Edited transcript of my presentation at the Department of Philosophy ‘mini-conference’, the University of Sydney 12.09.14. Part three
I believe that Hegel could never even mention Cusanus for two reasons – the second following from the first:
- he was so indebted to him
- if that debt were ever exposed, he could never escape the charge, made correctly of him during his lifetime, that his philosophy is mystical.
This opens out into the far broader question regarding mysticism being treated as the pornography of academic philosophy (assiduously studied by many and its principles absorbed, but that influence claimed to be other, dissembled about or denied).
In denying through his utter silence the significance of Cusanus and the foresight of his genius, Hegel was emblematic not only of the German intellectuals of his time (with regard to Spinoza then Swedenborg and Oetinger and later, Nietzsche with regard to ‘Saint Max’ Stirner) but of Western culture as a whole – suppressing key elements of our history, of what has made us, so that we may perceive ourselves, as Hegel did, the bearers and masters of ‘Reason.’
We of the West believe it has been our ‘reason’ – primarily understood as linguistic, conceptual and particularly propositional – that has enabled us to achieve so much and attain global domination. Mysticism, the myth goes, was only a stage that was shed long ago.
What if ‘reason’ were understood to function not only linguistically, conceptually and propositionally (the reason of patriarchy) but in a manner that has been relegated to and powerfully utilised in the mystical, in ‘the feminine’?
As a materialist I state that mysticism has contributed and contributes profoundly to all aspects of our culture as William Franke’s two volume anthology On What Cannot be Said – Apophatic Discourses in Philosophy, Religion, Literature, and the Arts (Classic Formulations and Modern and Contemporary Transformations) well exemplifies – it inspired Copernicus to the greatest scientific hypothesis, it inspired Kepler to his theory of elliptical orbits in a wonderful yet imperfect world, it informed the pivotal moment of modernist art (Cubism) through the philosophy of Bergson – and I believe its not being taught (distinct from advocated) academically is the most gross failure of intellectual and social responsibility.
Marx correctly took Hegel’s philosophy and stood it on its feet but failed, as did Hegel, to overcome the Neoplatonic teleology – which for Hegel concluded in the Prussian state and for Marx, in ‘communism’. There will never be an end to the engine of contradiction, in nature or in that aspect of it called ‘society’.
I would like to merely touch on one point with regard to Hegel as I believe he was, a prose poet. Donald Phillip Verene wrote of our having lost track of the dimensions of philosophical language:
‘we have so little experience in taking metaphorical speech seriously as a carrier of philosophical meaning that we read right past it. …we have become so accustomed to the monotone hum of the abstract concept and the category, the fluorescent buzz of the argument, that we have lost track of the dimensions of philosophical language. We have forgotten its secrets and cannot recollect its manner of eating bread and drinking wine.’1
I will finish with a quotation from Magee: ‘an appreciation of the role of mystical ideas in the thought of Hegel and other modern thinkers opens new vistas, new paradigms for the history of modern philosophy and for the philosophy of history.’2
1. Donald Phillip Verene, Hegel’s Recollection: A Study of Images in The Phenomenology of Spirit, State University of New York Press, Albany, New York, 1985, 34-35 ↩
2. Glenn Alexander Magee, ‘Hegel and Mysticism’, pp. 253-280 in Frederick C. Beiser, Ed., The Cambridge Companion to Hegel and Nineteenth-Century Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2009, 280 ↩