Sometime I will try to consider why I have a soft spot for philosophy and why had I been a precocious child, when asked that question—what do you want to be when you grow up—I would have said, why a philosopher of course as if that were a worthy and respected occupation like being a fireman or baseball player or financial tycoon or any of the other things that little boys want to be. As it were though, I don’t recall ever having been asked what it was I wanted to be by anyone least of all by my parents. Perhaps that is what made me philosophical.
But I have read quite a bit of it. I have even read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit whole and in parts on several occasions. This book is so incomprehensible that other books have been written about it that are nothing but line by line or paragraph by paragraph exegesis, or retranslations of it into other words. Unfortunately these books are more incomprehensible than the original. And while I would never say I understood anything of what this book says, by which I mean I would never dare to claim to say the book says this or that, I did by dint of immersal come to sense the general drift of the argument. In fact I do believe that this may be one of the most repetitious, in a profound sense, works ever written, the only problem being one is not at all sure of what is being repeated.
In any case, one day while reading Hegel, I began slowly to chuckle and then to laugh deep down into my belly. I do believe I am one of the few persons alive who has ever laughed at Hegel. Not that I believe Hegel was capable of telling a joke or if he was capable, that one would no doubt have walked out from sheer fatigue, midway through it. No, and I mean no disrespect, but I found myself laughing at his bringing to bear, with all manner of pulleys, hoists, gyros, tubes, levers and cranks, his massive Teutonic apparatus upon the topic of Phrenology and its claim to be a science.
Nobody today—or at least I hope not—believes that phrenology that claimed one could know the character of a person by reading the lumps, bumps, pits and curves of the skull is a science. But during Hegel’s day, phrenology had become quite scientific looking what with all manner of charts and graphs. That’s why I laughed I think to see Hegel all strenuously and seriously bring to bear his gigantic Teutonic apparatus on something as transparently stupid—one now feels—as phrenology. It was, I strain for an analogy, rather like watching the entire American nuclear force depositing itself on a hapless flea.
Perhaps as is frequently the case with a laugh, one has to be there, and while the following can in no way supply the full sensation of the movement of his Teutonic apparatus, it may supply at least a glimmering:
The skull-bone is not an organ of activity, nor even a `speaking’ movement. We neither commit theft, murder, etc. with the skull-bone, nor does it in the least betray such deeds by a change of countenance, so that the skull-bone would become a speaking gesture. Nor has this immediate being the diminish the organ, whether it would make it coarser and thicker or finer. From the fact that it remains undetermined how the cause is constituted, it is equally left undetermined how the effect is produced in the skull, whether it is an enlarging or a narrowing and falling-in of the latter. When this influence is defined, as it were, more imposingly as a ‘stimulation’, it is still undetermined whether this takes place by swelling, like the effect of a cantharides plaster, or by shrivelling, like the effect of vinegar. All views of this kind can be supported by plausible grounds, for the organic relation which just as much plays a part accommodates one view as readily as another, and is indifferent to all this cleverness.
Now if this is not good for a laugh, I don’t know what is. I mean, The skull-bone is not an organ of activity, nor even a `speaking’ movement! What a hoot!