Katrin Pahl


On her book Tropes of Transport: Hegel and Emotion

Cover Interview of March 04, 2012

In a nutshell

Hegel is not a very agreeable philosopher—that much can probably be agreed upon. But the very fact that he has come to stand both for the cold imperialism of an all-appropriating spirit and for a restless openness to alterity, contingency, and vulnerability, goes to prove that what we refer to with the one name “Hegel” still moves.

Hegel introduced philosophy to a dynamic notion of truth.  Tropes of Transport locates the tropes that render truth dynamic in the emotional register.  Reading primarily the Phenomenology of Spirit, I trace how emotionality (dis)organizes the logical, quasi-existential, and narrative unfolding of Hegel’s text.

To the field of affect and emotion studies, my analysis of Hegel contributes an account of affect as transport.  “Transports” carry one out of oneself and to a different self.  They thus mediate between and within selves (including impersonal selves). Transports pluralize subjects and create a texture of sympathy.

Specifically, I explore the transports of “release,” “juggle,” “acknowledging,” “tremble,” and “broken.” These are key words from Hegel’s text and I have organized each chapter in the second part of the book around one of these tropes.

Here is an impressionistic picture of these chapters: Transports are modes of self-relation that both project future selves and remember past selves. Even releasing the form of the self forges self-relation, but this relation becomes cracked in the process. Hegel’s speculative logic is a constant juggle of contradictory demands—for example, of distance and involvement. My reading of Hegel undoes the dichotomy of rationality and emotionality by drawing on emotion to propel self-reflection and on self-distance to thicken the experience of emotion. To tremble means to blur the shape of the self and the line between intra- and intersubjectivity. “Acknowledging” renders cognition and recognition as always again incipient movements toward another self and toward the practice of thinking. In “Broken,” I challenge the assumption that the promise or threat of Hegel’s philosophy is to overcome divisions. Instead, I consider Hegelian dialectic as a great tool not for reconciling what is torn, but for reconciling oneself to tears.

I read Hegel’s work in dialogue with literary texts contemporary to him or to us. Tropes of Transport discusses Cixous and Lispector as well as Hölderlin and Goethe.

If you are interested in what Hegel says about emotion, go to the first (shorter) part of the book, “Emotional Subjects.” Here I discuss Hegel’s critical analyses of feeling (organized around the figure of the “heart”) and of righteous passion (in a chapter on “pathos”).

If you want to see how emotionality (dis)organizes Hegel’s text independently from his intention and his thematizing this role of emotion, start with the second part of the book, “Emotional Syntax.”