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How to fake your way through Hegel
June 10, 2012 12:03 PM   Subscribe

How to fake your way through Hegel. Favorite quote: "If you bought a volume or two of Hegel in German, never open it or take it off your shelf. No one actually pretends to read Hegel in German." (via Adam Kotsko)
posted by shenderson (53 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Dialectibolical
posted by four panels at 12:06 PM on June 10, 2012 [6 favorites]


Halfway through my class on Existentialism, I realized that nobody in the class besides me was actually reading Being and Time, that the teacher very likely hadn't, and that I didn't need to do so.

It made the class a lot easier.
posted by sonic meat machine at 12:40 PM on June 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


Luckily, unlike real languages, in Hegelian language you only need to learn to put things into it, and never to translate things out of it.

Substitute for md5 joke.
posted by michaelh at 12:42 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Favorite quote

Really? This was my favorite quote: "The further developed self which rises to become a being-for-self is master over the pure 'pathos' of substance, over the objectivity of the Light of Sunrise, and knows that simplicity of truth as essential being which does not have the form of contingent existence through an alien speech, knows it as the sure and unwritten law of the gods, a law that is 'everlasting and no one knows when it came.'"

Whoops, that's the little-known crux of the Phenomenology of Spirit, not this post. My bad.
posted by shivohum at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2012 [14 favorites]


You can make the following generalization and apply it to almost any great intellectual thinker:
1. Never (ever) actually read anything by X.

2. If you do make a mistake of reading something by X, use my personal technique of “carefully phrased selective emphasis” on certain aspects of X.

3. Read only tertiary literature.

4. Remember, no one actually speaks X-ian language, so you only have to learn to translate things into it, but never from it.

5. Always claim to have already overcome X.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 12:48 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember talking to a native German speaker (with a graduate degree in philosophy) about actually reading Hegel. She said even Germans find Hegel extremely difficult in German, and that the translations are easier (mostly because of his sentence structure).

Another time I was talking with friends and one mentioned that a friend of theirs was doing a thesis on Hegel. They sighed when I asked what the actual thesis was, because it was basically impossible to explain.
posted by graymouser at 1:02 PM on June 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


Nobody actually reads Zizek either, right?
posted by sixohsix at 1:24 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


My general rule for any given philosopher: just read enough to allow you to formulate a completely baffling and dismissive-sounding rhetorical question. Then if anyone mentions that philosopher, just smile knowingly and trot out your question in a kind of wink-wink style, like you're including them in the joke. They won't be able to answer and they'll just sort of nervously smile in agreement and you've pretty much shut that down without blowing your cover.

If you've accidentally encountered the one-in-a-billion who can actually understand your question and see it for the superficial vapidity it is, looks puzzled and asks a penetrating question in response, go to plan B: fake a heart attack. Unless there's nobody else around, in which case plan B is to head-butt them and run like hell.
posted by George_Spiggott at 1:26 PM on June 10, 2012 [21 favorites]


Nobody actually reads Zizek either, right?

No, you just read one book by Zizek and that more or less counts for all of them.
posted by graymouser at 1:30 PM on June 10, 2012 [9 favorites]


Well, the thing about Hegel is, you can straight-up admit that you have no understanding of Hegel when the topic comes up and nobody will assign negative points. You might even get positive points for having tried! Why bother faking it when the bar is so low?

It's too bad, because according to the lecturer I had in college, Hegel is tremendously important and his dialectic explains modernity completely and he has changed everything. But I have to take his word because 200 pages of Phenomenology of Spirit per class just wasn't working out.
posted by newg at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Is 3/4 of a Zizek book acceptable?

Honestly, I tried...
posted by sixohsix at 1:36 PM on June 10, 2012


A large part of this applies to any esoteric humanity.

I read (slightly, but I do not speak, nor write) Italian. In one art history class I had, I quoted extensively from a single chapter of a weighty text in Italian on the artists Brunelleschi. My professor (who is a very good friend and has never failed to call me on my bullshit before) not only praised my use of the text but also my paraphrasing of key points in the text (which I decided on completely out of context, see rule 3, above). Later, either due to guilt or believing I had truly missed something in this hidden masterpiece I had somehow stumbled upon, I went back to the book and discovered it had quoted him and his work extensively in another chapter on a different work by the same artist. I dunno. Maybe it's all a blind mummer's farce presented to a deaf audience and I should have stayed in and gotten my PhD.
posted by 1f2frfbf at 2:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Nobody actually reads Zizek either, right?

No, just PLT Žižek
posted by urschrei at 2:14 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Fuck. I've been doing it wrong for years!
posted by TwelveTwo at 2:14 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


You can make the following generalization and apply it to almost any great intellectual thinker:

This is probably as good a place as any to plug my favourite book about reading, Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read. It presents a brilliant model for talking about any author you haven't read, not just great philosophers.
posted by daniel_charms at 2:22 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


sonic meat machine: I would hope no one was reading it, because Being and Time is about phenomenology. Did you mean Being and Nothingness?
posted by leotrotsky at 2:34 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Start by playing a few bars for me, and we'll see.
posted by dhartung at 2:37 PM on June 10, 2012


What? Zizek is wildly entertaining even if you think he's crazy. His flamboyant writing style is a big draw.
posted by ifjuly at 3:04 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Ah! The Anglo-American dream: to float above meaning and being, enveloped in solipsistic self-satisfaction, sneering at any attempt at sober reflection, ever ready to retreat to self-righteous empiricism. Hegel's bastards.
posted by No Robots at 3:13 PM on June 10, 2012 [5 favorites]


........Two hundred hundred? *brain twitch*
posted by d1rge at 3:16 PM on June 10, 2012


My boyfriend has been reading lots of Zizek in the past year, and occasionally will read choice bits out loud to me. I think it says something that he intentionally chooses the least dense parts, and it's still usually the most brain intensive activity I'll do in a given week.
posted by ocherdraco at 3:25 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


In my high school philosophy class our teacher gave us two pages of Hegel to try to understand. I think it was a prank. Haven't really thought about Hegel since then. Is claiming that he was an anti-Semite and thus not caring what he says a valid alternative to this strategy? And does that work on Zizek?
posted by silby at 3:35 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


amazing how close this thread is to rehash of the ring of Gyges.
posted by Shit Parade at 3:42 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Read only tertiary literature."

As a german lit major at Penn State, I pretty much just translated secondary literature written in English back into German for assignments and memorized that for spewing back on the final. Plagiarism with a twist.
posted by Ardiril at 3:58 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Kant and Hegel were probably the hardest readings I did at university. Harder even than Lacan and the little Derrida I tackled, I think - and those guys are no slouches at being incomprehensible.
posted by smoke at 4:03 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Is claiming that he was an anti-Semite and thus not caring what he says a valid alternative to this strategy?

You might be able to get away with that for Heidegger; not sure about Hegel.
posted by thomas j wise at 4:03 PM on June 10, 2012


Hegel's book was a published first draft forced by his publisher who thought to make a quick mark. It set the style for German philosophical writing. Kant too. It is always recommended to read them in translation as translaters try to fix the bad German. Sartre copied the style for his book. Nietzsche said that if you can't write clearly you probably don't know what you are talking about. See Walter Kaufman's book on Hegel and Kant.
posted by njohnson23 at 4:14 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]


No, you just read one book by Zizek and that more or less counts for all of them.

So true.

Kant and Hegel were probably the hardest readings I did at university. Harder even than Lacan and the little Derrida I tackled, I think - and those guys are no slouches at being incomprehensible.

I majored in cultural studies and didn't read much original Kant or Hegel or Lacan or Derrida, just their ...ahem.. interrogators.

But brat that I was, I smirked at folks who called them incomprehensible whilst devouring the graphic novels and graphic guides to them.
posted by space_cookie at 4:51 PM on June 10, 2012


My boyfriend has been reading lots of Zizek in the past year, and occasionally will read choice bits out loud to me.

Does he do the voice? I mean, if you do this, you have to at least try to do the voice.
posted by AdamCSnider at 4:53 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


Cute article.

On the other hand, there has been some serious work done on Hegel recently that people shouldn't forget. A lot of what people think philosophy is, isn't actually the case, and this article might one-sidedly present the picture that either (a) this is what philosophy is, or (b) this is all Hegel scholarship can amount to.

As far as (b) is concerned, scholars such as Robert Pippin and Terry Pinkard seem to think there's something recoverable in Hegel. Esteemed scholars such as Robert Brandom and John McDowell believe too that of what is recoverable in Hegel, is of great importance for contemporary analytic philosophy.

You won't find a single philosopher who thinks lightly of Kant. In fact, it's hard to imagine anyone else who could be considered as important. Stereotypically, Hegel seems to be held in the opposite regard. Yet, there are strong reasons for reading Hegel in a particular way, as a response to Kant.

As far as (a) is concerned, I suppose it's hard to get across the sentiments I'm having. Real philosophy takes a lot of time and dedication. Unfortunately, popular media, introductory courses, and departments such as English and Cultural Studies as well as others, have appropriated philosophers like Kant and Hegel in ways that have ruined their image, and the field of philosophy's image as well.

Of course, there's no good way of getting this point across to someone who hasn't taken the field seriously in the first place and explored it beyond an undergraduate education. My post here may well go unnoticed at best, or slightly scorned because of its tone. I just wanted to do my best in a short amount of time to maybe slide the discussion in a particular way that was more favorable. Perhaps there are some others who are in the same position as me, but better able to express themselves.
posted by SollosQ at 5:03 PM on June 10, 2012 [11 favorites]


I actually think Hegel is one of the great European philosophers -- easily in the top ten, if not the top five -- and I forgive him for his prose because he was trying to invent an entirely new conceptual language. I think his style of thinking has a lot of potential, and I'd love to see more attention given to it on this side of the pond.

Is claiming that he was an anti-Semite and thus not caring what he says a valid alternative to this strategy?
As SollosQ says, *everybody* takes Kant seriously. Now go type "kant jews" into Google.

"How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel" doesn't really seem like a post about Hegel, though...
posted by uosuaq at 5:20 PM on June 10, 2012


Does he do the voice? I mean, if you do this, you have to at least try to do the voice.

Oh man. He does a killer impression of Zizek. He usually doesn't do it if he wants me to actually understand what he's reading, though. It's more something that he does spontaneously
posted by ocherdraco at 5:21 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Unfortunately, popular media, introductory courses, and departments such as English and Cultural Studies as well as others, have appropriated philosophers like Kant and Hegel in ways that have ruined their image, and the field of philosophy's image as well.

Yes curse those bastards, having the sheer gumption to think philosophy is not solely the province of graduate philosphers, and that those thinkers could have relevance to different, totally piss-weak, disciplines like their own. How dare they attempt to make these intellectual titans accessible!

Lol, I mean, really dude. I think people can walk and chew gum at the same time. It is not a difficult thing, to say that Hegel and Kant both are seminal to many different streams of Western thought, and also that their writing is dense, very challenging, and not all that great. All you have to do is look at some of the intellectual inheritors of Hegelian thought like Gadamer and Habermas (I would argue), to see that sophisticated arguments need not be impenetrable.

I mean, if elitist sentiments like that are representative of philosophy depts, they need all the help from English et al they can get.
posted by smoke at 5:23 PM on June 10, 2012


(I don't speak for SollosQ, but):
I can understand your emotional reaction to that comment, smoke, but your response is so off the mark that it doesn't really support the claim that philosophers need help...at least, not with *thinking*, which to me is the main focus of the field.

(Philosophers are also derided as elitist snobs for not teaching Objectivism.)
posted by uosuaq at 5:38 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Halfway through my class on Existentialism, I realized that nobody in the class besides me was actually reading Being and Time, that the teacher very likely hadn't, and that I didn't need to do so.
That's a shame. B&T is, IMO, totally grokable by mortals. I read it in a similar class (guided by a prof who clearly had read it, more than once) and I greatly enjoyed it, if only for learning to appreciate the fact that texts that look to be 90% noise on first glance are actually brimming with ideas. It's one of those books that teaches you how to read it, which has turned out to be my favorite kind of book.
posted by deathpanels at 6:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [4 favorites]




You can make the following generalization and apply it to almost any great intellectual thinker:
1. Never (ever) actually read anything by X.

2. If you do make a mistake of reading something by X, use my personal technique of “carefully phrased selective emphasis” on certain aspects of X.

3. Read only tertiary literature.

4. Remember, no one actually speaks X-ian language, so you only have to learn to translate things into it, but never from it.

5. Always claim to have already overcome X.



My favorite X to apply in this formula is Derrida, for irony's sake.
posted by deathpanels at 6:04 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


Everything I know about philosophy comes from Monty Python, and that has served me well enough to this point in life.
posted by briank at 7:01 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


This is hardly the thread to have a meaningful conversation about philosophy, much less Hegel -- and it isn't that Hegel is difficult, I found Kant by far more arcane, but since Hegel gave birth to phenomenology - which has given contemporaries such as Zizek their grounding - there is a major cluster-fuck over the interpretation of Hegel, not to even go into the historic context of Hegel publishing his major work a few hectic years after Kant's major work all of which was happening under a Europe still forming and fighting the Napoleonic wars, suffice it to say: snark on.

The basic fact here is nearly everyone here, and especially the ignorant, are Hegelian, their thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, etc, are Hegelian. Reading this, I imagine it isn't too far from hearing Early Roman Slaves talking shit about Aristotle - let the untutored suffer.
posted by Shit Parade at 7:34 PM on June 10, 2012


Nietzsche said that if you can't write clearly you probably don't know what you are talking about.

Nietzsche probably didn't know what he was talking about.
posted by Proofs and Refutations at 7:45 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]


smoke: Your response is totally understandable given the tone of my post. The following might have been a better way to have put what I wrote previously.

Undeniably, figures like Hegel are understood differently depending on line of study you're in. The way Hegel is understood in philosophy will be different than he is understood under English or some other fields. Saying nothing about the validity of their understanding, the way they are understood is not the same. Unfortunately, a conflation seems to develop: that how Hegel is understood outside of mainstream academic philosophy, is the same with how he is understood inside mainstream academic philosophy.

It of course becomes easy to demur Hegel then, if largely the image of Hegel is alike how he is presented here. Read this article, open up to a random page of him, and it's no wonder people think that philosophy is a fine example of the sort of nonsensical, over-reaching, liberal-artsy type of talk that people like to chide such people of.
posted by SollosQ at 8:00 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where's the cachet in "faking it" if you're basically the kind of person who's content to remain ignorant? If you don't respect Hegel enough to be bothered to read him, STOP FRONTING. Anyone who matters who catches you pulling this shit is going to think you're a complete fucking tool.

Making fun of authors you don't understand never comes across well. As Lichtenberg said, “When a book and a head collide and a hollow sound is heard, must it always have come from the book?”
posted by doreur at 8:10 PM on June 10, 2012 [7 favorites]


Ah, I get you now, SollosQ. I do agree that from a popular standpoint, Hegel's influence is largely understated if not misunderstood. It's interesting, in comparison to Kant, say, where I think he kind of hovers omnipresent under a lot of thought and theory.

But of course, I would say that; I am a hermeneutics lover from long back, and further I have a lot of time for Gadamer - so no wonder I see Hegel everywhere.
posted by smoke at 8:12 PM on June 10, 2012 [1 favorite]


To clarify: He is understood differently because each field has its own concerns. If Hegel's image looks a certain way, say of the negative sort that I mentioned at the end of my last post, then, putting it in a rough way, either that particular investigation is at fault, or people who are judging the investigation to be at fault are... at fault.

Certainly we can all agree though that the way Hegel is used, is not like how he is used in philosophy. Luckily, I'm not at all concerned with how Hegel relates to fields of study outside of philosophy. So long as we can all understand that the way Hegel is used in philosophy is far different.
posted by SollosQ at 8:12 PM on June 10, 2012


(Ah! I missed the On Preview, smoke. I didn't mean the clarification to be in response to your new post. I just wanted to maybe temper some still problematic ways I tried to put things. Cheers!)
posted by SollosQ at 8:14 PM on June 10, 2012


As a grad student in a theory-heavy program, I have to say that's the funniest thing I've seen in a long time. Thanks for posting!
posted by désoeuvrée at 8:29 PM on June 10, 2012


The basic fact here is nearly everyone here, and especially the ignorant, are Hegelian, their thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, etc, are Hegelian. Reading this, I imagine it isn't too far from hearing Early Roman Slaves talking shit about Aristotle - let the untutored suffer.

Your philosophic studies have brought you a great deal of equanimity and compassion.
posted by benito.strauss at 8:52 PM on June 10, 2012 [2 favorites]



Nietzsche probably didn't know what he was talking about.


Nietzsche wrote quite clearly. His concepts were difficult though reachable in his prose. Hegel, Kant, and their stylistic followers wrote in such a way that most cannot even get to the concepts. People confuse obscurity with profundity. Hence Derrida, et. al.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:56 PM on June 10, 2012 [3 favorites]


I don't need to read Being & Time because I just found this excellent synopsis.
posted by sixohsix at 2:04 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


It is always recommended to read them in translation as translaters try to fix the bad German.

One of my philosophy professors likened reading Kant or Hegel in German to chewing aluminum foil.

Having tried both things, it's an apt comparison.
posted by valkyryn at 5:20 AM on June 11, 2012 [1 favorite]


Loved the link; thanks for posting it! In this comment, Emelianov writes: "Wanted to leave a comment but apparently you have to pay $5 to register – what the hell?" I suggested he write the admins and said they'd probably give him a membership for free. It would be great if he could join the discussion. (It would also be great if we could leave dear old Slavoj out of it, but I guess he's the gate-crasher at every party.)
posted by languagehat at 9:36 AM on June 11, 2012 [2 favorites]


The basic fact here is nearly everyone here, and especially the ignorant, are Hegelian, their thoughts, attitudes, beliefs, etc, are Hegelian. Reading this, I imagine it isn't too far from hearing Early Roman Slaves talking shit about Aristotle - let the untutored suffer.
- posted by Shit Parade

You might be correct insomuch as that all human experience could be described as Hegelian in some sense or another. Or more specifically you might be saying in a tongue in cheek manner that they are experiencing some sort of cognitive dissonance or enjoy being confused. Confusion which can be, ironically, either the base state of humanity or brought on by reading Hegel's works, depending simply on whether you understand them or not.

But, I think that if anything most people, and especially the ignorant would consider themselves to be rationalists and as such opposed to Hegel philosophically, or in the case of the untutored a bad 'gut reaction' to the whole concept if it was explained to them.

look I can do it too :) Did it sound authentic?
posted by darkfred at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2012


This post had made me realize that when I hear the phrase "Being and Time" all I can think about is waiting for a bus.
posted by benito.strauss at 3:06 PM on June 11, 2012


Leotrotsky: That didn't stop it (and Being and Nothingness) from being the primary texts in my Existentialism class.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:48 PM on June 11, 2012


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