Academic journal article CLIO

The Language of Mastery and the Mastery of Language: The Recognition of Rhetoric in Hegel

Academic journal article CLIO

The Language of Mastery and the Mastery of Language: The Recognition of Rhetoric in Hegel

Article excerpt

The basic sensibility upon which all of Hegel's system is built is the struggle of a thing with itself. It makes sense that the metaphors of this part of Hegel's work should be the most striking--verkehrte Welt, Herr und Knect, ungluckliches Bewu[beta]tsein. (Hegel's Recollection)(1)

For well over two thousand years of Western intellectual history, rhetoric and philosophy have been at odds. Socrates, as Cicero pointed out, could be given considerable credit or blame for the divorce between these two discursive approaches to truth, reality, and politics.(2) While different ages and thinkers did try with varying success to bring these disciplines together, the uniqueness of their relationship lies, I think, in the fact that it has almost always been cast as a struggle (regardless of intended or actual outcome). Other discursive fields--mathematics, the natural sciences, psychology, theology--certainly have, at times, crossed swords with philosophy. But often they either supported each other or were allowed to exist side by side, even if on different levels of abstraction. Struggle, however, seems central to the interaction between philosophy and rhetoric. The debates around deconstruction are in this regard the last in the series of conflicts between two "kinds of writing,"(3) with each side hoping to emerge victorious.

The greatest contribution that Donald Phillip Verene has made to the understanding of Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit has been his interpretation of its argumentative development as a struggle between philosophy and rhetoric, or in his and Hegel's terms, between Vorstellung or Bild (image) and Begriff (concept). Thus he writes in the preface to Hegel's Recollection: "In the Phenomenology there is a struggle between imagistic or pictorial ways of thinking and the concept. In this work Hegel is struggling to give the concept birth." He goes on to say that the "Phenomenology is organized through a number of master metaphors and ironic twists of meaning" (x). Verene would see both this truggle between modes of presentation and the organization of the work under the sign of a more general operation, that of "recollection" or Erinnerung as the "master key for understanding how to read the Phenomenology as a special process of the inwardizing of the subject" (3). By doing this, Verene strives for a harmonizing, albeit not tensionless, relationship whereby the concept (philosophy) "is forever in friendly opposition to the image [rhetoric]" (13) at the same time as the latter is ultimately contained within the former. Indeed, he sees the Phenomenology as "a grand project to accomplish [the] separation of the concept from the image" (xii). The result of the struggle seems to be yet another playing out of the divorce between rhetoric and philosophy, with one arising out of the Aufhebung in a clear position of master.

In this essay, I would like to pursue rigorously the implications of these formulations of struggle and mastery in order to go in a different direction than does Verene with his emphasis on Erinnerung. In particular, if we are to understand the relationship between philosophy and rhetoric in Hegel as a struggle, I shall interpret it in terms of one of the most significant dialectics of struggle presented by Hegel, namely, that of the master's and slave's battle to the death for recognition (which Verene considers, in a telling formulation in a book about recollection, "the most memorable section of the Phenomenology"; 59; also 12).(4) In so doing, I hope to provide an account of the relationship between rhetoric and philosophy, focusing on the case of Hegel, that reveals them to be intractably engaged in a conflict that is never resolved but only "recognized." The opposition is not necessarily so "friendly" since it rests in fact on a potential struggle to the death. Indeed, the death of the other often arises as the fantasmatic end and desired "ought" of both rhetoric and philosophy. …

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