Monday, March 16, 2015

You Are a Master or You Are a Slave - Kojéve

I’m zonked out at the library and I have been typing for hours so I don’t have the will to think/type anything original today so instead I will share with you some extracts from Alexandre Kojèves Introduction to the Reading of Hegel. This section doesn’t get into his Hegel interpretation but lays out his thoughts on desire, recognition and the master/ slave relationship. I don’t agree with all he writes but I have to say upon reading it for the first time a few days ago it made me both excited and sad. Excited because it seems so relevant to how today is and sad because of that very same thing.

When reading it I thought a lot about the art world and how it functions within a capitalist system and what that all means for art and culture in general. Sort of a downer but I'd rather be down then glassy eyed.

Read it in full if your interest is peaked. 

Alexandre Kojéve, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, Basic Books, Inc. New York, 1969, (1939 original text)

The man who contemplates is "absorbed" by what he contemplates; the "knowing subject" "loses" himself in the object that is known. Contemplation reveals the object not the subject.

The man who is "absorbed" by the object that he is contemplating can be "brought back to himself" only by a Desire.

Desire that man is formed and is revealed-to himself and to others – as an I, as the I is essentially different from, and radically opposed to, the non-I. The (human) I is the I of a Desire or of Desire.

Consequently, the human reality can be formed and maintained only within a biological reality, an animal life. But, if animal Desire is the necessary condition of Self-Consciousness, it is not the sufficient condition. By itself, this Desire constitutes only the Sentiment of self.

…to satisfy hunger, for example, the food must be destroyed or, in any case, transformed. Thus, all action is “negating.”

For there to be Self-Consciousness, Desire must therefore be directed toward a non-natural object, toward something that goes beyond the given reality. Now, the only thing that goes beyond the given reality is Desire itself. For Desire taken as Desire – i.e., before its satisfaction – is but a revealed nothingness, an unreal emptiness.

In other words, in order that Self-Consciousness be born from the Sentiment of self, in order that the human reality come into being within the animal reality, this reality must be essentially manifold. Therefore, man can appear on earth only within a herd. That is why the human can only be social.

Human Desire, or better still, anthropogenetic Desire, produces a free and historical individual, conscious of his individuality, his freedom, his history, and finally his historicity. Hence, anthropogenetic Desire is different from animal Desire (which produces a natural being, merely living and having only a sentiment of its life) in that it is directed, not toward a real “positive,” given object, but toward another Desire. Thus, in the relationship between man and women, for example, Desire is human only if the one desires, not the body, but the Desire of the other; if he wants “to posses” or “to assimilate” the Desire take as Desire – that is to say if he wants to be “desired” or “loved” or rather, “recognized” in his human value, in his reality as human individual.

Thus, an object perfectly useless from the biological point of view (such as a medal, or the enemy's flag) can be desired because it is, the object of other desires.

…human history is the history of desired Desires.

…all Desire is the desire of a value.

Therefore, to desire the Desire of another is in the final analysis to desire that the value that I am or that I “represent” be the value desired by the other: I want him to “recognize” my value as his value. I want him to “recognize me as an autonomous value. In other words, all human, anthropogentic Desire- the Desire that generates Self-Consciousness, the human reality – I, finally, a function of the desire for “recognition.” And the risk of life which the human reality “comes to light” is a risk for the sake of such a Desire. Therefor, to speak of the “origin of Self-Consciousness is necessarily to speak of a fight to the death for “recognition.”

Without this fight to the death for pure prestige, there would never have been human beings on earth.

Without being predestined to it in any way, one must fear the other, must give in to the other, must refuse to risk his life for the satisfaction of his desire for “recognition.” He must give up his desire and satisfy the desire of the other: he must “recognize” the other without being “recognized” by him. Now, “to recognize” him thus is “to recognize” him as his Master and to recognize himself and to be recognized as the Master’s Slave.

For the truth of his subjective-certainty of the idea that he has of himself, of the value that he attributes to himself could have been nothing but the fact that his own Being-for-itself was manifested to him as an autonomous object; or again, to say the same thing: the fact that the object was manifested to him as this pure subjective-certainty of himself; [therefore, he must find the private idea that he has of himself in the external, objective reality.] But according to the concept of recognition, this is possible only if he accomplishes for the other just as the other does for him the pure abstraction of Being-for-itself; each accomplishing it in himself both by him own activity and also by the other’s activity.

This transformation of the world that is hostile to a human project into a world in harmony with this project is called “action,” “activity.” This action- essentially human, because humanizing and anthropogenetic- will begin with the act of imposing oneself on the “first” other man one meets. And since this other, if he is (or more exactly, if he wants to be, and believes himself to be) a human being, must himself do the same thing, the “first” anthropogenetic action necessarily takes to form of a fight…

For each must raise his subjective-certainty of existing for self to the level
of truth, both in the other and in himself.

In other words, only by the risk of life does it come to light that Self-Consciousness is nothing but pure Being-for-itself.

This means that man is human only to the extent that he wants to impose himself on another man, to be recognized by him. In the beginning, as long as he is not yet actually recognized by the other, it is the other that is in the end of his action; it is on this other, it is on recognition by this other, that his human value and reality depend; it is in this other that the meaning of his life is condensed. Therefore, he is “outside himself.” 

The Master is related in a meditated way to the Slave, viz., by autonomous given-being; for it is precisely to this given-being that the Salve is tied.

Since all the effort is made by the Slave, the Master has only to enjoy the thing that the Slave has prepared for him and to enjoy "negating" it, destroying it, by "consuming" it.

Therefore, it is solely thanks to the work of another (his Slave) that the Master is free with respect to Nature, and consequently, satisfied with himself.

The complete, absolutely free man, definitively and completely satisfied by what he is, the man who is perfected and complete in and by this satisfaction, will be the Slave who has “overcome” his Slavery. If idle Mastery is an impasse, laborious Slavery, in contrast is the source of human, social, historical progress.

The Master is not the only one to consider himself Master. The Slave, also consider him as such. Hence, he is recognized in his human reality and dignity. But this recognition is one-sided, for he does not recognize in turn the Slaves’ human reality and dignity. Hence, he is recognized by someone whom he does not recognize. And this is what is insufficient- what is tragic- in his situation. The Master has fought and risked his life for a recognition without value for him. For he can be satisfied only by recognition form one whom he recognizes as worthy of recognizing him. The Master’s attitude, therefore, is an existential impasse.

In becoming master of Nature of work, then the Slave frees himself from his own nature, from his own instinct that tied him to Nature and made him the Master’s Slave. Therefore, by freeing the Slave from Nature, work frees him from himself as well.

It is this work, and only this work, that frees-i.e., humanizes-man (the Slave). On the one hand, this work creates a real objective World, which is a non-natural World, a cultural, historical, human World.

This man will act as a “skillful” reformer, or better, a conformer, but never as a true revolutionary.

The Master can never detach himself from the World in which he lives, and if this World perishes, he perishes with it. Only the Slave can transcend the given World (which is subjugated by the Master) and not perish.