She can neither make a pancake nor darn a sock, and she will not read the philosophy of Hegel.
This misguided fellow, an Isak Dinesen character, is thinking of marrying – these are reasons not to marry the woman, if you can believe it. I say marry that lady and go out for pancakes. Here I am looking at Seven Gothic Tale s (1934), “The Poet,” p. 385.
I, too, will not read Hegel, although in some sense I should. He has been popping up everywhere.
Alexander Herzen has just returned from exile in the provinces to Moscow, where he discovers that there is a hot new thing among the literary radicals:
My new acquaintances received me as people do receive exiles and old champions, people who come out of prison or return from captivity or banishment, that is, with respectful indulgence, with a readiness to receive us into their alliance, though at the same time refusing to yield a single point and hinting at the fact that they are ‘to-day’ and we are already ‘yesterday’, and exacting an unconditional acceptance of Hegel’s Phenomenology and Logic, and their interpretation of them, too. (My Past and Thoughts, Vol. 2 of the Garnett/Higgins translation, 398)
Young Russians fresh from the German universities have gone crazy for Hegel and the dialectic. “People who loved each other avoided each other for weeks at a time because they disagreed about the definition of ‘all-embracing spirit’” (398), and “[n]o one in those days would have hesitated to write a phrase like this: ‘The concretion of abstract ideas in the sphere of plastics presents that phase of the self-seeking spirit in which, defining itself for itself, it passes from the potentiality of natural immanence into the harmonious sphere of pictorial consciousness in beauty.’” (399)
Herzen is allowed to mock because, he says, “Carried away by the current of the time, I wrote exactly the same way myself.” Plus, as he describes at some length, he successfully absorbed but also eventually purged himself of dialectical “scholasticism” – “I stretched its bow until the string snapped and the blindfold dropped from my eyes” (403).
I really need Hegel for Henrik Ibsen, as serious a Hegelian as Herzen once tried to be, with what level of understanding I do not know. Brand and Peer Gynt make sense dialectically, a thesis and an antithesis. The synthesis may be Emperor and Galilean, Ibsen’s long play about Emperor Julian, although I do not see how. The latter play, with its unusual two part structure, presents another thesis and antithesis – they are right there in the title, Classical and Christian, and a synthesis is discussed in the text, a Messiah figure that blends the two. That does not work out well for Julian, but perhaps it describes the age Ibsen saw himself living in.
Even better, Ibsen scholar Brian Johnston has argued at length that the twelve “realist” plays written from 1877 to 1899, including A Doll House and Ghosts and so on, were not meant to be taken as separate plays but in fact make up a single long tragedy “whose subject was modern humanity undergoing (in Hegelian terms) a journey of spiritual recollection,” with each play covering one of twelve steps from The Phenomenology of Spirit.
This sounds nuts – the kind of nuts I like. Johnston, who died a year ago, put all of his work up at Ibsen Voyages, and I plan to loot it thoroughly as I read Ibsen’s plays, but with just a tinge of regret that I will not really be able to evaluate the argument about Hegel, because I will not read the philosophy of Hegel. I know my limits. It won’t do any good.