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What Is Novel in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

  • Antón Barba-Kay (a1)


While it has long been commonplace to advert to the Phenomenology of Spirit's peculiar prosaic form, there has been no sustained, thematic attempt to understand the relationship between that form—as a continuous, quasi-fictional narrative—and the work's philosophical content. I argue that some of what has been felt to be outlandish about the form may be better accounted for by reading it as connected to purposeful literary decisions, decisions in turn exhibiting philosophical claims about the new mode of modern self-understanding that the argument is concerned with advancing. Extending Allen Speight's suggestions that Hegel sees literature as closely connected to his theory of agency, I argue that the Phenomenology's narrative should be understood as itself specifically and deliberately novelesque. I focus on three points that help clarify the book's form as not simply in keeping with, but as expressing aspects of its content: (1) the narrative structure of consciousness (as a unified, unfolding activity through which Hegel explores the notion of actuality), (2) the theatricalizing counterpoint between the ‘in itself’ and ‘for itself’ (as a dramatic device that Hegel connects to the social underpinnings of consciousness), and (3) the role of confession and forgiveness in the argument (as a theme that Schlegel had singled out as essential to the novel, and that Hegel repurposes both to criticize and to overcome Romanticism). I do not say that the Phenomenology is itself a novel, but that construing some of its formal features and gestures as evoking the genre of the novel can help us to see more of what is philosophically at stake in them, and therefore in the work as a whole.



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What Is Novel in Hegel's Phenomenology of Spirit

  • Antón Barba-Kay (a1)


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