Hegel’s philosophy—this is a point on which all his historians and commentators agree—is extraordinarily difficult. Hegel was curiously the uncontested master of a whole generation; he trained many students; he even was—in a way that the history of modern philosophy offers few examples, if it offers any at all—the leader of a school. His influence was unparalleled throughout the nineteenth century, in Germany as well as abroad; his work aroused countless commentaries and unequalled admiration. It would be natural to expect one could enter the edifice of Hegelian thought. And yet, this is not the case at all.
When we read Hegel, and I assume, at least inwardly, that all readers will prove me right, we quite often have the impression of not understanding anything. We ask ourselves: but what can this mean? And even sometimes, silently: does it mean anything? Even when we understand or think we understand, we have an uncomfortable impression that we are watching a sort of sorcery or spiritual magic. We are amazed, struck, we do not follow.
I have stated elsewhere some of the reasons why Hegel is so difficult for us: difficulties of language, of terminology, of mental attitude… But there are others, perhaps even more profound ones, more intimate ones. Hegel’s thought is too abrupt, he moves in leaps, he sees relations where one is unable to glimpse them. He passes through ways which, oftentimes, remain impracticable to us, without making us see why he chooses some over others. Most often, moreover, he passes through paths that remain unknown to us.
It is this impression of magic, of mystery, that made some speak of “the secret of Hegel,” that made us say that Hegel did not reveal to us the principles of his method and that, having masterfully practiced the dialectical method, he did not do anything to teach it. Even that his thought generally had a rhythm different from ours; Hegel thinks “in circles” (“en cercle”) whereas we think “in straight lines” (“en ligne droite”).
To all these obstacles that need to be overcome to penetrate Hegelian thought is added the fact that, until now at least, we were not, or were barely informed about the formation of this thought. Hegel only comes on stage when already fully armed (“armé déja de pied en cap”). For not only the Phenomenology of Spirit, but also the articles and reports during his time at Jena—despite their intentional misgivings— give a glimpse of a thought already well on the way to the system, and are in fact only entirely comprehensible in light of the contemporary and later texts.
This at least partly explains the profound impression produced by the famous mémoire of Dilthey and the publication by H. Nohl of Hegel’s Early Theological Writings. We finally had access to the prehistory of Hegelian thought, we could finally grasp it in statu nascendi rather than in the state of hopeless completion in which it had been presented so far.
The Early Writings revealed to us a whole new Hegel, a quite unexpected Hegel, a human Hegel, vibrant, suffering, a Hegel who found his place in the spiritual movement of the age, not only in the chronological and systematic chart of systems. Hegel scholarship was completely shattered by this, and one could say (without exaggerating too much, at least one would like to think) that the modern interpretation of Hegel in its entirety—until and including the great work of Jean Wahl—was dominated by an impression produced by the Early Writings, by the image of the young romantic Hegel, by the desire to retrieve, under the frozen steel of dialectical formulas, a glimpse of the passionate ardor that animated the friend of Hölderlin and Schelling. With a few exceptions, and in fact unfortunate ones, it is in the Early Writingsthat one looks for the key to Hegelianism—or, at least, the true Hegel. It is in light of these very writings that one looks for the interpretation of the Logic and the Encyclopedia. This craze for the Early Writings, I easily understand. The young Hegel, the Romantics’ friend, is certainly more attractive than the ideologue of the Prussian State. He is closer to us; he seeks, he is restless, like us. And we understand him. Moreover, he is less difficult, more accessible, less abrupt.
Now, to be sure, the Early Writings of the anticlerical and romantic Hegel, of the Hegel smitten with ideas of community and life, smitten with Hellenistic antiquity (false antiquity, but it barely matters), of the Hegel doubly negating his time, are of invaluable importance for understanding the very personal sources of his philosophy, “existential ones,” for measuring the inner tension, the superhuman effort of his thought.
Nevertheless, by emphasizing his early works in so doing (by forgetting that they only shape one side of the diptych, only one moment of the dialectical development) and neglecting the mature works (a sort of curious Jugendbewegung from which I could cite more than one example), one runs a great risk of misunderstanding and misinterpreting the “Hegelian” Hegel, the Hegel of the Logic. More precisely, to emphasize the early works already implies ipso factoscorning and misunderstanding the Logic. Which would also mean a misunderstanding and scorning of the philosopher-Hegel, and even of philosophy tout court. An effect of substituting—the merit and the crime of the Diltheyan School—the “history of ideas” for that of philosophy, of philosophy’s absorption by literature.
Using the Early Works as basis for the interpretation of Hegelianism would be dangerous from yet another point of view. Indeed, between the Systemfragment of Frankfort (1800) and the Phenomenology (1807) is where the whole work of Hegel at Jena stands, his lectures, his articles. A period of uniquely intense and fertile intellectual labour, a period of definitive formation, a period in which Hegel forges his arms. Doubtlessly a more important period for him than the times at Berne or Frankfurt.
It is this very period, Hegel’s years of learning (whose unawareness [from our part] was such a heavy burden on the interpretation of Hegelian thought), which, thanks to the publications of the late G. Lasson and Johannes Hoffmeister, becomes now entirely accessible to us. For the understanding of Hegelianism, this will have an equally great importance, if not an even greater one, than the revelation of the prehistory of his thought by H. Nohl.
Indeed, through the texts of the lectures taught by Hegel at Jena, one is in some way admitted into the philosopher’s laboratory, one can follow step by step Hegel’s efforts, renewed three times, to put order into the universe of his thought, one can attend the elaboration of the Hegelian method, one sees it forming itself not in abstracto, but rather in concreto, in and through the analysis of concrete issues that he was faced with. On the road which, from the Systemfragment of Frankfurt, leads to the Phenomenology of Spirit, one sees, actually realized, the coming to consciousness (“prise de conscience”) that will form the dialectical engine of the Phenomenology.
In these lectures, one sometimes sees Hegel thinking for himself, without taking into account the outside world, without thinking about his listeners or readers (preoccupations which are never absent in the Difference… and in Faith and Knowledge). And some of these abrupt, incorrect, disordered texts belong—from the point of view of the effort of the concept (Anstrengung des Begriffs)—to the most intense and most beautiful [parts] of what Hegel has ever written.
They also reveal to us a little-known Hegel, if not a completely unknown one: a Hegel of visionary spirit. Also, by enabling us to compare two or three successive “states” of a text, they enable us to realize the duality in the steps (“les démarches”) of Hegelian thought: first, the concrete application of a phenomenological method of analysis, then sublation, like a useless staging of his analyses which yet underlie the construction. I will give a thematic example from this “method” later on.
The publications of Hegel’s Lectures did not have the same impact that the Early Theological Writings once had. Perhaps because they went against already formed habits, because they revealed a Hegel that the Early Theological Writings, or even the articles, did not allow to be foreseen: a logical, dialectical Hegel. Concentrating his effort as much on the philosophy of nature as on spirit, preoccupied above all by the idea of the “system.” However, the Hegelian “system” is certainly dead. And from all its pieces, the philosophy of nature is certainly the most outdated and hence also the most arid and boring. Perhaps, therein lies the reason why the texts of Hegel’s Lectures have been used so little by his most recent interpreters. Perhaps here lies one reason, somehow a concomitant one, and the main reason would be the fact that the Hegel of the Jena Lectures is already way too “Hegelian.” Between the Lectures and the Encyclopedia, there is indeed continuity. In contrast, between the Lectures and the Systemfragment, there seems to be a break.
The first editor of the Jena Logic, H. Ehrenberg, frankly admits it. This break can be explained, according to him, by the impression made on Hegel by the historical events of his time. Hegel no longer believes in the possibility of action. Furthermore, instead of reforming the world, he contents himself from now on with explaining it.
Perhaps. It is highly possible, in fact, that Hegel, with such an acute historical sense, had understood better than anyone else the significance of the events unfolding in front of him; he certainly understood that he was attending the crumbling of a world. Nonetheless, the idea of thought substituting for action, of philosophy as, at worst, renunciation, seems to me as little Hegelian as possible.
The break between the Systemfragment and the Lectures seems obvious. Maybe it is still less than what it seems: Let us not forget that we only have one fragment from the Frankfurt system; let us not forget either that it was already a system and that it is because he already has one—to be able to teach it—that Hegel decides to go to Jena. Maybe we are undergoing an optical illusion and are unduly enlarging the hiatus.
But let us admit this hiatus. Why couldn’t one admit a somehow dialectical continuity between Frankfurt and Jena? Philosophy—whose function and goal are, according to Hegel, to explain “what is”—arrive in a timely way in the spiritual evolution of humanity. It also has its place in the spiritual history of man. It appears when the need arises, when it becomes necessary. When the traditional forms of civilization (Bildung), which founded and formed the unity of the spiritual life of a people, crumble and disappear. More exactly, when dead and having lost their value, they become false. Discarding them, destroying them, and leaving again, recreating and reforming the content of this life then become the philosopher’s task.
The “organic” eras do not need philosophy. Civilization and faith are sufficient to unite opposite terms among them, to effect spiritual synthesis, to realize totality. It is only when these unifying forces lose their value, when harmony becomes broken, “when the power of union disappears from the life of men and opposite terms lose their living relations and their interaction, when they stand firm in their independence, thus does the need for philosophy emerge” [Cf. Ueber die Differenz des Fichteschen und Schellingschen Systems der Pholosophie]. It [philosophy] is the daughter of “the living originality of spirit… which, in itself, restores, by itself, the harmony torn apart;” it is also the daughter of the inner tearing (“déchirement”) itself which is hence the source of the very need for philosophy. And that is why philosophy, as a product and realization of reason, always seeks to institute itself as a totality, as a system. That is why its first and most profound interest consists of destroying, overcoming fixed and rigid oppositions in which the understanding revels: opposition between spirit and matter, soul and body, faith and reason, liberty and necessity, infinite and finite… “Not that reason is opposed to opposition and limitation in general; for necessary opposition is the factor of life which, eternally, forms itself by opposing itself, and the most intensely living totality is only possible through its restoration from out of the most profound separation. But reason opposes itself to the absolute fixation of separation by the understanding, all the more so as the [terms] which absolutely oppose each other are themselves derived from reason.”
The time of philosophy had come for Hegel. The living union of opposites, the reintegration of the living totality, he had sought first of all, like Schelling, like Hölderlin, in Life, in Love, in religious Faith. He had written that “this Whole is not contained in love as it is in the sum, the plurality of its particular, isolated, elements; in it [love] life finds itself as a duplication of itself, and [as] its unity; life, beginning from a non-developed unity has run through the circle towards perfect unity. The world and the possibility of separation stood over against the non-developed unity. While evolving, reflection had always produced more opposites so as to reunify them by satisfying impulses [passion, Trieb] until it has set the Whole of man in opposition to itself, until love transcends reflection in total inobjectivity, until it deprives the opposite of all foreignness, until it discovers life itself without anything missing to it.” It is love that accomplishes this miracle, because “in love, the opposite does still remain, but as something united and no longer opposed [separate], and the living senses the living.”
Life, love, spirit: Hegel’s thought, just as that of his whole epoch, revolves around these terms which, moreover, it tended to identify. For love is life, and the life of life is spirit. “If we presuppose a living individual, namely ourselves, and have this reflection, then the life that is posited outside of our limited life is an infinite multiplicity, an infinite opposition of infinite relation. As a multiplicity, a multiplicity of organizations, of individuals, as a unity it is a single separated and unified Whole: Nature,” which is itself nothing else than Life. For Hegel, the task of speculation is also to think the pure life, that is to recapture it and recreate it [the pure life] in itself.
Life itself realizes the synthesis of the one and the many, of the particular and the general: “The concept of the individual implies opposition to an infinite multiplicity, as well as union with it; a man is an individual life in so far as he is other than all the elements and from the infinity of individual life outside himself. He is an individual life only in so far as he is one with all the elements, with the infinity of life outside himself; he is only inasmuch as the whole of life is divided, and that he himself being one part and that all the rest be the other part; he is only inasmuch as he is not a part and inasmuch as nothing is separated from him. If we presuppose life undivided as fixed, living beings can be considered as expressions of life, as manifestations of that life.”
Hegel, who in fact only expresses what everyone thinks around him, writes: “To conceive pure life is the task, to abstract from all deeds, all that man was or will be; character abstracts from activity alone, it expresses the universal behind determined actions. Consciousness of pure life would be consciousness of what man is, and in it there is no difference, no developed real multiplicity. This simplicity is not a negative simplicity, a unity [formed by] the abstraction of any determination; the negatively indeterminate. Pure life is being.” Life, indeed, “is an infinity of living beings, a finite infinite and an infinite finite. And life that is conscious of the figure, of the mortal, the temporal, of that which opposes itself and fights itself infinitely, raises that living being free from transience, [raises] a relation with multiplicity without that which dead and killing, [a relation that is] not a unity, a thoughtful relation, but is all-living, all-powerful, infinite and [this life] calls it God.”
“This elevation of man, not from the finite to the infinite, for these terms are only products of mere reflection, and as such their separation is absolute, but from finite life to infinite life, is religion.”
Hegel continues: “This fact of being an isolated part of the living is transcended in religion, finite life rises to infinite life, and it is only because the finite is itself life that it carries in itself the possibility of raising itself to infinite life. That is why philosophy too has to stop short of religion, because it is a thinking and, as such contains an opposition; on the one hand, an opposition between thinking and non-thinking, as well as an opposition between thinking and that which is thought.” Philosophy has to reveal the finitude of all that is finite, to do the work of critique, of negative theology, and to reject the truly infinite, the infinite of life outside the circle of thought.
Thought, philosophy, is therefore incapable of realizing the absolute union of the finite and the infinite, a union that implies that all opposition, all separation may be removed and transcended. Religion alone is capable of effecting it. However, Hegel continues, such an absolute union is not absolutely necessary. That is, it is not absolutely necessary that such a union may be possible. For any given union, religion is necessary, for everything in the spirituallife of man is conditioned by the latter, but it is not said that all men or even all human groups, all peoples, may be capable of attaining the absolute degree. Happy peoples, that is peoples whose life is barely divided, organic—and here, Hegel thinks about the peoples of classical Antiquity—can draw near to it very closely. It is not the case with regards to unhappy peoples: these have to remain in division, in opposition, in transcendence. Their God remains infinitely remote, and religion does not give them this intimate union to which it aspires and which philosophy announces by sublating itself in front of its threshold.
Religion would then be salvation: but solely for happy peoples. It cannot be given to unhappy peoples. And Hegel belongs to an unhappy people. There precisely lies the reason why he is obliged to do philosophy.
Happy peoples—cannot we attempt to hypothetically reconstitute the follow-up to Hegel’s mediations?—possess salvation in religion. But that is also why—and here is precisely where their happiness lies—they do not feel all the atrocious suffering of tearing, isolation, opposition, unresolved contradiction. Hence they do not do philosophy because they do not feel the need for it, while Hegel, even when he proclaims its insufficiency, does.
Love certainly suppresses and transcends duality. But it only realizes this union de facto: those who are united by love do not know it. Their consciousness is not transformed by it: they feel—when they are united—separated, isolated. They are unaware of the earned victory. It is Hegel, it is the philosopher who knows.
Religion poses the solution to all contradictions, the union of all opposites in God, but it poses this union, this solution, through faith. Hegel may have affirmed, at some point, that one can only demonstrate the necessity for synthesis—opposition presupposes union inside of which only contrary terms can oppose themselves—but [one cannot demonstrate] this synthesis itself, which can only be believed: here again is something he knows, he demonstrates.
Hence, on the one hand, the irrational, religious, mystical solution excludes thought, it excludes reason, and therefore does not resolve the opposition, the conflict that is inherent in it; it does not encompass it either in this supreme synthesis. And on the other hand, reason affirms—by negating itself—its character of indestructible supremacy.
When Hegel arrives in Jena, his position is already established, at least grosso modo. The discovery of the dialectic, the great merit of Fichte and Schelling, had not borne the desired fruits for them. Hegel’s thought, formed by the meditation on theological and historical themes, was quick to discover the true reasons behind the insufficiency of his predecessors-contemporaries. In the case of Fichte, it was very simple: his narrow “Judaizing” moralism inflected theory towards practice. Yet, it had already been a long time since Hegel had written: “Practical activity acts freely, without uniting itself with the opposite, without being determined by the latter; it does not bring unity to a given multiplicity, but is itself the unity that only saves itself from the multiple opposite which, in relation to practical faculty, always remains related [to it]. Practical unity is affirmed by the total sublation of the opposite.” The Fichtean dialectic therefore only has the appearance of a true dialectic. In its heart, it negates itself: it seeks the total suppression of the opposite, which means the total end of any dialectical movement. The opposition comes to it from outside: it is then always forced to confront new obstacles, new opposites that can prevent it from attaining its goal. And it is solely because this goal is impossible that the Fichtean dialectic can escape the immobility of death. But it is also the reason it transforms itself into a dialectic of incompletion, an infinite pursuit of an Absolute impossible to reach, of an Absolute become transcendent again. That is also why the Fichtean dialectic, a finite dialectic, if ever there were one, does not know the true notion of the infinite, and hence substitutes for it that of the indefinite. And this substituting of the “bad infinite” for the “good” one (from the indefinite to the infinite) takes its revenge, through a curious dialectic, within this very philosophy, and produces in it a significant reversal: starting from the notion of freedom, searching for freedom, Fichte arrives at its contrary, at slavery in a police state.
Everyone is aware of the primordial importance that notions related to history and time play in Hegelian thought. One knows that for Hegel, spirit—the highest reality of Hegelian metaphysics—is essentially historical and essentially develops itself, in time. On the other hand, one knows that for Hegel time is not the empty frame “in which all is born and perishes” but rather is itself “the becoming, the birth and disappearance, the all-generating and all-destroying Chronos.”
Everyone knows the famous texts in which Hegel proclaims that “nothing is known or experienced that was not already given in the historical experience of humanity,” and that philosophy itself is only time captured in thought. It is almost useless to insist on this: One knows well that Hegel’s main effort was to “understand becoming” and that the identity of logic and history has not only been the foundation of the philosophy of history but also that of all the Hegelian system.
And yet, I may need to insist once more on this point. For it seems that the revelation of the spirit’s historicity marked a decisive moment in the history of Hegelian thought and that the other no less decisive moment was so because of the discovery of time’s dialectical character. For it is only because spirit is temporal and time dialectical that a dialectic of the spirit is possible. Hegel’s philosophy, however, seems to have been a philosophy of time, in its deepest intuitions, and through it, a philosophy of man. This is so despite the effort to link time to eternity, or more exactly, thanks to the Boehmean notion of timeless becoming, of making time enter within eternity and eternity within time.
Everyone knows that paragraphs 258 and 259 from the Encyclopedia are devoted to the analysis and definition of time: “Time as the negative unity of externalized being, is something absolutely abstract, ideal. It is that being which, insofar as it is, is not, and insofar as it is not, is: the intuited becoming. This means that the momentary differences, which sublate and preserve immediately are determined as exterior, yet as exterior to themselves.” “The dimensions of time, the present, the future and the past are the becoming of exteriority as such and its dissolution in the differences of being seen as passing into nothingness, and of nothingness viewed as passing into being. The immediate disappearance of these differences in unity is the present as a now which, as unity, is exclusive, and yet passes continually into other moments – being itself merely the disappearance of its being into nothingness and of nothingness into its being.”
Hegel had once written that the “relation of the finite and the infinite is… a sacred mystery as this relation is life itself.” Let us listen to what he will now tell us: “The true nature of the finite is only this, that it is infinite, sublating itself in its being. The determinate has no other essence as such than this absolute unrest not to be what it is. It is not nothing since it is the other itself and, similarly, this other, the opposite of itself, is once again the first. For nothingness or the void is equal to pure being, that is precisely this void and, because of this, both have immediately in themselves the opposition of the something or the determined, and for this same reason, they are not the true essence but are themselves part of the opposition, and nothingness or being, the void in general, is only like the contrary of itself, like determination, and the latter is once again the other of itself, or nothingness. Infinity as this absolute contradiction is thus [by this very fact] the only reality of the determined, not a hereafter but a simple relation, the pure absolute movement, being outside the self within being in the self…” “The simple and the infinite, or the absolute contradiction, are not a contradiction to themselves except that [the contradiction] of being absolutely in relation and, as they are opposed, they are also absolutely one. There could be no question of an exit from the absolute outside itself, because it is this alone that bears a contradiction that can appear as an exit from itself. But the contradiction cannot maintain itself near its being, but its essence is the absolute unrest of sublating itself.”
The source, the heart of the dialectic (Hegel tells us that the dialectic of moments—quality, quantity and quantum—consists only in the fact that they were posed as infinite), is in the relation of the finite and the infinite themselves. Hegel strives to make us see the unrest of all finitude, of all determination, of all limitation, which, negativity as such, sublates itself, necessarily posing that toward which it is “de-fined,” “de-limited,” “de-termined,” “de-infinited” (“dé-finie,” “dé-limitée,” “dé-terminée,” “dés-infinie”), necessarily negating this limit, this term, this edge, and thus transforming itself into the in-finite, the un-limited, the in-de-termined. Yet Hegel does not content himself with showing a negation of the infinite in the finite. The infinite is as “in-quiet” (rest-less) as the finite, and being “in-finite,” poses and supposes a limit, an end, in relation to which it affirms itself by negating it [the end]. Double negation, position. All limitation says something like, not this, not a, not b, not c…, and so on and so forth. It poses the ensemble of the a, b, c’s, the infinite totality of being. That is why it expresses itself as an unrest. Finite being is not being (“être”); it is movement; precisely because it is not what it pretends to be, precisely because it is other than what it is not (“justement par ce qu’il est autre qu’il n’est”). Any finite disavows itself in order to exceed itself. Any in-finite absorbs and sublates the finite, while posing it [the finite], and disavows itself in order to grasp itself, to accomplish itself, to enter in itself. And it is only through this movement, this perpetual exchange from one to the other, infinite reversal of terms, that these terms exist in general. For one cannot think the infinite without opposing the finite to it and thus de-infiniting it (“le désinfinir”), nor [can one think] the finite without, simultaneously, infiniting it (“l’infinir”). Nor can one think nothingness, the void, without opposing fullness and being to it, therefore without linking it to being and conditioning it through the latter, nor [can one think] being without opposing nothingness and the void, without it presenting itself to us as the very negation of nothingness. A nothingness that it exceeds and that it therefore includes, and which consequently implies it and watches over it.
Unrest is the heart of being (“l’inquiétude est le fond de l’être”). The finite and the infinite pursue each other and ruin each other [one in the other]; they are only themselves in relation to each other. Hegel continues: “The annihilating unrest of the infinite only is likewise through the being of what it annihilates; the sublated is as absolute as it is sublated; it engenders itself in its annihilation, for annihilation only is as long as there is something that is annihilated. What is, in truth, put in the infinite is that it is the void in which everything is absorbed, and this void is at the same time an opposite or a member of what is sublated, the relation of the one and the many, which yet itself opposes itself to the non-relation of the one and the many, and still is in the simplicity of this opposition resumed in an absolute instability, and is only placed as this resumption, reflected.”
Formulated in another way, movement, unrest, annihilation, sublation and engendering, being from nonbeing and nonbeing from being: aren’t these traits already known? Doesn’t the dialectic of the finite and the infinite reproduce, or rather [shall I say], announce, that of eternity and time? Or simply that of time? Indeed, the dialectical analysis of the infinite and the finite sketches for us frames of the instant and of time. When he reaches the analysis of time, of this mobile and restless infinite that is not for him anymore – and here lies the importance of his attitude—the “image of immobile eternity,” Hegel will say: “The infinite, in this simplicity, is – as moment equally opposed to itself—the negative, and in its moments, while it is present to itself and in itself totality, [it is] excluding it in general, the point or the limit, but in its action of negating, it immediately relates itself to the other and negates itself. The limit or the moment of the present,* the absolute “this” of time, or the “now” is of an absolute negative simplicity, which absolutely excludes of itself any multiplicity and, due to this, is absolutely determined; [it is] not a whole or a quantum which would extend itself in itself [and] which, in itself, would also have an undetermined moment, a diversity (“un divers”) which, indifferent or outside in itself, would relate to an other, but there is here an absolutely different** relation to “the simple” (“un rapport absolument différent du simple”). This “simple,” in its absolute negation, is the active, the infinite opposed to itself as [to] an equal-to-itself; as negation it also absolutely relates itself to its opposite, and its action, its simple negation, is a relation to its opposite, and the now immediately is the opposite of itself,*** the self-negation. Whereas this limit, in its [action of] exclusion or in its activity, sublates itself by itself, it is rather its nonbeing which is acting against itself and of which it is the negation. However, since the limit in itself [and this] immediately is not, this nonbeing opposed to itself as the active, or as what is rather the being-in-itself, which excludes its opposite, is the yet-to-come (“l’avenir”), which the now cannot resist because it is the essence of the present which is indeed the nonbeing of itself. The present, sublating itself in such a way that it is rather the yet-to-come which is engendered [becomes] in it, is itself this yet-to-come; or this yet-to-come itself is not à venir (yet to come), it is what sublates the present, but insofar as it is this, this [something] simple which is an action of absolute negation, it is rather the present which is yet, in its essence, as much nonbeing of itself, or yet-to-come. In fact, there is neither present nor yet-to-come but only this mutual relation between the two, equally negative in relation to each other, and this negation of the present self-negates itself as well; the difference between the two reduces itself* in the rest of the past. The now has its own nonbeing in itself, and immediately becomes for itself** an other, but this other, the yet-to-come in which the present transforms itself, is immediately the other of itself for it is now present. But it is not this first “now,” this notion of the present, but a now that has engendered itself from the present through the yet-to-come, a now in which the yet-to-come and the present have equally sublated and absorbed each other, a being that is a nonbeing of both, an activity, overcome and absolutely in rest, of the one over the other. The present is only the simple limit, self-negating itself, which, in the separation of these negative moments, is the relation of its [action of] exclusion to that which it excludes [itself]. This relation is [the] present, as a different*** relation in which both are conserved; but if they do not conserve each other, they just as well reduce themselves to an equality to itself in which both are not, and are absolutely destroyed. The past is this time turned back (“re-tourné”) into itself which has absorbed in itself the two first dimensions. The limit or the now is empty; for it is absolutely simple or [is] the notion* of time; it accomplishes itself in the yet-to-come**. The yet-to-come is its reality, for the now is, in its essence, an absolutely negative relation. Possessing its essence or this interior in itself, existing as its essence [it is] the being of this essence. Its essence is its nonbeing or the being of the yet-to-come within the now, the reality of the now being in itself what it only has, as notion of the now, only as its interior. This reality of the now, in which the being of the yet-to-come is as much the immediate opposite of itself, [it is] now this opposite in itself and the sublation of both, [sublation] posed, and [is] the former-now (“jadis”), the time reflected in itself,*** or real. But the former-now is not itself for itself, it is equally the now transforming itself through the yet-to-come in the opposite of itself and is therefore not separated from either of them; in itself it is only this whole circuit, that is to say the real time which, through the now and the yet-to-come, becomes the former-now. The real time, opposed as the former-now to the present and to the yet-to-come is itself only a moment of the entire reflection; it is as [the] moment that expresses time returned in itself, [it expresses it] as the equal-to-itself relating to itself, notably as the determination of relating to itself, or it [real time] is its [that of the determination] first moment; it is all the more the now than the past which, as much as the other moments, sublates itself by itself, as for the entire infinite, as self-relating itself, to be as such for itself immediately a passive or first moment.
“In this way, time is as infinite, in its totality, only its moment or in other words, being its first [moment], it would indeed not be as totality, or else, it exists not as what is the foundation of this infinity, which is only as simple infinity in itself, or [else it] is not only the passage-transformation [of the one] into its opposite and from the latter, again in the former, the repetition of a back-and-forth movement which is infinitely numerous, that is, is not the real infinite; the infinitely frequent repetition represents unity as the equality of the repeated one, an equality that is not that of this repeated one (“celle de ce repeté”), but that is outside of it. That which is repeated is indifferent towards that of which it is the repetition and is not, for itself, a repetition (“un répété”).* Though the repetition of time’s reflection might be a [repetition] such that each moment engenders itself from its opposite and is, in this way, towards the “before” as much as towards the “after,” a member of this absolutely different series, it is however only a member and [the fact] that, as this determined member, it is immediately [its] opposite, constitutes the absolute unity of opposite moments. The moment, as such, is yet not in itself what it was before or what it will be later; this reflection is outside of them and [the fact] that it would become once again what it was, is indeed a unity which is only like a repetition.
However, the totality of the infinite is not truly a return to the first moment; for the first moment is itself absorbed as one of the moments. The totality falls back towards the first moment only as [to the moment] opposed to the one from which it immediately proceeds. But the latter is in fact the first [moment] overcome, and [the action of] overcoming itself; and the totality, as the opposite of the different moment, only is so as the unity of both or as the in-itself of the second; it finds itself, as second, only for us.* The third, however, is the expression of this in-itself; and thus it is not the third, but the totality of the two, and real time is the past only as opposed to the present and to the yet-to-come. But this third [moment] is the reflection of time in itself, that is to say that it is in fact the present; and real time, since “former-now” has become “now,” has made itself equally for itself the first moment, as it has sublated and absorbed this now which, thereby, would only present itself as a moment turned back to itself; it is thus the sublation of these moments and the sublation [of the fact] that, in its reflection, it constitutes itself only as moment. The sublation of this formal reflection makes of it a totality equal to itself, which sublates itself as movement in itself, which [totality] is only, it is true, a representation of the whole, but solely as a divided or a different whole.
“The past which, through this, has sublated its relation to the “now” and “former-now,” and is therefore no longer “former-now,” this real time is the paralyzed unrest of the absolute concept, time which, in its totality, has made itself the absolutely other, which from the determination of the infinite whose time is representation, has transformed itself into its opposite, the determination of equality-in-itself and thus, as in-difference equal-to-itself, whose moments are opposed in the form of the latter [this time] is space.”
I have tried to translate Hegel’s text as faithfully as possible, nonetheless without wishful thinking as to the value of this “translation.” I apologize to the reader who might very well find it incomprehensible: and indeed, it is so. But to tell the truth, Hegel’s text itself, which I have cited in extenso and to which I will be able to refer, is more or less as incomprehensible as our translation. It is so at least as far as one does not realize its true character. For it seems that what Hegel strives to give us here, or more exactly, strives to give himself, is by no means an analysis of the “notion” of time. Quite the contrary: it is the “notion” of time, abstract and empty notion that Hegel undertakes to destroy by showing us, by describing to us, how time constitutes itself in the living reality of the spirit. Deduction of time? Construction? These terms, both of them, are inappropriate. For it is not about “deducing,” even dialectically, or about “constructing;” it is about clearing and discovering—rather than hypothetically placing—in and for consciousness itself, for the moments, steps, spiritual acts in which and through which the concept of time constitutes itself, in and for the spirit. So the terms of Hegelian description—I allow myself to point to the conclusion of a previous study—are the complete opposite of abstract terms. They are, on the contrary, concrete to the highest degree. One needs to take them, in some way à la lettre, in their most direct meaning, the crudest. However, it is not things, objects, states that they designate. Chaotic and struck sentences, Hegel’s often incorrect expressions (sich werden, for example, etc.) describe a movement, espouse articulations and a rhythm, designate the acts, and even the actions, of spirit. When Hegel tells us about opposition and contradiction, he does not think about a relation between two terms. He thinks, or rather he sees in himself, an act that “places” something and another that “opposes” something else to it, or that “opposes itself” to the former’s action, an act that “says” something, something that is “contra-dicted” (“contre-dit”). And this is why “contra-diction” is an internal tension and tearing (“déchirement”), a struggle in which the spirit “puts itself,” “negates itself,”—denies itself (“se renie”: re-negates itself)—“sublates itself,” “exceeds itself,” and “annihilates itself.” As for the “different” terms, they are not terms which are different, statically, passively; they are terms which “differ,” that is, which repel each other and drift apart from each other; moreover, “different” acts are acts that make “differ,” that render “different,” and similarly “others” the terms on which they bear, acts that differentiate and that distinguish, and they are those that one finds at the heart of any “difference.” One could say that, as opposed to the age old tradition of philosophy, Hegel does not think in nouns but in verbs.
The fragment which I have just cited then describes, or at least attempts to describe, the construction, or more exactly, the self-constitution of time or, shall I say—while always meaning the same thing—the constitution or self-constitution of the concept of time. Let me say it once more, it is by no means an analysis of the notion of time, abstract notion of abstract time, of time as it presents itself in physics, Newtonian time, Kantian time, time in the straight line of formulas and watches. It is about something else. It is about time “itself,” the spiritual reality of time. This very time does not flow in a uniform way; it is not either a homogenous medium through which one would draw himself; it is neither a number of movement, nor an order of phenomena. It is enrichment, life, victory. It is—let me say it right away—itself spirit and concept.
I have already indicated previously the importance that recurs in Hegel’s thought given to the notion of the infinite intimately tied to that of spirit itself, considering that (and I have just indicated how), in my opinion, the dialectic of the infinite reproduces, or rather “corresponds” to the dialectic of time. I have said that for Hegel, the dialectic of the infinite directly leads to the dialectic of time. I could from now on say that it transforms itself or realizes itself in it. It is because the dialectic of the infinite, as Hegel presented it to us, would still happen in the abstract. It is that, to say the truth, it was not about the infinite but about infinity as it were, still “equal-to-itself,” which opposes itself within itself to the finite which limits it, negates and consolidates it, but which still does not oppose itself to anything else, and does not oppose itself to anything that is other than itself. Yet, it is an other that it needs to oppose itself to in order to absorb it in itself, to exceed it and to reflect itself in it. The abstract infinity represents the abstract spirit which, it is true, “is that which is found and which is in [the very act] of finding itself”, but which nonetheless has not truly retrieved itself, not having yet been actually alienated and lost. Abstract infinity is abstract eternity, timeless, separated from the concrete. For it to realize itself, to become the spirit’s living and present eternity, there also needs for its other, its opposite, to realize itself. To tell you the truth, the dialectic of eternity needs to re-present itself in that of the instant, that it constitutes itself in and through time.
And yet, time—let me remark that Hegel does not take off from the analysis of the notion of “instant,” timeless and punctual limit between the past and the yet-to-come, abstract limit between two abstractions, but from the concrete apprehension that one has towards it,—time constitutes itself in us and for us from the “now.” However, this “now,” again not a limit “between” something and something else but somehow a limit in itself, and also a connection par excellence, is essentially unstable, ungraspable, and perishable. This “now” is never here. It transforms itself immediately into something else. It denies itself by itself and sublates itself by itself. However—and here is the main point—, it transforms itself and denies itself not by somehow falling again into the past, by perishing into what is not anymore “now.” The Hegelian now, despite it being instantaneous and involving no thickness, is indeed a directedinstant. But it is not towards the past that it is directed. It is, to the contrary, towards the yet-to-come. It is this very yet-to-come (“avenir”) which, first of all, presents itself to us as yet to come (“à-venir”), which rejects towards the “is no longer” what was for us “now,” in order for it, in its turn, through a new yet-to-come, to be rejected towards the “is no longer,” and transform itself into the “former-now.” In this analysis, content and form are not separated. Hegel describes the flux of concrete spiritual life rather than an abstract image of becoming, and here is the reason why he will later say that it is not things or processes that are in time, but time itself that is somehow the very fabric of becoming, and consequently, of being.
But let me return to the Hegelian description. It is not “from the past” that time comes to us, but from the yet-to-come (“avenir”, the future). Duration does not extend from the past to the present. Time forms itself by extending itself, or better by exteriorizing itself from the “now,” or better yet by prolonging itself, by lasting. It is instead from the yet-to-come that it [time] comes to itself in the “now.” The prevalent “dimension” of time is the yet-to-come (future), which is, in some way, anterior to the past.
It is this insistence on the yet-to-come, the primacy given to the yet-to-come over the past, which constitutes, I would say, Hegel’s greatest originality. And this makes us understand why, in the additions to the Encyclopedia, Hegel speaks about waiting, about hope, and about regret too. It is that Hegelian time is first and foremost a human time, the time of man, himself this strange being who “is what he is not and is not what he is,” a being who denies himself in that he is in favor of what he is not, or that he is not yet, a being who, starting from the present, denies it, seeking to realize himself in the yet-to-come, who leaves for the yet-to-come finding in it, or at least seeking in it, its “truth”; a being who only exists in this continuous transformation of the yet-to-come in the now, and who ceases to be [as such] the day he no longer has a yet-to-come (or a future), when nothing is any longer to come (“à venir”), when everything is already avenu (already void; “has already come”), when everything is already “accomplished.” And it is because Hegelian time is human that it is also dialectical, in the same way as it is because it is both human and dialectical that it is essentially a historicaltime.
But let me return once more to the Hegelian description. The now, the yet-to-come, the former-now, these three “different” moments of time coordinate, implicate and call for each other. They are never juxtaposed in “indifferent” equivalence as are the three dimensions of space. The instant is oriented, but it also has a structure. The “now,” transformed into a “former-now” through “the yet-to-come” become “now,” has not disappeared; opposing itself to the actual “now” it has itself become “now” again, just as “now” is also the yet-to-come non-actualized. The instant mends and melts again these three different moments which, in their differentiation, expand and give place to a quantum of time, but which, taken back into their unity and their differences, constitute in a living and restless unity what, with Hegel, I will name “present.” The present instant, as I name it, is not simple. It has this internal structure which alone allows it to be present for itself; which alone allows it to realize the dialectic of the spirit, which, in the entirety of its “moments” (waiting for the yet-to-come (future), re-presentation of the past), movements, and acts of negation, of sublation, of opposition and resumption into itself and by itself, “becomes” more and more “present,” constitutive in, for and by this presence to itself, a present vaster and vaster, richer and richer and less and less “equal-to-itself.” And it is because “the former-now,” becoming “now” again, is absorbed and sublimated in the present that the self-constitution of the spirit becomes possible as well as its enrichment in historical evolution, that is to say this identity of history and logic in which we have rightly seen the essence of the Hegelian system.
The Hegelian “dialectic” is a phenomenology. Hegel, once more, only needed to realize what he was actually doing in order to conceive the idea of Phenomenology of Spirit which is, at least in its best parts, nothing else than a visionary description of spiritual reality, an analysis of the essential structures of the human spirit, of the constitution in and by the thought and activity of man of the human world in which he lives.
It would have been interesting to be able to follow Hegelian analysis step by step. Unfortunately, I have to make a jump. Indeed, the notebook comprising the 1803/4 lectures is incomplete. The whole first part is missing from it. And it was the latter that contained the analysis of time. Only one sentence was preserved for us, written in the margin of an analysis of spatial being: spirit is time, Geist ist Zeit. J. Hoffmeister proposes a correction: spirit is in time, Geist ist IN DER Zeit. I do not believe this ought to be done. Hegelian spirit is time and Hegelian time is spirit.
The lectures of 1805–1806 provide us once more with a long passage on time. But the text’s character is no longer the same. It is way more correct, more careful, more orderly, divided in paragraphs as will the Encyclopedia later be. Hegel no longer writes for himself, for noting and fixing an intuition. He thinks of his listeners; he also thinks of his readers; for if it had already been a long time that he had the desire to do so, he then also had the hope of being able to finally publish his System. The style is more dry, more “abstract,” resembling further what one is used to calling “dialectic.” The order of exposition—order of construction—changes too: it is no longer leaving off from time that one finds space, paralyzed time. To the contrary, one leaves off from space and goes back to time. Time and space are furthermore presented as mutually conditioning and engendering themselves. Preoccupation of a “system”? Moving from the more “abstract” to the more “concrete,” from the more “simple” to the more “rich”? One certainly knows that Hegel has always thought the “system;” he could not have not seen that presenting space as paralyzed time was, from the dialectical point of view, a serious mistake. How could spirit indeed pursue its movement? On the other hand, how can space, if it is indifference, pure exteriority, admit the distinctions and dimensions of unity? It is us and time who introduce this unity, these distinctions, in it [space]. And it is in relation to the indifference of the pure multiple that, from now on, the dialectical movement of time constitutes itself, in and through differentiation.
“Space,” Hegel writes “is the existing immediate quantity, the concept in itself or immediately, that is to say in the element of indifference and separation of its moments. The distinction has left space: [which] means that it ceases to be this indifference [equivalence], it is no longer, for itself, paralyzed in all its unrest.* It is the self of opinion (“Meinung”), where we have seen it fall. This pure quantity as pure existing difference for itself is the abstract infinite or the negative in itself: time.
“Provided that opposition has lost its indifference, it is the existing being who, immediately, is not and [the] existing non-being who, equally immediately, is; it is pure existing contradiction. The contradiction sublates itself by itself; it [time] is precisely the existence of this continuous surpassing (“dépassement”) of itself.* These moments are the same pure abstractions as those of space; if the latter seem more real as dimensions, it is only thanks to the form of indifferent subsistence.
“The development of the negative applied to time represents well its dimensions, but the latter does not have the diverse positions [that they have in space], but are immediately their self-sublation. Likewise, space, as space in general, is the substance of these moments, just like time [is for its own [moments]]**.
“Seen more closely (α), one of the spaces belongs, deep down, as one, *** to time; for space, it is only its beyond; for time it is, to the contrary, immanent; for [this] ONE is this relating-to-oneself, being-equal-to-oneself which is absolutely exclusive [of everything], which means: which negates the other. For this reason, what is then absolute in its notion is negation, that is, it is in itself negation, it is this other which is negated by itself. This ONE is; it immediately is; for its equality-to-itself is precisely immediacy. It is the present. The now absolutely excludes from itself any other. It is perfectly simple. (β) But this simplicity and itsbeing is equally immediately the negation of its immediacy, its sublation of itself; the limit which sublates itself and exceeds itself as limit and [which] is an other. Or still, being what absolutely distinguishes itself, it sublates it, for it is pure equality. The now is; there is the immediate determination of time or its first dimensions. Let us firmly maintain nonbeing from its being by opposing it to the latter, put as existing in such a way that this nonbeing sublates it: we put the yet-to-come; it is an other which is the negation of this now: the second dimension. The yet-to-come will be [means]: we present it to ourselves as something, we transfer ourselves to the latter the being of the present, we do not represent it to ourselves as something purely negative. But this being given to itself falls outside itself: it is a [being] represented. Its true being is to be now. Like the positive, the now consists of immediately sublating its being, likewise [the] negative [consists of] immediately negating its nonbeing and to being. It is itself now, as the surface, being the limit of space, is itself spatial. The yet-to-come is thus immediately in the present; for it is the moment of negation in the latter. The now is as much a being that disappears as it is a nonbeing [that], immediately, transformed itself into its own opposite, into being. By virtue of this immediacy, the being of their distinction falls outside of them.
(γ) “The yet-to-come, in opposition to the now, existing sublation of being, is determined as the non-existing sublation [of being]. This nonbeing, sublating itself immediately by itself, is indeed itself existing and now, but its notion is not that of the immediate now proper: it is the now that has sublated and absorbed the now [that is] denier of immediacy. As opposed to these other dimensions, the latter is the past. We maintain it from other dimensions. But, thanks to its immediacy, [namely] to be in its turn a negation directed against the denying-now (“le maintenant négateur”), or to make of the yet-to-come the past, or [yet again] in relation to itself, to sublate it as negation, it [the past] is itself the now; and, by virtue of the indivisibility of the now, the three of them have one and the same now.”
Is it necessary to insist on the agreements and differences presented by the text of Realphilosophie, which I have just cited, and the Jenenser Logik, which I have analyzed earlier? I have already stated how the most recent text appears more ordered, more systematic, more “dialectical.” Note that the primitive terminology is not preserved: the distinction, so important, between “the present” and the “now” is provisionally abandoned. Perhaps this is because it could not be maintained everywhere, especially since Hegel did not dispose of a second term as to oppose it to “yet-to-come” (Zukunft), just as the “now” opposes itself to the “present” and the “former-now” to the “past.” Note as well that Hegelian analysis nowadays is less about the acts themselves than about their correlata, their immanent objects, that it also takes an experimental outlook, in some sense; it follows step by step the action of negation, the dialectic of the “no” applied to the now and to time. Note finally the insistence on the character of the now’s immediacy. The now is, essentially. That is what gives the now—present instant—its ontological primacy and what explains, on the other hand, that the dialectic of the instant forms the necessary counterpart to that of the infinite. The now is immediately, and it is starting from this immediacy that the yet-to-come and the past constitute themselves. The yet-to-come first, “then” the past—Hegel remains faithful to his doctrine about the primacy of the yet-to-come (future) over the past—do not leave the now, do not extend it, and [they] do not extend themselves in it as would a line passing from a point do. The yet-to-come—what will be—draws its being from the now which is, but by doing so it negates and replaces it, this way itself denying itself. And if it is us who are now giving, or transferring, being from the “now” to the yet-to-come, one only does it by negating the “now.” Further, it is the very negation of the now, negating it and hence negating its being, that projects itself in the yet-to-come that it [the negation] opposes to it [the now] and that it thus opposes to itself. Likewise, it is by negating itself—as yet-to-come—that the yet-to-come becomes now and existing. By doing so, it accomplishes the present that it sublates; it also accomplishes itself and opposes itself once more to the future that it once was and is no longer, to the past that it will be and it is not yet. However, the past, opposing itself to the “now,” is itself now, a second now, that which Hegel had once named “present.”
“The past is time accomplished; on the one hand as past, that is as a dimension, it is the pure result or the truth of time;* on the other hand, however, it is the time of totality; the past itself is only a dimension, a negation immediately sublated in itself, or it is now. The now is only the unity of these dimensions. The present is no more and no less than the past or the yet-to-come. What is absolutely present or eternal is time itself as unity of the present, the yet-to-come and the past.
“When we say of time that, from the viewpoint of the absolute, it is annihilated, we blame it either for its instability [the fact that it is ephemeral and temporary], or for its negative character. But this negativity is the absolute concept itself, the infinite, the pure self of being for itself,* just as space is the pure self in itself, placed objectively. It is therefore the highest power of all that is, and the true manner to envisage anything is to envisage it in its time, that is to say in its concept, where everything is only a fading moment. On the other hand, however, [we blame it] because the moments of the real separate themselves in time, one isnow, the other was, and yet another will be, [but] in truth, everything inasmuch as it is separated, is immediately one unity. Yet, the fact of being separated does not belong to time as time, but rather to the space which comes with it, for, precisely, it is not the indifferent separation of moments, put outside each other, but precisely this contradiction of possessing in an immediate unity what is purely and completely opposite.
This character of immediacy in which moments dissolve themselves is what I just recalled, namely, that the distinction of its dimensions fall outside the latter, that it is we who are the space where they [dimensions] are placed, distinguished, as much as it is we who arethe time that moves the negativities of space [in such a way] that they are its dimensions and their different positions…
“Time casts itself into an abyss (“s’abîme”) by itself in its past as [forming] its totality, that is this dimension is its explicit sublation.* Whether its truth is here or not, this is founded on the immediacy of the self-sublation of moments, which precisely means, their non-preservation. But time only is [this action of] distinguishing; it is not there as long as its distinctions are not there either; and they are not in this immediacy of self-sublation. It is rather pure mediation that falls back into immediacy. Hence, as much as time [results] from space, it is also its result.
“This immediacy in which time has returned is however something other than the first one from which we have started, for it is also the absolutely mediatized. It is only the substance of both, which is their unity, their substance [maintains], as that which has not yet been put, one of their moments always falling outside each one of them, within the other.
“It [substance] is duration; it is only in this way that space and time are.”
Is it necessary to extensively comment these texts in which Hegel poses the necessary union, the dialectical identity of essence and existence, of eternity and time, which form the basis of the whole edifice of Hegelianism, the basis of “the identity of logic and history,” consequently the basis of the logic and philosophy of history? Do I have to insist on the light they throw on the texts of the Encyclopedia which I have cited earlier?
But, thereby, what does one find in the Encyclopedia in the place of these analyses and descriptions that are so profound and rich? Almost nothing: one sentence on Chronos, another on the necessity of not separating eternity and time. And this whole doctrine that is so curious of the prevalence of the yet-to-come over the past is condensed in the order in which Hegel enumerates the moments or dimensions of time: now, yet-to-come, past.
And one cannot but have a feeling of unease when pondering how little the texts published by Hegel inform us on the real steps of his thought, when thinking about the extent to which these exoteric texts are, deep down, esoteric and secretive; and a feeling of admiration if one ponders precisely this secret work, which underlies and bears the esoteric phrases of the Encyclopedia.
But let me come back one more to time, to this Hegelian time which is, as one sees, neither a “mobile image of an immobile eternity,” nor a homogenous milieu, nor the number of movement. To this time, which denying itself, soars to the yet-to-come before falling back into the past; to this all-destroying Chronos, essentially opposed to persistence and preservation, because [it is] essentially [the] principle of creation, of the new, of time, which alone is eternal because it is spirit, and which alone is real because it is essentially present. A dialectical present, tense, dramatic. A present victorious over the past, encompassing it and rendering it present: this time, once more, is not the time of formulas and watches. This time, it is historical time, essentially human time. For, Hegel says, it is we who project ourselves in the yet-to-come, by negating our present and by making it a past. And it is we who, in our memory, take back and revivify this dead and accomplished past. It is in we, it is in our life that the present of spirit realizes itself. The dialectic of time is the dialectic of man. It is because man is essentially dialectical, which means essentially negating, that the dialectic of history, nay, that history itself, is possible. It is because man says no to his now—or to himself—that he has a yet-to-come. It is because he negates that he has a past. It is because he is time—and not only temporal—that he also has a present, a present victorious of the past.
Victorious over the past; encompassing it without sublating it. For the past, the death of time, time elapsed, stopped, must underlie every instant of spiritual duration and must be overcome by the spirit. Hegel will say later, “It is not the spirit which ignores death, it is the one which masters it and bears it in himself who is the true spirit.” The instant of the present—any instant of the present—the now tended towards the yet-to-come, and encompassing the past, is already an instant of eternity. Any nunc is a nunc aeternitatis, for eternity is time itself, the eternal movement of the spirit.
However, although time may be the existing dialectic, and thus the existential one, of the spirit, time cannot be separated from space inasmuch as spirit cannot be separated from nature. It is only in their union, which is also dialectical, that they realize themselves. And in the same way that time and space only truly exist in duration and place, and that there is no un-spatial time as much as there is no timeless space, there is also no nature [that is] non spiritualized, nor is there a spirit [that is] non natured. For if spirit, as Hegel describes it in a striking formula, is “what finds itself” and what only exists in and through this act of recognizing itself, for finding itself and recognizing itself, it needs to disperse and lose itself, previously and simultaneously. If time in the real present meets the dead past and infuses life in it, there also needs for it to be, in itself, always already to fall into it, to be extinguished, to die, and for it to have done it already.
That is how, in the Hegelian conception, the dialectical nature of the instant ensures the contact and co-penetration of Time and Eternity. But it is also what explains in the last analysis the failure of the Hegelian effort. For, if time is dialectical and if it constructs itself from the yet-to-come, it is, whatever Hegel says, eternally incomplete. Furthermore, the present itself—which is already the yet-to-come—, is not anything which can be grasped. For the spirit, indeed, can render the present past. It can only do it, however, through the help of the yet-to-come.
Thus, only the dialectical character of time makes a philosophy of history possible, but at the same time, the temporal character of the dialectic makes it impossible. For the philosophy of history, whether one likes it or not, is its interruption. One cannot foresee the yet-to-come, and the Hegelian dialectic does not allow it to us, since the dialectic, the expression of the creative role of negation, expresses its freedom at the same time. The synthesis is unpredictable: one cannot construct it; one can only analyze it. Philosophy of history—and through it Hegelian philosophy, the “system”—, would only be possible if history ended, if there were no longer any yet-to-come (future), only if time could stop.
It might be that Hegel believed this. It is possible that he believed that there lay not only the essential condition of the system—it is only with the falling of twilight that the owl of Minerva spreads its wings—but also that this essential condition was already realized, that history was indeed completed, and that it is precisely for this reason that he could and that he was able to accomplish it.