On not going back again

22 11 2010

The ultimate anti-Hegelian argument is the very fact of the post-Hegelian break: what even the most fanatical partisan of Hegel cannot deny is that something changed after Hegel, that a new era of thought began which can no longer be accounted for in Hegelian terms of absolute conceptual mediation; this rupture occurs in different guises, from Schelling’s assertion of the abyss of pre-logical Will (vulgarized later by Schopenhauer) and Kierkegaard’s insistence on the uniqueness of faith and subjectivity, through Marx’s assertion of actual socio-economic life-process, and the full autonomization of mathematicized natural sciences, up to Freud’s motif of “death-drive” as a repetition that insists beyond all dialectical mediation. Something happened here, there is a clear break between before and after, and while one can argue that Hegel already announces this break, that he is the last of idealist metaphysicians and the first of post-metaphysical historicists, one cannot really be a Hegelian after this break, Hegelianism has lost its innocence forever. To act like a full Hegelian today is the same as to write tonal music after the Schoenberg revolution.

-Slavoj Zizek, from this site

This is supposedly the opening to the preface of Zizek’s new book on Hegel, set to come out next year. I think one could apply such principles to Catholicism, but in this case, I think the formative event for the Church was the enthronement of the goddess of Reason at Notre Dame Cathedral during the French Revolution. After that, in many places, the Other entered into the consciousness of Catholicism. Catholicism began to be defined by the Other, by what it opposed and what it sought to defend. (One can say that this happened with Protestantism, though in most places, the fact that cuius regio eius religio was the rule of thumb probably meant that average Catholics knew little of the “Other” in most places.) Anyone who has had to suffer through reading a 19th century Papal encyclical would see this quite easily. Vatican II was in a sense a moment of clarity; the idea that there could be no going back to the pre-revolutionary world. If anything, the much touted “restoration” of Benedict XVI is a bit farcical. Revolution is the name of the game no matter how conservative one pretends to be.
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