Some thoughts on Michael Hardt

I’m getting back into some philosophy.  First thing to read: Michael Hardt’s An Apprenticeship in Philosophy: Gilles Deleuze (University of Minnesota Press, 1993).  It’s an old book and an important one, and I thought it deserved a re-read.

This is a book about Deleuze’s early work.  In the introduction to the book, Hardt explains that Deleuze’s anti-Hegelianism is a key element in Deleuze’s work.  When Deleuze was writing, Hegel was an important figure in Continental philosophy, and poststructuralist philosophers felt they had to oppose Hegel in order to reveal “alternative lineages” in philosophy. (x)  In other words, they wanted to show that it was possible to reject Hegel and still do philosophy.

Hardt suggests that Deleuze’s early attempts to escape Hegelianism were not entirely successful.  This is because despite all his efforts, Deleuze kept coming back to problems and concepts that belonged to Hegelian thought, and so he was never free of Hegel’s influence in this early work. “We find that Deleuze often poses his project not only in the traditional language of Hegelianism but also in terms of typical Hegelian problems – the determination of being, the unity of the One and the Multiple, and so on.” (xi

So Hardt writes: “If Hegelianism is the first problem of poststructuralism, then, anti-Hegelianism quickly presents itself as the second.” (xi)  The question is: How is it possible to be anti-Hegelian?  This might not seem a very pressing problem today, but Hardt appears to be suggesting that “this [Hegelian] cultural and philosophical paradigm was so tenacious” in Deleuze’s day that it seemed to many to be impossible to talk about philosophy without sounding Hegelian, and slipping into a Hegelian mode of thinking.

Towards the end of the introduction, Hardt discusses a trap one can easily fall into when trying to be anti-Hegelian.  We might call this the trap of “oppositions”.  If you are “anti-” something then it is common to think of your own position as opposed to the thing you are against.  When two things are opposed we define them in terms of one another, with one thing defined as in some way “not” the other.  This is useful for debate and discussion, because, since you define your position in terms of the thing you are against you have to offer a definition of that thing (say, “Hegelianism”) in order to describe your own position (“anti-Hegelianism”).  (So you say: I am anti-Hegelian because Hegelians believe x and I do not.)  Your opponent can then decide whether you have defined their own position adequately or not, and maybe suggest an alternative definition.  If you agree you might change the definition of your own opposed position accordingly.  Or you might abandon that position altogether, in light of the new definition (It turns out I’m not anti-Hegelian after all, since I agree that y).  This is how dialectic works: agreement is reached, even if it is an agreement to disagree, by a gradual redefinition of terms on both sides.

But Hardt suggests that Deleuze is not trying to reach an agreement with Hegelianism when he opposes it.  Instead he is trying to strike out in a new direction altogether.  His position is “antagonistic” to Hegelianism rather than “opposed” to it.  (xv) His “antagonism” to Hegel is “a total critique and rejection of the negative dialectical framework” of Hegelianism rather than an attempt to engage in a debate with Hegelianism.  This is because Deleuze wants “to achieve a real autonomy” in thought, a new direction free from the established Hegelian ways of thinking. (xi)  In effect, a Deleuzian should not care what a Hegelian thinks of his critique.  Rather than trying to change the mind of a Hegelian, Deleuze is trying to positively set out a new kind of philosophy free of Hegelianism.

I like Hardt’s view of Deleuze, if indeed I’ve presented it correctly, and I think this antagonistic aspect of Deleuze’s thinking is something I often lose sight of.  But I’m also not sure that Deleuze ever really managed to maintain this antagonism, which is why I still think that a great deal of overlap and agreement can be found between the Deleuzian and Hegelian positions.  As I re-read Hardt I’m going to try to reconsider my view of the relationship between Hegel and Deleuze, and I’ll blog about it if I find anything interesting.

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1 Response to Some thoughts on Michael Hardt

  1. Pingback: More Notes on Michael Hardt | Lee Watkins

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