The Comedy of Hegel and the Trauerspiel of Modern Philosophy

  • Gillian Rose
Part of the International Archives of the History of Ideas / Archives Internationales D’Histoire des Idées book series (ARCH, volume 149)


Hegel is keen to distinguish the merely laughable from the comical in the sequel to this passage from page one thousand, one hundred and ninety-nine of the English translation of his Aesthetics 2. We may laugh at any contrast between subjective caprice and insubstantial action, while vice and evil are not in themselves comic: “There is also the laughter of derision, scorn, despair, etc. On the other hand, the comical as such implies an infinite light-heartedness and confidence felt by someone raised altogether above his own inner contradiction and not bitter or miserable in it at all; this is the bliss and ease of a man who, being sure of himself, can bear the frustrations of his aims and achievements.”3 (Is this condition of serenity, I wonder, attained by effort or by grace?) In comedy, “the ruling principle is the contingency and caprice of subjective life” whose nullity and self-destructive folly displays the abused actuality of substantial life.4 The aberration of the passions that rage in the human heart are drawn from “the aberrations of the democracy out of which the old faith and morals have vanished” (as Hegel describes Aristophanes’s comedies).5 While in tragedy the powers which oppose each other as pathos in individuals are hostile, in comedy, “they are revealed directly as inwardly self-dissolving.”6 Comedy, as much as tragedy, is always divine comedy: “the Divine here in its community, as the substance and aim of human individuality, brought into existence as something concrete, summoned into action and put in movement.”7


Legal Person Dialectical Materialism Ethical Substance Hegelian Dialectic Divine Comedy 
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  1. 2.
    Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, trans. T.M. Knox, (Oxford: The Clarendon Press), vol. II tr. amended.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 1200.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 1180, 1202.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 1163.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., 1162.Google Scholar
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    I refer here to Nietzsche’s argument that “complete nihilism is the necessary consequence of the ideals entertained hitherto”; it involves the active transvaluating of values as opposed to passive and incomplete nihilism, “its forms: we live in the midst of it.” (See The Will to Power, trans. Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, [New York: Vintage, 1968], Book One: European Nihilism, secs. 22,28).Google Scholar
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    I employ here Freud’s distinction between “Mourning and Melancholia” (See The Penguin Freud Library, van l On Metapsychology, [Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1984], 245–68.)Google Scholar
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    For aberrated mourning, see Laurence A. Rickels, Aberrations of Mourning: Writing on German Crypts, (Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1988); for inaugurated mourning, compare the inaugurated eschatology of John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, trans. Colm Luibheid and Norman Russell, (London: SPCK, 1982).Google Scholar
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    This subsequently became the opening essay of History and Class Consciousness: Studies in Marxist Dialectics (1923), trans. Rodney Livingstone, (London: Merlin, 1971), pp. 1–26.Google Scholar
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    Glas remains Derrida’s most sustained engagement with Hegel’s thought, but not from the perspective of the relation between Marx and the Hegelian dialectic (see Glas (1974), trans. John P. Leavey, Jr, and Richard Rand, [Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1986]).Google Scholar
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 1997

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  • Gillian Rose

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