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journal of the theoretical humanities

volume 10 number 3 december 2005

his paper considers life and death in natural

T beings in terms of ratios of acceleration and
deceleration, elasticity and rigidity. Indirectly, the
paper is intended to suggest a model for under-
standing the life and death of Hegelian philosophy.
The system falls into place in two ways: first, it
speeds up, as all the categories of logic reshape
themselves into one another in infinite ways;1
second, it slows down, as all the determinations fill jay lampert
up a plenum. The experience of the absolute as an
acceleration to general life on the one hand and as a
deceleration to general death on the other can only SPEED, IMPACT AND
be two descriptions of the same event. Life cannot
be movement while death is inertness, nor can FLUIDITY AT THE
life be stability while death is dissolution. For
movement can be stabilization and rigidity can be
momentum. In short, the life–death distinction LIFE AND DEATH
does not line up with a motion–rest distinction.
Rather, life is a certain structure of motion–rest hegel’s philosophy of
interaction and death is another such structure
that interacts with it, and the two kinds of motion–
rest interaction are at once in conflict and
indifferent to one another. We will have to life, structures that involve movement and the
expect, then, that life will conquer death only by obstacles to movement, speed and the ratios of
also becoming it. Or perhaps that the life that interacting speeds, densities and fluidities, and the
survives by conquering death is itself a kind of shifting balances between inertial stabilities, the
death whereas the life that survives as life is one immaterializing effects of impact, and free fall. In
where the barrier between life and death is short, death becomes a problem for living beings
fluidized. due to the forces of gravity.
Animal life is defined in terms of self- There are as many deaths in store for the
movement, and this is why death is only a problem organism as there are categories that define it,2 but
for animals. We will see later that the animal must I am going to highlight three deaths analyzed in
learn not to care whether it is alive or dead. Still, Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature:3 death by impact
while death is a problem only for animal life, death (the argument from gravity), death by superfluity
becomes an issue precisely because the animal is (the argument from sexuality), and death
interpenetrated by inorganic matter. Death is a by indigestion (the argument from disease).
problem for life, but it is a problem because of Hegel’s examples are, of course, drawn from 1820s
matter that is not alive. The problem of death science. This raises hermeneutical issues, but
arises because of physical structures that precede I will not discuss them here. My focus is on

ISSN 0969-725X print/ISSN 1469-2899 online/05/030145^12 ß 2005 Taylor & Francis and the Editors of Angelaki
DOI: 10.1080/09697250500424437

speed, impact and fluidity

Hegel’s metaphysics. I will not try to update his and to say that it is at rest. We could say the thing
examples, but will draw illustrations from his own is in motion and that it changes place; or we could
example-field. say that the thing stays at rest in the same place but
that the place changes configuration. For the dead
man, in fact, it’s really more the latter. That is, it’s
i death by impact (the argument
less that the man got pushed out of the way by the
from gravity): ‘‘the man is struck dead
brick and is now somewhere else; it’s more that the
by space and time’’
man stayed in the same place but now has a brick
There are many ways to characterize the point at for a head.
which a space-time configuration becomes alive. Either way, though, the man is killed by relative
From one side of the dialectic, life involves velocity, and paradoxically, it is because of this
maintaining a space-time configuration and death that ‘‘motion is [matter’s] life’’ (262).5 The
is its dissolution. From the other side, life is space- important point for the life and death of matter
time flexibility and death is its rigidity. In either is matter’s tendency not to exist in its own place
case, death is the destruction of space- but in the spatiality of other matter. This tendency
time continuity. Space-time subjects die three for matter to exist not where it is but elsewhere
deaths: they die first from space-time itself, is gravity (ibid.).6
they die again upon impact, and they die again If gravity were entirely a function of attraction,
in free fall. then matters would all fuse. Instead, gravity is
We begin with a definition of motion based on both attraction and repulsion, or better, it is
the mutual indifference of space and time (260). attraction that remains unfulfilled ‘‘yearning’’
The indifference of space is time. There is nothing (ibid.). This has two consequences. First, matter
about any point in space that determines the is always pulled to where it isn’t; so there cannot
content of the points around it. Therefore, the be a single center of gravity in general, but each
spatial point is indifferent to where one moves matter has a multiplicity of small other matters
in the next temporal moment. Over time, any whose centers it tends towards. Second, each
concrete place will become ‘‘a now which has matter has its own location through an ‘‘inwardi-
been’’ (ibid.). Each place is therefore ‘‘external to zation’’ resulting from being attracted towards
itself,’’ insofar as the place of the now is always in others (ibid.). Its external relations determine its
‘‘another place’’ (261). In this way, the specificity internal characteristics.
of places depends on the possibility of motion. We now want to consider whether gravity is
And since motion is the displacement of one what pulls matter into life or into death. Hegel’s
place into another place, motion appears as first suggestion is that ‘‘gravity is not the dead
mobile matter. Matter is not extrinsic to space externality of matter but a mode of its inward-
and time, but is the movement of space-time ness’’ (ibid.). ‘‘Inwardness’’ is not in itself the
itself.4 same thing as life, yet gravity covers all the ways
It is here that Hegel introduces the theme of matter has of getting stuck, getting loose, getting
death. Hegel argues that force is understood both smashed, and so on, and all of these together
in terms of mass and motion, so that, for example, count as life. The second suggestion is that gravity
we could say that it is the mass of the force of is expressed only when a thing falls (ibid.). But if
a falling brick that kills a man, or that it is the falling is the life of matter, then we begin to see
velocity of the force of the brick that kills him. In the ambivalence in the relations of movement and
the latter formulation, we could say that ‘‘the man life. For if falling is life, then death is not being
is struck dead by space and time’’ (261). Space- inert, which would have nothing to do with either
time is what he is made of, and space-time life or death; rather, death would be the fulfill-
reconfigurations are what kill him. The space- ment of the fall, namely impact. And since the fall
time configuration of his head is displaced by that is the tendency towards the coincidence of the one
of the brick. In this sense, Hegel says Zeno was object’s movement with the center of the other,
right; it is the same to say that a thing is in motion then death, namely impact, is the law of


attraction that precedes fall. Impact is the death shot by a cannon. The latter is equally important.
that attracts life. For even while fall is movement towards and into
On impact, two bodies each tend to assume the another, a body is after all stopped by impact when
place of the other. The fact that two bodies collide it actually gets to the other. While death comes
over a single space means that the space itself now from outside, the dying, or the being-for-death, is
has an identity distinct from either of the two inside. For this reason, Hegel says in relation to the
bodies. It also means that each body has an cannonball that ‘‘A man can be struck dead, but
identity distinct from where and in what form it this external circumstance is contingent; the truth
appears at any given moment. Hegel calls this of the matter is that the man himself dies’’ (266).
identity in the face of impact the ‘‘ideality’’ of On the one hand, death occurs because life is the
matter (ibid.). It is impact, then, that removes the tendency that moves things towards each other.
ideal identity of a body from the matter of the But on the other hand this means that death occurs
body itself. In the moment of impact the body less because some actual thing happens to make
is both identical to itself and yet displaced from contact and more because the man is always
itself.7 Impact thus has two effects on the bodies in already both exploding and imploding. The
collision. At the surface of an impacted body, cannonball kills the man from outside but, in a
something must give way. A surface is therefore, sense, that’s not what matters precisely because it
by definition, hard and brittle. But since the comes from outside. Death by impact does kill
body’s identity is removed from itself, it posits from outside, but only because it constitutes the
a life for itself independent of that ‘‘hard’’ surface, death of the man’s ability to go towards the
namely as a ‘‘soft’’ interior that can be reshaped outside. We might even say that death is the loss
under pressure (265). In short, the impacted of one’s ability to be killed by another. But then to
body’s death is always at its surface, whereas its the extent that life is projectile motion and death is
life, its ‘‘elasticity,’’ is inside (ibid.). Internal impact, and death is the cessation of the integrated
elasticity allows each body to take the external body’s ability to make transitions from motion to
body’s shape into itself. Once we make this impact, then death involves losing the transitions
distinction within a single crash between the between life and death. But then if the transitions
impact of bodies qua hard and the impact of between motion and impact always lead to losing
bodies qua soft, then we can say both that the the transitions between life and death, and if that
insertion of an externality into a body’s space is the loss of the transition between life and death is
death of the body and that the same insertion death, then living will require overcoming in its
is the life of the body. Impact and fall equally own way those transitions between motion and
bring the body to elastic life, since both of them impact before death overcomes them in its way.
release the body from its spatial determinacy. Life will have to assimilate the impacting body and
In fact, even an inert body will already have to maintain its motion internally, namely as an
be falling too. For an inert body would have animal.
its center of gravity within itself, but unless its A complete transition from gravity to organism
extremities were regularly falling away from its would require more detailed analysis. Most impor-
center it would collapse into that center point tant, there is the interim case of total release from
(266). A truly inert body would in effect externality, namely in free fall, or ‘‘uniformly
already have been smashed by an implosive accelerated motion’’ (267). This is still not quite
impact. To resist implosion, a body must fall a case of self-movement, but since it would be
outside itself. unsupported movement then Hegel considers free
The motion of a body towards its own extre- fall the beginning of a ‘‘law of living natural
mities is in one sense a motion that arises from movement’’ (ibid.). Life begins not with a plan or
itself, but even here the source of motion is a kind an ego but with a kind of unconditioned loss of
of outside. Motion is always projectile motion, control. Indeed, life begins with a kind of speeding
either a moving away, as when shot from a up as such, breaking free from gravity. At first it
cannon, or a being-moved-against, as when being looks like something stars might do, Hegel says,

speed, impact and fluidity

since they seem to be the closest thing to free fall. will have to do with which proportions there are
But their movement still remains in the form among those movements (hence Hegel ends up
of gravitation, and they count only as ‘‘dead with puzzles like what to say about the rabbit
repulsion’’ (268). Life beyond gravity will have whose head is cut off but whose blood continues to
to take the form of something more like the light of flow (356)).
imagery, or the sound of a voice. Still, free fall The animal is simultaneously an assimilation of
is a clue. Plummeting towards maximum impact, outsides and an expulsion of insides. On this
acceleration towards collision, speeding up so as to model, the animal survives external threats by
violate the natural transitions between hard dirempting itself, tearing itself apart, granting the
surface and elastic insides – if this all sounds like intruder admittance not only quantitatively but
death that’s because we still aren’t moving fast also by qualitatively changing itself in the process.
enough. Hegel calls this ‘‘pain,’’ ‘‘the privilege of higher
natures’’ (359).
Before we get to sexuality, there are two issues
ii death by superfluity (the argument
for animal life and death: the problem of the bone
from sexuality): ‘‘the lung is in danger
and the problem of overheating.
of turning into liver’’
Since movement is space-time, adaptive move-
Hegel introduces the category of animal as a self- ment involves proportions of lines and curves.
movement ‘‘severed from gravity’’ (351). The Muscles, for example, are lines that give way,
animal has a capacity for reshaping itself, a ‘‘free contract, and reassert themselves (354). But the
vibration within itself’’ (ibid.). Whereas a plant is body must also have some less malleable lines,
content to let its parts die and fall off, the animal some lines with less life to them, and this is the
tries to make its parts adapt and move around function of the bones: ‘‘Bone is this dead
separately. ‘‘The animal is its own negativity’’ neutrality’’ (356). So if the bone is a dead piece
(353). By getting up and moving, the animal does that the living body relies on for shape, it follows
something to itself that would for a plant count as that a live body has to have some of its own death
death. An animal lives a kind of plant-death; inside it, as the animal transfers its hard surface to
it kills its own plant-like nature.8 the inside. Death is housed in the body in the form
The self-movement of the animal is a reshaping of a specific body-part.
movement in relation to other movements. First, Whereas bone is an already dead piece that
the animal can get irritated by stimulants. Second, stays inside, the logic of body-heat involves
it can assimilate external movements through its creating dead matter and expelling it. We can
senses, letting their aftershocks ring around inside only touch here on Hegel’s discussion of the
it. Third, it can take in movements in the form of pulmonary system as a cooling agent, the blood
energy, burning them up as fuel for itself, and and its ‘‘quivering’’ rotatory circulation of heat
expelling as superfluous some of what it takes in. and cold, and the liver as the organ that burns up
In all these cases, the animal’s movement consists the body’s otherness (354). The liver is ‘‘volcanic’’
in ‘‘interrupting’’ (unterbrechen) the flows of other (ibid.), and it needs the lungs to cool the blood
movements (351). The animal lives by being an back to equilibrium. The problem is that the
obstacle that slows down projectiles at its absorp- lung’s cooling function is itself another way of
tive surfaces, redirects falling or driving bodies reshaping the body, and hence in principle another
from their natural paths, rearranges spatial config- way of heating it up. This is why Hegel makes the
urations, cycles energies through new uses, and odd statement that ‘‘the lung is in danger of
assimilates qualitative intrusions. And then the turning into liver’’ (ibid.). Even the cooling agent
animal passes the reconverted bodies and energies tends to overheat; the organ that burns fuel could
out its other side. Animal life is not a single be burned as fuel. To consume material drawn into
continuous movement but a combination of move- the body from outside begins a process that
ments and interruptions, some fast and some slow. would end with the body’s consumption (auszeh-
The question of whether an animal is alive or dead ren) of itself (356). The body only lives when its


self-consumption is slowed down. The organism is involves self-equipment, self-enjoyment and self-
always half eaten, but no more than half. This is reproduction. In these three ways, the form-drive
also why Hegel makes another odd statement, culminates in the genitals (365).
namely that the movement of the blood is ‘‘animal Here is the argument from sexuality. An animal
time’’ (354). It is not just that blood circulation interrupts flows of movement, becomes thereby a
creates the rhythm of the inner organs; it is also discrete individual, and maintains its individuality
that life is defined as the delay of the tendency by expelling superfluities of otherness. The animal
towards an acceleration of overheating. Self- in general is the drive to reshape the realm of the
shaping animal movement is a reshaping of other. It follows that the animal transcends its
relative speeds as much as a reshaping of lines immediate shape in favor of a more flexible
and curves. identity, a ‘‘generic’’ identity (368). That is, the
We can now articulate a general theory individual life of the living being has to be
of organic superfluity. Hegel says that lower replaced by its generic life; it has to die not only
animals use up all the nutrients they eat in self- in parts (in its bones), not only in redistributions
transformation, but higher animals produce (in its excrement), but in its entire individuality.
‘‘superfluity’’ or ‘‘overflow’’ (Überfluss) in the And this is the definition of sex: a difference,
form of excrement and bile (365). This allows for expressed in animal shape, which provides the
such helpful features as flexible diets, since such an individual’s ability to replace itself with the life of
animal can eat relatively arbitrarily and then the genus, precisely by making its entire individ-
‘‘expel from itself’’ whatever is irrelevant to its uality the superfluity which sex expels. It is not
life. But the excrement itself is not so much a dying only in general that sex is death. In particular,
inside, like bone, but a kind of extra-life; nor is it so death is the surplus effect of sexual reproduction.
much an excess of life, like overheating, but rather In fact, there are four deaths introduced here.
a useless surplus generated in the life-act. Yet these The first is sexual death per se, the way in which
superfluities are precisely the origin of the soul.9 the individual of a species dies once it has
For in bile, material that ought to be expelled flows reproduced itself in another individual. The
back into the body, which lets repulsive material second death begins with the fact that reproduc-
build up inside it, and even gets enjoyment out of tion occurs within a single species. Animals within
being repulsed; this conversion of repulsion into one species appear to members of another species
being-for-self is the origin of anger and the other not originally as other lives, i.e., not as other
affects (ibid.). In that way, the higher animals, by beings to reshape with, i.e., not as other beings to
being able to make use of useless things, are able to have sex with, but rather appear as animal others
take death itself and reshape it. The higher animal simply given in the environment – they appear not
extracts a surplus of consciousness out of its non- quite as inorganic but not entirely as life-sharing
living contents. It makes its own death-element either. And because of this barrier between species
into an abstract death, a usable death, so that its in the sphere of life-formation, there is an
own life, as we will see later, will be a spiritual and inevitable violence in the confrontation between
not merely organic one. species, and hence a natural form of death that
Indeed, already in the notion of the ‘‘form- arises at the hand of individuals from other
drive’’ (nisus formativus), Hegel says: ‘‘organic species. The third death concerns the way each
being became a dead product’’ (368). For not only individual by itself already has the battle between
are the relations between the various organs (lung individual and genus going on inside it. This is
and liver, for example) reduced to a kind of more a problem of disease than sexuality as such.
fluidity once they are in operation. In principle, no Disease is a matter of superfluities extending the
single shape belongs to an animal as such. The body into something else that takes over what it
animal should do without particularized organs as used to be. The fourth death occurs when the
far as possible. individual dies a natural death, and, in the form of
Self-movement is the animal’s drive to reshape its genus, survives. This is the death that will take
both its environment and its own body. It thus us from natural to spiritual existence. I will treat

speed, impact and fluidity

the first two deaths, death by genitals and death by dead bone into claws and teeth, it kills other
claws, as sexual deaths. Then I will treat the death animals with its own dead parts.
by disease separately. The way in which animals of other species are
There is a lot we could say about sex and speed, inorganic is, of course, relative. This is a kind of
starting with the formation of the genitals. Hegel inorganicity that only an organic being can confer.
suggests that the male and female genitals have But because of this, there is only a fine line
essentially the same shape, except that certain between dying when parts of ourselves become
parts of one stop growing while equivalent parts inorganic from within, and dying when something
of the other continue. Hence Hegel says ‘‘it is we constitute as inorganic infiltrates from without.
quite understandable that one sex should turn But in that case, other beings are by definition the
into the other’’ (368). Sex is defined in terms inorganic aspect of ourselves. The other animal’s
of certain movements stopping while others claw is our own death, whether it scratches our
continue – this would hold both of genital skin or not. For the other animal is our inorganic
formation and of the reproduction of a species in other. It remains outside of us, but its inorganic
new members. nature is our death. Just as a body’s center of
But now, if sex is the cessation of an individual’s gravity is not in itself but in another body, so each
movement in order to set the genus in motion, the animal’s death takes place not in its own body but
major problem concerning death by sexuality is in another animal’s body.
why the individual member of the species doesn’t It is not only that there are hostile animals here
just die as soon as it procreates. Lower animals, and there. Since a genus can never be perfectly
like butterflies, do after all ‘‘die immediately after expressed within any one individual animal, the
generation’’ (369). It would be a kind of bad drive to genus ensures endless attempts in nature
infinite if life had no other meaning than to ‘‘pass to proliferate and perfect species. Hence, ‘‘the
on to death’’ (369). But while Hegel raises this as a fruitfulness of the earth allows life to break forth
problem, it is actually difficult to find a solution in everywhere, and in all kinds of ways’’ (ibid.). In
the text. Why do animals postpone their deaths?10 any given being there is a gap between its
The time we spend living after we procreate seems individual characteristics and the species it exem-
to be just surplus life, yet this may itself be the plifies. This means that there will always be more
explanation. We said before that the kind of sex we than one species which a given individual could be
die from is surplus sex, the sex that sends other a member of. And this means that an individual
motions and movers into space after the original can never know exactly which species it is
motions and movers stop. Life after sex is the reproducing. The violence across species is carried
useless overflow of movement that is not entirely on within each given individual, a battle within the
used up by the drive towards death and by the organism to decide which species will shape it.
generification of the individual.11 Death is the Each animal life is therefore in various ways
overflow of sex, and life is the overflow of that stunted, mingled, and intermediate, giving rise
overflow. to ‘‘monstrosities’’ and alien contingencies (ibid.).
Sex within the species kills us but leaves us with Hegel spends several pages charting the various
leftover time. Sex across species is more violent. classifications of animals, but such classifications
Since an animal can’t express its genus with can never be complete, due to the superfluities of
members of other species except as hostility,12 form implicit in the gap between individuals and
i.e., except by reducing the other species to a their underdetermined species. And the unclassifi-
relative inorganicity, it shapes its body relative to able superfluity constitutes the monster within the
the other species not in the form of reproductive individual that tries to kill not only members of
organs but in the form of weapons: claws and teeth other species but also its own. In the first death
(370). If we remember that the bone is the dead from sex, the question was why the animal does
matter that the living being builds its shape with, not hurry up and die; in this second death from
we can see here that when the animal shapes its sex, the question is why the animal does not


proliferate into reproductive monstrosities. In body living a double life, so a simple cure is out of
fact, it does, namely in disease. the question. The only solution is to help nature
out, to spread the disease throughout the entire
body, and regenerate the entire body as a new
iii death by indigestion (the argument
process of the whole (373).
from disease): ‘‘it is the fingertips of
We can now see how difficult it is to line up the
the mesmerizer which fluidize the
dualisms of life and death, movement and rest,
internality and externality, organic and inorganic,
The individual can never entirely ‘‘correspond’’ to and health and disease. Insofar as life is internal
its genus (371). In that sense, it will always have fluid movement, we could say, apparently natu-
within it material that is relatively inorganic rally, that health is life, movement, internal and
relative to its own organic individuality. An organic. But since the individual’s life is the
animal is nevertheless in a state of health as long inorganic relative to the genus, then health is life
as the relations of organic and inorganic matter and movement, but external and inorganic. But
within it are ‘‘proportional,’’ i.e., as long as ‘‘all again, since life is the surplus of movement after
its organs give free play to the fluidity of the the death of the procreative individual, then health
universal’’ (ibid.). Health is a question of ‘‘fluid- is internal movement, but inorganic and dead. Or
ity’’ (Flüssigkeit), overcoming the movements again, since life is a movement of inter-species
capable of ‘‘overflow’’ (Überfluss), by means of violence expressed within a single body, health
the free fluidity of organs. On the one hand, deadly is a cessation of movement, an inorganic and dead
diseases arise because of the ‘‘over’’ (über): when internality. Or since fever cures by increasing the
the stomach ‘‘overloads,’’ the bile ‘‘overacts,’’ or threat of violence in order to defeat it, health is the
the blood ‘‘overheats’’ (ibid.). Disease arises when movement of externality, the inorganic overcom-
one organ brings the rest of the organism crashing ing of life. The point is that each of the pairs of
down around its particular overactivity. But on the terms varies independently, and the animal has to
other hand, ‘‘the restoration of health can consist be able to act out every variant if it is going to
only in the overcoming of this particularization’’ restore itself from all the disproportioning isola-
(ibid.). The particular organ tries to do too tions of its own life-relations and death-relations.
much with too little; the body then has to exceed The key to all healing is not just that something
that excess, letting the other organs flow back be restored, but that something foreign to life be
into it. used to restore life. In that sense, every medicine
We find proportions of life and death within the must be ‘‘indigestible’’ (373), so that ‘‘the organ-
same organism (which in turn is a proportion of ism is forced to counter its effect by drawing itself
organic and inorganic matter). The odd feature together’’ (ibid.). And if health involves not
about most diseases is the way they are only cured succumbing to the foreign animal that always
by driving them towards their own maximum, a lives within, it follows that every animal is a
feature that goes under the general name of ‘‘hypochondriac’’ (ibid.). The external is always
‘‘fever’’ (372). Fever is the process of recovery inside, yet it is loathsome; today we might call this
that totalizes an isolated activity in such a way that paranoia, but in fact it is the essence of medicine.
the cure is paradoxically the universalization of the Medicine must force the body to ‘‘duplicate’’ itself
disease. At first, the fever simply makes the (ibid.), to see itself once as a diseased body and a
problem explicit. But it will never be enough to second time as a vital body. To force the body to
isolate the body’s drive towards the death of recognize itself in its healthy version, medicine has
disproportion; expelling the death drive just kills to convince the body that it has fallen under the
the body faster by leaving other death-dealing illegitimate power of another – in effect, to
movements in its place. To be sure, during the convince the body that it is a soul. Since Locke,
early stages of a disease it might be possible to self-consciousness has been defined as the resis-
diagnose the disease, isolate it, and cut it out. But tance against falling under the power of another
in later stages, a disease involves the whole of the (i.e., against slavery).13 Medicine instigates the

speed, impact and fluidity

body’s willingness to struggle to the death against only create a new target for attack. Whatever the
its other self. specific treatment regime, the physician has to
But now, if we remember that what functions as make the body into a moving target, to fluidize the
the alien disease can be not only a foreign animal body at the surface so that the distinction between
inside the body but also one’s own overactive brittle outside and soft inside will no longer hold.
organs, or even one’s own individuality, it is clear And if the physician can’t do it, then the patient
that the body cannot win the battle with disease by will have to do it alone, by giving up the struggle of
simply expelling some substance. For it is the body vs. disease. The patient will instead relax into
entire process of life as proportional internal and the idea of being a multi-species hybrid. The body
external speeds and interruptions that generates will no longer care whether or not it resists impact,
the disease conditions. And this is what the since it will declare any given change of shape its
hypochondriac knows: that every movement with- own. This passage in the text is brief, but it can be
out exception is a symptom of a new disease. On seen as the solution to disease as such, and indeed
the one hand, this means that almost every kind of as the beginning of the transition from nature to
movement is also a cure, as long as it makes the spirit, which occurs just six pages later. For it is
body active. Some cures are positive and homeo- precisely the loss of a certain kind of interest in
pathic, turning the disease into an energy that whether one is alive or dead that will make the
works for the body instead of against it; others are transition to spirit.
negative and indigestible, mobilizing the body into Disease is the end of a long series of divisions
action to expel the medicine, thereby increasing between inner and outer movements. The final
the body’s strength for expelling the disease as cure for these divisions is to fluidize the super-
well (373). fluities back into the animal, to fluidize the very
But on the other hand, in a passage that is both dichotomy between all of the life-forms and all of
brief and yet conclusive, Hegel suggests a still the death-drives. To the extent that life and death
different model for curing those diseases that have are two sides of an external dichotomy, the entire
already affected the whole organism. In such a organism is defined in terms of this externalism,
case, there remains no sense in which the organism and since fighting something external involves
has its own self within – the inner–outer reciprocity struggling with an incurable disease, then we die.
has already gone too far. In such a case, Hegel In short, as long as death is one of two options, it is
recommends mesmerism. ‘‘As the simplicity of always the winning option.15 Death can be
the self falls outside the diseased organism, it is the sublated only if neither of the two sides of
fingertips of the mesmerizer which fluidize the internality and externality is exactly death – only
organism by conducting magnetism throughout if the two sides of the dichotomy become two other
the whole of it’’ (ibid.). In fact, much earlier in the features of the thing in question, for example if
text, Hegel has associated fluidity with magnetism. internality becomes the thing’s subjectivity and
Fluidity is the tendency of certain matter to form externality becomes its objectivity (376).
globules, that is, to reshape itself by canceling all To review the argument from disease: disease is
its internal determinate shapes (311). And magnet- a disproportion in two movements – the vital
ism is ‘‘the tendency towards figuration which has movement and the inorganic movement.
not yet come to rest’’ (312). Magnetism rearranges Hypochondria is the endless movement away
the implicit shapes within a fluid. If we now bring from the external, inorganic movement. Reacting
this back to the mesmerist’s fingertips, we can say to the outside involves digesting it, fighting it
that healing depends on bringing ‘‘the organism as by introducing more and more indigestible stimu-
an implicit entirety’’ (373) into just such a fluidized lants, eventually and inevitably ingesting enough
implicitness. Hegel’s argument has less to do with to die from. Hence, the cure cannot be the
nineteenth-century mesmerism per se14 than with constitution of a new impermeable inside but
the logic of organic wholes and parts. The general- must consist of fluidizing the very relation between
izable point is that any new obstacle that the life and death. As a result, the death that comes
physician throws up against a full-body disease will from without depends on the organism first


allowing its own fluid unity to degenerate into death is a prerequisite for the intentionality that is
rigid divisions. It is in this sense that the a being-for.18 If death is overcome, it is in the sense
individual dies ‘‘of its own accord’’ (375). that we know how to switch to categories in which
Usually when we hear that life carries the death is not the issue.19
‘‘inborn germ of death’’ (ibid.), we think of life Just as medicine has to be indigestible, the
as a kind of winding-down, but for Hegel it is the recognition of the fluidity at the barrier between
opposite. For Hegel, the transition from individual life and death is not an easy movement but a
to genus, from nature to spirit, requires an active ‘‘violent detachment’’ from human ties
self-fluidization; spirit has to destroy its own (Aesthetics 547). The latter is Hegel’s description
tendency towards ossification and habit (ibid.) – of art, and it helps explain why art in the ancient
i.e., towards bone and health – in short, to destroy world devoted itself to the ‘‘debasement’’ of
its tendency to make use of death merely for the animals (the sacrifice, the hunt, the metamor-
sake of living.16 phosis (Aesthetics 445–49)), and in the Christian
As with all of the important transitions in world to martyrdom and the physical torment of
Hegel’s dialectic, the most explosive transforma- the human body (Aesthetics 544–45).
tions occur with old age. Old people, Hegel says, Yet if nature comes to an end violently when
settle into generic attitudes and habits, and exhibit conscious subjects kill living things in order to
a ‘‘dying away of tension or interest’’ (ibid.). It is stop caring about life, it also comes to an end
as if the drama of death takes place in disease, through the cessation of interest, in the way that
whereas old people set in their habits have some- one wakes up from a long sleep to find the disease
how skipped the death phase and have prema- on the wane. And, of course, while this sleepy and
turely been overtaken by their genus. Yet the violent spirit ‘‘supersedes the death of nature’’
‘‘dying away of interest’’ plays a second role in (Philosophy of Nature 376), the many deaths we
Hegel’s argument, namely as an indifference to have spoken of do not cease taking place. We still
nature that makes spirit possible. It is the need to survive the cannonballs, the claws and the
bracketing of natural death.17 poisons. And our dread of death may be all the
Furthermore, it can take the utmost energy to more feverish. Hegel’s theory is not that we die
cultivate the lack of interest in whether one is alive and then we live again in another, spiritual body.
or dead. In the Phenomenology, Hegel argues that Nor is it that we don’t really die. It’s rather that
self-consciousness emerges when the ‘‘fluidity’’ of every form of movement is already both a kind of
life (Phenomenology 171) collapses the shape of life and a kind of death, and that it doesn’t matter
the organism in favor of the pure ‘‘I,’’ which is no which side of the fluid boundary we take ourselves
longer interested in the integrity of its own body to be on, because life is ultimately no more what
(175). And when the self-consciousnesses later we ourselves are at any given moment than death
struggle to the death against each other, the is. Natural life is by definition always killing itself,
struggle is not so much to see who will live but so the consciousness that loses interest in both life
to see who can put life at stake most rigorously. To and death is by definition ‘‘immortal,’’ the
‘‘stake’’ one’s life is not just to risk it, it is to put ‘‘Phoenix’’ that rises not so much out of its own
into question the value of the category of Life itself death but by accelerating equally
(187). Similarly, to ‘‘seek the other’s death’’ means away from its life and its death
less to end the other’s life than to create a battle (376). To survive death is to kill the
where the other will not be allowed to value his life inner–outer distinction that kept us
any more than I do mine. The struggle shows alive: to commit suicide at the
precisely that both participants ‘‘held [life] of no hands of the foreigner.20
account’’ (188). In that sense, the struggle was
never strictly over death at all. Instead, the notes
struggle is a question over what one is ‘‘for’’: 1 Hegel describes the‘‘Concept’’ (Begriff ) as a kind
whether one will be ‘‘for-self’’ or ‘‘for-another’’ of brush fire that suddenly detonates the whole
(190). The fluidity of the barrier between life and field of being: ‘‘[The notion] is form spiritually

speed, impact and fluidity

impregnated, in which the finite, through the 5 ‘‘Motion is the Notion of the true soul of the
universality in which it relates itself to itself, world’’ (261).
spontaneously catches fire [sich in sich entzu«ndet],
6 There are a number of helpful articles on Hegel’s
posits itself as dialectical and thereby is the
conceptions of gravity in Petry’s Hegel and
beginning of the manifestation of reason’’ (Science
Newtonianism. None of these bears directly on the
of Logic 43). The conflagration of the system is not
issues of the present paper. However, the article
so much an ‘‘already’’ as the beginning of an infinite
by Dieter Wandschneider, ‘‘The Problem of Mass
in Hegel’’ (249^ 65), has a particularly useful discus-
2 In 1800, Xavier Bichat, in his Traite¤ de la vie et de sion of circular and gyratory motions in relation to
la mort, began with the principle, ‘‘Life consists in temporality.
the sum of the functions, by which death is
7 To the extent that motion is the tendency
resisted’’ (10). Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature refers
towards impact, ‘‘motion consists in being in one
to various passages in Bichat’s texts, beginning at
place while at the same time being in another, and
‰ 354, and it would be interesting to explore the
yet not being in another, but only in this place’’
various ways in which the principle above plays a
role in Hegel’s text. Bichat’s principle also plays an
important role in Michel Foucault’s reading of the 8 Of course, we know in general about the
history of biology: ‘‘Bichat relativized the concept dialectic that each level of being kills its precedent,
of death, bringing it down from that absolute in and that each in turn seeks its own proper death.
which it appeared as an indivisible, decisive, irre-
9 John N. Findlay reads in this passage an
coverable event: he volatized it, distributed it
argument for self-reflection through defecation.
throughout life in the form of separate, partial, First, if assimilation is aggression towards the
progressive deaths, deaths that are so slow in environment, then defecation is the expulsion of
occurring that they extend even beyond death one’s own aggression. Second, expulsion defines
itself’’ (The Birth of the Clinic 147^ 48). Gilles the expelled items as preliminaries, so that what
Deleuze emphasizes this passage in his treatment is retained will have the status of polished results,
of Foucault’s late work (Foucault 145). Bichat thus ‘‘like writers tearing up drafts after their manu-
provides one of the important lines of transition script has been typed’’ (98) (this would not be the
between Hegelian and postmodern philosophies first observation to suggest a connection between
of nature. word processing memory and anal retentiveness).
3 References to Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature and Third, if defecation is the model for ex-pressing
Phenomenology of Spirit are according to section oneself through language, it would follow that in
number. defecation one ‘‘adds a little gratuitous beauty’’ to
what is expelled (98), as bees produce honey, or as
4 Graham Priest contrasts Russell’s extrinsic defi- children take pleasure (as Findlay notes through
nition of motion (as ‘‘the occupation of different Freud). Hegel’s own suggestions concerning the
places at different times’’ (339)) with Hegel’s intrin- soul in defecation focus more on anger than plea-
sic account in which a thing can at the same time sure, but Findlay’s suggestions have a similar force.
be both here and not here (340). Priest’s argument Mark C.E. Peterson construes the argument
for Hegel is based on particle physics and ‘‘para- from defecation to selfhood somewhat differently.
consistent’’ logic (342). His argument comes down On his reading, the animal first digests the other,
to the idea that ‘‘In a continuum distinct points then identifies itself with that digestion process,
themselves merge together’’ (341) and that points thereby distinguishing itself as self-reliance from
‘‘spread’’ ‘‘over very small temporal distances’’ itself as digester-of-other. Hence its expulsion of
(342). Priest chooses to describe points on conti- what it has eaten counts as expelling its digestive
nua even though he notes that he hasn’t discussed process from itself, hence expelling the simplicity
Hegel’s account of the ‘‘contradictory unity of of its dependence on externality (57). Peterson
the discrete and the continuous’’ (342), and uses this argument to show how empiricism
this omission at times makes it seem that Priest should understand externality not as theoretical
is presupposing the dialectical origin of time data to cognize but as real things to assimilate. (In
and motion that the spread on a continuum is fact, the aspect of eating that makes the animal
supposed to explain. into a true empiricist is not the act of injecting


the object into its body, but the act of turning 15 Eric von der Luft refers to this as the ‘‘anti-
parts of the object into excrement.) Peterson nomy’’ of medicine (34). It tries to cure the person
concludes that digestion ‘‘sets the stage’’ for at the physical level, the level at which it is ill,
sexual differentiation and species reproduction despite the fact that at that level the person can
(62). He doesn’t go into detail concerning this only die (ibid.).Von der Luft suggests that medicine
move, but in fact the ‘‘stage’’ is an apt metaphor plays a role similar to that of phrenology, namely as
for the way he has been construing the argument. a transition point where idealism has become
For defecation appeared as the animal’s mode expressed in empirical facticity, but then must
of presenting its self-subsistence to itself. As it give rise to Spirit once again.
re-presents or re-enacts its digestive process 16 Koje've also emphasizes this point, though in a
externally, it makes itself visible in another different way.When he says that for Hegel ‘‘man is
individual of the same ideal type, namely as species a mortal sickness of the animal’’ (137), his point is
reproduction. that human self-transcendence always takes place
10 Hegel does suggest an explanation for why within the finitude of natural mortality. In this
animals don’t give birth as soon as they are born. way, he argues for an equivalence of dialectical phi-
(That’s because higher species have stages of losophy, a ‘‘philosophy of death,’’ and atheism (124).
growth in their own lives that correspond to The capacity for suicide, namely the capacity to
lower species, therefore it takes a higher species expose oneself to death by an act of will (151), is
some time to get to the stage of life corresponding the act that for a brief time allows humans to
to its own species, from which it can then differ from Nothingness (156).
reproduce that species.) But that explains only 17 If we were undertaking a complete account of
our slowness to procreate, not our slowness to death in Hegel, this might be the place to analyze
die afterwards. the phenomena of mortuary architecture, cults of
the dead, and the mourning of ancestors.
11 A different answer to this question can be
According to Freud in ‘‘Mourning and
found in de Beauvoir, who suggests that for
Melancholia,’’ the work of mourning succeeds if it
women the menopause ‘‘breaks the iron grasp of
transforms hetero-affection into auto-affection.
the species’’ (32). Like Hegel, she describes the
Mourning is thus a way of hastening the death of
body (particularly the female body) as having the
others in order to delay it for oneself, to arrive at
otherness of the species within it. We might think
a stage at which the dead can bury the dead. Here
of the reconciliation of self and otherness in the
again it takes an effort to lose interest in dead
body, after menopause, as the de-utilization of
the body that makes a kind of ‘‘third sex,’’ a free-
dom from generification within the structures of 18 This argument would, of course, have to be set
sexuality. in the context of the unfolding of the theme of
death throughout Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit.
12 ‘‘In this hostile relation to others, in which they For a sketch of that development, see John
are reduced to inorganic nature, violent death Burbidge’s seminal paper concerning Hegel and
constitutes the natural fate of individuals’’ (370). death, ‘‘Man, God, and Death in Hegel’s
13 John Locke, The Second Treatise on Government, Phenomenology.’’
chapter 4. See also my paper, ‘‘Locke, Fichte and 19 Something like this takes place when, having
Hegel on the Right to Property.’’ woken up in the middle of the night in a cold
14 In other contexts, Hegel exhibits more sweat with the thought of non-existence, we
caution about mesmerism. In the Philosophy of make ourselves think about something else.
Mind, ‰ 406Z (116), Hegel is skeptical about its Switching categories in this way is a line of escape
effectiveness for diseases involving states of that clearly does not make death less inevitable.
consciousness. For the key to mesmerism is But neither is it simply a comfortable self-
that it requires an external person’s mind taking deception. The fact that a human can choose
to stop caring about death itself indicates the
control of the patient’s mind. The mesmerist
separability of the categories of life and interest.
may fluidize the other person’s organism, but
mesmerism is a hindrance to fluid intersubjective 20 This will explain how to reconcile Hegel’s
relations between the two. statement at the end of the Philosophy of Nature

speed, impact and fluidity

that the individual ‘‘dies of its own accord’’ (375) Hegel, G.W.F. Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature. Trans.
with the following statement from his Philosophy and ed. M.J. Petry. 3 vols. London: Allen & Unwin,
of Right: ‘‘Just as life as such is immediate, so death 1970. Enzyklopa«die.1830.GesammelteWerke.Vol. 20.
is its immediate negation and hence must come Hamburg: Meiner,1992.
from without, either by natural causes, or else, in
Hegel, G.W.F. Phenomenology of Spirit. Trans.
the service of the Idea, by the hand of a foreigner’’
A.V. Miller. Oxford: Oxford UP,1977.
(‰ 70). Death by one’s own hand and death at the
hands of another turn out to be the same thing Hegel, G.W.F. Philosophy of Right. Trans. T.M. Knox.
insofar as the hand that kills is by definition the London: Oxford UP,1967.
externality of one’s own life. This would make a
kind of tautology out of the situation. Suicide will Hegel, G.W.F. Science of Logic. Trans. A.V. Miller.
count as dying from an intrusion of externality and Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities, 1989.
being murdered will count as a lack of resilience GesammelteWerke.Vol.12. Hamburg: Meiner,1981.
within the victim. But that is the kind of self- Koje've, Alexandre. ‘‘The Idea of Death in the
contradictory tautology that all of the life and Philosophy of Hegel.’’ Trans. Joseph J. Carpin.
death barriers will express. Disease, similarly, Interpretation 3.2^3 (1973): 114 ^56; Introduction a' la
always comes from an external source in spite of lecture de Hegel. Paris: Gallimard,1947. 529^75.
also always being the complaint of a malingering
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