Philosophy and Art: Hegel’s Self-Referentiality

Hegel placed on his head. No need for millions of deaths here.

Let’s ask a naive question: how did philosophy historically begin?

First there was a Slovene guy from Austrian Styria often named Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and he single handedly invented systematic philosophy, that is, the continuous integration of everything within the systematic development of a notional philosophical framework.

Later, among others, two prominent anti-philosophers appeared, Søren Kierkegaard and Karl Marx, who dedicated their lives to opposing Hegel.

Kierkegaard said a philosophical system can never capture the unique subjective experience of the individual, which should be quite enough to prove that Hegel’s endeavors were completely wrong. Later, after WWII, some French writers, such as Camus and Sartre, produced works which are usually put into the same literary category of Existentialism which Kierkegaard is credited to have invented, together with him inventing the term anti-philosophy itself, a rubric under which we could also place other authors such as Nietzsche, Wittgenstein and Lacan.

Marx, also, in the same anti-philosophical vein, dismissed Hegel’s philosophy as idealist, wanted to literally turn him on his head, and preferred to go about changing the entire world instead. The Soviet Union (together with many other attempts at creating socialist or communist societies) eventually emerged which spanned across half of the globe, and completely collapsed about at the time of my birth.

You might say I forgot about the beginnings of philosophy in ancient Greece, like the presocratics, Plato and Aristotle, etc., but Hegel kind of single handedly invented that myth too, since he created the very academic studies we today know as the philosophy of history and the history of philosophy themselves.

And what about art?

Well, according to Hegel, there are different consecutive stages of possible objects of art. Not sure how exactly those actually proceed in Hegel’s work itself at the moment of writing this, they’re presented and placed according to different historical eras, but basically the criteria for a higher stage of art is how far it is removed from immediate sensory experience of aesthetic pleasure.

To paraphrase, the more boring an object of art seems to be at first glance, the bigger the chances are you’re dealing with a higher form of aesthetic experience.

To skip a few stages towards the end and sum it up, when one arrives at the level of poetry, you’ve almost reached the highest possible artistic form, since the poetic forms of metaphor and metonymy basically produce the effect of sense pleasure exclusively through the mediation of the intellect and abstain from all other influence on one’s mind.

But if you accept the thesis that there are successive qualitative stages of art based on how far removed they are from direct immediate sense experience, then there is only one possible form remaining that can succeed poetry, and that would be prose.

Following this linear logic to the end, while taking different forms of prose into account, it can easily be shown that it’s not really epic writing, as in Homer’s Odyssey, that would go the furthest and reach the highest stage, since that’s still poetry, but that philosophy itself in its abstract form of literary functioning is actually the highest possible form of prose as such, and finally that is Hegel’s own early Phenomenology of Spirit, the literary genre classification of which is always a matter of interpretation, apart from being a mere introduction to his entire encyclopedic approach to everything.

This consequently means that it was Hegel himself as the inventor of systematic philosophy who was according to this criteria the greatest possible artist in the history of humanity. And if one combines this with his more general insight about the death of art in modernity, then art also died in a sense when Hegel himself passed away.

So if we follow both of my crazy theses I just outlined and try to think their interconnection, and if we then assert in bombastic terms the speculative judgement that philosophy is art, then art/philosophy itself began and ended with Hegel.

And what about everything else you might ask?

Well, everything before Hegel was then therefore a very long history of successive accumulation of different possible human endeavors which only reached its peak with his own form of philosophical work, and everything that happened after that were nothing but different failed attempts at overcoming it, attempts which can themselves be subsumed, or aufgehoben, with Hegel’s systematic method itself.

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