Frye on Hegel


Hegel is the central philosophical figure in Words with Power.  In one of his late notebooks, Frye writes, “If Hegel had written his Phenomenology in mythos-language instead of in logos-language a lot of my work would be done for me.  The identification of Substance with Subject-Spirit in the Preface is mythically the central issue of the Reformation, overthrowing the sacramental ‘spiritual substance’ of the Eucharist & replacing it with the growing Spirit that takes over the Subject.”  (Late Notebooks, CW 5, 192).  Later he writes, “The rush of ideas I get from Hegel’s Phenomenology is so tremendous I can hardly keep up with it.” (Late Notebooks, CW 6, 631)


The extent to which Hegel enters into Frye’s thinking as he was writing Words with Power and The Double Vision can be seen in the following selections from the Late Notebooks:

I suppose the whole book turns on the thesis that the spirit is substantial: it’s the realizing of primary concern out of the language (Word) of primary mythology.  Only the total Word can make the spirit substantial.  Everything else, including Marx’s critique of Hegel, is ideological.  I don’t want to become a conservative Hegelian, and my goal is not absolute knowledge, whatever that is, but the Word & Spirit set free by each other and united in one substance with the Other detached from Nature and identified as the Father.  This doesn’t subordinate the female: it wakens and emancipates her, Eros Regained in short.  Jesus’ establishing of the identity of the other as Father is what makes him the definitive prophet. (CW 5, 9)

Perhaps I’ve been overlooking the narrative of, first, heaven and earth locked together in a sexual union, second, an Oedipal Son or Logos pushing them apart to form the world of consciousness-creation, third, this Logos growing, like the Begriff in Hegel, until Heaven and Earth reach the Tao balance as Father and Spirit. (ibid., 10)

If I’m right about the Word growing like the Begriff in Hegel [previous entry], the Phenomenology is an Odyssey as well as a Purgatorio climb.  The Odyssey is the cycle redeemed, beginning & ending at home; the Purgatorio is the climb to polarization. (ibid., 11)

Hegel himself calls the Ph. [Phenomenology] a ladder (II.2.5). (ibid., 18)

Forms of spiritual growth: the father-soul and the mother-body (dying to) bring forth the spirit-child.  I think this is alchemic.  Odyssey pattern: the old beggar, least likely to succeed, growing in reverse of ordinary aging until he becomes not just master of the house but the body of the house.  Hegel’s Begriff, the infant exposed and abandoned by the common-sense world, turning out to be the Prospero of the whole show. (ibid., 18)

I’ve often said that Hegel’s Ph G [Phänomenologie des Geistes] interests me deeply in itself, but not as a preface to Hegel’s system.  This is linked on my part with my feeling that Moses was the only person who ever saw the Promised Land.  The system is only a Prussian Canaan. (ibid., 19)

The Word-Spirit dialogue is slowly assuming a spiral or ladder shape: it conceivably might work out to a counterpart of Hegel’s Ph [Phenomenology of Spirit], only in images instead of concepts, with a religion of parable forming its crisis.  And, of course, there’s the other great hope that it would follow the four levels of meaning. (ibid., 19)

“God is God only insofar as he knows himself: {this} is a self-consciousness in man and man’s knowledge of God that goes on to man’s knowing himself in God.”  Hegel’s Philosophy of History, in Kaufman, 273. If I, so ignorant of Hegel, feel that I understand this better than a first-rate Hegel scholar does, I must be onto something, if I’m right.  Only, of course, the real verb isn’t “know.” (ibid., 21)

Hegel’s Ph [Phenomenology of Spirit] is founded on the type of spiral staircase that can exist only in thought: one that starts at an apex (wrong word, of course) and expands as it goes up.  Wonder if I could find this in Shelley or elsewhere: of course there are descending narrowing movements like those in De Quincey. (ibid., 33–4)

Marx is supposed to have inverted Hegel by saying that Hegel’s dialectic would only make sense if it were transformed from ideology to material historical forces. But capitalism has matured only to the extent that it has been subjected to socialist revisionism, and communism has matured only to the extent that it has taken on bourgeois & consumerist revisions.  It looks as though Hegel were right after all, & that the real Armageddon is a verbal & dialectical one. The Chinese admit this, up to a point: Russians & Americans still refuse to do so.  When a myth leads to action, the action invariably perverts the myth.  (Social action, anyway.) (ibid., 65)

The spiritual world is the order of being in which what is in this world expressible only by metaphor becomes existential.  To reach this we have to go beyond the unities of myth and metaphor to a completely decentered and interpenetrating universe: the stage represented by the decentered Bible. Perhaps all this last note means is that I haven’t yet really understood Hegel’s Phenomenology.  But I don’t know: I have no interest or belief in absolute knowledge: I may be climbing the same spiral mountain, but by a different path.  The hypostasis of the hoped-for, the elenchos of the unseen [Hebrews 11:1].  If I could articulate that in my own words, I could burn the straw and pass on (I’m thinking of St. Thomas Aquinas on his deathbed.)  Hegel is a Gnostic, of course, and while I have a great respect for Gnostics, I don’t altogether trust them.  At their point of death there’s a separation of physical body and spirit, but their spirit is patterned on the soul or mind, & isn’t a real spiritual body. (ibid., 188–9)

The merging of reader and icon leads to interpenetration, but at that stage the reader is no longer an individual but one with the universal reader.  The poet doesn’t purify his authority until he’s got rid of his ego, and the critic is not a real reader until he’s taken his wig off & stopped trying to be a judge.  That takes him into the interpenetrating universe of symbol and spirit.  The literary work is now the symbol of literature, in the two senses of symbol: it’s a symbolon completed by the whole of literature, and a symbolos that is an augury or epitome of literature.  The augury foretells: the symbolos as augury has a temporal dimension too, in absorbing the time-identity of the reader.  This I suppose is where typology as conditional prophecy comes in.  But Hegel also speaks of the soul becoming Spirit as it proceeds up his spiral: that is, it goes up in a metamorphosis or transfiguration. (ibid., 193)

Wonder if Hegel has any clear idea of where spirit takes over from soul.  Eliot at least would locate such a point: the Ara vos prec speech in Dante. (ibid., 194)

Three and Six, or symbol and spirit, are likely to be based very largely on Hegel’s Phenomenology and Kant’s Critique of Judgment.  Hebrews defines faith as the hypostasis of the hoped-for, and I’ve given reasons for thinking that hypostasis here means the traditional “substance,” and not Paul’s “assurance.”  Two questions: if we accept the Hegelian thesis that the true substance is subject, where does that take us? (ibid., 195)

I think some of the extra papers now crowding into my mind will get cannibalized.  The one on “Fairies & Elementals” could go into one of the secular Bibles, probably the Adonis one.  And I think a lot of my “lyric” introduction should be expanded and placed in Two.  First, the mental change from linear improvisation to “verse” is a change in awareness.  Also the resonance section could do with some expansion—the aural counterpart of apocalyptic vision—incidentally, that’s a factor that can’t be absorbed in the visual stage, & is thus probably the entering wedge for the reexamining of the experience.  Tolstoy’s WP [War and Peace] with the Russian complications about mir.  Translation and its “sense” cuts off this re-examination to some degree.  Hegel & aufgehoben. (ibid.)

The Bible says that God created man and that the Word became flesh.  This on Hegelian principles contains the fact that man makes (himself) God (which he can do demonically or apocalyptically) and that his flesh (soul-body) becomes Word, or intelligibility.  The two are complementary, not contradictory. (ibid., 219–20)

Look at the Chapman Tears of Peace quote again (for a footnote) and find out where Soul becomes Spirit in Hegel. (ibid., 231)

In the myth-metaphor world all truth is paradox: a Hegelian thesis where thesis contains and implies antithesis, but lives with it and doesn’t transcend it.  A is/isn’t B.  This did/didn’t happen.  Maritain derives the person or individual from the Incarnation, which releases the Self from the idolatry of things; but the individual doesn’t come from there: he comes from society.  In insisting on this Marxism had the real principle.  But it’s only in the individual that paradox can exist, as only Self can enter the interpenetrating world.  I was always shocked by the Marxist use of “the masses.” (ibid., 245)

The “subject” swallows everything objective to it: hence the pan-historical critics of today, the Hegelian pan-philosophical absolute knowledge, the pan-literary universe which only three people understand: Blake, Mallarmé, and myself.  The final answer, naturally, is interpenetration. (ibid., 247)

There are four main bodies of verbal expression.  Two are mythical and rhetorical: one of them is literature, the other the area I’ve been calling ideology.  The other two use logos language, one constructively, the other descriptively.  In descriptive language centripetal features like figured speech and ambiguity are minimized:  they can’t be abolished, but they are subordinated.  The constructive sphere of logos is metaphysical: descriptive writing is words in front of physika, constructive writing is works behind or after ta physika. [The word metaphysics derives from t ag met ag t ag physik aa (the [works] after the physics), a reference to the arrangement of Aristotle’s writings.]  Constructive writing is generated out of ambiguity and metaphor.  Literature represents the maximum concentration of figuration, and the ideological area uses rhetoric kinetically.  I’ve always suspected, too, a Hegelian form of polysemy.  Descriptive writing, corresponding to immediate sensation, is aufgehoben [That is, such writing is negated while at the same time it passes into a new form.  For Frye, as for Hegel, aufheben suggested several meanings at once: to cancel, to preserve, and to lift up.] into constructive writing: that in turn is caught up into the metaphorical & rhetorical structure of ideology.  Then that’s caught up in the poetic, where the centripetal is at its most concentrated.  That may bring me back to conventional meanings of “literal.”  (ibid., 258–9)

Eventually the sense of the simultaneity in the structure separates out as the antithesis of recording.  The antithesis, then, in Hegelian fashion, swallows its opposite and we have dialectic, where A “follows” from B.  The highest development of this is the metaphysical system, which is generated out of the metaphors and ambiguities still lurking in the language.  Also, of course, out of the syntax.  This is what is best called logos language, which I should drop for what I’ve now got it for. (ibid., 260)

[W]e read a book about history or gardening or aeronautics.  When we try to understand it as a whole we see that it is an assertive verbal structure related to, etc.  Assertive verbal structures, that is, dialectical arguments culminating in metaphysical systems, come next.  We try to understand St. Thomas Aquinas or Leibnitz or Hegel & find that they are historically & culturally conditioned products, i.e., works of ideology.  We look at ideological structures and find them products of poetic myths and metaphors.  We look at literary structures and find them products of a totality of imaginative vision (Tao, apocalypse, various Buddhist, Hindu, Moslem terms) where the subject-object and time-space distinctions no longer exist. [See WP, 118.]  Behind the “code of art” I don’t think we can go. (ibid., 261)

Start then where you always start, with the centripetal-centrifugal dichotomy.  The progression that follows is not historical: it’s almost the reverse of historical.  First come the two phases of the Aristotelian mimetic.  I no longer think Aristotle is talking about art & nature: I think he’s talking about two kinds of logos-writing.  Naive mimesis is descriptive writing, corresponding to Hegel’s certainty of immediacy. [See pt. C, ch. AA (“Reason”) of Hegel’s Phenonemology of Spirit.]  Here the verbal reproduces something objective at secondhand: in other words we read to gain information about something outside the words.  Here language has to minimize ambiguity and figuration: the one-to-one relationship of signifier to signified is emphasized as far as possible.  It’s not completely possible, of course: its great strength, however, is in its capacity to create the categories of “truth” and “fact.”  Even the arts appeal to this level: “I just paint what I see”; “a camera dawdling down a lane,” & other metaphors appropriating truth & fact for their vision. [See Words with Power, 8–9; “a camera dawdling down a lane” is NF’s twist on Stendhal’s remark that “a novel is a mirror walking along a highway” (The Red and the Black, chap. 39 (or, in some editions, pt. 2, ch. 19).] (ibid., 263)

For Socrates the word justice can exist only in a world where such words mean what they ought to mean.  To mean is to acquire power.  So he accepts the challenge of his disciples, and proceeds to set up a counter-world, a society illustrating the meaning of justice.  Such a world can exist within the individual, whether it exists within society (or as a society) or not.  Modern synonyms for original sin, like “fascism[,]” refer to the isolating of power, holding power without the need of rationalizing it.  Socrates, like Hegel, is trying to build a verbal structure that will contain power.  That’s the bigger irony Plato is aware of. (ibid., 264)

Critics, or people adopting that position, are curious people: because I’m fascinated by the spiral-staircase shape of Hegel’s Phenomenology, I’m immediately described as a Hegelian.  Partisanship is even more automatically assumed in philosophy than in literature. (ibid., 361)

Hegel thought that Xy [Christianity] was a mythological anticipation of the real truth of his own philosophy; [”Revealed Religion,” Phenomenology of Spirit, 453–78.] that makes him at least an honest philosopher, or rather theologian: all theologians attach belief only to their idioms. (ibid., 362)

Another thing that interests me about Hegel is the eating or cannibal image that ought to be my chapter Seven basis.  The Absolute eats everything up to itself, like Pantagruel in Rabelais II: the Begriff starts at the hidden centre & ends as the circumference.  In that sense the Phenomenology is an Odyssey, because that’s what Odysseus does in the last twelve books.  But after you’ve eaten everything you to have to divide again to love or to reproduce.  That’s why Xy [Christianity] is so uneasy with any identification with God that goes beyond loving God.  But you do go beyond, that God may be all in all [1 Corinthians 1:28]. (ibid.)

Repetition develops, in a Hegelian way, spirally & through aufhebung, in three stages.  In the first stage freedom, existing in pure experience, dreads repetition as the thing that would spoil it; in the second it comes to terms with it, and as it were harnesses its energy (this is the habitus-repetition I got from Butler, though S.K. doubtless wouldn’t think so); in the third freedom & repetition are identified, where repetition is eternity and a new creation.  It’s heaven, in short, just as Nietzsche’s recurrence is hell, the place Antichrist goes to prepare for his disciples. (ibid., 363)

Re my note on Hegel [previous entry]: what he did in theory Kierkegaard does in practice, closing off his “literary” works with their pseudonyms and starting his “edifying” works with prayers.  As I say, he achieves the opposite of this: his great books are literary, with metaliterary features: there are no “levels.”  He invariably says his most valuable things in the “literary” works, where he can pop on a mask and disclaim responsibility. [See Words with Power, 115–16.] (ibid., 363)

Find out where Hegel’s Ph. [Phenomenology of Spirit] switches from soul to spirit, & put in (if you can find it) that remarkable passage from Kierkegaard’s diary about exposing oneself late to Xy [Christianity]. (ibid., 369)

Hegel’s Phenomenology and the “levels” of meaning; re-establishment of the literal and the progress to the anagogic or death-facing on that basis. (Late Notebooks, CW 6, 436)

Part Four is wide open: it includes whatever I can find to say about Hegel’s Phenomenology, the four levels of meaning, the Druid analogy and its apocalyptic vortex, and the like.  I seem to have talked myself into sixteen chapters, which I hope will fold up into eight, in accordance with my usual accordion tactics. (ibid., 437)

I don’t know why I talk about Heidegger for the Hermes chapter, except that he’s a digger and I’m thinking of the ending as going down with the psychopomp.  Hegel’s a climber, of course.  But clearly one of the things I have to do is work out my suggestion in GC [The Great Code] that the Phenomenology is the four levels of meaning again, and provides a scheme for working out the implications of the royal metaphor. (ibid., 452)

The conclusion would start, I suppose, with combining the downward authority and the upward human effort, the two together being the Tao, the axis of stability between heaven and earth.  I doubt if I’ll ever get to the point of writing a chapter on the total symbolic universe, or what I used to call the Druid analogy; but two things I have to be concerned with are, first, dropping in another view of the structure of the Bible as the pectin coagulating the whole argument; and, second, a return to the four levels of polysemous meaning via Hegel. (ibid., 468)

Anyway, Hegel ought to be the climax of the first half, the fulfilment of wisdom as far as the archetype of climbing the ladder goes. (ibid., 480)

The great Promethean theme is the recovery of romance and myth, a post-Hegelian climb, not to absolute knowledge but to absolute vision.  Poe’s Eureka ends in a vision of concentration and diffusion—systole-diastole movement.  Has something for a scientific world of astronomy and the sub-atomic—I don’t know what the metaphorical equivalent is. (ibid., 482)

I can see that everything belongs in it that’s simple follow-up of The Great Code, except for the four levels of meaning.  And maybe that belongs in the Eros chapter: otherwise there isn’t much for it—well, there is if I include the historical Eros poetry stuff.  But the sublimation of Love has been traditional since Plato, and I used to say that Hegel’s Phenomenology climb was up the ladder of love. (ibid., 499)

I suggest, however, that there is a practical and common-sense distinction which leads us to call Goethe’s Faust a poem, whatever its philosophical importance, and Hegel’s Phenomenology a philosophical document, whatever its literary importance.  This brings us into the other aspect of literature, as an art along with music, painting, sculpture and architecture.  Here we soon see different areas of emphasis.  Words are still signifiers, but our main concern in this context is the relation of signifiers to each other, the signifier-signified relation being still there but subordinated.  The resonance of signifiers is what the reader of literature, more especially poetry, contemplates first of all: it is the importance of this resonance that we hear in all the rhyme, assonance, alliteration and metrical patterns of literature, where sound is as important as sense. (ibid., 501)

Part Three, the Cycle of the Spirit, deals with the reintegrating of the antithesis set up in Part One, the four powers of the soul each having two poles.  Two chapters on imagery-space and narrative-time seem to be involved; Hegel’s Phenomenology will be used a good deal, particularly in such things as the passing of the white goddess of the Adonis cycle into the black bride of the Hermes one.  The eleventh chapter will be a summary of my Bible book in terms that bring it into contemporary focus within a general overview of contemporary symbolism. (ibid., 524)

So I still have to work out a series of temporal patterns on the rising grid.  That won’t be easy: I’ve never thought about this.  I suppose Hegelian dialectical incorporation of the negative is one of them. (ibid., 575)

One thing I haven’t thought much about is the connection of the ladder with articulate speech: the Tower of Babel story is a story of confusion of language, its antitype the descent of the Spirit at Pentecost.  I suppose Homer’s “winged words” are in the ladder context syntactical or progression-words, the steady climb of dialectic towards its goal.  (Donne says the angels, who can fly, nevertheless use the ladder in Jacob’s vision.) That’s why Hegel’s Phenomenology belongs to the complex, as well as Dante’s chain-rhyme scheme. (ibid., 584)

The theme I want for the third lecture takes me into fields I’m ill prepared to enter, and unless I can connect it with something already central in me I don’t know how I can complete it in time.  The general idea is that harmony, reconciliation (whether of God and man or of two arguments) and agreement are all terms relating to propositional language.  The poetic counterpart is what I’ve been calling interpenetration, the concrete order in which everything is everywhere at once.  Whitehead’s SMW [Science and the Modern World] says this in so many words: I must have got it from there originally, though I thought I got it from Suzuki’s remarks about the Avatamsaka Sutra.  (I can’t make any sense out of these infernal Sutras: they seem designed for people who really can’t read).  The general line is, I think, anti-Hegelian: Hegel showed how the thesis involved its own antithesis, although I think the “synthesis” has been foisted on him by his followers.  Anyway, the expansion to absolute knowledge is too close to what Blake calls the smile of a fool.  My goal would be something like absolute experience rather than absolute knowledge: in experience the units are unique, and things don’t agree with each other; they mirror each other. (ibid., 616)

Seems to me there may be two layers of historical perspective in the Bible: the linear one that descends to Hegel and Marx and their illusions of an ideal to be reached in the future, and the post-Easter history where everything is totally decentralized in the present, and is apocalyptic rather than millennial. (ibid., 617)

I have four primary concerns: Hegel has just one, namely freedom.  I think all history is evolving spiritually towards fucking and a bottle, like Rabelais.  Nobody knows what to do with freedom: they do know what to do with a bottle and a cunt. (ibid., 620)

Wild pitch: the nineteenth century was Kant’s century, with its critical approach to the speculative reason, the practical reason, and cultural tradition.  The twentieth was Hegel’s century, with its expanding dialectic which could be either revolutionary or reactionary.  Wonder if Schelling’s posthumous philosophies of myth and revelation could possibly come through in the twenty-first.  Schelling sounds like a rather silly man in some ways: I wish though I could read philosophical German fluently enough to know.  According to Wellek, Coleridge stole enough from him to make him a significant figure (that’s not of course his moral). (ibid., 623)

]  Hegel seem to be retracing Kant’s three critiques in his own way: first reason as an observing quality, working within categories imposed by the physical nature of the human body and observing only a phenomenal world.  Second the fact that consciousness means primarily a conscious will, an active being, and a practical rather than a speculative reason that can find something akin to it within (or whatever) the thing in itself.  Third the critical reaction itself, aware of a purposiveness without purpose, as though there were purpose.  Kant’s judgment (Urteilskraft) is where Hegel’s “Spirit” emerges.  Hegel’s master and slave passages take in Morris’s point: in medieval society the workers, at the bottom of the social hierarchy, were also the creators.  The aristocracy put on a big show, but it was all tinsel and showoff, part of the dissolving phantasmagoria of history.  Human society starts with the union of Adam and Eve; with the fall the relation of Adam and Eve becomes the nexus of the master-slave relation, which expands from that.  Hegel seems to overlook, or not be interested in, this point.  The oedipal desire to kill the father and fuck the mother modulates into the desire to be the father and spank hell out of the mother.  Jung seems to be saying that the anima or feminine principle grows out of the shadow, or projected evil principle.  I’ve never liked his man-anima and woman-animus set-up: I think both have both, so the above could be readily reversed.  Hegel thinks the subservience of slave to master is an essential stage in his development.  Maybe he’ll say later that the only genuine form of subservience is to one’s art or craft or vocation, which is so often metaphorically called a master. (ibid., 631)

If it was Vico who began the philosophy of history, it was Hegel who saw that a philosophy of history had to include a history of philosophy.  Philosophy begins in an assertion of territoriality; it grows and diversifies through criticism, dispute, “refutation,” and so on; but its real being is in a tradition of consensus.  Every poem is “unique,” in the soft-headed phrase, and “archetype spotting” is a facile and futile procedure; but the traditions and conventions of poetry make a shape and a meaning.  They move toward a future (emergence of primary concerns), and they expand into a wider present. (ibid., 641)

The “subject” is the psychological subject, which can’t think, can’t create, can’t do anything except complain about its “body” (persona problems), until it hitches on to something traditional.  Hegel calls it the unhappy consciousness.  So it attaches itself to Christianity, Marxism, feminism, or whatever, and starts blathering the clichés of what it (so far) only believes it believes.  Out of that eventually the true individual emerges with a “unique” addition to make to it.  What this is has two aspects: it’s an element in a tradition or convention, and it’s all that unique shit. (ibid., 641–2)

Myths that start at the time or historical end are always pathological: evolution is not a myth, but the gradualist reconstructions of it are.  That’s why the mythology of this Hegelian century of total history is all pathological.  One after another of these historicized myths blow up: efforts to show that phenomenon A must precede phenomenon B because the writer thinks it’s more “primitive” disintegrate; but the farce goes on. (ibid., 646)

The closing passages of Hegel’s Phenomenology include my distinction in GC [The Great Code] between the panoramic and the participating apocalypse.  Perhaps TWO is about the panoramic one, the recognition of a spiritual picture as one form of two distinguishable worlds.  Then THREE could deal with the integration of the two in kerygma. (ibid., 650)

No, the real theme of Three is the contrast between the apocalyptic and the millennial, the pan-historical vision focused on a future versus the vision of the expanded present, the world of physical concerns taking on a spiritual dimension.  Hegel really tried to reach the apocalyptic conclusion in spite of his pan-historical perspective: Marx isolated the millennial element in it, the pure donkey’s carrot of just you wait.  The great strength of the New Testament was in the fact that its future was thought to be just around the corner: hence the abysmal fatuity of Paul whenever he gets on such subjects as what do we do right now with our women.  As centuries passed, the future kept retreating, and now after two thousand years we ought to be getting the point that there’s never anything in the future except more future. (ibid., 653–4)

Hegel’s Phenomenology turns on a gigantic metaphor of a mirror, which is where we get the words speculation and reflection.  The mirror is the central image of an identity of subject and object which nevertheless preserve their difference.  Once they’re identified, we break out of the prison of Narcissus, as I call it in WP [Words with Power]. (ibid., 660)

Section Three: the conception of “levels” of meaning, preserved in Hegel’s metaphor of Aufhebung. (ibid., 683)

Section Five: the conception of “levels” of meaning, preserved in Hegel’s Aufhebung.  The Dante scheme as founded on the wrong kind of literalism.  The rejection of corresponding history re-establishes the Bible as a historical entity, with the example of Gibbon. (ibid., 686)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *