Hegel’s walking dead

5:40/5:30, 76/95. Today’s WA poem, about the natural and finite spirit that soaks the ground and nurtures future history, might be construed as Hegelian. Hegel, so far as anyone can tell, was all about spirit (geist) and history.

…I like to think
that when I’m gone the chemicals
and yes the spirit that was me
might be searched out by subtle roots
and raised with sap through capillaries
into an upright, fragrant trunk,
and aromatic twigs and bark,
through needles bright as hoarfrost to
the sunlight for a century
or more…

But Hegel famously supposedly said that even the one reader who understood him didn’t really understand him. I don’t admire willful obscurity in a philosopher, and I especially disdain philosophers who take pride in their deliberate opacity. That’s why, when we get to Hegel in my classes, I always make a point of mentioning William James’s “Hegelisms” and his nitrous oxide experiments. Is Hegel clearer, under the influence? So it seemed to James, fleetingly. But ultimately James concludes that Hegel badly overstates the possibility of rational reconciliation in life and in history. Some negations are permanent, some losses are ireemediable, and the failure of philosophers like Hegel to say so, honestly, directly, and clearly, really rankles.

So Hegel deserves a degree of scorn for his gratuitous density; on the other hand (and notice, looking at the other hand is a stage in the Hegelian dialectic if we’ve understood him at all), he deserves credit for getting us to think about the long-term impact on history of our finite lives. That doesn’t quite reconcile a pragmatic stoic and empiricist like James (or me) to Hegelian perfectionism, but it wins him a point or two.

But back to yesterday’s question, part two: did Hegel walk? We’ve already determined that his dialectical successor Marx did. It would be the height of irony for any dialectician, let alone the progenitive dialectician-in-chief, ideologically committed to forward movement in life and history, to just sit and think.

Well, someone did go walking with Hegel in Marseilles, someone else with Hegel and Kant in Berlin. But maybe the best way to picture Hegel’s vision of history as a progressive realization of spirit is in terms of another prominent search result: “the walking dead.” Seriously. Think about it.

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