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The Root of Humanity Hegel on Language and Communication

The Root of Humanity Hegel on Language and Communication

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University of Iowa
"Te Root of Humanity": Hegel on Language andCommunication
 John Durham Peters
University of Iowa
 , john-peters@uiowa.edu
 Author posting. Copyright © State University of New York, 1997. Tis is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of State University of New York for personal use, not forredistribution.
Tis Contribution to Book is brought to you for free and open access by the Communication Studies at Iowa Research Online. It has been accepted forinclusion in Department of Communication Studies Publications by an authorized administrator of Iowa Research Online. For more information,please contactlib-ir@uiowa.edu.
Te denitive version was published in Figuring the self: subject, absolute, and others in classical German philosophy, 1997, pp.227-244.
 
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Chapter Eleven"The Root of Humanity": Hegel on Language and Communication
*
 John Durham PetersIFreud tells the story of once seeing a disagreeable old man approaching him on atrain--until he realized there was a full-length mirror at the other end of his compartment.
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 Hannah Arendt compares the self to the daimon in ancient Greek religion which constantlyfollows each of us around, looking over our shoulder so that we never see it but others do.
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 Hegel, in turn, wrote that one self requires another: the self only exists in its relation toanother self. The self, then, is perplexing: we seem to know nothing more intimately, yetthere can be nothing so strange. The self is, so to speak, at once selfsame and selfdifferent:it belongs to itself and yet it transcends itself into nature and the world of others. Like aMoebius strip, the self only has one surface, though at any given point along that surface, anopposite side can be found.In this essay I argue that Hegel's understanding of the self and its relation to other selves gives us rich ways to refigure the concept of communication. As this concept is oftenformulated, the problem is this: How can my experiences--unique to me and regardingwhich I have a privileged access--be transferred through the shaky public medium of language to reach your own, very different, set of experiences? The conceptions of 
 
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experience and selfhood informing this question--conceptions which lie at the heart of theAnglo-American empiricist tradition--give rise to an apparent antinomy: the self must faceeither the threat of isolation (in its private meanings) or bondage (to public ones). The political fears of solipsism and tyranny, in other words, shape the outer limits of currentthinking about communication.
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 Hegel can help us dialectically resolve such notions. But even among thosecontinental theorists whose thinking has been nourished by the Hegelian principle of theidentity of identity and difference, views about communication often make only piecemealuse of Hegel's complete vision. At one extreme lies the sober ideal of distortion-freecommunicative action (Habermas); at the other, the frolicksome exposé of the endlessmischief of discourse such that communication is at best a chimera (Derrida). Habermasunderplays language's strangeness, Derrida its instrumentality. Moreover, when Habermasquests for the social, political, and historical conditions in which people can participate informs and forums of undistorted communication, or when Derrida revels in the différanceof non-identical signifiers in discourse, both are elaborating just aspects of Hegel's grander vision.A rereading of Hegel would round out current debates and help us find an accountof communication that neither erases the curious fact of otherness at its core nor the possibility of doing things with words. Language is resistant to our intent; nonetheless, it isalso the most reliable practical means of persuasion we have. Though language is a dark 
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Published in Figuring the Self: Subject, Individual, and Spirit in German Idealism. Eds. DavidE. Klemm and Guenter Zoeller. Albany: SUNY Press, 1997. 227-244.
 

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