A Hegelian Laxative

I finally got around to attending to some of the wonderful essays in Hegel and the Infinite: Religion, Politics, and Dialectic, edited by Slavoj Žižek, Clayton Crockett, and Creston Davis (Columbia UP, 2011).  Incidentally, this is one of about four of Clayton Crockett’s books I’ve read in the last year.  I’ll have more to say about his work later.  For now, I’ll just say that this book on Hegel is a must-read…for Right-Hegelians, Left-Hegelians, post-Hegelians, anti-Hegelians, etc. 

For all of those who are stuck in an interpretation of Hegel as a totalizing thinker who appropriates and assimilates all difference and alterity into his own absolute knowledge, this book would be a great place to start loosening up—reopening your interpretation of Hegel and letting go of that overused straw man argument. 

It turns out that Hegel is not an extremely constipated thinker who appropriates reality into himself without remainder, nor a coprophagic thinker reappropriating that remainder.  Hegel is much more open-ended, radically affirming the irreducible contingencies of the real.  Žižek makes this abundantly clear in his chapter, “Hegel and Shitting: The Idea’s Constipation.” 

The matrix of the dialectical process is not that of excrementation-externalization followed up by swallowing up (reappropriation) of the externalized content, but, on the contrary, of appropriation followed up by the excremental move of dropping it, releasing it, letting go. (p. 231)

The move of letting go is like the movement of God, letting go of divinity in the process of incarnation, which is an act of emptying (kenosis).  This letting go opens a space for inquiring into religion and the complex political relationship between the sacred and the secular (where the secular is the sacred letting go of itself).  This movement of letting go (in the vernacular, “shitting”) also “opens up an unexpected space for ecological awareness,” a scatological ecology according to which nature is experienced “as something to be left to follow its inherent path.”

“What critics of Hegel’s voracity need is, perhaps, a dosage of good laxative.”  True as that may be, as I recall, William James let go of some anti-Hegelianism with a dosage of nitrous oxide, not laxative. …in any case, a dosage of good something… 

4 thoughts on “A Hegelian Laxative

  1. Yea, been enjoying another of Clayton Crockett’s works, Deleuze Beyond Badiou. I like it that he brings in a lot of the secondary literature when appropriate, yet allows for the main actors to have their own say. Great commentary…

    I agree this is a good Hegelian book, short but pithy, covers the territory without boring you. I love Zizek but sometimes he can be long winded in other works, in this one he was almost minimalist. Been going back over Less Than Nothing for a couple of months now: it was a sort of swann song for this stage in his life, a fond look back over Hegel/Lacan/Hegel… but, whoosh, he is convoluted to the nth power in this one. It’s worth it, but one needs time and quiet to allow the dialectic to sink in…

  2. Yes, “short but pithy.” That sums it up perfectly. I like the tiny Zizek pieces, but I agree that it’s worth it to make the journey through the longer works as well. I suppose a minimalist Zizek is a bit like coffee without caffeine, etc. Cheers to time and quiet for dialectical digestion.

  3. You wrote: “The move of letting go is like the movement of God, letting go of divinity in the process of incarnation, which is an act of emptying (kenosis).” I’m curious as to why you think that the divine and the human are opposed or if not opposed, why the human has no part of the divine, i.e., is “emptied” of it?

    Thanks, Jay Wentworth

    1. Thanks for your question, Jay. Kenosis is something from Paul’s letters, where he defines the incarnation as a process of emptying. God lets go of God’s own otherwordly divinity to become Jesus (who is supposedly divinity in the flesh). Like all theological concepts, it’s subject to interminable interpretation. Zizek brings it up in his piece on “Hegel and Shitting.” Hegel fancies himself a Christian, such that theological symbols of incarnation get taken up in his conceptualization of the dialectic. The Hegelian point would probably be that humanity and divinity are not simply opposed or non-opposed; rather, they have a complex relationship, a complementary yet antagonistic relationship between identity (fullness) and difference (emptiness). Humans are the divine insofar as the divine is emptying itself. That’s basically just a way of saying that humans partake of infinity and finitude. We are gods (infinite) with assholes (finite), in other words, shitty or shitting gods.

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