Look, it’s the Hegel age – you know it and I know it. It’s been the Hegel age for the past 200 hundred years, but only recently have we come to realize that in all the recent attempts to “overcome Kant” there is no overcoming Kant like the Hegelian overcoming of Kant. Thus Hegel is back (because he never left).
Now, the problem with Hegel is that, well, he is too Hegelian – too difficult to understand, too German and inaccessible, too time-consuming. Fear not, dear future Hegelians! Here are a few useful tips on faking your way through Hegel – if you follow these, you will surely come across as the most intelligent and thought-provoking expert on all things Hegelian.
Rule 1: Never (ever) actually read anything by Hegel.
First of all, of course, you cannot just come out and say you never read Hegel. No one reads Hegel, but no one ever admits to not having read Hegel. It’s a sacred law of (not) reading Hegel. In fact, you cannot ever say you are reading Hegel when you are reading Hegel for the first time (if you have committed this atrocious act, see Rule 2), you are always re-reading Hegel. Here is how you do it:
“I have been re-reading Hegel’s Jena Lectures recently. Some fascinating stuff, really helps you understand [insert more known works by Hegel], don’t you think?”
When you send things back to other pretending Hegelians, you are projecting confidence in your ability to fake having read Hegel. Don’t be afraid to use this move – they haven’t read Hegel either so they are not likely to come back with an objection to your interpretation.
Second of all, be sure to buy Phenomenology of Spirit and Science of Logic. Open them at about 10-20 page intervals, glance at a page here and there, underline a few sentences, insert an occasional “Hmm…” and “Bullshit!” comment in the margins, close the book and never open it again. Make sure the spine is sufficiently broken (and get only paperback editions) in case anyone grabs the book off your shelf.
If you are brave enough, actually tear the spine of your paperback and have the book in a kind of torn-up state on your desk for a while. Insert various notes into it, make bookmarks using post-it notes, spill some coffee in an obscure part of Logic (don’t go for Master-Slave dialectics, everyone non-reads that part). Needless to say, a broken paperback communicates a clear message: I read this book so many times, it fell apart.
Quick tip: If you bought a volume or two of Hegel in German, never open it or take it off your shelf. No one actually pretends to read Hegel in German. If you try to pretend to have read Hegel in German, everyone will see through your game. Only do that if you are a Hegel scholar of significant status, otherwise you will appear to have taken the “faking your way through Hegel” game too far.
Rule 2: If you do make a mistake of reading something by Hegel, use my personal technique of “carefully phrased selective emphasis” on certain aspects of Hegel.
So you made a mistake and started reading Hegel. This is not good. Why? Because you might actually begin to think that you can and should read more Hegel. Nothing could be more counter-productive for faking your way through Hegel. It will only lead you to more reading of Hegel, to self-doubt (“Do I really understand this correctly? Shouldn’t I read more before making claims about Hegel in general?”) and ultimately to your untimely demise as a future Hegelian.
Here is what you do – whatever it is you managed to read (most likely introductory sections of Phenomenology or Logic), take it and make into the crux of your interpretation of Hegel. In fact, since you have already made the mistake of having decided to read Hegel, be adventurous, read some really obscure section of the well-known book and claim that this is, in your humble opinion, the key to understanding the entirety of Hegel’s philosophy. If you don’t see how this works, you are an idiot and you must stop reading this post immediately. For the rest of you, obviously, this is how you fake it in the big league. When you say that passage X is the key passage, you clearly communicate to others that you have read the entirety of Hegel, again and again, and, having done so with sufficient effort, you concluded that this and not some other passage is the key passage.
Quick tip: The more grandiose your claim, the better. You can even push it further and make statements like this: “We don’t need more Hegel today, we need more Plato!” This is big league faking. It quite clearly states: 1) I read all of Hegel, 2) I read all of Plato, 3) I grasped the very essence of our time and discerned that it needs Plato and not Hegel.
Rule 3: Read only tertiary literature.
This is a no-brainer. Only real losers read secondary literature. Read literature that refers to literature about Hegel. But, and here comes the useful bit, if you choose to use any of the tertiary literature for your own paper/book/presentation, follow their quote to the original Hegel’s passage (be sure not to read any of the context, it is dangerous – see Rule 1) and under no circumstances actually mention this tertiary source. Remember, if it is a citation, it’s not plagiarism.
The advantage of tertiary literature is clear: those who choose to cite secondary literature in preference to actually citing the primary source are already compromised and are already under the general suspicion of faking, so taking ideas from them is simply expropriating from the expropriators (as Lenin aptly put it). When you fake with the fakers, everyone wins!
Rule 4: Remember, no one actually speaks Hegelian language, so you only have to learn to translate things into it, but never from it.
Any good philosophical conversation must use the lingo – people who try to explain complex philosophical points in the common tongue of the great unwashed masses are an abomination to the profession and to the human race. If you could explain Hegel in simple accessible language, then the entire inexplicably turgid pile of steaming secondary lit about Hegel is shown to be fake. Remember, no faker likes to be revealed as a faker – that is one button you do not want to push.
Luckily, unlike real languages, in Hegelian language you only need to learn to put things into it, and never to translate things out of it. Most of it is nonsense to you and your friends anyway, but, again, you mustn’t do it ironically. Learn it just like you learn any other language: start with good vocabulary building exercises (“absolute” – “concrete” – “spirit” – “sense-perception” – “sublation” and so on), add some verbs and adjectives, learn some phrases and you are ready. Because it is ultimately a made-up language, only a few truly master it to the point of actually saying something – you are quite safe to use it in almost any circumstance.
Quick tip: the more boldly you state things in Hegelian language, the less there is a chance you will be discovered. So take it to the next level, write a paper for a Hegelian conference, be confident, use it all the time, especially during the Q&A session. There is no other way to learn a language, even a fake one.
Rule 5: Always claim to have already overcome Hegel.
This is the easiest rule to follow. No one reads Hegel for the sake of reading Hegel – no one fakes to have read Hegel for the sake of creating an illusion of having read Hegel for the sake of having read Hegel. All of this is done for a simple purpose: to create your own peculiar philosophical position on the basis of your having overcome Hegel. Hegel is in the way of any real philosophical achievement. You can never claim that your particular philosophical system is the next best thing until you show how it falls outside of the already predicted historical development of philosophy by Hegel. The man ruined it for every ambitious youngster who can’t wait to create his own ontology – he must be overcome! But be not afraid, if you follow all the previous rules, you will not ever actually have to overcome anything – you will, however, have the sufficient “experience” of Hegel to claim to have overcome him. And that’s all you need.
These should get you on your way!