the individual against state law. Antigone defines an essential tension, but has to be seen as ephemeral in comparison with the rise of Stoic-Christian universality. For Hegel, tragedy defines its own death in the world of law. So unlike commentators such as Speight (2001), it is assumed here that Hegel moves towards a subordination of subjectivity to law, which has a Stoic-Christian accompaniment in the Roman world, and that is a subordination which is in particular a subordination of feminine subjectivity.

Tragedy comes from a mixture of Dionysian rites and Athenian democracy, these are the ways in which a unity of the social body can be created, that is the basis of the chorus in tragedy. So the first death of tragedy itself refers to a limited role that Hegel gives to Athenian democracy. As Philosophy of Right shows, Hegel thinks that the deepest liberty requires a system of institutions and laws, rather than the sovereignty of majority will. The section on ‘The Greek World’ in The Philosophy of History details Hegel’s admiration for Periclean Athens, as well as his belief in a subsequent democratic and cultural decadence.

Tragedy in Hegel’s understanding of antiquity is preceded by the Minstrel, who appears to be Homer, and who gathers material which is universal and outside the individual. Tragedy’s successor comedy represents another stage in the emergence of the individual, but in ways which place the individual under universality. The emergence of ethical form first requires literature, and then excludes it from spirit, as comedy gives way to the universality of ethics and law. The emergence is itself an aspect of the move of the religion of plants to the religion of animals, and then of gods linked with nations. Epic is a first stage of abstraction. What Hegel loses in going beyond Antigone, in his own terms, is awareness of the tension between law as decided by state sovereignty, and law as defined by individual ideas of the good. He also loses the Athenian democratic world of citizenship, equality, and free speaking. All of this has to be contained for Hegel, as does a literary form concerned with individuality, mis-judgement, accident, loss of will, the cruelty of gods and rulers.

For Hegel, art seems to be already dying after or even during Greek comedy, after reaching a high point in tragedy, and continues its dying in the atmosphere of Roman law, Stoicism and Christianity. Tragedy itself is the view point in which individuality becomes more universal and substantial, which leads it beyond itself into Roman law.

[Phenomenology § 436 ]. On the face of it, The Phenomenology says hardly anything about tragedy. However, tragedy is very much present in the discussion of ethical world and ethical action in the ‘Spirit’ section of the Phenomenology, which contains two brief references to Sophocles’ Antigone. Hegel writes later at some length directly on tragedy in Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art. There is some brief discussion in ‘The Idea of Artistic Beauty’ early in Aesthetics I, which tends towards a parodic version of Hegel, lacking in the ambiguities and tensions of his more detailed arguments. The discussion of tragedy ends the lectures, appropriately as Hegel brings in a version of his end of art argument there. Tragedy is identified by Hegel as the highest form of art, and as a culmination of art.

A large part of that elevated status of tragedy, maybe the major part is its ethical status.  This is ethical in Hegel’s sense which refers to the customs and habits of a people rather than to moral theory. That distinction was revived by Bernard Williams (1993) in the late 20th century, though only following on from Hegel in a very qualified way, and containing little engagement with Hegel’s texts. For Hegel, the historical period in which moral theory becomes an issue is the period in which tragedy is born and  dies. The birth of tragedy is almost simultaneous with its death in Hegel’s view. Tragedy exists in its pure form only in Aeschylus and Sophocles. Euripides, who represents third generation of tragedy after Aeschylus and Sophocles, is already decadent in Hegel’s view, foreshadowing Nietzsche’s view in Birth of Tragedy, though as Nietzsche was not a devoted reader of Hegel, there is probably no direct influence. That decadence had been noted by the comic dramatist Aristophanes, according to Hegel.


One thought on “Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel II

  1. I have just been reading an article entailed Democracy & Tragedy, about how tragedy has help develop and enhance democracy.

    Hegel didn’t talk about democracy but he did talk about the human struggle for freedom and recognition. One can’t fulfill those needs without democracy. The tragedy is that it has been easy or gained through the rational means Hegel had envisioned.

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