More Daunting than Hegel

Yes, I’m still reading Paradiso. I was bound and determined to finish the thing off once and for all this weekend, but it just didn’t happen. I attempted to summon up and derive inspiration and willpower from a grad-school feat of yore, when, not reading the syllabus with much attention, I was shocked to discover what I thought to be an assignment of 250 pages of Hegel’s Phenomenology for the next class. Looking at said course guide the day before the seminar was to meet, I dropped everything and plowed into the tome, succeeding in completing what I thought had been the assignment. My reading, of course, wasn’t very thorough, given its speed– but about 3/4 of the way in, my brain being bombarded by world spirits and theses and Aufhebungen at early hours of the morning, I suddenly had something like a very brief epiphany, where everything came together in one brilliant, cohesive sphere of wonder– and then fell apart almost immediately. I’m still unsure whether I was relieved or not when I got to class the next day, red-eyeball-tired, to find out that we’d really been assigned about thirty pages.*

How Paradiso makes me feel. (NARA)

At any rate, to be honest, I was less hopeful of achieving some ephemeral moment of clarity by doing the same thing with Lezama Lima, and more eager to just be done with the thing. No dice. I’m still fifty pages way from the end of this intolerable labyrinth, and at the rate I’m going, I’ll be lucky if I finish it by the end of the week. If not, I’ve got a lengthy plane ride next week, which should help me knock this particular monkey off my back. (And who’s to say? Maybe high altitudes and the canned air that comes with traveling at such elevations will add some legitimate trippiness to a text that seems far too self-conscious in its attempt to achieve vaguely hallucinogenic effects.)

Maybe my Hegel-coup is just an event never meant to be repeated. (And without the fear of being stared down by a very otherworldly prof who bore more than a little resemblance to Rasputin, it’s understandable that my motivation to undertake such challenges these days is significantly less than it was long ago.) But my guess is that the completion of this present tome will at least merit a brief celebration, coming in a close second, probably, to the elation I felt on finally finishing John Milbank’s Theology and Social Theory. That, though, is another story.

* I later took a course that focused the entire semester on just the Phenomenology. It was actually a brilliant class that brought me some real understanding of the work– but I’m still unwilling to dismiss whatever momentary insight it was that I’d gained a few years before, even if I’m not sure exactly what sort of insight it was.


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