Friday, 28 November 2008

Driving with Hegel on my mind

A couple in a car. Lost. He from a gloomy part of northern Europe. She from sunnier parts much further south. Married long enough for the hours of silence to have ceased being an issue. He - driving, because he is expected to drive but also because he wants to drive, because it is less boring and it takes his mind off the fact that there is so little to be said now - reaches for the map, again. She notices, sleepily at first, then says they are lost - that he doesn't know where he is going. Immediately she sits up and urges that they ask someone. Pull over and ask that man over there, she says. Every fibre of his being resists the idea. He tries to ignore her insistence and looks at the map. If he can only work out where he is, he will be able to find the route they need to take. A little time, a little searching is all it will take. Patience. Calmness. We/he/I can find the way. She loses her temper.


Back at home. It is cold but not very cold. She curls up on the sofa under a duvet and complains of how cold it is - of how it is so very cold and how she cannot stand it. Won't you light the stove, she asks. He cannot remember a time when she lit the stove.


He is a skeptic. She has found the path that will hopefully lead to spiritual fullfilment. There are spiritual leaders who show the way - leaders who can even predict the future, it seems. The Turk will lose Constantinople. The writing is on the wall. It is only a matter of time.


Thinking back to "The Phenomenology of Spirit" and watching his wife, he feels that something in the dynamic of this relationship is absent from that intriguing (if ultimately incomprehensible) book - something that ought really to be there. That oh-so famous master-slave dialectic now seems more dubious than ever. Was it really supposed to sum up THE wellspring of history? But it seems to assume that humanity strives for freedom, autonomy, dominance - all of humanity. The slave was one who wanted to be the master but who gave up first in the struggle. The man who reaches for the map and who lights the stove and who is so skeptical sees a woman who chose heteronomy before the struggle even started. Surely there are many, many more who are only too happy to be led - who want to be led - who do not want to drive - who do not put a priority on their independence? Does this not reveal a little psychological blindspot on Hegel's part, or is it I who have missed something?

Is it fair, though, to call this heteronomy? It implies a lack that could just be a figment of the imagination of the one who refuses to wind down the window and ask for help. With a great intellectual effort he can just about glimpse the suggestion that she wants to ask because it is enjoyable to do so. She has a reason to speak to a new person - a new person who might add a new shade, a new touch, a new story to her already rich social world - her personal world. He is not completely immune to that, but it has long since ceased to be an instinct (if it ever was). There is something in him that denies it - that refuses it. People are met, of course, despite this. And after the fact he appreciates it. But the feeling is weak and never manages to connect with the springs of action in the future. He will always prefer to reach for the map instead of wind the window down and ask the stranger.

At the end of the day, which of the two is to be found lacking?

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