Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

On “Lordship and Bondage”

NPepperell has brought in the new year with a wonderful series of introductory posts to our reading group’s current voyage to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit – while all I’ve brought back was this crappy t-shirt… In some attempt to remedy the one-sidedness of this discussion, I will post something on our most recent reading, on the section titled Independence and Dependence of Self-Consciousness: Lordship and Bondage. As Hegel says in introduction: “Self-consciousness… exists only in being acknowledged” (178). Please bear in mind that as with all of our reading group posts, conciseness is not a sin we could be easily accused of…

Contrary to NPepperell’s daring and sweeping scope, since I feel considerably less at ease with Hegel’s overall drift, I will focus on a direct reading of the text paragraphs 178-198. By way of context, the Phenomenology has moved beyond the tripartite analysis of Consciousness to the point of positing Self-Consciousness, where ‘it is clear that being “in-itself” and being “for an other” are here the same’ (166). Further, ‘With self-consciousness, then, we have now passed into the native land of truth’ (167) – truth coming when the Ego recognises itself as a Consciousness. Key to this movement is that the object for Self-Consciousness, its own self ‘is something living’ (168). Self-Consciousness is then confronted with Life as ‘the simple genus’ of all living things, which is initially posited as ‘this other life’ (173). In this reflection Self-Consciousness ‘is thus only assured of itself through sublating this other, which is presented to self-consciousness as an independent life; self-consciousness is Desire’ (174). From here ‘Self-consciousness attains its satisfaction only in another self-consciousness’ (175). The completion of this movement, where Consciousness emerges as both awareness of its own self-consciousness, and its dependence upon other self-consciousness, is a necessary step towards Mind or Spirit (Geist): ‘Consciousness first finds in self-consciousness–the notion of mind–its turning-point, where it leaves the parti-coloured show of the sensuous immediate, passes from the dark void of the transcendent and remote super-sensuous, and steps into the spiritual daylight of the present’ (177).

Lordship and Bondage proceeds with a restatement of the preceding logic, noting that Self-Consciousness is only ‘in and for itself’ when it is being ‘acknowledged’. Opening up this ‘Notion’, which is both unity – the Ego in itself – and duplication – through another – ‘presents us with the process of Recognition’ (178). To begin with, it sees in another self-consciousness, not the other, but ‘its own self in the other’ (179). This is an anxious moment: ‘It must cancel this its other’ by sublating the other; because it is itself in the other, it is also sublated (180). [As a side note: ‘sublate’ is also translated in my copy as ‘supercede’; crudely, I take it to mean “to cancel, remove without destroying, while also elevating”]. This movement also ‘lets the other again go free’ (181), since its own self is no longer in the other.

Crucially, what has been presented as a one-sided process is in fact duplicated, since both Self-Consciousnesses experience this movement (182). There is reference back to an earlier moment in the Phenomenology, in the ‘play of forces’ (184). What follows in this paragraph is extremely hard to follow: without losing too much sense hopefully, for each Self-Consciousness, the division between itself as both Consciousness and object is mediated by the presence and recognition of the other Self-Consciousness, so that finally ‘They recognize themselves as mutually recognizing one another’ (184).

186 marks a step back to the simple distinction between self and other, as it appears to Self-Consciousness ‘primarily’. Here, for two Self-Consciousnesses confronted with each other, ‘have not yet revealed themselves to each other as existing purely for themselves, i.e., as self-consciousness’. To do this requires that each Self-Consciousness present itself ‘as a pure negation of its objective form’, as ‘not tied up with life’ (187). This is a kind of negative recognition, in which ‘each aims at the destruction and death of the other’, and for itself ‘that it risks its own life’ (187). Only in the staging of this dramatic conflict, is it possible ‘that freedom is obtained’. The anxiety the self experienced earlier (180) can only be overcome through ‘life-and-death struggle’; perversely only through struggle is the other recognised as more than an object, as a Self-Consciousness itself.

This presents a problem: the moment of recognition of the other results in its annihilation; and equally for victor and vanquished, the possibility for ‘the truth which was to result from it’ (188) is lost. For the victor, the essential mediation that was to be performed by the other is destroyed in the other’s death. Both return to the simple state of 186, where ‘they let one another go quite indifferently, like things’… proper sublation, which creates while it destroys, cannot happen. Self-consciousness therefore recognises that life is important both for it and for the other. Stepping back from the brink of struggle, Self-Consciousness dissolves into two moments, one of which is ‘pure self-consciousness’, existing for itself, the other of which is ‘existent consciousness’, existing for another. ‘The former is the Master, or Lord, the latter the Bondsman’ (189).

Although the master is ‘for himself’, he nevertheless has relations both ‘to a thing as such, the object of desire’ and ‘to the consciousness whose essential character is thinghood’ (190). The thing mediates the relation of masterand bondsman: for the master, the thing is desired, for the bondsman, the thing is worked on. Because the master requires the bondsman, the master ‘gets his recognition through an other consciousness’ (191). But ‘by the fact of being dependent on a determinate existence’, the bondsman ‘is an unessential activity’, and unable to reciprocate his own recognition in the other. Proper recognition is therefore not possible, because it is ‘one-sided and unequal’. The master finds the recognition of himself by himself mediated by only a ‘dependent consciousness’, and ‘thus not assured of self-existence as his truth’ (192). Perversely, ‘The truth of the independent consciousness is accordingly the consciousness of the bondsman’, as ‘bondage will, when completed, pass into the opposite of what it immediately is’ (193). His initial relationship of existing only for another is transformed by the fact that ‘it felt the fear of death, the sovereign master’. Only through an absolute fear and dread, where ‘all that was fixed and steadfast has quaked within it’, can the bondsman experience the opposite of that initial relationship, ‘the simple, ultimate nature of self-consciousness’ (194). Through the actual process of servitude and work, the bondsman ‘cancels… his dependence on and attachment to natural existence’ and instead experiences ‘the moment of pure self-existence’ (194). Finally ‘Through work and labour, however, this consciousness of the bondsman comes to itself’ and ‘The consciousness that toils and serves accordingly attains by this means the direct apprehension of that independent being as its self’ (195). Work, initially the consequence of the bondsman’s being-for-another, becomes the means by which the bondsman achieves being-for-itself, mediated by the ‘pure self-consciousness’ of the master.

In the concluding paragraph (196), the form and shape of the thing modified by work enables the bondsman to overcome the ‘negative import [of] the element of fear’. And so ‘the bondsman becomes aware… of having and being a “mind of his own”‘. Finally, absolute fear, work and service are together the necessary and sufficient conditions for this movement – anything short produces only a partial rather than complete freedom for the bondsman. This then brings him to the next stage of his journey, to that of Freedom and Self-Consciousness (the title of the following section).

The argument is marked by three main movements: firstly, by the need of Self-Consciousness to recognise itself in another, which however brings about an anxiety that instead it will be lost in the other; secondly, by countering that anxiety with a life-and-death struggle, which in turn is futile, since any recognition will be lost in either the annihilation of itself or the other; and thirdly, by moving beyond life-and-death struggle into a relationship of master and bondsman, marked respectively by desire for and labour on a thing. Desire leaves the master bereft of proper recognition; only work allows the bondsman to achieve recognition, from which he can proceed to freedom.

Some concluding points, in no particular order: This is a very early stage of the overall progression of the text, so too much cannot be read into the end-point of this particular progression. I would like perhaps to come back to this section once our group has made further progress with the Phenomenology, to see whether it might be read differently in context of the whole. Like many another reader, I have great difficulty interpreting this text, compounded by two widely variant translations. In particular I struggle with the question of whether the various movements are seen as necessary ones, or just one particular journey that Self-Consciousness could take. Again I am struck by a sense of arbitrariness connecting each of the movements – how for instance is the redirection of struggle to the lordship-bondsman relationship a required one? Are these parables told in the abstract, about how one could make the philosophical equivalent of the Pilgrim’s Progress? Or a categorical account of how Self-Consciousness develops?

On a slightly contentious and quibbling note, the Wikipedia article is quite useful for a precis of the argument, but ends with the surprising “Only when slavery is abolished and there is mutual recognition will both fully achieve self-consciousness”. Regardless of the problems of interpretation, translation, etc., it seems to me of paramount importance that a) slavery is not necessarily abolished (the bondsman is perhaps philosophically free, but left physically in chains) and b) only the bondsman as worker realises independence. While perhaps politically commendable, this is a strange reading of the text…

Advertisements

4 responses to “On “Lordship and Bondage”

  1. N Pepperell January 16, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    Just pointing to my response, for anyone tracking the discussion from here. Apologies for scattering any discussion that might happen: I blabbed on too long to put my response into a comment… šŸ˜› Excerpt:

    Okay. What to do with this passage… Perhaps perversely, I’m inclined to read this section as a critical text – as something concerned with setting out what I would tend to call a standpoint of critique to ground the normative evaluation of the social relationship being described. Of course, within Hegel’s framework, critique is never abstractly negative – it never moves through the simple and direct rejection of what is being criticised. Instead, critique moves, in the first instance, precisely through a recognition of the necessity of what it criticises. Critique thus first seeks to make sense of its target – to move beyond the object of critique by first grasping it, and then demonstrating how that object is inadequate to a certain standard (generally, a standard that can understood to be immanently implied by the object itself, so that the target of critique can be criticised for the way in which it fails to achieve its own goals…).

  2. Pingback: schematique.org » Blog Archive » Schematic Theory

  3. Pingback: schematique.org » Blog Archive » Ironing out our times…

  4. Pingback: Roughtheory.org » Before the Science

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: