Tuesday, March 2, 2021

Hegel and Derrida: On Prefaces

Hegel philosophically confronts the problem of prefaces in the Preface to his book The Phenomenology of Spirit. The preface, Hegel posits, is not the pre-face—it is not something that is written before the book; it is a retrospective event, something that can be better described as a post-face, or a text that has been written after the book is complete. Hegel asks the reader not to take his Preface seriously, because the serious stuff is in the book which follows: “In the case of a philosophical work... such an explanation seems not only superfluous but, in view of the nature of the subject-matter, even inappropriate and misleading.For whatever might appropriately be said about philosophy in a preface–say a historical statement of the main drift and the point of view, the general content and results, a string of random assertions and assurances about truth–none of this can be accepted as the way in which to expound philosophical truth.” In his book Dissemination, Derrida notes that Hegel had to write a preface to denounce the preface, even though much of Hegel’s work is a play of prefaces.

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