Hegelian scholar Raya Dunayevskaya's views

Ralph Dumain rdumain at igc.apc.org
Thu Dec 29 22:12:29 MST 1994


Re:

Dunayevskaya, Raya.  HEGEL'S ABSOLUTE AS NEW BEGINNING.  News &
Letters.  [15 pp.]  Paper delivered at the 1974 binennial
convention of the Hegel Society of America, originally published
in ART AND LOGIC IN HEGEL'S PHILOSOPHY, edited by Warren E.
Steinkraus and Kenneth L. Schmitz, Humanities Press, 1980.

Since somebody finally brought up Raya Dunayevskaya and this essay
in particular, I offer my own commentary for your consideration.
The material below is copyrighted and must be quoted with
attribution (to me personally will suffice.)

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Focusing on the final chapter of THE SCIENCE OF LOGIC, Raya
emphasizes that Hegel's Absolute Idea, far from being a quiescent
unity, is suffused with negativity and contains "the highest
opposition in itself".  The new totality is not a new content but
rather form and method.  Lenin's notes on Hegel and subjectivity
as overcoming the opposition between Notion and Reality are
discussed.  The culmination of philosophy and history -- the Owl
of Minerva and such metaphors -- should not be seen as the ending
or final resolution of a historical process.  There is a very
interesting critique of Adorno.  Raya reiterates her theme of the
movement from practice as a form of theory, tracing her
consciousness of this phenomenon back to the East German revolt of
1953.  She believes that the movement from below has its echoes in
the realm of Hegel studies and the thinking of intellectuals in
general, for example the East European dissident philosophers.

Upon rereading this essay several times, I don't find it as empty
as I first did, yet there remains an incompleteness and
sketchiness which I believe has to be attributed to one of two
factors.  There must be an implicit subtext to the argument in
order to render it full and coherent.  Perhaps what is required to
render the argument fully intelligible is omitted here because
there is a tacit assumption of a shared knowledge of Hegel among
the audience for this paper.  Or perhaps the fact that the
argument is not consummated is due to the fact that Raya herself
never worked it out, having contented herself to remain at the
stage of having experienced a philosophical revelation.  For all
the talk of the movement from below, here she reveals herself as
the quintessential philosopher.  She knows that ideas have causes
and consequences, so she decodes philosophers' understanding or
lack thereof of Hegel, dialectics etc., as symptomatic of other
weaknesses.  As a general principle such a sensibility is
justifiable, but Raya's textual obsessions become self-enclosed
and virtually Kabbalistic.  I feel that she is on the verge of
saying something about subjectivity reconciling notion and
reality, but she never says it.  Perhaps she is on to something in
suggesting that Soviet philosopher Kedrov squelches this reading
of Lenin in favor of reaffirming Lenin's earlier materialism,
dismissed here as the "photocopy theory of reality".  Yet the
argument never gels even on its own terms, and for an audience not
thoroughly grounded in this subject matter, it is virtual
gibberish.

[R. Dumain, written 9 May 1994]


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