The essayistic nature of Fredric Jameson’s short new book on G. W. F. Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit should not blind us to the fact that the book offers a systematic interpretation of the entire inner structure of Hegel’s first masterpiece. Although The Hegel Variations comes from someone for whom reading Hegel is like eating daily bread, the book is readable as an introduction to Hegel while simultaneously providing precise interpretive hints worthy of the greatest Hegel specialists.
In this review, I limit myself to four variations of my own, to four interventions into the book’s key topics: Hegel and the critique of capitalism, the circle of positing presuppositions, Understanding and Reason, and the eventual limits of Hegel. Of course, the critical nature of some of my remarks is based on my great admiration of Jameson’s work and on a shared solidarity in our struggle for the Hegelian legacy in Marxism.
One should remember here the proverb that says only the highest peaks are struck by lightning. Jameson is right to draw attention to the fact that, “despite his familiarity with Adam Smith and emergent economic doctrine, Hegel’s conception of work and labor—I have specifically characterized it as a handicraft ideology—betrays no anticipation of the originalities of industrial production or the factory system”—in short, Hegel’s analyses of work and production cannot be “transferred to the new industrial situation”. There is a series of interconnected reasons for this limitation, all grounded in the constraints of historical experience at Hegel’s disposal…