Philosophy of Literary Judgement in Hegel V

(I’ve been out of Istanbul for a while, 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)

The Roman world of law gets beyond the polarisation of forms of law in Antigone, with the notion of the ‘persona’, legal personality, in its law codes. There is an individuation in Rome, which avoids tragic conflict, since we just have relations between individuals under the sovereign legal power, rather than irresolvable conflicts. Hegel seems to have overlooked conflict between individuals and that sovereign power, the state, or struggles which become political and violent in Roman history. The justification is probably that underneath all that the Roman state recognised individuality in ways which prevent the kind of conflicts that emerge in Athenian tragedy. A situation that Hegel finds bourgeois. Hegel brusquely dismisses Seneca’s plays as failures, which may be true with regard to performance, but is not true with regard to reading, and possibly recital in Seneca’s own time. Hegel is very dismissive of recitals of drama in general, while it is possible that this is directed at Seneca, there is no clear suggestion of such a thing. There are scholars who argue that Seneca’s plays were written more for private recital than public performance, and there have notbeen  many attempts, perhaps no attempts, to stage Seneca in recent years. Nevertheless Seneca is a major writer and he wrote tragedies. This overlooking of Seneca largely comes to Hegel’s need to see tragedy as a Greek problem of tension between natural, or divine, and civil law, which he sees as resolved in Roman law.

As we have seen tragedy, other than that of the Ancient Greeks, is a poor thing for Hegel. He contrasts ancient and modern tragedy.  He finds them very different, and finds that only Shakespeare can measure up to the great Athenians. Modern tragedy is weakened by the subjectivity and indecision of characters, along with the multiple life guiding concerns that emerge in plays and in the characters. Only Shakespeare rises above this by totally investing his main characters with some defining quality. Hegel sees German dramatic culture as marked by an undue wish to listen to the public and satisfy multiple interests and sympathies. As we have seen, sympathy is something that Hegel regards as a very inferior response to tragedy, if directed towards suffering rather than the principles of that character. French tragedy seems less prone to such an error, though Hegel pays little attention it. Anyway, tragedy has died in a world of multiplying interests and goals. Hegel is reacting to an increasingly bourgeois world, and a world of increasing legality. Again law and bourgeois individualism are the end of tragedy, and in this case the end of art.

Hegel’s view of tragedy in Aesthetics II is of what is essentially concerned with struggle between different subjective points of view, but also as what situates subjectivity in universality, through the chorus (1211). These ways of framing tragedy pull in different directions. If there is a conflict of subjective positions what guarantees that the chorus is universal and not just another moment in the conflicts of particular points of view. Any claim to universality should surely take all points of view in the play into account. Hegel was not sympathetic to agonistic aspects of ancient Greek states, that is the way that contests and proofs of personal excellence were at the centre of the culture. We could see the legal culture of ancient Athens in that light as well. It’s difficult for him to understand the ways in which law could operate within a contestatory agonistic culture, and not only as what rises above the agon. The tensions of tragedy can never be given the highest place in Hegel. Elements of the Philosophy of Right (1991) makes it clear why that is so.

What Hegel loses in going beyond ancient tragedy, after what he considers its final form in Antigone, 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 any literary form concerned with individuality, mis-judgement, accident, loss of will, the cruelty of gods and rulers. Hegel’s philosophy depends on literature to explain how Spirit develops, and we can see in Aesthetics I, that he  needs to reject it to preserve the universalistic, intellectualist, deterministic, unitary, self-transparent, and eirenic,aspects of the dialectic (1163, 1172).


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