Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel, Derrida and the Subject

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

Hegel, Derrida and the Subject

Article excerpt

'There has never been The Subject for anyone.... The Subject is a fable'. (1) Within the works of all the major figures in the history of philosophy Derrida argues there are 'aporias, fictions and fabrications' that present as it were internal disruptions within the texts themselves that 'would have at least the virtue of de-simplifying, of "de-homogenizing" the reference to something like The Subject'. (2) This would appear to make the narrative of the history of western metaphysics portrayed by Heidegger decidedly problematic and ostensibly renders the narrative of presence adopted by Deconstruction as itself not an authoritative depiction of the history of philosophy. But this fable of 'the Subject' is nevertheless powerful and an edifice of concepts and method has (rightly or wrongly) grown around it. It is the discourse of mastery, identity and self-knowledge against which Derrida defined his project, terms that have been most often associated in his writing with Hegel's thought.

Despite Derrida's willingness to see fractures and limits in the great works of the canon of philosophy in figures from Plato to Husserl, one can only understand the development of notions such as trace and differance and so on in response to a dominating and uniform tendency within the tradition. Deconstruction requires that myth be powerful and real. How would we interpret his early critique of the Hegelian dialectic in 'From Restricted to General Economy' as a totalizing machine unless that myth was clearly taken to be representative of the dominant strain of the philosophical tradition? Without granting the force of this dominant strand Derrida's later turning of the critique of presence back upon Heidegger would be an empty criticism.

Derrida asserts that any 'post-deconstructive' re-conception of the subject would have to be 'a non-coincidence with self' and 'the finite experience of non-identity to self'. (3) It will be argued here that such a description of subjectivity is not so clearly op posed to Hegel's conception of subjectivity which Derrida describes as 'absolute origin, pure will, identity to self, or presence to self of consciousness'. (4) When Hegel is stripped of his metaphysics of presence label considerable continuity of concern between Hegel's project and Derrida's. Of course there are substantive differences between these thinkers and their views of subjectivity diverge but the basis of that divergence is not because Hegel is the avatar of the philosopher of presence.

I. THE SELF-PRESENT SUBJECT

The debate over and strategy for exiting the metaphysics of the subject has its locus in Heidegger's Being and Time. Derrida's discussion of this issue and many of his contemporaries has consistently reinforced the centrality of Heidegger's approach. In Being and Time and the lectures contemporaneous with that period the reflective model of subjectivity is largely equated with and indicative of the metaphysical tradition. This reflective subject is a subject that is self-identical, it is disclosed to itself in its reflection, its identity is self-contained and available to it. Dasein does not have this kind of self-relation; what is distinctive for Dasein is that 'in its very being, that Being is an issue for it'. (5) This relation to Being ensures that Dasein's self-relation cannot be self-identical. Its openness to Being is the fundamental condition of its subjectivity. Dasein's self-relation because it is fundamentally other directed cannot be understood as present to itself, it is not capable of anything like full self-disclosure, as the possibilities of its existence are given to it and it must adopt a relation to them: they do not issue from a world under its control. Whatever the differences between Heidegger and Derrida, and there are many, Derrida adopts his fundamental criticism of the metaphysics of presence. This comes out very clearly in a number of Derrida's early works, for example in Speech and Phenomena:

   Within the metaphysics of presence, within philosophy as knowledge
   of the presence of the object, as the being-before-oneself of
   knowledge in consciousness. … 
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