How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel

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!


79 thoughts on “How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel

  1. Pingback: How to be a Hegelian « An und für sich

  2. A good start, but you have a few things to learn yet.

    For starters, you buy a USED copy of the Phenomenology, preferably one that is listed as “acceptable.” This way its spine is already worn and it has all of the underlining (it will, of course, be laced with profanities as well). Make real Hegelians work for you!

    • Excellent pointer, AJ. Here is my take on the strategy. Clearly, it has its advantages in that it saves time. However, faking is a subtle art and a “Used” book with underlining would clearly betray your laziness. You will appear as having bought the book for a class, so you are perceived as having been reading Hegel because you had to. Plus, you cannot guarantee that some “real Hegelian” was doing the work for you so his/her faking could be very low grade. If you are going to fake having read a book, I think it’s safer to fake it, so to speak, “personally”…

      • I agree with the Schopenhauerian below. Helpful stuff–I am no man who gives credence to the word spirit, but Schopenhauer’s outlook shifted my views a bit. Hegel’s paranoia did not.

  3. I deal with Hegel by saying that “well, ever since [insert name of obscure academic philosophy professor] ideal-actualized Marx’s inversion of Hegel…” I mean if you are going to go tertiary, at least go with the really hard stuff.

    • Good point. Let’s call his “vicarious referentiality” – would you care for a more elaborate example? Should the puzzled looks of your conversation partners be followed up with a scornful or pitiful look? I mean scornful “you don’t know?” look seems appropriate, but then if you also deeply regret that they are unaware of the obscure (and possibly non-existent) interpretation you are brining up, then maybe it’s the next level faking technique? I wonder…

  4. Is commenting on this post here a violation of rule #3? Could we help you out at Dead Voles by writing about this post as if we’d read it, while citing only Metafilter?

    Wait, never mind, I overcame my own question.

  5. Pingback: How To Fake Your Way Through Hegel | Digital Philosophy |

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  8. This is magnificent. But it worries me; I fear that one of my professors HAS, in fact, read Hegel. Now I worry that I have to expose him as having read Hegel for the sake of the whole community of not-reading-Hegel academics.

    • Dismiss him as not having understood the “essence” of Hegel – insist that your reading is the only correct one. He will begin to doubt himself. Finish him off with “All the cool kids agree with me – have you read Meillassoux [insert any name he is not likely to know]? No? You are so behind times, old fart! Just because you got tenured doesn’t mean you have to stop learning new tricks. So sad, you’ve really let yourself go, haven’t you?”

      And it’s done! He’ll never speak of his “knowledge” of Hegel again…

  9. Thank you so much for your inspirational and also comforting words. I have two weeks left to finish (oh wait, and start…) writing a paper about Hegel for one of the few die hard Hegel scholars this world has. This professor (who actually prefers reading, writing and speaking about Hegel in German – is he overcoming faking Hegel?) does ‘not even expect us to understand Hegel’. How condescending. So I need to fake it hard, I’m sure you understand.

    • It is not condescending. Understanding means that you will not have to start reasoning, and that’s the whole point of not expecting to understand Hegel. And what is needed to provoke reasoning is to take something of from the common understanding of things. Maybe you can use even this point itself as your own point.

  10. I greatly enjoyed this advice but feel I should note that it is itself “secondary” in a certain way — a debt to the spirit of Stephen Potter’s “One-Upmanship” and perhaps to Myles na Gcopaleen’s “Buchhandlung” columns. (Pedantry? Yes.)

      • Tough luck. I was just re-reading Schopenhauer. Gives you a great angle on the subordination of absolute spirit to the blind will.

  11. And what happens if you already care? Meaning that you don’t care for fakers. That leaves you with the problem of knowing that it is not an issue of overcoming Hegel or Kant. That leaves you with the problem that this was the problem of a previous philosophical generation, a previous historical and political situation. So now your problem is that you have to make it. First step towards this direction is overcoming the issue of overcoming Kant as germans and Hegel himself did or the issue of overcoming Hegel as the french did. I care.
    You can have fun by faking an orgasm, but too much faking leaves you with no orgasm at all.
    actually reading Hegel is a definitive way to orgasm. (even if you started by mistake, while you were faking it, as i did).

  12. as abstract as it is, you’re missing the implications of the notion of actuality. So you’ll never get over your self. Meaning a pathetic paper-writting nothingness. And you can trust me on this.

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  15. This is sort of ridiculous. There is plenty of excellent, sophisticated scholarship written on Hegel each year. And much of it now is written by analytic folks! Robert Pippin and Allen Wood are two names that immediately come to mind. They both write on Hegel in clear language. There is also a great deal of valuable work on Hegel being produced by individuals who associate with the continental tradition. Rebecca Comay’s recent Mourning Sickness is one such work, and Catherine Malabou’s investigations into the relationship between Hegel’s conception of plasticity and neuroscience are also stimulating.

    Sounds like the only fakers are the ones posting here; they pass judgment on Hegel and Hegel scholars as if they were well acquainted with the literature, but it would seem that they aren’t at all!

      • GIve him/her some credits. This is high level faking. Although this might go against the rule never to out fakers to be such…
        “There is plenty of excellent [shows that he/she is capable of this judgment], sophisticated scholarship written on Hegel each year [shows that he/she is really up to date].”

        “names that immediately come to mind” [saying: I will not even talk to you on an expert level, because you have even not arrived on a level that is common knowledge]

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  17. so at the risk of being labelled a real reader or a faker… has any significant philosopher (other than Marx) ever “overcome Hegel”- ever eager & hopelessly optimistic…

  18. Foucault’s introductory lectures at College de France (1971) is also a good start in considering Hegel…”De l’odre du discours” if my memory is sound…

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  20. This post was supposed to be a joke, or an ironic statement. However, it has been taken seriously. Why? Because it cuts to the heart of Hegel’s writings and also to much of academic philosophy. Hegel was an obscurantist and the last of the medieval Scholastics. The reasons that he is revered by academics would make a thick psychological book. But, then, psychology is anathema to the mathematical logicians in the Philosophy Department. Faking your way through Hegel? A serious matter. “The cat has been let out of the bag.”

      • Can anyone reproduce here one clear sentence that was written by Hegel? One. Just one. Not from his auditors’ lecture notes, which aren’t clear either.

      • Easy. Here are two: “Consciousness has found its notion in utility.” + “We learn by experience that we meant something other than we meant to mean; and this correction of our meaning compels our knowing to go back to the proposition, and understand it in some other way.”

        Just because you are not smart enough to understand Hegel does not mean it is Hegel’s fault. Maybe read a few books?

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  22. Reblogged this on (It's Tough To Be) Out There and commented:
    It’s been such a long time since an article made me laughed so much that I actually had to struggle to finish it.
    “If you bought a volume .. of Hegel in German, never open it or take it off your shelf. No one actually pretends to read Hegel in German.”

  23. Having read all of Hegel twice in German and translated all of my English editions back into German to test myself, I can assure you Hegel indeed does make sense; my Hegel professors, all of whom have done the same two or three times, assure me of it! Sadly, some will never understand Geist, bust that’s ok; I mean, as Foucault says about Derrida speaking of Fichte in reply to Kant, as related by Zizek, Hegel says, it will come to think itself in due course.

    If only I had the time to explain Hegel, but I’m actually off to catch a flight to Germany so that I can explain an explanation of an explanation of an introduction to an introduction to an explanation of Hegel in German, so you plebes will just have to do without.

    Only we real Hegel readers will ever know. I mean, ” Substance by itself alone would be void and empty Intuition (Anschauen), or the intuition of a content which qua specific would have merely a contingent character and would be devoid of necessity. Substance would only stand for the Absolute in so far as Substance was thought of or “intuited” as absolute unity; and all content would, as regards its diversity, have to fall outside the Substance and be due to reflexion, a process which does not belong to Substance, because Substance would not be Subject, would not be conceived as Spirit, as reflecting about self and reflecting itself into self. if, nevertheless, a content were to be spoken of, then on the one hand it would only exist in order to be thrown into the empty abyss of the Absolute, while on the other it would be picked up in external fashion from sense perception.” Du; it’s obvious!

    [But in all seriousness. I just registered for my first Hegel course, and it was a mistake! If only I had seen this post beforehand! It is possible to understand any of this stuff?! I asked my professor — who claims to not only have read but UNDERSTOOD Hegel — whether it is even possible for us to ever know if Hegel was wrong; he very condescendingly said “Well, we don’t need to!” So then I asked if any philosophers had legitimate disagreements with Hegel, to which he replied “Not if they’ve understood him! If they had read more carefully, they would have seen he was right!” So in summary, if anyone here really is hell-bent on reading Hegel, or even reading about reading Hegel, at least make sure not to study under someone who actually describes himself as “Hegelian” lol. I keep telling myself this semester will just be a funny memory in five years’ time….

    Thanks for the great post! I’ll get started on my tertiary readings right after I return my actual copies! Maybe some laughing gas before class will help to clear things up a bit, too!]

    • “I keep telling myself this semester will just be a funny memory in five years’ time”

      No, it won’t. Trust me on this. Not the funny part, anyway.

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