Tag Archives: Subjectivity

Subjectivity as a Rupture in Hegel

I’m working on reading Slavoj Žižek’s Less Than Nothing in preparation for the upcoming conference on Hegel in May at Birkbeck, University of London. So far, I feel that I can make it through it, but of course, there’s a lot of Lacan and Hegel I could read still that Žižek references. In the second chapter on religion and “The Big Other”, Žižek writes about subjectivity as a rupture in substance itself while also being a form of synthesis:

When a chaotic period of gestation culminates in the explosive eruption of a new Form which reorganizes the entire field, this very imposition of the new Necessity/Order is in itself thoroughly contingent, an act of abyssal/ungrounded subjective decision. This brings us to the strict philosophical notion of subjectivity, since what characterizes the subject—in contrast to substance—is precisely such a complete coincidence of opposites: in the case of substance, synthesis and splitting remain externally opposed. […]

Two features which cannot but appear opposed characterize the modern subject as it was conceptualized by German Idealism: (1) the subject is the power of “spontaneous” (i.e., autonomous, starting-in-itself, irreducible to a prior cause) synthetic activity, the force of unification, of bringing together the manifold of sensuous data we are bombarded with into a unified representation of objects; (2) the subject is the power of negativity, of introducing a gap/cut into the given-immediate substantial unity; it is the power of differentiating, of “abstracting,” tearing apart and treating as self-sufficient what in reality is part of an organic unity. […]

But how, exactly, are we to understand this? The subject’s spontaneity emerges as a disturbing cut into substantial reality, since the unity the transcendental synthesis imposes onto the natural manifold is precisely “synthetic” (in the standard rather than Kantian sense, i.e., artificial, “unnatural”) (106).

This passage reminded me of Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thoughts on the place of humans within the world. This should make sense since Rousseau had an influence on Hegel. The idea of self-perfection in Rousseau is specifically what came to mind. On the one hand, humans represent a break in the natural order, but on the other hand, humans are unique in their ability to perfect themselves. It is through this self-perfection that humans transcend the gap created by subjectivity and form a synthetic (“unnatural”) nature. I think Hegel’s term for this self-perfection in history is Selbstaufhebung, which can be translated as both self-sacrifice and self-overcoming—this seems to be precisely a dialectical movement.