‘The Owl of Minerva from Dusk till Dawn, or, Two Shades of Gray’ by Mladen Dolar


The paper takes as its starting point the figure of the owl as the emblem of philosophy, it looks at its history and takes up its most significant philosophical use, the notorious passage where Hegel uses the owl as the indication of philosophy’s necessary belatedness. This is the passage which is usually taken as the point of indictment of Hegel’s position and the role he ascribed to philosophy. Hegel’s adage ‘What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational’ is scrutinized in its various aspects, particularly in view of its other version, ‘what is rational must happen’. The tension between the ‘is’ and the ‘ought’ is perhaps the clue to understanding this adage, where Hegel doesn’t opt for the one or the other, but aims at the paradoxical intersection of the two. Hegel’s adage is put in contrast with Marx’s Thesis Eleven. The paper considers the concepts of the rational, the actual, the belatedness/retroaction, the grayness and finally the owl (and the part that bestiary plays in philosophy), thus trying to circumscribe the task that should be assigned to philosophy.

Mladen Dolar is Professor and Senior Researcher at the Department of Philosophy, University of Ljubljana since 1982 and has served as the Advising Researcher in Theory at the Jan Van Eyck Academie in Maastricht, Netherlands. He is also Professor of Philosophy at the European Graduate School in Saas-Fee, Switzerland. His principal areas of research are Psychoanalysis, Modern French Philosophy (Lacan, Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, et. al.), German Idealism, and Art Theory, especially Musicology. With Žižek and others, Dolar was the co-founder of the Ljubljana Society of Theoretical Psychoanalysis, whose main aim is to read late 18th cent. and early 19th cent. German Classical Philosophy through the frame of Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. His main field of expertise is the philosophy of Georg W. F. Hegel, on whom he has written several papers, including a two-volume interpretation of Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit first published in Slovene between 1990 and 1991. Dolar has lectured extensively across many different Universities in Europe and the United States and is author of hundreds of papers in different scholarly journals and in various collected volumes. Apart from over twelve monograph publications in Slovene, his books published in English most notably include A Voice and Nothing More and Opera’s Second Death, both of which were translated into several languages. His new book The Riskiest Moment is forthcoming with Duke University Press.

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