From Logic to Literature and Back Again: Interpreting Hegel

How do you tell the story of the present moment as it takes place? When people construct stories about the past, they do so with the benefit of reflection and hindsight. But developing a narrative about the present — while still in the present — is far trickier. 

Throughout his career, the philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel continually questioned the nature of thought and action as they occurred. Drawing on that work, Professor Angelica Nuzzo (Brooklyn College, The Graduate Center, CUNY) set about proposing an answer to the question of narrating the present in her new book Approaching Hegel’s Logic, Obliquely: Melville, Moliere, Beckett. “Hegel’s dialectic-speculative logic is the only one that aims at—and succeeds in—accounting for the dynamic of real processes,” she writes.

At the core of Hegel’s Logic exists a puzzling dichotomy: “pure thinking’s most proper action.” In other words, he was interested in the act of thinking as opposed to thought, which has already taken place. As a result, his dialectic on logic involves “transformative processes.” Nuzzo writes, “It is a logic that attempts to think of change and transformation in their dynamic flux.”

Rather than deal with Hegel’s Logic in the abstract, she turns to an array of literary works to help provide specific examples. She analyzes Herman Melville’s Billy Budd, Samuel Beckett’s Endgame, and selections of poetry from Elizabeth Bishop, among others. “The claim that the forms of Hegel’s logic are logical forms of action allow me to exemplify their validity with regard to specific real figures of human action,” she explains.

Nuzzo’s interpretation, she clarifies, is not about offering a “Hegelian reading” of these works, but by turning to them as ways to understand his dialectic. In doing so, her book offers a more tangible interpretation of Hegel’s Logic while framing each classic work in a new light.

Nuzzo said she hopes readers understand how Hegel’s Logic “can speak to the contemporary world — to the challenges it poses to us — in unprecedented ways.” She added, “I’d like them to discover how rich this famously difficult text is when placed in an interdisciplinary dialogue with literary texts.”

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"Faculty Book: Angelica Nuzzo" (GC News)