Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Romantic Paradoxes of Free Love: Hegel, Rousseau, and Goethe

Academic journal article Wordsworth Circle

Romantic Paradoxes of Free Love: Hegel, Rousseau, and Goethe

Article excerpt

Romantic free love is steeped in paradox and Hegel, Rousseau, and Goethe are key exemplars. (1) The discourse of Romantic free love is self-consciously paradoxical because, borrowing from the philosopher Harry Frankfurt, actions done out of love may be simultaneously necessary and autonomous. Frankfurt argues that necessity is a part of freedom, not its opposite, because without necessity the self may become disoriented from his or her interests and will (109). For Hegel free love is tied to a synthesis that constitutes the self; for Rousseau, love cannot be free unless it is a habit because, for him, living together in common habitation is the only way to transform lust into love. Goethe dodges the question of exactly what is electing affinity: but the chemical analogy implies that affinity is self-directed, even if the self is metonymized into an element. Together, by linking freedom and bondage, these writers are able to articulate what counts as their enemies--usually marriage or unbridled lust--and thus construct a version of freedom that does away with this impediment. The problem is that getting rid of one impediment does not freedom make. Because they see freedom tied to bondage, they redefine freedom in terms of the forms of bondage to which one chooses to grant assent.

My analysis of Romantic free love begins with Hegel's Science of Logic (1816): "The universal is therefore free power; it is itself and takes its other within its embrace, but without doing violence to it; on the contrary, the universal is, in its other, in peaceful communion with itself. We have called it free power, but it could also be called free love and boundless blessedness, for it bears itself towards its other as towards its own self; in it, it has returned to itself' (603). Hegel calls the relationship between the universal and the other "free love," a term that seems to ward off the potential violence of "power" by replacing it with the "embrace" of "peaceful communion." First, what underwrites this optimism? Indeed, why does violence appear if it is not a problem? Second, why does Hegel insist on nominalization: "it could also be called free love." Hegel in his Preface refers to love as epitomized in the "simplicity of such ideating an infinite host of ideas, actions, states, etc.!" (35), and thus this bracketing by language might serve as a reminder that "free love" functions best as an infinite form of ideation, or a chain of ideas.

In Of Grammatology, Derrida claimed that Hegelian synthesis was the "finest scar" produced by the science of writing (99). My interest here is to think about the problems with Derrida's diagnosis because, if Derrida is right, then free love is reduced to a mere papering over of the gap. Does written difference produce the scar or is it merely symptomatic of a scar? In other words, do "self" and "other" create difference, or are they themselves the symptoms of the trauma of difference? Moreover, what do dialectic or form and affect do to difference? Hegelian dialectic enables the philosopher to see subjects turn into their determining opposites because reality has a self-negating character, and this means that violence already constitutes the subject as it merges with the other. (2) Slavoj _i_ek explains it this way: "the Hegelian subject is 'ecstatic,' its mediation opens it up to otherness.... Not only is the subject always already dispossessed-ecstatic ... the ecstasy is the subject--that is to say, the subject is the void that emerges when a substance is 'dispossessed' through ecstasy" (45). The subject paradoxically exists beside itself, the root meaning of ecstasy, giving the self an otherness around which to wrap itself.

Difference precedes Derridean differance, the articulation of the self and its other. If Derrida claims that language is the cause, Hegel retorts it is merely the effect. Hegel's difference is further a difference "without positive terms" (Jameson citing Saussure, 48), and, for Jameson, the positivity gets in the way of relationality and process. …

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