chapter  2
19 Pages

Self-Dissolving Seriousness: On the Comic in the Hegelian Concept of Tragedy

According to a commonly held view, Hegel’s philosophy is a sort of panlogism in whose conceptual system the differences that compose existential experience lose all their singularity and definition. Hegel did, after all, assert the rationality of reality, and many would argue that he thereby proffered a philosophy that is inexcusably taken in by universal reason. But against this widely held view, some readers have emphasised the essential role of negativity in the positive achievements of speculative thought. Such readers would argue that, indeed, ‘the tremendous power of the negative’1 at work in both history and in the self-realisation of Spirit cannot be separated from the positive results of these realms. Jean Hyppolite, for one, suggests that the complicity of negativity and reason arguably establishes a relation between reason and the tragic; accordingly, he writes that the ‘“absolute concept” implies the permanence of the tragic in the most reasonable, rational and wise realisations of history’.2 But the scope of Hyppolite’s argument-like that of readers who have made similar claims-extends beyond merely acknowledging a permanent presence of a tragic vision in Hegel’s thought, a vision whose presence would merely represent the ‘reverse side of the positive’, in order to construe this presence as ‘the supreme condition of the historical dialectic’.3 According to Hyppolite, a ‘pantragism’ remains ‘always in the background of Hegelian thought’.4 Indeed, as he asserts, in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, the negativity of the tragic has become the driving subject itself. Hegel, he explains,

introduces us to a history in which the tragic of negativity-the certainty of death which, as one can see from the Phenomenology, has become the subject itself-is linked in a strange fashion to the rational and reasonable work [oeuvre] into which the human polis shapes itself.5