Chapter 1: Inwardness and Existence: Subjectivity in/and Hegel, Heidegger, Marx, and Freud

Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989, 57-71, 371-2.

“Hegel: The Contemporary of the Future”


Book cover: “Inwardness and Existence: Subjectivity in/and Hegel, Heidegger, Marx, and Freud”

The concept of unhappy consciousness is Hegel's richest contribution to the theory of subject. It is also his most frustrating discussion. Insights of great magnitude are buried in minute details about early Christian worship as if the former needed the latter for their embodiment. Nowhere else does Hegel's tendency to panlogicism — his need to intrude the für uns in order to assure us where the whole discussion is going, and his tendency to lose himself in particulars while arguing for the deductive and logical necessity of those very particulars — prove more intrusive. Extracting the kernel from the shell is a redoubtable labor because what Hegel gives us here is not simply a discussion of unhappy consciousness but a prime instance of philosophy as unhappy consciousness. The discussion mimics its subject matter; Hegel consistently uncovers major existential and psychological insights only to retreat into a contemplative meditation on their logical necessity and their eventual transcendence once one achieves the standpoint of Geist. The unhappiness of philosophy could not be better illustrated, nor could its struggle with itself produce more fruitful results.

To recapture the contribution this discussion makes to a theory of subjectivity, I will develop a series of interrogations which progressively probe and deepen the inwardness of the unhappy consciousness. As Dostoyevsky remarked of the soul, reading Hegel on unhappy consciousness is like peeling away the layers of an onion.


Unhappy consciousness is the truth of skepticism because it brings together what skepticism split apart — the insight that consciousness is somehow the unity of self-identity and ceaseless change. Rather than identify with one of these functions or simply alternate between them, consciousness must mediate this contradiction. The impossibility of escaping this task is the first definition of unhappy consciousness.

The development of subject from stoicism to skepticism to unhappy consciousness might be recapitulated as follows. The stoic self is defined by the attempt to identify oneself with pure thought in order to escape the burden of existing. The desire is to achieve identity with and as an unchanging substance. The skeptical self is defined by the effort to ride out the sheer energetics of negativity in order to achieve oneness in utter contingency. The desire is to purge the desire for identity in order to coincide with oneself as ceaseless flux. The unhappy consciousness brings together the terms — and the experiences — that the two hold apart. It thus constitutes their "truth" by revealing both as already instances of unhappy consciousness, the dialectic of each being an effort to escape this awareness.

The unhappy consciousness is a self radically divided within itself. The bad faith of the previous attitudes is the effort to employ one side of the self's division to get rid of the other. The unhappy consciousness disallows that escape route. Though it continually vacillates between the unchanging and the changing, it always experiences its opposite in whichever term it favors. This frustration is the key to its advance beyond the self-defeating strategies of stoicism and skepticism. For in holding together its extremes unhappy consciousness insists, in spite of itself, on a genuine self-mediation in which consciousness will no longer deny any part of itself but will take up its contradictions.

The refusal to escape proves that a genuine advance has taken place. Everything projected in the previous attitudes is now internalized; everything denied is experienced. Advance happens, not by reason of logic, but because of a new willingness to accept and project upon suffering. In stoicism and skepticism, unhappiness was externalized; misery and evil were seen as products of external situations. In unhappy consciousness, suffering is recognized as our lot; its source lies in the inwardness of the self. Unhappy consciousness is the recognition that we suffer prior to and beyond all worldly situations. Suffering has its source in consciousness. It is, in fact, the primary definition of consciousness. Suffering isn't something that befalls us, but an existential reality which confers upon us the possibility of a new order of inwardness. Seeing stoicism and skepticism as defenses against the experience of suffering, unhappy consciousness makes that reflection the basis for a total transformation of consciousness' relationship to itself. That act constitutes an irreversible advance beyond previous forms of consciousness because subject now grounds itself in the recognition that it is internally contradictory.

Hegel's great theme is the unhappiness of all reflection. That theme is here announced in its simplest terms. Self-consciousness is unhappy consciousness because the perpetual discovery of reflection is the same one that is lived immediately by desire — the inability of subject to coincide with itself. Subject is the repeated experience of the impossibility of attaining the status of substance — and the impossibility of relinquishing that desire.

Experientially, the unhappy consciousness suffers this recognition long before it becomes an explicit awareness. The gradual process whereby it gets from the former to the latter constitutes the dialectic of its experience. (Noting the gradualness of the development prevents a serious misunderstanding. Reflection occurs in many ways before it becomes a self-conscious imperative.) Forced back upon itself by the defeat of skepticism, unhappy consciousness accepts as its basic determination what skepticism tried to resolve abstractly: the unhappiness of existence cannot be denied but must inform the inwardness of consciousness. The existential world that skepticism tried to deny is thereby recovered; the brooding of consciousness finally has a content.

Unhappy consciousness is a decisive advance because it keeps its opposite alive in whatever stance it adopts. This circumstance compels it to reincarnate its inner dialectic in every turn. Contradictions are no longer resolved by extreme choices, but dramatized by a restlessness in which consciousness continually finds itself torn between the unchanging and the changing. A strictly rational account of this dichotomy cannot explain this movement because it abstracts from the primary fact: the dichotomy is lived and suffered not as a logical dilemma but as the self-reference defining the inwardness of consciousness. Hegel's conceptual language conceals an experience that is far more basic than logic.

A phenomenological description of unhappy consciousness will bring out that richer text. Consciousness has become the act of brooding over existence. Its mood combines infinite longing with a sense of defeat that has already gone the way of self-loathing. To be conscious is to fail repeatedly in the effort to coincide with oneself. This recognition, taken up into the inwardness of one's self-relation, produces a consciousness that is defined by anguish over the question "Who am I?" Longing for a self and the lack of assurance about ever achieving an identity have now become matters of infinite concern.38 Nothing of this sort happens in stoicism and skepticism because those positions were fashioned to prevent an experience of the real disorders of subjectivity. Internally divided over its own value, the inwardness of unhappy consciousness is constituted by a brooding which is existential in the best sense of that term: the meaning of existence is questioned within an anguished consciousness that one's very being is at issue in that question. Skeptical unrest is no longer confined to logical games but bitterly directed on all the details of subject's concrete existence. What skepticism was as a pose is now the truth of inwardness: the need to deprive oneself of all inner and outer calm.

Unhappy consciousness is the first fully psychoanalytic moment in Hegel because here subject first begins to uncover the motives underlying its attitudes and actions. It is also the first coherent self because here the self has explicitly become a problem to itself. And, for all its vacillation, the unhappy consciousness can accept no cheap solutions. Taking issue with oneself has become one's primary self-reference. Subject will no longer abide any answer that doesn't address the depth of its unhappiness.

Experience is no longer a knowledge affair or an illusory phenomenon. The world reemerges as a realm of inescapable facticities which subject must take upon itself because projecting oneself in experience has become an inner imperative. Skepticism vanquished, subject confronts its situatedness in the search for those experiences that engage it in a way that allows the sublation of its contradictions. We stand at the origins of existential engagement, and the issue is necessarily one of extremity because the only experiences which matter are those which involve subject in a fundamental way. The distinguishing feature of unhappy consciousness is the centering of inwardness in a contradictory pressure: subject is defined by an infinite concern which may never be fulfilled but which cannot be renounced. To be a subject is to live a double bind.

With this description in mind, we will now attempt to define the basic laws of self-consciousness. Despite all efforts to escape, the recognition unhappy consciousness suffers is the impossibility yet inescapability of reflection within a recurrent experience that nothing can withstand reflection. It lives this condition through an unremitting critique of the very values it projects. Once referred to the brooding that defines unhappy consciousness, all projects not only fail to alleviate its state but actually make it worse.

Unhappy consciousness repeatedly inflicts this experience on itself because it relates everything to the one fact that is for it truly significant — death. The significance of death, first announced in the experience of the "sovereign master," is here renewed. The question "Who am I?" becomes the question "What can I do in response to the fact of death?" Death becomes the term to which all experiences are referred; it convicts most of our activities of utter insignificance. Death is the mother of inwardness, of that brooding that now defines subject. It is also the experiential reference that prevents any relapse into skepticism. For death establishes experience as the place where subject must project its unrest.

Death carries the question "Who am I?" into the world at large. Concrete experience is thereby reclaimed and charged with a universal responsibility. Once brooding is projected upon the particulars of experience, we see the inadequacy of everything we held dear. Subject now restlessly pursues coincidence with itself as if to say, "Stay, thou art so fair." But, like Faust, it journeys through the world only to increase its feelings of defeat and infinite longing. This is the moment when religious otherworldliness enters the picture. But to understand what is at work in religion — and why Hegel chooses it as the privileged example of unhappy consciousness — we must recapture all that festers beneath the deliverance it promises.39

Prior to the otherworldly projection of its infinite longing, unhappy consciousness is haunted by loss and emptiness. It mourns vanished hopes, and this mourning has already gone the way of a melancholia which masochistically turns its unhappiness back upon itself.40 That act, however, contitutes the sublation of desire. The lack that defined desire has now become the effort, through mourning, to internalize the loss of all external supports for one's being. Brooding is the only possible response because this recognition of loss constitutes the first awareness of both one's total responsibility and one's utter failure to attain the status of substance. It is not surprising that the first effort of a subject harboring such an inwardness is to flee the world, nor that the project derives from a psychodynamics that Freud will later articulate.

God is the Idea in which unhappy consciousness projects both its longing for the parent as substance and the overestimation one accords that source precisely when one feels it slipping away. Subject is thus necessarily caught in the ambivalence that accompanies such a rendering of one's being to the other. Melancholia and masochistic self-criticism indirectly express aggression toward the sovereign other. They also thereby constitute the first step toward liberation. The death of God begins with his birth; this is the process which the development of unhappy consciousness will gradually trace. Unhappy consciousness' fate is that every attempt it makes to flee the world renews the need to overcome the psychological condition that motivated its flight. Self-mastery will come only with an acceptance of what religion flees. That irony constitutes the dialectic at work in Hegel's discussion of religion.

While unhappy consciousness only gradually comes to understand itself, Hegel's discussion provides an extended demonstration of that necessity, through the operation of basic laws, whereby self-consciousness remains constantly present as a force in the immediacy of consciousness. The constant imperative of reflection is that one must transform oneself totally, with a new plunge into experience as the only way one can undertake that task. Inwardness requires existence. And it is that process which gives the dialectics of subject a necessarily progressive direction. Self-consciousness is an act of determinate experiential self-overcoming. Intrapsychic structure is the result of this process.

Such is the self-knowledge unhappy consciousness will attain, though at the beginning it knows naught of this. This knowledge is, rather, the subtext we must pry loose from Hegel's description of the progress of Christianity from Judaism to medieval asceticism if we are to recapture the secret religion hides — its meaning as a psychological phenomenon.


The defining characteristic of unhappy consciousness is that it lives the unity of a contradiction. Any attitude it takes harbors its opposite. As in Dostoyevsky, when sunk in the sensual one longs for the eternal; when contritely religious one pines for the world. Hegel's discussion demonstrates why such conflicts must arise. As the unity of a contradiction, unhappy consciousness is necessarily driven out of each position it adopts and forced to incarnate its inner dialectic anew in each resolution it supposedly attains. The first instance of this process is dramatized in the opposition between the Unchanging and change because unhappy consciousness constructs this dichotomy both to punish itself and to express its pain. Since it regards its situation as meaningless, its effort is to separate the Unchanging from the world of change. It then seals its unhappiness by positing the former as wholly outside itself. Consciousness is thus confined to the unessential, trapped in contingency. Its task is to transcend itself.

Hegel's account of this development provides a fittingly ironic example of the inadequacy of panlogical explanation. He claims that the awareness of the contradiction between the Unchanging and the changeable forces consciousness to identify itself with the latter. That explanation is a priori, however, because it implies that consciousness regards experiencing contradiction as indicative of some defect in itself. Such a view washes only if contradiction and difference are already conceptualized as "evil," with perfection located in the abstract judgment of identity — A is A. The most dubious thing such an account requires is the assumption that the unhappy consciousness grasps its situation in such abstract terms.

An experiential explanation opens up a much richer possibility. The unhappy consciousness is a consciousness at war with itself, engaged in an effort both to belittle and to overcome itself. Exalting the Unchanging and overestimating one's distance from it serves both motives. The situational factor that warrants this reading introduces further motives which also have little to do with logic. Unless it seeks identification with the Unchanging, consciousness can't surmount skepticism, which took identification with the changing to the end of the line. Yet, unless it regards the project of otherworldliness as untenable, it will revert to stoicism. To achieve self-contradicting unity and sublation of those attitudes it must posit the Unchanging as wholly other yet refuse to remain indifferent to this otherness.

Logical reasons alone can't account for such a consciousness. Positing the Unchanging is an act of desire, and desire here reveals the new ambivalence that will come to characterize it. Desire is now the act of simultaneously positing a value and alienating oneself from that value. The object's unattainability creates its importance; our separation from it becomes the token of its power.

The opposition thus generates an impossible bind — of desire primarily and only secondarily of logic. Platonism and Christian otherworldliness are attempts to maintain a conceptual handle on the problem. The phenomenal world is sacrificed in order to keep the dichotomy intact in its initial and abstract form. Unhappiness is overcome by being denied any place in the order of being. Ironically, such a project succeeds only by a fit of abstraction, an insistence on purely conceptual solutions. Logic thereby reveals itself as a primary form of unhappiness: the desire to dissolve existence in abstract thought in order to transcend internal pain.

But Hegel knows that such abstraction is impossible because unhappy consciousness always produces its opposite afresh in each moment. (This insight plays havoc with every panlogical attempt Hegel makes to contain its implications.) The unhappiness at the core of consciousness exerts a constant pressure; both sides of the founding dichotomy thereby become haunted by absence. The Unchanging, empty, pines for worldly content; the unessential, lost, longs for deliverance. Unhappy consciousness is the origin (or what Derrida would call the nonorigin) of religious otherworldliness: the feeling of personal unworthiness is what posits the other world as alone possessing value. But that act gives no relief. Unhappy consciousness remains dissatisfied with its projections. Without this inner tension, God — or the movement of transcendence — would win. Such a solution works only if one can extinguish the unhappiness informing it. But unhappy consciousness preserves itself by constantly taking issue with itself. All its efforts to be rid of itself only underscore its need to overcome itself by mediating its contradictions in another way.

Although at this point in its progress passivity rules, unhappy consciousness remains blind to its underlying motives only to have them reemerge whenever it feels delivered from itself. This dilemma makes unhappiness, not logic, the principle of dialectical advance. Unhappy consciousness is distinguished from stoicism and skepticism by its internalization of what they dissembled. Unhappiness doesn't befall a consciousness otherwise at peace with itself, but coincides with the very inwardness of consciousness. Stoicism and skepticism tried to externalize this condition of ongoing self-mediation. Its internalization does not merely bring consciousness to a higher level of logical operations; it deepens and transforms consciousness' very relationship to itself. Suffering is not a logical but an existential advance, an internalization of the knowledge of what it means to be a subject. Accepting suffering is the sine qua non of subjective growth. That is why each development of unhappy consciousness uncovers more concrete experiential themes. The experiences that Hegel will shortly set down as necessary to subject's development — dread, shame, sin, guilt, and the problem of sexual identity — must be comprehended not as historical curiosities but as essential self-mediations.

Referring the unhappy consciousness to previous dialectical themes reinforces our argument for a tragic and psychoanalytic, rather than a logical, understanding of what happens when subject makes the Unchanging the privileged term. Unhappy consciousness is the internalized sublation of desire. It. repeats, through relationship to itself, what desire hoped to realize through relationship to the world. Fulfillment in the object desired, the other, is now projected beyond the world. In God one can satisfy the desire to identify with a substantialized self, even if that self is wholly other. What desire suffered externally — the failure of the object, once had, to quench desire — is now experienced as subject's inner state. Desire sublated has become the desire for self-identity felt by a being who experiences inner reality as a ceaseless flux of feelings and impulses lacking all coherence. Without a center and, apparently, any power of self-centering, subject's noncoincidence is experienced as that repeated loss which cancels all efforts by unmasking the impossible desire at their source — the desire for a substantial identity. Bereft of experiential realization, that desire can sustain itself only by projecting identity as the property of another subject who would, in effect, be infinite subjectivity substantialized, centered, in full possession of itself. If God did not exist it would be necessary to invent him, for God is the adequate idea whereby we measure our pain.

The only meaningful sublation of desire for the object is the effort to have oneself as one's object. That project failed, the desire persists. Unable to see itself as ever attaining the status of substance, unhappy consciousness abases itself before that concept. It thus renews and internalizes the master-slave relationship. In defining the unchanging as wholly other and unreachable, it repeats, as its primary way of relating to itself, the initial relation of the awed slave to the sovereign master. This dialectic now takes place, however, within the inwardness of subject. In projecting God, the unhappy consciousness projects an ideal for itself. No matter how much it may subsequently whip itself for failing to reach that ideal, the projection implies the gradual reversal of the relationship. The desire for God is really the desire to achieve self-mastery. In projecting God consciousness indirectly posits an insight into its own powers.

Unhappy consciousness is the systematic recognition of the impossibility of all desired presences. Substantial self-presence is a myth because all of our moods, emotions, and thoughts are condemned to a reflection which deprives them of their supposed immediacy, transparency, and revelatory power. The double bind of unhappy consciousness anticipates and reinterprets Derridean "differance."41 The desire for presence is not subsequent to consciousness; it is the original act through which consciousness takes issue with itself. Desire is divided, not because it lacks an origin, but because it destabilizes all apparent origins. Dissatisfaction is the fruit of critical reflection, not because reflection dissipates itself in tracking the trace, but because it is defined by the drive toward self-overcoming.42

Unhappy consciousness is unique because it raises this condition of division and dissatisfaction to the level of a self-feeling. Unhappiness is a weak term to describe the mood corresponding to such an act. The emotional state Hegel discusses here is not a passivity before unpleasant facts of life, but a rich recognition of one's internal self-division, which makes active and creative what was passively suffered and blindly resisted in stoicism and skepticism. Unhappy consciousness concretizes "the absolute dialectical unrest" that characterized skepticism. Manic diffusion and self-unraveling energetics are now referred to suffering, and to that inwardness centered in subject's awareness of its self-contradictory nature. Its mood or self-feeling is the most significant thing about any attitude because it inaugurates the self-reference struggling to be born. Hegel grasps what Heidegger will later brilliantly conceptualize: the ontologically revelatory power of certain basic moods. By turning "absolute dialectical unrest" into intellectual play, skepticism failed to internalize its psychological state. In what finally amounts to an angry attack on existence itself, free play displaces anxiety, giving one the heady sense of a freedom which outstrips nostalgia, since any mood that burdens signifies a failure to attain the intellectual transcendence of despair. But this position is rife with bad faith for it inverts the (true) relationship of consciousness to itself. Hegel "reads" Derrida and de Man in a way that will restore the proper sequence. Unhappiness is the only mood adequate to the dialectical unrest of subject. Internalizing one's unrest prevents the diffusion that characterizes skepticism by engendering a self-consciousness which stays focused on the central questions of experience. Brooding on suffering is the act that makes subject worthy of its knowledge. Analogous to Spinoza's adequate idea, one's mood is the proof of one's awareness and the initial form of one's self-consciousness.

All inauthentic responses to the burden of subjectivity entail an effort to escape that reality. Unhappy consciousness makes no definitive break with such inauthentic tendencies and will require a complex internal development before it earns the revolutionary turn it has taken. But proof of that turn consists of the fact that subject now has a guilty conscience about all efforts to escape itself. Unhappiness permeates all "solutions." The tragic introduces its credentials as the only adequate category for comprehending human existence.


Unhappy consciousness sublates desire in an act of self-reflection that produces a total transformation of consciousness. Standing back from the world, consciousness now sees that it itself necessarily transcends all worldly objects and situations. Desire is thereby universalized. Consciousness also experiences its impossibility. To preserve itself, consciousness displaces both recognitions into the new form desire assumes: the quest for a transcendent object that will provide a satisfaction than can't be found in the world. This move is a necessary mistake, for it produces an unprecedented growth of inwardness that takes subject beyond all previous attitudes and forms. Desire, now experienced as that infinite longing which goes beyond all objects, totalizes itself as a dissatisfaction with life in general. That mood issues in a concept — the transcendent. Desire for that substance reveals the empty rationalism of stoic, Cartesian, and structuralist formalisms. For the transcendent is now charged with the task of fulfilling, not annulling, all of the desires at work in the subject.

Subject's experience of its nothingness concretizes the self-mediation implicit in desire. We thereby attain the great tragic formula defining the inwardness of the unhappy consciousness: desire, as the "consciousness of life in general," has become "an agonizing over one's existence and one's activity."43 Subject passes the judgment of nada on the entire phenomenal world. This judgment is the motive behind the desire for the unchanging. The operations generating religious consciousness thus partake of the Kafkaesque. The changing and unchanging are set in such stark opposition that any chance of uniting ourselves with the unchanging is rendered impossible because it would import changeableness into it. Recognition from God, the supreme Other, would destroy the projection of infinite desire by suggesting that the Transcendent needs or takes any interest in our quest. To fulfill itself, the religious project must remain absurd. Its abjectness is manifested by the single-minded desire for an object that can have nothing whatsoever to do with the way we are. We crave recognition from this object, but giving it any qualities similar to those characterizing our consciousness destroys the project by suggesting that the desired object resembles us. Each attempt to unite with the unchanging thus produces a deeper unhappiness, which is the real purpose of the whole exercise. In religion, unhappy consciousness engages in the act of punishing itself for desiring to escape itself. Ironically, it is the process of backing itself into a corner which will leave it with no option but to take up its burdens.

The origin of religious consciousness is also the origin of a self-consciousness that will put an end to religion. Once subject sees religion ii as the project in which it alienates itself from itself by taking its own innermost power — self-consciousness — and setting that power outside itself as the property of another being, it will have no choice ultimately but to reclaim itself. This double movement is a direct result of the self-experience out of which religion arises. Religious consciousness knows the nothingness of both the world and itself without being able to raise that awareness to the level of a self-consciousness that could overcome that nothingness by giving itself, through self-mastery, the kind of being proper to a subject. Because it regards the ideal as a substance, it must posit it as outside itself and then use that act to reinforce the feeling of its own unworthiness.

Religion is the project in which unhappy consciousness both reveals and conceals its potential self-consciousness. Unhappy consciousness exacerbates the unhappiness that founds it by engaging in repeated exercises of bad faith. Subject gains an insight into its powers by simultaneously projecting the idea of a fully actualized self-consciousness and making that self-consciousness the property of another. To become adequate to itself it must reclaim and internalize what it has thereby externalized. Religious desire is essentially this: our own best image, our innermost possibility, projected as a state outside of and beyond ourselves. This displacement occurs because religion is an internalized repetition of the master-slave dialectic, with self-mastery projected as the property of a self-consciousness we desire but feel unable to attain. Implicit in the act, however, is the possibility that subject can now take action within itself.

Desire reflected back into itself universalizes itself as unhappy consciousness. This development proceeds from a deep and long-standing experience of a repeated failure to find "happiness." Unhappy consciousness is attained when one turns that experience into a charge against oneself. One is no longer Bellow's Henderson: "I want" is replaced by "I've failed." The psychological process known as identification with the aggressor is here revealed as a primary source of inwardness and of the tortured, indirect route necessary for its development. In turning against oneself one makes one's desire both the desire for self-consciousness and the act of an incipient self-consciousness. The former is the explicit text of religious otherworldliness, the latter its gradually evolving subtext. Because consciousness sees loss and incessant change as the truth of "empirical" experience, saving the ideal of self-consciousness requires projecting it outside oneself. Otherworldliness generates a psychological split within consciousness between quotidian experience and the autonomy it craves. Consciousness lives the gulf between the changing and the unchanging and tortures itself with the impossibility of bridging the gap. The secret it harbors is that self-consciousness requires change, but it will accept this truth only after a strenuous effort to deny it. For what Freud later terms primary masochism has here become the psychological position unhappy consciousness must mediate.

Dissatisfaction with life in general is turned back upon the self. Having failed to achieve the status of substance, subject passes unremitting judgment on itself. Self-torture is the underlying purpose behind the conceptual aporias it employs to maximize the unbridgeable distance between itself and the Transcendent. But masochism is a truly dialectical phenomenon, and it necessarily generates a restlessness that breaks out within each conceptual endeavor to sublimate it. While stoicism finds rest in the abstractness of an empty transcendence, the unhappy consciousness remains perpetually dissatisfied with its God.

A perfect example of this inner dialectic arises in Hegel's discussion of whether relationship to the unchanging can result from individual effort or must be God's gift.44 Hegel's example (Moses and the burning bush) is weak because the dilemma he articulates will not receive its perfect representation until Franz Kafka. But the essential situation is that God, Master, the Father as wholly Other, totally secure in his power over us and unbending in his refusal to offer recognition, even of our abjectness, continues to convict a still fascinated subject of its unworthiness. Nothing can arise from such a dialectic but the deepening of subject's frustration.45 Everything characterizing individual consciousness becomes doubly absurd. All talents must come from God's wholly gratuitous gifts; thus their exercise can in no way bring us into relationship with him. Deprived of authorship, we must nevertheless persist in acts which become self-punitive because they can only further our feeling of separation. In our inwardness we therefore suspect that the whole thing is a cruel joke: the Unchanging endows us with powers that can only frustrate us since neither they nor their development is our activity. One senses the source of Antonio Salieri's rage. It's all God's show. We are inert substances; gifts are simply implanted in us; all our efforts at creative self-realization are finally irrelevant. Hegel's cryptic text adumbrates a psychological condition that is one of the primary sources of inwardness.

Hegel's discussion also instances the two events through which self-alienation issues in a new inwardness: (1) the attempt at objectification and (2) its failure. In its internal discord, unhappy consciousness struggles to sustain the idea that an authentic self-consciousness exists somewhere. But it can sustain this idea only by the desperate move of positing self- consciousness as a principle wholly outside itself. That act, however, gives no relief. Every externalization turns back upon the unhappy consciousness, forcing a new inwardness. This process is the real "substance" of the discussion, but its recovery requires liberating it from Hegel's elliptical and forced allusions to specific details of early Judeo-Christian worship. The rich insights Hegel's discussion gives into the development of intrapsychic structure constantly exceed the frame in which he casts them. Seeing religion as a vast displacement is the key to recapturing its psychological text.

Unhappy consciousness desperately seeks some way to objectify itself; only by so doing can it preserve the power it senses beneath its discord, arrest its self-diffusion, and posit an image in which it might eventually remake and know itself. Objectification is a necessary release from inner pain; it prevents a suicidal enclosure of unhappy consciousness in its own inwardness. Unable to master itself, subject can still develop its possibilities by externalizing them. God provides the blank screen for projections in which unhappy consciousness meditates its inner possibilities, so that by the end of that process, through a sort of "cunning" of unreason, self-renunciation will become the means of empowerment through which subject puts itself above the deity before which it supposedly humbles itself. Methodologically, the process works as follows: self-alienation produces self-consciousness because reflection on subject's projections reveals them as the moment of difference required for self-consciousness' development.46 Psychologically, that process amounts to the self-mediation whereby desire reclaims its projections as its own innermost possibilities. The psychological process is the concrete reality because it alone gives content to the methodological operation. In this sense, Hegel's discussion can be seen as an attempt to reveal the necessary intrapsychic developments we must go through in order to become authentic subjects. This is the reading we will now develop.


38. On this concept see Soren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript, trans. David F. Swenson and Walter Lowrie (Princeton, 1941). The present section might be taken as an attempt to write what Kierkegaard would have said about section B in PhG had he taken it seriously and read it with infinite concern. Had he done so he'd have seen that the arch-rationalist he attacks is open to experiences that bar the religious hierarchy Kierkegaard wants to confer upon existence. Kierkegaard's understanding of the methodological implications of "subjective thinking" is unparalleled, but insufficient engagement in the critique of his own subjectivity prevented his letting Hegel's understanding of unhappy consciousness impinge too deeply on his awareness. The choice is not Hegel or Kierkegaard; adequacy to subject requires a more difficult kind of conceptualization.

39. For a contrasting discourse see Emil Fackenheim, The Religious Dimension in Hegel's Thought (Boston, 1970). Fackenheim's superb book traces the series of religious sublations which I — by recapturing the experience from which religion derives its origin — negate. That origin convicts religion of irretrievable bad faith. A psychological reading of religion restores the dissembled subtext that shapes even its most exalted affirmations.

40. Lukács, Meszaros, Ollmann, Schacht, and others enter the movie too late-i.e., the discussion of alienation (and Rameau's nephew) in the section on culture — and thus fail to establish a concept of alienation that is not subject to sociological and structuralist reduction once social situations change, as they did from the turbulent 1960s to the present slumber. The academic discourse about alienation collapsed into an abstract debate over the difference between Entäusserung and Entfremdung because the existential ground for both concepts, which we try here to articulate, was neglected.

41. The subliminal connection between Hegel and Derrida on this point is the key to moving beyond their respective solutions — the für uns and différance. It's also a perfect example of their unacknowledged similarity: Derrida opts for an infinite regress — the trace of the trace of its obliteration — which is an inverted parallel, an anti-Aufhebung, of Hegel's infinitely progressive collecting of meanings. Both thereby escape the "scandal" of existence — and of engaged thinking. See Chapter 5.

42. For Derrida's attempt to circumvent reflection by indefinitely delaying the moment when it might achieve self-mediation, see especially Writing and Difference, pp. 251-76, Of Grammatology, pp. 260-75, and Margins of Philosophy (Chicago, 1982), pp. 88-108, 113-36, 258-71. Rodolphe Gasche discusses this problem at length in The Tain of the Mirror (Harvard, 198]). The opposition between reflection and différance may represent the true contradiction defining the situation currently termed "postmodern."

43. PhG, p. 252.

44. Ibid., pp. 254-55.

45. Ibid., p. 255.

46. Difference is here established as the experience necessary for dialectic and not the force that disrupts and deconstructs it.


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Chapter 1: “Hegel: The Contemporary of the Future”
Chapter 4: “The Drama of the Psychoanalytic Subject”

Table of Contents:

Introduction: Toward a Hermeneutics of Engagement   3
1. Hegel: The Contemporary of the Future   8
A Farewell to Epistemology: Reflection on Hegel's Concept
of Consciousness   8
Self-Consciousness: The Spirit That Cuts Back into Life   25
2. Existentialism: The Once and Future Philosophy107
The Experience of the Existential Subject   107
Dialectical Ontology of the Existential Subject   137
3. Subject in a Marxism without Guarantees173
The Dialectic of Subject within Marxism   173
Capitalizing on Inwardness: A Nondialectical Comedy   211
4. The Drama of the Psychoanalytic Subject232
On Catching Up with Oneself   232
Basic Psychoanalytic Concepts Dramatistically Reinterpreted   266
5. Methodology Is Ontology: Dialectic and Its Counterfeits314
Dialectic as Discourse   314
Dialectic as Process   326
Dialectic as System: Its Content and Ground   349