Jacques Derrida’s enigmatic three-word sentence – ‘Hegel again, always . . .’ – is found in the middle of an essay on Descartes, Foucault and madness.1
Derrida uses Hegel’s name only one other time in thirty-two pages of text, which only adds to the puzzling qualities of this sentence. Why does Derrida think that Hegel is so inescapable? The context of Derrida’s claim is a discussion about the nature of reason and thought. He implies that Hegel, more than any other modern thinker – more than Descartes and more than Kant – compels us to think about thought. In doing so, Hegel also compels us to think about dialectics, since the life of thought that he details in his notoriously difficult and profoundly influential Phenomenology of Spirit is a dialectical life. More than just being the pre-eminent thinker about thought, Hegel has been described by Jean-Luc Nancy as the ‘inaugural thinker of the con - temporary world’.2 Hegel was the first to grasp fully the new realities of modern life where, unlike in previous times, consciousness no longer perceives itself to be naturally at home in the world. The idea that Being predetermines life gives way to the idea of existence, along with the struggles, anxiety and pain that define it. Existence means contingency both philosophically and in concrete, lived terms. It means that nothing, no mode of thinking and no way of living, can any longer be taken as a given or thought to be safely sheltered from inevitable transformation.