Unhappy Consciousness

In Chapter 4 of the Phenomenology of Spirit, following the analysis of the master/slave dialectics, Hegel brings up the problem of the unhappy consciousness, which can be presented succinctly as follows:  Subjectivity is radically alienated, split.  The subject finds herself autonomous and sovereign, in the sense that everything that exists exists for me.  But the subject also knows that her particularity and finitude makes a mockery of her universal pretension.  This is the Unhappy Consciousness.  Hegel finds that the Catholic Church presents a historical solution in the following sense:  I am able to incorporate the totality of the world into my consciousness but the world at the same time rejects me as a particular, base instance of ridiculous finitude, as a pathetic egoist full of bullshit.  In the eyes of the world, that is, in the gaze of the other, I am simply another thing, a body, an object.  The clash of my self-understanding from an internal perspective and of my self-understanding from an external perspective makes me miserable.  I must find a way out of this predicament.

Confession gives me a way out.  Confession is the mechanism through which I find a way out of my own finitude.  Through confession I reconcile myself with myself, but at a price.  It is the price of self-sacrifice.  Confession is the realization that there is a third, and that I need a third, a mediating third.  That third is the space into which I thoroughly alienate myself in order to recover myself.  It is the space of community, whose model is therefore the Catholic Church (or, indeed, the Communist Party, and everything in between, i.e., everything that attempts to take the place of the Catholic Church or the Communist Party: the family, the tribe, the Oaxacan community, the place of social belonging).

Think about Inquisitional practices or think about the self-critique which was so essential for Communist Party members (the emblematic example is the Moscow Show Trials in the 1930s, but we know it goes on in cancel culture today).  In the confessional I negate my own private interiority and make it available to the gaze of the other, which turns me into a passive object, whose truth is always ever the truth of the other.  By accepting that, I find a return to myself in the destruction of what is unhappy in my unhappy consciousness.  But in the return to myself I have also given myself up.  I have found a We.  What more do I want?  I will live in the We, and the We will make me immortal.  Through confession I find forgiveness, recognition, reconciliation.  Now, finally, there is a meaning–a social meaning.

The essential structure of this reconciliation is sacrifice.  Now, if infrapolitics presents itself as non-sacrificial thought, then it obviously must reject the whole structure, the whole figure.  Infrapolitics would then be the enterprise of destruction of the figure of the Unhappy Consciousness, of its presuppositions and consequences, for the sake of a non-sacrificial structuration of existence at the end of metaphysics.

The figure of the Unhappy Consciousness is the figure that mediates between the old attachment to the divine, prior to the “death of God,” and the more modern, secularized version of the issue as an attachment to “the people,” to the nation, to the community, in other words, to “politics.”  Through it we see how, indeed, all modern concepts of the political are secularizations of theological concepts, as Carl Schmitt famously put it.  But we also see how the modern concept of the political is a sublimation of the death of God, how the social becomes a compensatory formation for the subjective split, for the senselessness in the age of nihilism.

This is one of the reasons, incidentally, why the marrano stands for me as an essential figure of infrapolitical experience.

Now, it seems to me that Heidegger is attempting to offer a non-sacrificial solution to the catastrophic predicament of the end of metaphysics.  Or, indeed, that a non-sacrificial solution is itself the end of metaphysics. The recovery of the Seinsfrage is a precondition for a non-sacrificial structuration of history, hence for the “other beginning.” 

What is at stake in Heidegger’s 1932 seminar on Anaximander and Parmenides, and in the Seinsfrage, which itself dictates the totality of the seminar, is a destruction of the figure of the Unhappy Consciousness–of its presuppositions and consequences.  Nietzsche has a crucial role there. (And Kierkegaard, who in his Concluding Scientific Postscript takes up Unhappy Consciousness and takes it in a direction other than the Hegelian one, is also no doubt part of the secret conversation).  But obviously Anaximander and Parmenides are the truly crucial ones. 

In any case, infrapolitics calls for a marrano Heidegger, or for a marrano reading of Heidegger’s relentless solicitation of the Seinsfrage.  Not only, but certainly also. 

2 thoughts on “Unhappy Consciousness

  1. Me encuentro leyendo “Inquisiciones figurativas” de Erin Graff Zivin. Las resonancias con esta entrada me parecen fascinantes. En particular, el modo en que la figura del marrano y “el otro comienzo” podrían estar vinculadas. Me pregunto si la “historia desobrada”, la “historiografía negativa”, no tendrían una de sus emergencias ahí donde no hay verdad del pasado que extraer de ningún lugar (así como la verdad del sujeto) y más bien es el en el futuro del pasado desde donde esa estructuración de la historia no sacrificial se abre camino hacia la cuarta vía.


  2. Sí, yo estoy interesado en la vinculación entre marranismo y otro comienzo a partir de una estructura de des-propiación posthegemónica. Esto está, a mi juicio, muy fuera de Hegel y lejos de ser conciencia desdichada es el lugar de la libertad, tal como lo veo.


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