Learning to Love Said and Hegel (By Making Myself “Teach” Them)

This semester I have been teaching a class that the university’s course catalogue designates, “ENG 489: Literature and Empire.” Because I’m neither a historian of colonialism nor a scholar of world literatures, I approached this class as an opportunity to test the limits of my training while still taking advantage of my specialization in British modernism. I opened the course with Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness (as well as its critical reception history) and Virginia Woolf’s first novel, The Voyage Out, before moving on to Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism and Susan Buck-Morss’ much more recent Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History. The last three weeks of the semester were  devoted to Derek Walcott’s long (epic) poem Omeros. While I’m quite comfortable taking up Conrad and Woolf with a roomful of English majors (I’ve had quite a bit of practice in my short tenure as a literature instructor), these past several weeks of teaching texts in which I do not specialize have proven to be, on the one hand, pedagogically grueling and, on the other, satisfactorily humbling.

More than this, though. Over the past two months, I have come to love Said, Hegel, and Walcott. I might eventually spend time discussing Walcott, but I want to focus primarily on the first two here.


This confession has confused many of my colleagues, partly because Said and Hegel do not have much purchase among the intellectual circles I frequent. Said, for many, is a bit outdated. A friend recently asked why I would teach Culture and Imperialism when so many of Said’s insights have either been improved upon or so normalized in English departments that they barely require mention anymore. Another asked why I would spend time with a “humanist” when my work is typically drawn to post- or anti-humanists like Foucault and Deleuze.

My answer? First, while Said’s arguments concerning overlapping and interdependent histories of colonialism and colonial resistance may certainly be part of an institutionalized “common sense,” these arguments are not necessarily “common sense” to our students. (I gave a similar answer to a colleague who also asked why “on earth” I was teaching an “over-taught” text like Heart of Darkness. “Over-taught?” I responded, “How could it be over-taught when none of my students have read it before?”) Second, I think there is more to teaching a great critic like Said than simply rehearsing or transmitting the content of his argument to students. What about the form of his argument? The rhetorical choices among his arguments? The erudition of his prose? The style of his thought? The political urgency in his tone? The limitations of his examples and his archive? The inventory of argumentative gestures, postures, and modes of providing evidence?

And, lastly, what of his fresh perspectives on theoretical figures, perspectives that may, indeed, be limited by Said’s disciplinary position as a non-specialist in continental philosophy but that, nevertheless, shimmer with uniqueness? Near the end of Culture and Imperialism, for instance, he turns to Deleuze and Guattari’s Mille Plateaux and writes,

Virilio’s notion of counter-habitation: to live as migrants do in habitually uninhabited but nevertheless public spaces. A similar notion occurs in Mille Plateaux (volume 2 of Anti-Oedipe) by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. A great deal of this immensely rich book is not easily accessible, but I have found it mysteriously suggestive. The chapter entitled “Traité de nomadologie: La Machine de guerre,” builds on Virilio’s work by extending his ideas on movement and space to a highly eccentric study of an itinerant war machine. This quite original treatise contains a metaphor about a disciplined kind of intellectual mobility in an age of institutionalization, regimentation, co-optation. The war machine, Deleuze and Guattari say, can be assimilated to the military powers of the state — but, since it is fundamentally a separate entity, need not be, any more than the spirit’s nomadic wanderings need always be put at the service of institutions. The war machine’s source of strength is not only its nomadic freedom but also its metallurgical art — which Deleuze and Guattari compare to the art of musical composition — by which materials are forged, fashioned “beyond separate forms; [this metallurgy, like music] stresses the continuing development of form itself, and beyond individually differing materials it stresses the continuing variation within matter itself.” Precision, concreteness, continuity, form — all these have the attributes of a nomadic practice whose power, Virilio says, is not aggressive but transgressive.

— Culture and Imperialism, pg.  331-32

Precision, concreteness, continuity, form. Who on earth reads Deleuze this way? Eleanor Kaufman pursues (though does not really complete) these conceptual associations in Deleuze, The Dark Precursor (2012), but who else? How might reading Deleuze alongside Said allow us to rethink Deleuze’s oeuvre as something — contra Peter Hallward — that is not out of this world“? Again, Said is not a Deleuze scholar (indeed, he emphasizes his own uncertainty about the mysteriousness of Mille Plateaux), and yet I feel that his position as a non-Deleuzian may very well aid us a great deal more than many of the essays in The Cambridge Companion to Gilles Deleuze (2012). And why? Precisely because his style of thought is already different from that of Deleuze/Guattari, because he feels no allegiance to their project, because he has the freedom to praise the potentiality of their concepts without overextending the applicability of those same concepts to all domains of political action. Indeed, I already feel the need to reread Deleuze and Guattari against themselves and to consider how important “continuity” is to them (even if they appear to privilege “discontinuity” and “rupture”).

And all this  leaves out, of course, what should not be left out when one writes of Said: the incredible rhetorical and political efforts in essays like “Michel Foucault as an Intellectual Imagination,” “Islam as News,” “Secular Criticism,” the often misunderstood “Traveling Theory,” as well as his late memoir and interviews. And, now that I have read it, I cannot image a world without his posthumous collection, On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain (2006). How can I not think of Deleuze and Guattari’s What Is Philosophy? when I read this?

Each of us can readily supply evidence of how it is that late works crown a lifetime of aesthetic endeavor. Rembrandt and Matisse, Bach and Wagner. But what of artistic lateness not as harmony and resolution but as intransigence, difficulty, and unresolved contradition? What if age and ill health don’t produce the serenity of “ripeness is all”? This is the case with Ibsen, whose final works, especially When We Dead Awaken, tear apart the career and the artist’s craft and reopen the questions of meaning, success, and progress that the artist’s late period is supposed to move beyond. Far from resolution, then, Ibsen’s last plays suggest an angry and disturbed artist for whom the medium of drama provides an occasion to stir up more anxiety, tamper irrevocably with the possibility of closure, and leave the audience more perplexed and unsettled than before.

— On Late Style, pg. 7

Of course, all this is not to say that the point of teaching Said in my course was to insist that he was actually a Deleuzian or that Deleuze (whom we were not even studying) was Saidian. All this is to say that there are a great many reasons to continue studying and teaching Said’s texts, including the simple reason of introducing students to the work of an erudite scholar who masterfully shows again and again the limitation of bracketing culture from historical inquiry, of bracketing historical inquiry from the concerns of interpenetrating cultures and overlapping territories, of bracketing ourselves from potential complicities in continuing imperialistic structures of attitude and reference, and of bracketing our theoretical paradigms from perspectives that may lead us to challenge the assumptions of those paradigms (or at least the work of interpreters who have worked with us to shape and to crystallize those paradigms).


And, so, what about Hegel? How on earth, given contemporary theory’s outright hatred of him, could I learn to love him? And why on earth teach him in an English course? Of course, I did not directly teach Hegel’s philosophy to my literature students (I am not trained to do so, after all). Rather, I assigned Buck-Morss’ much more manageable text Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History… and supplemented it with paragraphs 178-196 of Phenomenology of Spirit.

But, again, how did I learn to love Hegel? First, Buck-Morss argues that Hegel’s use of  slavery as a major trope in his Phenomenology is a significant shift away from earlier uses of slavery as “the root metaphor of Western political philosophy” (21). Buck-Morss writes, 

[Hobbes] sees [slavery] as a consequence of the war of all against all in the state of nature, hence belonging to the natural disposition of man. [. . .] Prior to writing The Phenomenology of Mind, Hegel had dealt with the theme of mutual recognition in terms of Sittlichkeit: criminals against society or the mutual recognitions of religious community or personal affection. But now this young lecturer, still only in his early thirties made the audacious move to reject these earlier versions (more acceptable to the established philosophical discourse) and to inaugurate, as the central metaphor of his work, not slavery versus some mythical state of nature (as those from Hobbes to Rousseau had done earlier), but slaves versus masters, thus bringing into his text the present, historical realities that surrounded it like invisible ink.

— Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, pp. 26-27, 51-52

Being an English major with comparatively little experience studying political philosophy, this reading of Hegel’s use of slavery as a turn away from natural law to the actuality of human struggle was enlightening. More than this: it gave me and my students a task that we were already trained to pursue, that is, to investigate how slavery — or, perhaps more generally, oppression or inequality — is used figuratively not only in political philosophy but also in literature. In what way does slavery (and its ties to the enlightenment) operate even in modernist literature? In Conrad? In Woolf? In Yeats? In Joyce? In Salih? And how might we extend this question of the figurativization of oppression into other domains? Into feminism? Queer studies? How, for instance, might we think the figurativization of slavery in the political philosophy of Hobbes and Locke and Rousseau and Kant with and against more contemporary figurativizations of “the closet” and queer life, figurativizations that, in the end, have zero concern for queer life (just as Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau appear to have had zero concern for actual slavery)? It seems to me that if Hegel can be read in this way that his work is far more productive to the concerns of contemporary theory than scholars in English and comparative literature might typically think.

Second, it seems worthwhile to me to pair these observations and questions with passages from Buck-Morss’ first introduction:

In his reading of Adam Smith, Hegel saw a description of society that challenged the British and French enlightenment tradition on its most sacred ground: the state of nature. Far from a historical invariant and in stark opposition to natural law theory, this is a historically specific anthropology of mutual dependency. Whereas contract theory from Hobbes, to Locke, to Rousseau posited the independent and free individual possessed of natural liberties as the starting point of philosophical speculation, determining the terms for entering into societal and contractual agreements, Hegel’s modern subject is already in a web of social dependencies because of commodity exchange [. . .] In the 1805-6 Jena texts, Hegel moves in rapid succession among economic themes [. . .] and the political themes of master and slave and the “struggle of life and death,” wherein “mutual recognition” appears “in its extreme form” [. . .] Conceptually, the revolutionary struggle of slaves, who overthrow their own servitude and establish a constitutional state, provides the theoretical hinge that takes Hegel’s analysis out of the limitlessly expanding colonial economy and onto the plane of world history, which he defines as the realization of freedom — a theoretical solution that was taking place in practice in Haiti at that very moment. [. . .] Mutual recognition among equal emerges with logical necessity out of the contradictions of slavery, not the least of which is trading human slaves as, legally, “things,” when they show themselves capable of becoming the active agents of history by struggling against slavery in a “battle of recognition” under the banner, “Liberty or Death!”

— Hegel, Haiti, and Universal History, pp. 9-12

I found these observations about Hegel and Haiti to be an exciting extension of Said’s analyses and arguments in Culture and Imperialism, and I am left fumbling with theoretical and methodological questions about our units of analysis and our critical departure points. It seems to me that from a Hegelian/Saidian viewpoint — one that also marks Raymond Williams’ Marxism and Literature — that the location of our analyses in a single, bracketed text, culture, period, discipline, or even archive, while certainly pragmatic insofar as “a scholar cannot be an expert in everything” (Buck-Morss 22), blinds us not only to the actuality of history and all of its potential becomings but, more importantly, perpetuates disciplinary and institutional blindness. For instance, how might one reread the allusions to “India” in the work of Woolf? How might these allusions (as structures of reference that Woolf shares with many of her contemporaries, including E.M. Forster, James Joyce, and D.H. Lawrence) interact with contemporary distributions and resistances to British literature in India itself? What might we gain by attempting to inhabit an interactional perspective? I write these questions, of course, as a scholar who works primarily on a handful of British and American writers, who tends to read novels and poems ahistorically, who can speak only one language, who often tries to locate and articulate the “logic” of an author, how an author thinks and feels, and study their work using this logic as my primary optic. Because of these dimensions and limitations of my research, I will probably never take up this question of Woolf and India (though others, with more appropriate cultural, historical, and linguistic training, certainly may [and perhaps already have!]).

Yet, despite my allergy to history, I still find myself moved by Buck-Morss’ Hegelian insights (which are not at all apologetic for Hegel’s later “retreat from revolutionary radicalism” [67]). Why? Perhaps I am sympathetic to the AND in Buck-Morss’ subject (Hegel AND Haiti) and, by extension, in the Phenomenology (master AND slave). “Ultimately, ‘Hegel and Haiti’ is about the connection, the ‘and’ that links these two historical phenomena in silence” (Buck-Morss 12). “Self-consciousness exists in and for itself when, and by the fact that, it so exists for another; that is, it exists only in being acknowledged” (Hegel 111). Neither of the components which the AND joins (Hegel/Haiti, master/slave) is the necessary, primary starting point of analysis for either Buck-Morss or Hegel. Rather, they constitute points of analysis between which each thinker continually passes. This continuous passage, I claim, is what makes Hegel so difficult to read for the non-specialist, who desires a clear thesis or statement of philosophical position when the whole point of Hegel’s argument is the passage between his paragraphs. It’s as if an unspoken “and yet” opens each of his paragraphs, throwing his speculative analysis into perpetual revision as he struggles to hold both participants of his speculations (as well as their respective, overlapping perspectives of themselves and each other) in view.

Note: It seems to me that Hegel’s argument early in his preface about how to read the work of another philosopher has some relevance here:

The more conventional opinion gets fixated on the antithesis of truth and falsity, the more it tends to expect a given philosophical system to be either accepted or contradicted; and hence it finds only acceptance or rejection. It does not comprehend the diversity of philosophical systems as the progressive unfolding of truth but rather sees in it simple disagreements. The bud disappears in the bursting-forth of the blossom, and one might say that the former is refuted by the latter; similarly, when the fruit appears, the blossom is shown up in its turn as a false manifestation of the plant, and the fruit now emerges as the truth of it instead. These forms are not just distinguished from one another, they also supplant one another as mutually incompatible. Yet at the same time their fluid nature makes them moments of an organic unity in which they not only do not conflict, but in which each is as necessary as the other; and this mutual necessity alone constitutes the life of the whole.

— Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, pg. 2

Bud AND blossom AND fruit… a limited analogy, to be sure, but one that nevertheless illustrates that one must encompass more than isolated positions or perspectives or moments in a text in order to learn how to feel and to think “the life of the whole.”

Indeed, Buck-Morss imbues the AND (meaning the work of heuristic, scholarly conjunction, even of seemingly unrelated components) with a great deal of potential: “What if every time that the consciousness of individuals surpassed the confines of present constellations of power in perceiving the concrete meaning of freedom, this were the valued moment, however transitory, of the realization of absolute spirit? What other silences would need to be broken? What undisciplined stories would be told?” (75).

Where else might I have encountered the counter-disciplinary potential of the AND? Ah, yes:

[G.D.] Just ideas: this is the encounter, the becoming, the theft and the nuptials, this ‘between-two’ of solitudes. When Godard says he would like to be a production studio, he is obviously not trying to say that he wants to produce his own films or he wants to edits his own books. He is trying to say just ideas, because, when it comes down to it, you are all alone, and yet you are like a conspiracy of criminals. You are no longer an author, you are a production studio, you have never been more populated. Being a ‘gang’ — gangs live through the worst dangers; forming judges, courts, schools, families and conjugalities again. But what is good in a gang, in principle, is that each goes about his own business while encountering others, each brings in his loot and a becoming is sketched out — a bloc starts moving — which no longer belongs to anyone but is ‘between’ everyone, like a little boat which children let slip and lose, and is stolen by others. In the TV conversations 6 times 2 what were Godard and Mieville doing if not making the richest use of their solitude, using it as a means of encounter, making a line or bloc shoot between two people, producing all the phenomena of a double capture, showing what the conjunction AND is, neither a union, nor a juxtaposition, but the birth of a stammering, the outline of a broken line which always sets off at right angles, a sort of active and creative line of flight? AND . . . AND . . . AND . . .

[. . .]

[C.P.] We can always add a 3rd to a 2, a 4th to a 3, etc., we do do not escape dualism in this way, since the elements of any set whatever can be related to a succession of choices which are themselves binary. It is not the elements or the sets which define the multiplicity. What defines it is the AND, as something which has its place between the elements or between the sets. AND, AND, AND — stammering. And even if there are only two terms, there is an AND between the two, which is neither the one nor the other, nor the one which becomes the other, but which constitutes the multiplicity. This is why it is always possible to undo dualisms from the inside, by tracing the line of flight which passes between the two terms or the two sets, the narrow stream which belongs neither to the one nor to the other, but draws both into a non-parallel evolution, into a heterochronous becoming. At least this does not belong to the dialectic. Thus we [i.e. Deleuze and Parnet] could proceed like this: each chapter would remain divided in two, there would no longer be any reason to sign each part, since it is between the two anonymous parts that the conversation would take place, and the AND Félix, AND Fanny, AND you, AND all those whom we speak, AND me, would appear as so many distorted images in running water.

— Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II, pp. 9-10, 34-35

Deleuze and Parnet intend to be anti-Hegelian here (“this does not belong to the dialectic”), and yet the observations of Buck-Morss and Hegel that I’ve cited suggest a different relationship altogether among these thinkers: not one of opposition but of extension beyond historical concerns. Indeed, Deleuze and Parnet suggest that the AND has a creative force to match its potentially (and critically) undisciplined one. The space between Deleuze and Parnet — much like the space between Hegel and Haiti, master and slave, culture and imperialism, Said and Mille Plateaux — seems to open in a different direction, to overturn readymade presumptions about the events or persons or texts which the AND conjoins. Again, my point is not that Buck-Morss or Hegel is a Deleuzian or that Deleuze is secretly a Hegelian (an argument that others — e.g., Žižek and Jameson — have already tried to make). Yet between Hegel and Buck-Morss and Said and Deleuze I cannot help but feel a larger theoretical point: that any analysis of an individual unit (text, mind, culture) that does not at least consider the ways in which that unit is always already interactive (kinetically or potentially) with other units (texts, minds, cultures, territories) somehow falls short of what it is we may identify as the “goal” of a scholarly argument (explanation, understanding, problematization, critique, effectivity, resistance, etc.).

For instance, having just come back from a conference at which I participated in seminar on “love and affect,” I wonder how the collective insights of these theorists might even teach us how to re-approach emotion and affect not simply as forces that move, disperse, or attract individual minds and bodies but as forces that concern far more than minds and bodies. In my contribution to the seminar, I tried to imagine a love that exceeds narratives of coupling (between lover and beloved), a territorial love that maps points and trajectories and movements in excess of lover and beloved. What might it mean that  “my” love for “you” is also beholden to the spaces in which “our” love works or that a shift in territory (“me” moving other there; “you” getting a new job here; “us” rearranging the furniture; etc.) might have irrevocable consequences for “our” love, consequences to which we do not even have to give consent or acknowledgement? What might it mean to think that other things (objects, landscapes, histories, strangers, other desires) might be as equally (if not more) constitutive of “our” love than the tastes or psyches of either “you” or “me”? In short, what if we apply the AND not only to people or to places or to events but to much more parochial phenomena? What if love is nothing but the living operation of the AND as it forms and de-forms territories, assemblages, and collectivities? 

While these questions are so far removed from the concerns of Hegel, Said, or Buck-Morss (too anti-human, too a-historical, too ontological rather than actual, etc.), I could not even ask these questions without their insights AND those of Deleuze and Parnet.

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