Before Hegel: Schiller, Novalis, and the Concept of Aufhebung

By Aldouri, Hammam | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, January 2019 | Go to article overview

Before Hegel: Schiller, Novalis, and the Concept of Aufhebung


Aldouri, Hammam, Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


INTRODUCTION

The concept of Aufhebung (sublation, supersession) is, without question, one of the most contested and discussed concepts of Hegel's philosophical enterprise and its critical reception in the 19th and 20th centuries. (1) One distinctive dimension of the reception, and of Hegel scholarship in particular, is an exploration of the historical emergence of the concept. Aufhebung is usually understood as arising in two opposing ways. First, Hegel is comprehended as the origin of the notion understood in its particular logical structure as "unity of opposites." (2) Second, Hegel's notion of Aufhebung is seen as the culmination of a long and complex genealogy of conceptual formation that runs in distinctive ways--from Aristotle's concept of hexis to Kant's notion of the transcendental imagination, or from Paul's messianic katargein to Martin Luther's translation of the Pauline term into Aufheben. (3)

As rich and interesting as these interventions are, what they uncritically presupposed is the sense in which Hegel constitutes either the beginning or the end the history of the notion of Aufhebung instead of, as I will try to show by reference to philosophers working prior to Hegel but within the milieu in which Hegel is forming his own understanding of the concept, as a moment that marks one contribution within the history of a philosophical problematic. Although Hegel's concept of Aufhebung marks a decisive intervention in the history of post-Kantian philosophies of the subject and time, and their complex conjunction, I aim to suspend an analysis of this concept by exploring other moments in the history of the notion's formation.

We often overlook the sense in which concepts emerge from out of theoretical and practical problematics developed by social groups within specific cultural fields and at particular historical conjunctures. What if we took the latter seriously? What if, against the assumption that the history of the concept of Aufhebung is reducible to Hegel's thought as either its beginning or end, we understood the notion as a conceptual expression of a philosophical problematic within a particular moment and social space? This essay offers a preliminary answer to these questions by examining the way in which Aufhebung is explored in Jena in 1795-6 by two works: Friedrich Schiller's Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man and Friedrich von Hardenberg's (Novalis) Fichte Studies.

These two texts are very much part of that annus mirabilis (1795) of literary and philosophical production. What I will focus on is the different conception of Aufhebung within the works, attending to their distinctive points of philosophical intervention: for Schiller, the attempt to augment and expand Kantian notions of the ethical and the aesthetic in a higher order ontological conception of the human being as the unity of competing and antagonistic drives (the play-drive as the unity of the form and the sense drives), a drive that urges toward the construction of a new, idealized social order (an "aesthetic state"); and for Novalis, the structure of the distinction between the subject and the non-subject in Fichte's idealist subjectivist construction of self-positing as the self-grounding of the "I" and its operation as the foundation of the systematic understanding of experience as such.

Within the Aesthetic Education, the play-drive offers us a higher order paradoxical conception of Aufhebung as both the negation and preservation of the form and sense drive that, nevertheless, cannot be reduced to the strictly formal order of analytical philosophical reconstruction. (4) For Novalis, the deployment of Aufhebung is slightly more complicated. Aufhebung emerges as the process of the I's self-differentiation, of the negation of itself, but not, as Fichte demonstrates, in relation to another (the non-I) constructed out of the I's self-construction. Rather, the I, the subject of experience, is, for the young Novalis, ontologically incomplete by the primacy of the constitutive division of reality itself (or the "absolute" as Novalis puts it). …

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