A passage I return to again and again...

A. Kojève describesHegel’s frame of mind as he sets out to write the Phenomenology of Mind:

“To begin with, he is a man of flesh and blood, who knows that he is such. Next, this man does not float in empty space. He is seated on a chair, at a table, writing with a pen on paper. And he knows that all these objects did not fall from the sky; he knows they are products of something called human work. He also knows that this work is carried out in a human World, in the bosom of a Nature in which he himself participates. And this World is present in his mind at the very moment when he writes to answer his “What am I?” Thus, for example, he hears sounds from afar. But he does not hear mere sounds. He knows in addition that these sounds are cannon shots, and he knows that the cannons too are products of some Work, manufactured in this case for a Fight to death between men. But there is still more. He knows he is hearing shots from Napoleon’s cannons at the Battle of Jena. Hence he knows that he lives in a World in which Napoleon is acting…” (Introduction to Hegel, p 34)

This passage evokes consciousness and self-consciousness in an almost cinematic way. It starts with a person (who doesn’t yet realize his own importance so he is a normal person) at a desk writing. His awareness of where he is and the forces that control his life and the human activity that constitutes his life radiate outward and spiral inward at the same time. Thus showing the connected (or in Hegelian terms the dialectical nature of) what is deeply personal and idiosyncratic on the one hand to a person sitting at a desk and at the same time the globally resonant events of October 1806.

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