One of the aims of the ‘Preface’ to The Phenomenology of Spirit is to guide the reader as to the position he should maintain in the philosophical experience. Hegel’s technical recommendations seem to me highly relevant to our daily practice in the analytical field.

To simplify matters, and since Hegel uses propositions as examples, let us pose three terms: we have the thinker, or even the philosopher, whom Hegel designates in certain passages as the I, we have the Subject, what one thinks or speaks of, but also the Subject of the proposition in the grammatical sense, and finally this Subject’s predicate.

I               Subject               Predicate

Hegel describes three positions in the philosophical experience, each of which describe the relation between the I and the Subject.

Natural philosophy, or the warning against countertransference

Hegel addresses a harsh criticism to what he calls the “natural philosophy”[1] of the Romantic era, the philosophy of “common sense”[2]. This type of philosophy posits the I as having access to the Subject in an “immediate”[3] way, being “sunken”[4] into the Subject and losing itself in it: it is a communion, a fusion by means of “feeling”[5]. Everything proceeds in an “intuitive”[6] way, in a “kinship of soul”[7] between the I and the Subject. Here, the predicate is not so much in question, there is nothing to say – the I/Subject relation is felt:

I ⬄ Subject // Predicate

Could we not say that the position of natural philosophy is similar to the position held by believers in countertransference? They hold that we can directly access the patient’s unconscious history through our feelings. It amounts to reducing what is happening, what is said by the analysand, to the emotions of the analyst. By contrast, our practice requires a deep respect for our analysands’ signifiers.

We also note that intuition in German is Anschauung, which refers to sight. This position therefore seems to be grounded, in our terms, on an instant of the glance which phagocytes the time for comprehending and the moment to conclude. It is, to rephrase Hegel with Lacan, the night in which all prisoners are black.

Clever argumentation, or the temptation to take the place of the analysand

The predicate, language, interpretation are therefore to be reintroduced. Yet, Hegel warns the reader about another position to be avoided: the “clever argumentation”[8] of the I. Here, the I is no longer sunken into the Subject by sentimental communion, but it “stands above”[9] the Subject: it uses an “arbitrary (…) wisdom acquired elsewhere”[10], external to the Subject itself, imposing it, and this instead of allowing the Subject the “freedom”[11] to follow its own “self-movement”[12]. Hegel also speaks of the “vanity”[13] of the “own views”[14] of the I inserted into the Subject: “the subject is accepted as a fixed point on which the predicates are attached”[15].

I → (Subject – Predicate)

Here we can think of the use Ernst Kris makes of his ‘own view’: not content with the sayings of the patient, he looks elsewhere, he checks, no doubt with the best intentions in the world, that the patient is not plagiarizing. He tells him that, imposes it on him. We know what happens next.

As we will now see, the I for Hegel must be bracketed. In our field, this means that we must let ourselves be led, taught by the analysand: consider each case as new, says Freud.

Speculative philosophy, or it takes time [faut le temps]

The bracketing of the I is described by Hegel with regards to “speculative philosophy”[16]. The difference with what precedes is that, while remaining at the level of the proposition, of language, the freedom which the I gave itself must “descend into”[17] the Subject, the latter having the freedom of its self-movement.

Hegel tells us that, by way of consequence, “the predicate itself has been expressed as a subject”[18]. That is to say that rather than being a fixed and inert support, the Subject moves, it finds itself at the level of the predicate:

(I) → Subject – Subject’

In our terms, I would say quite plainly that it amounts to letting the analysand speak, letting him work.

For Hegel, in speculative philosophy, the I “give[s] itself over”[19] to the Subject, but not as in the first case with feelings and intuitions, rather with a “rigorous exertion of the concept”[20], an “attentiveness”[21] to the becoming of the Subject. For us, it translates as the ‘evenly hovering attention’ to the subject’s discourse (gleichschwebende, as Freud puts it), bracketing our understanding and personal significations. It is indeed ‘rigorous exertion’, a forcing even…

Let us specify that the self-movement of the Subject is in no way immediate. Hegel insists throughout the ‘Preface’ that it takes time. For the smart asses who would like to reach their goal immediately, Hegel clearly says that “the length of the path has to be endured”[22], no shortcuts. “One must linger at every stage on the way”[23], with no “impatience”[24], and this holds true both for the Subject and for the I who accompanies it for as long as it takes.

Translation revised by Véronique Voruz 

[1] G.W.F. Hegel, The Phenomenology of Spirit, Cambridge University Press, Edited and translated by Terry Pinkard, available Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel – The Phenomenology of Spirit (Terry Pinkard Translation).pdf., p.43

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid., p.6

[4] Ibid., p.36

[5] Ibid., p.43

[6] Ibid., p.32

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid., p.36

[9] Ibid., p.33

[10] Ibid., p.37

[11] Ibid., p.36

[12] Ibid., p.15

[13] Ibid., p.36

[14] Ibid., p.37

[15] Ibid., p.15

[16] Ibid., p.36

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid., p.39

[19] Ibid., p.33

[20] Ibid., p.36

[21] Ibid., p.37

[22] Ibid., p.19

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.