Archaic Contamination: Hegel and the History of Dead Matter Author(s): Elizabeth Fay Source: PMLA, Vol.

118, No. 3, Special Topic: Imagining History (May, 2003), pp. 581-590 Published by: Modern Language Association Stable URL: Accessed: 12/08/2010 20:56
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I 18.3

Archaic Contamination: andthe History Hegel of DeadMatter
I tell every body it [the Life] will be an Egyptian Pyramid in which there will be a compleat mummyof Johnson that LiteraryMonarch. ELIZABETH FAY

-JamesBoswell( Wendorf 105) DE CERTEAU MICHEL THINKS ABOUT READING AS AN ARCHAIC PRACTICE: "READERS THEY ARE MOVEACROSS LANDS TRAVELERS; belonging to someone else ... despoiling the wealth of Egypt to enjoy it themselves"(174). Embedded in Certeau's romanticization of readingis a of how has been read: as wealth to be history Egypt plundered,as endlessly availabletexts, as the ruin of time. Pose againstthis lostness FriedrichNietzsche's contentionthat all philosophy is just Egyptianism,the nostalgia for and reification of a past tense without a dynamic sense of history,so many "conceptualmummies"(35).1Nietzsche remindsus to considernot lost originsbut the possibilityof endings,not the loss of history but its death-not deathin the sense of apocalypseas Percy Bysshe Shelley's "now"and the release of new time in PrometheusUnboundbut deathas the archaic,the ruin,the mute, as Egypt'slost "now"and the end stop of archaic time. I will pursue the problems of the archaic, poetic ground, and translativereadings Romantically throughHegel's Egyptianized account of aesthetic practices, for Nietzsche's post-Romantic Egyptianismmummifiesthought.Although Hegel's Egyptianizingalso concerns the dead matterof the past, his account rendersthat matteras dynamic. His revivificationof the archaicRomanticallyaccounts for its contaminativepotential as a mysterious text whose translationcan uneartha curse,and/ora promise,for the new. To think about the archaic as a problem of conceptual mummies might be to begin with archaeology and the unearthingof dead matter. science weddedto antiquariArchaeology,the productof Enlightenment as more than the search for lost anism, began civilizations; it began as their measurement.Napoleon's team of savants, led by Vivant Denon, wantedto map Egypt's defuncthistoryratherthanto uncoverit, theirassumption being that what could not speak for itself or be read within a This contextualizing semiotic could at least be materiallydetermined.2

ELIZABETH associate professor of FAY, Englishat the Universityof Massachusetts, Boston, is the author of Romantic Medievalism:Historyand the Romantic ideal (Palgrave, 2002), A FemiLiterary nist Introduction to Romanticism (Blackwell, 1998), Becoming Wordsworthian: A Performative Aesthetics(U of Massachusetts P, 1995),and EminentRhetoric: Language,Gender,and CulturalTropes (Bergin, 1994). She is working on a study of RomanticEgyptology.



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dead matterhad to be given new ground in the anestheticof Enlightenmentscience.3 Hegel redefines this anestheticthrougharthistory,recuperatingEgyptianismby deobjectifyingEgypt's ancientremainsand positioningthem in the first step of a dialectical theory of material translation. He thus repositions archaeology as comparative anthropology, science as dialectical aesthetics.He situatesthings as in process,as occupyingstatesof betweennessratherthanas othered, dead matter.In Hegel's three-stagehistory of art, the grounding civilizations symbolized spirit through form, the classical civilizations balanced spiritand form, and Romanticart subordinatesform to spirit. Thus, Greek things belong to the middle ground, since despite the finish of their matter-spiritengagements, such harmony suggests that the spiritual has not yet achieved its full translationin the material.Because objects in Romantic art are dethinged by the fullness of theirspiritualexpression,they are not in process in the same way as symbolic and classical objects but are dynamicallyopposed to the deadening and mummifying subject-object segregation of the nondialectical world. In this of thingnessis not unrespect,Hegel's treatment like John Keats's dialectical resolutions in his odes, which Keats'spoetics rendersdynamically of spirit. synthetic,a presentiment For Hegel, Egyptian art is exemplary symbolic art: Egypt is the land of symbol,which proposes to itself the spiritual problem of the selfof Spirit, without being able interpretation remain to successfully solve it. The problems withoutan answer;and such solution as we areableto supplyconsiststherefore merelyin of these riddles that we this, Egyptian grasp as this very artandits symbolicalproductions problemwhich Egypt propoundsfor herself to solve. butis unable 74) (Philosophy Symbolic art begins in the originating point of wonderand the resultantdivision from nature;it ends in the self-consciousness of artistrythat is

classical art. Symbol ends when the balancebetween form and signifying presentiment proclaims a self-conscious freedom-a freedom from mystification, from dark uncertainties,in shortfrom all the things Keats claims for poetry of Maiden-Thought in the Chamber (Gittings95; letter to J. H. Reynolds, 3 May 1818). Keats's poetics resembles Hegel's dialectic as an Egyptianizing of Westernthought.The "embalming" of the poet's imaginings in "Ode to a Nightingale" ("I cannot see what flowers are at my feet / .. / But, in embalmed darkness, guess . . ." [lines 41, 43]) provides an apt version of Hegel's conceptualmummies,dead mattersymbolizing a dialectical process that affirms the first step as necessary precursor to the last, dead things assuming the agency of threshold,of entranceinto the thirdchamberof poetic thought, the thirdstage of matter-Spirit integration.4 This matter of agency, of dynamism, is important to Romantic art, as Hegel notes. If Friedrichvon Schiller begins the contemporary debate about aesthetics, his theory as wrought throughscientific thoughtachieves its place, its "absolutestandpoint"as Hegel calls it, its conceptual body in FriedrichSchelling's Transcendental Idealism (1800).5 By contrast, Johann Winckelmann'stheory of Greek aesthetics provides not a standpointbut a "new sense" and a "new organ" for developing insight into the spirit-matterrelation in art;however, Winckelmann's emphasis on body was, Hegel regrets, less influential. Hegel's project is to develop a the artisticrevdecisive way to see and interpret elation of Spiritby building on Winckelmann's and Schelling's conceptions a theory of the "Idea itself" (Aesthetics 1: 62-63), a deflection of sensory apprehensioninto its "true"content, "theuniversal"(Phenomenology60). But if Hegel thus construesthe precedentsfor his dialectical analysis, for living ideas, his word choice prefigures Nietzsche's conceptual mummies. What gets left behind in philosophical ideas, as Nietzsche notes, is history.For Nietzsche, Egyptianism equals the "hatredof even the idea of




Elizabeth Fay


becoming," and it is synonymous with dehistoricization.Mummies, he reveals, are the final death of the thing itself, the translation of the body or concept into an eviscerated and lacqueredshell stuffed with everythingbut organs, mummy as mummy case: "nothing actual has escaped from their hands alive. They [philosophers] kill, they stuff, when they worship,these conceptual idolaters-they become a mortal danger"(35). Indeed, the priestcraftof ancient Egypt provided both the art and the mummies of the dynastic dead and defined a preservationist mentality that furnishes an apt metaphorfor standpoint philosophy. Egypt's allure,by contrast,lies in its textual potentiality, its richness for poetic allusion. In thinking about the dynamic vitality of poetic language,Julia Kristevarevives Hegel's concept of negativity after Nietzsche's mortifying pronouncement,interpretingas a positive irruption the bodily semiotic's intrusioninto the symbolic or conceptualorder.The semiotic is a precondition of symbolic language and thoughtbut also intervenes "as a 'second' return of instinctual functioning within the symbolic, as a negativity .. ." (Revolution 69). This negativity is the transgressionthat combatsthe symbolic's deadening order,thus sustaininga dialectical movement that resolves in poetic language. It is the de-syn-thesizing of boundariesthat is life. "Hegelian negativity,aiming for a place transversal to the Verstand [Understanding], completely disrupts its position (stand) and points toward the space where its production is put in practice," and it is "the trans-subjective,trans-ideal, and trans-symbolicmovementfound in the separation of matter, one of the preconditions of symbolicity" (116; interpolation in orig.). The negativeboth groundsand disruptssymbol, both endangersand reintegrates.For Nietzsche, contagion, "mortaldanger,"arises not from matter but from the philosophersas priests, mystifiers, and interpreters.For Kristeva,if the separation of matteris what kills in the preparation for the absolute orderof symbol, then Hegel functions

as a priest and an interpreter whose negativityis the mortallydangerousbut life-producingtransgression of the symbolic's attemptsto suppress bodily matterand temporalpassage.6 The semiotic is life-productive, historyproducing, birthed from the archaic, which is a prepresence, not a prehistory. Kristeva uses Nietzsche's division of chronology and monumental (or eternal)time and adds cyclical time, associating the two latter forms with women. Against these ways of experiencing history sits the archaic,representative of the Mother.Women encounter the archaic through childbearing, which draws them out of history and language and into a presencethatprestagesthe child's socialization by housing the fetus in a body that
now "conceals a cipher . . . [a] pre- and trans-

the child's referenceback to symbolic memory," the archaicMother(Desire 241). The questionis whether Egypt functions for Hegel as archaic time, ground,the cipheringMother,monumental in as Kristevan or, negativity,potentiating agent. In fighting the effects of temporal change through mummification, Egyptian priests denied the becoming that is history, thus denying the body its progressthroughtime. The mummy is hermetically sealed, stuffed, and preserved againsterosionanddecay,a thing withoutbodily significance or transcendentpossibility. Hegel must reread this embalmment, as well as the Egyptians' own view of their history as monumental, in accordancewith the gigantic scale of theirmemorialsto the dead.Egyptianmonumental time is not on the same scale as Hegel's tripartitearthistory,but Hegel can revise Egyptian history because for so long it had been lost, had been represented solely by monuments or the comments of travelersluredby its allusive mystique. But the loss of Egyptianhistoryis significantly the product of a loss of translatability, which is the key to change, to history,and to the liminal. Withouta way to read the hieroglyphs, an erroneous dynastic history interpolated by Roman historians was taken as Egypt's incongruous and incomprehensiblehistory. Not until


ArchaicContamination:Hegel and the Historyof Dead Matter


Jean-Francois Champollion broke the hieroglyphic code in 1822 was a correct dynastic chronologyavailable,allowing Egyptiantime to be rescued from the monumental, the living death of Egyptian afterlife. Hegel believes he, too, can rescue Egypt from its ciphering monumentalism, producing a reading of its remains thattranslatesit from its archaicground.The archaic is the maternal groundfrom which the subof ject forms,potentmatterfor the transcendence the Mother,necessaryfor achievingthe sublime, a sublime that complements Hegel's negative sublime but is not equivalent to it. Egypt, for but a monHegel, is not lost historyor prehistory umental sublime in which the pyramid'semptiness signifies the vacuum of Spirit, a memorial shell as monumental mummy,which nonetheless has potentiating force. Thatnegatingvacuumis a vital thing,drivinghistoryinto its next stage. If the archaic'snormativerelationto mythic time and monumental time, a grounding of countedtime and of memory,standsthe archaic in opposition to apocalypse, to the earth that would open up to swallow subjectivity(a swallowing that is the opposite of transcendence), the fundamentalupheaval that apocalypse represents is the rising up of the archaicin the face of time. It is the revelationof this otherface that Hegel sees in the ciphering Sphinx, the symbol of symbolism itself (Aesthetics 2: 83). Indeed, the Greek word apokalupsis means revelation, the makingknown of secrets-in short,translation. It is the conjoining of the unremembered and the counted in orderto transfigure. In Shelley's PrometheusUnbound,Prometheusholds a secret from Jupiter about revolution and reordering; until he reveals this secret, time is kept captive as the repetitionof pastness, bound-as he is-to the old order. Archaic Mother Earth can only weep in witness to the repetitions of historicaltime, but it is in the archaicthat Shelley locates the agent of apocalypse: Demogorgon. Whether he is historical agency or the hermeneutic problematic, within or without philosophical conception according to Nietz-

sche's mordanthumor, Demogorgon has been secreted in Mother Earth, exiled from heaven, and held outside time until Prometheus'srevelation puts him-and new time-in motion. The problem of revelation and secrecy, as Shelley dramatizesit, is not far from the problemof the archaicand contamination. Secrecy is death,but revelation is the spread of a virulently revolutionary energy, a contamination of bodies through pure conception, and (for Kristeva) a transgressionof the semiotic into the symbolic. Similarly,Hegel views the sublime as violently transformative, either a contamination of the Spirit-matterrelation that produces an inward drive towarddeath or a transcendent realization of "thecreativeforce of everythingexternal,"in which the form is "annihilated by the very thing which it would set forth."In Hegel's reckoning, the sublime is not "the subjectivecontent of the soul" but rather a recognition of "the one absolute substance" as it is revealed to us, and Romantic art succeeds in formulating the exposition of this revelation. Once the absolute substanceis "revealedas elevated above all obit is purifiedfrom the form jective phenomena," and "vanisheswithin it" (Aesthetics2: 87). The problem presentedby Hegel's schema is to understand how the anestheticof negativity can turn away from the teleologically processive, becoming contagious and fatal throughthe drive inward.Hegel's first and final stages of artistic developmentcan be comparedwith other assessments from his time if we say that Romantic artexhibits purificationbut symbolic art represents contamination. The normative confrontation with Egyptian artifacts was one of alienated mystery, a threatening noninterface. Hegel reconfiguresthis threatas a psychological reality: a drive inward rather than out or upward, a returnto the Mother as a recognizable human response to cosmic enormity. Egyptian architecture,specifically that of the pyramids, revealsthe inwarddrive "keptfirmlyin view ... as the negative of life, as death";these monuments are "prodigiouscrystals which conceal in

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themselves an inner meaning," a signification made up of the metonymies of death and invisibility, stand-insfor the Spirit that cannot yet be revealed (Aesthetics 1: 354-55, 356). Susan Stewartunderstands the gigantic as "a metaphor for the abstract authority of the state and the collective, public life" (xii). In Egyptianism,the monumentalismof ancient Egyptianart is what presents itself to the viewer. The gigantic is always the abstractexpression of state authority, whetherexpressed througharchitectural monuments, sculpturesof the humanor animal form, or funereal monuments.Takentogether,monumentalforms projecta collectivity, a public culture that erases any possible hiding space for individualidentityor internalexperience.7 When we comprehend ancient Egyptian culture as other, the gigantic is successful in its outsized presence, remainingin situ despite the devastations of time. At the same time it is unsuccessful, lost in the ruins of history.The fascination, the location of desire, for nineteenth-century viewers was in reflecting on how to recuperate the power without the ruin, how to bring the Egyptian monument home and incorporate it withoutthreatof contamination. Nietzsche's assessment of totalizing and deadening philosophical systems allows one to elide Hegel's conceptionof Egyptiandeath.The anesthetic's contagion does not have the same effect as objectification. It is not the deathof the after all but its afterlife that Hegel mummy views as conceptuallyfundamental:"the invisible has a deeper meaning for the Egyptians;the dead acquiresthe content of the living itself... and in this concrete shape it is made independent and maintained."Death is not merely substantivelythe same as life: the Egyptiansextend this "still naturaldurationof the dead," so that "[w]hatis preservednaturallyis also interpreted in their ideas as enduring,"for they are the first to imagine the soul's immortality. The Egyptians' immortality of the soul is precedent for comprehendingthe freedom of the spirit, since the self-knowledgerequiredto imagine a disem-

bodied immortality is "the principle of freedom." "Therefore they [the Egyptians] have made the transitionof mind to its liberation,although they have only reached the threshold of the realm of freedom" (Aesthetics 1: 355). Threshold: for Keats it is imaginative, the open door leading to the Chamberof MaidenThought;for Shelley it is cognitive, the decisive moment of conceptualizingrevolt. For Hegel it transfigures the preserved dead from merely empty shell, from Nietzsche's mummification be a mummy.... And away, ("Be a philosopher, above all, with the body, thatpitiableideefixe of the senses!" [Twilight35]). The transfiguration is to the body's liminality,its translucentpotential, its capacity as cipher both to transgress symbolic order and to be a symbol. Threshold encompassesthe drive towardSpirit,towardthe sublime whetheror not it succeeds as an articulation of transcendence. The view that threshold is a middle state, neither "being" nor "becoming," and not deadened in Nietzsche's sense of the encapsulatedor lineated, is an interpolation of Hegel's discussion of the blocking of spiritual self-revelationin Egyptianart, but I understand his discussion of threshold in that art as dynamicin locationand in its conceptualenergy. Threshold in this sense is not the condition of the sublime but its precursor. In this moment of liminality,the mummycan eitherpose the riddle of Keats's capacity for "being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts"and for the "'burdenof the Mystery"' (Gittings 43, 95, letter to George Keats and Tom Keats, 21 and 27 Dec. 1817; letter to J. H. Reynolds, 3 May 1818) or propose Shelley's apocalypse. I want to use this concept of liminal dynamism to understand Hegel's propositionof Egyptianartas textualriddle. For Hegel, the riddle is a particularkind of symbol, a conceptual obscurantthat apparently evinces truth but in fact exhibits a confusion about"theinnerlife": "evenin Egyptknowledge of the innerlife andthe absolutemeaningwas still not free, still not released from the world of appearance, and this provided the reason for the


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riddlesandthe obscurityof Egyptiansymbolism" (Aesthetics 1: 362). But the riddleis not mystification; it is a productiveconfusion arising from an "intertwin[ingof] meaning and shape [that] presages... andthereforealreadycomes close to thatinnersubjectivity which alonecan developitself in many directions."Thus, the ambiguityof riddles,which "containimplicitly much, explicitly nothing," provides a fertile space for the Spirit's process of becoming (360). This is also the space to which the interpretive aporiaof writing, translation,and interpretation belong, made more severe by the problem of the hieroglyphs. The riddle,which consists in the Spirit'sbringing itself "into consciousness in precisely what is the archaicversionof the strangeto it,"represents hermeneutic of writingandreading,a lost reading practiceandonly the tracesof a lost writingpractice (361). Interpreting hieroglyphs-the alphabet of statecraft, official history,religion, andthe death cult-is the practiceof priests, those who officiate at thresholds,who control the dissemination of texts, who mediate the spirit's selfrevelation. They also, to follow Nietzscheanlogic here,purveycontagionandspreaddeath. Yet priestsare supposedto tradein purification rites, for thresholdscleanse: "Now the first decisive purificationof the absolute ... is to be sought in the sublime. Sublimity lifts the Absolute above every immediate existent and therefore brings about the liberation which, though abstractat first, is at least the foundationof the spirit"(362). Contagion, by contrast,has to do with heretical practices, with unorthodoxinterpretations.The connections among purification, writing, and the problem of contagion can be seen in the association of Thoth and his Greek corollary,Hermes, also known as Hermes Trisor "thrice-great Hermegistos, "Hermes-Thoth" mes." Hermeticism,a term later associated with poetry heavy in occult symbolism and interpretive mystery, originally referred to the Greek name for Thoth. Underlyingthe association between occultism and occult poetry is Egyptian symbolism as contagious writing, as exempli-

fying the mystical capacity of language, particularly writing, to be pure symbol. Thoth, the representativeof the sun god Re on earth, was founder of languages and the inventor of writing, the scribe of the gods as well as their interpreter and adviser, the god of reason and learning,and the founderof the social order.He participatesin death by weighing the hearts of the dead and reporting the weights to Osiris, god of the dead. As Hermes, Thoth is revealed more fully as the messenger god, scribe and the interpreter of symbols. He is the transmitter, of thresholds and thus an agent of death, agent but as HermesTrismegistoshe is also the inventor of the magical hermetic seal, which keeps deathand contamination out but in as well. Like the priests who presided over mummification rituals,sealing vital organsin magic jars to preserve them for the afterlifeand sealing the emptied body in resined linen encoded with prayers for the dead, Hermesput a seal on the secrets of hereticaldoctrine.Indeed,HermesTrismegistos was reputedly author of magical books, of occultist doctrine,or, to be more historicallyaccurate,the Gnostic gospels. The link among the hermetic, the interpreter,the transgressive agent, and the orderer and sealeris thatof aporia,betweensignifierand signified, semiotic and symbolic, language and meaning. Thoth aids Osiris in judging the dead; as Hegel notes, "Osiris means humanityitself" (Aesthetics 1: 359), but by extrapolationThoth means human interpretive activity itself. Both deities symbolize the relation between life and death, presence and absence, writing and reading. Thoth is the first literary critic, Hegel his Romanticsuccessor.The Egyptianhieroglyphis a problematic that contains the symbol as language sealed in archaicor cipherwriting,an exemplum of Hegel's symbolic stage of art. The claim of the Aestheticsis to decipherthe glyphs, to read them for their ability or inability to embody and contain Spirit. Hegel as Thoth is Nietzsche's Egyptianized philosophy: the cult of the dead as art history, literary criticism as

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occultism. This associationis indeed contagion: death as life, life beyond the grave, philosophy as the hermeticof eros, morbus,and thanatos. In his embalmingof Samuel Johnson,cited above, James Boswell writes that monumental body into a continuance of spirit, like Keats's embalming translationinto poetry of those forgotten by history. Writing translates the hermetic seal into dynamicaccess. Withoutwriting, the spirit may be dead history: had "other friends been as diligent and ardentas I was, he [Johnson]might have been almost entirely preserved," Boswell notes (qtd. in Wendorf 106). This is not contagion but purification,death as disembodied genius. The anesthetic of Hegel's Egyptianismallows for writing as translationthrough the agency of Thoth as/and Hermes Trismegistos-to be the purifying recovery of lost history, of dead matter.Hegel apprehends the signifying power of the hieroglyphs as an extension of Egypt's monumentalcultureof the dead thatallows him to respeakthe past, to redirect the threatof dead materials.He recuperates Egypt's ancient past in the form not of Western historical schemas but of a spiritualhistory that speaks to the potentiality of the archaic for the future. Hegel's comparativeanthropology,disguised as a discourse on aesthetics, gives voice to Thoth's writings as alreadyreadableinto the not yet recuperated Gnostictexts. The dissonance between Hegel's symbolic art and other early-nineteenth-centuryassessments of Egypt'smysteriousnesslies in the ability of writing, both the hieroglyph symbol and the legible sign, to be like Plato'spharmakoncure and poison. The difficulty of any medicine is thatit is positive and negative,restoreranddepriver of life, a transformative.Writing, medicine, magic: poison purifies, and the Egyptian prayersof the dead are incantationsthatawaken the dead subjectinto the afterlife. This awakening is the promise of the Egyptian pyramid. In Hegel's system, contaminationand purification are both translativeagents, his negative sublime and expressive potentializingthe transformative

movement of spirit through form. The force of makes negativity,threatening, voiding, irruptive, it productive-for Kristeva,productiveof poetic language. But Hegel treats poetic form as elevated art,not in keeping with symbolic art'sriddles, hieroglyphs,hermeticallysealed mysteries, which are comprehendedbetter through/in the architectural. In not accounting for Egyptian prayersof the dead and theirmagicalcapacityto butthe resurrecbringto life-not transcendence tion inherentin all poetry-Hegel as Thothtranslates monumentalisminto the formula"spiritin form"as an occultingof Egyptianpractice.Writing as spiritbecomes writingas mystery,writing as riddle: the anesthetic of Egyptianism, which threatenshumanprogressthroughmystification, ratherthan a partof the hermetic and antiseptic processof mummification. In his analysis of spiritin form, Hegel takes on well-knownmonuments: pyramids,sphinxes, the Memnoncolossi. Takinghis information from Tacitusrather thanfromFrenchscientists,he neverthelessrefutesmystificationsof the Memnons' soundeffects, speculatingscientificallyto unriddle, to translate,spirit-contaminative matter. The Memnons"restingin themselves,motionless ... numb,stiff, andlifeless, are set up facing the sun in orderto await its ray to touch them and give them soul and sound,"a sound that may "be explained by assuming that... the voice of these stone monumentsproceedsfromthe dew andthe cool of the morningand then from the falling of the sun's rays on them, if small rifts arise consequentiallyand vanishagain"(Aesthetics1: 358). resolves the mysHegel's liberatedratiocination tery withoutevidentiary proof, translating superstitiousbelief: "takenas symbols,the meaningto be ascribed to these colossi is that they do not have the spiritualsoul freely in themselves,"requiring"lightfromwithoutwhich alone liberates the note of the soul fromthem"(358). Emphasizing their symbolic signification, Hegel reads Memnon as instilled spirit, encased but able to boundaries transgress by being drawnout, its hermetic seal cracked by natureso that seepage of


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spiritis possible. The colossi standin monumental opposition to the pyramidsas crystals and in formto mummiesas dead matter;theirsounding forthsymbolizesthe mysticalthresholdbeing supersededby the historical process: ancient worshipers, classical scholars, medieval travelers, enlightenedscientists,liberated philosophers. The Memnon passage in the Aesthetics immediately follows the discussion of pyramids and a short section on animal worship, a sequencingwhose categoricallogic could be challenged. The two paragraphson animal worship end with a catachrestic(irruptive?)reference to hieroglyphics, the symbolic writing that Hegel explains authoritatively by using Champollion's This deciphering theory. theory, that the hierocombine both glyphs ideographic and phonetic symbols, is delivered summarily without any reference to Champollion, a summationauthorized by Hegel's Thoth standpoint (357).8 The either-orof hieroglyphic writing (symbol as either image or letter) translates into a both-and confusion in animal worship. This confusion "debase[s]"by sacralizingthe bestial form, and in Egyptian conception it mingles human and animalbody parts.Nevertheless,the live animal holds somethingover the cult statuebecause the animalhas "somethinginner"thatits form only "hints" at and that "remains"(semiotically?) "innerand thereforerich in mystery"(357). Hegel's firststep in dialecticalknowing,"sensecertainty,"the pure and unreflective apprehension of the objectposited in Phenomenologyof Spirit (1807), is challenged by the living object in a cannotdo (Aesway that"inorganic externality" thetics 1: 357).9 The "somethingthat hints" resists the dialectical,identificatoryexchange that eventuates in knowledge. At some point, at a in the progressionof coming to know standpoint, the object, its inhabiting spirit "remainsinner," resists being known. This is the mysterythatthe West suspectedancientcult objects of being rich in. Hegel demystifies such objects-the sphinx, the Memnons-through recognizingin them the

Idea. The sphinx and emanatingcolossi arepublic monumentsthat organizeknowledge in relation to the unknowable, to an archaic ground. But the hint and mystery of riddles symbolized by them remainultimately undecipherable,not fully knowablein themselves, because the monumentsretainthe essential spiritin form of symbol. Egyptian symbols alternate ambiguously between directrepresentation of nature("proper and of extrication of the inmeaning") spirit(the ward).Moreover,that extricationis troubledby the boundednessof the spirit,which is "subordinate in this sphere"to its form, so that"thesymbol in Egypt is at the same time an ensemble of symbols,"a confusionof form andcontent(35960). A seeming dead end, these symbols imply much but explicate nothing, so the confusion is dynamic, productive of "thatinner subjectivity which alone can develop itself," liberate itself. Egyptianart,then, belongs to the symbolic stage of arthistory,but it is the highest achievementof that stage, embodying a "mysterious symbolism" as "riddles"in themselves: "the objective riddlepar excellence."This is "thepropermeaning of the Egyptian spirit,"best representedby the Sphinx, which is, "as it were, the symbol of the symbolic itself" (360). Thus, the hermetic seal of the mummy, of the cult statue, preserves dead matterresistant to the Idea of a rational,systematizablehistory, yet the seal contains thresholds, fissures that open and reseal with the light of understanding, permitting the emanation-contamination dynamic to intrude into the subjective struggle among reason, history, and spirit. The aim of symbolic art is the Idea, the "unenigmaticclarity of the spiritwhich shapesitself out of its own resources," its own matterand form.Thatclarity necessitates a first step, as in dialectical knowing, "a first decisive purificationof the absolute [meaning] and its express separation from the sensuous present."That purifying expression is the lifting up, the liberating,of the absoluteinto the sublime. The step is a first one because al-

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as conthoughthe spiritis "notyet apprehended crete spirit"-formed into, comprehended by, made, concrete-it is "regarded as the inner life" seen, read, decoded, known, even though "by its very nature[it] is incapableof findingits true expression in finite phenomena" (362). It can be regarded,apprehended, immateriallybecause the sublime is "contained.. . only in our minds" and only when "we become conscious of our superiority to the nature within us and thereforeto naturewithout"(362-63). Art, then, is also a thresholdbetween natureand mind, between matterand truth,between sense certainty and absolute knowledge. The voiding of spirit, the negativity of the pyramid, mediated as it is by the boundedness of spirit in the Memnons and by the living symbolism of the riddling Sphinx, embeds, seeds, the "decisive purification of the absolute"; its dangerous threat expresses the absolute from dead matter into a positive sublimity. The sublime's job is to "attempt to express the infinite" (363), so that the voiding of history in negativity is counterbalanced by the progressioninto infinity.Fromthis history of the Spirit comes poetic language, the irruption of the semiotic into the symbolic, which produces poetry as a Romantic, thirdstage effect, an expressionof spiritfree to itself. The threshold locates the difference between hermetic and hermeneutic, between the purificationof transcendenceand the contagion of the negative sublime, between resistantmatter and close reading. The heretical nature of Hegel's analysis, covered over by assurancesof the superiorityof Westernart,culture,and most specificallyreligion,leads his readersto a different understandingof transcendencein relation to archaic matter.It is an understandingof the apocalyptic power of Spirit's self-expression, the purifying power of Romantic art. Shelley's apocalypticnow and Keats's syntheticnow verof dead ify Hegel's belief in the transfiguration matter by revelation through the dialectic of hereticalwriting.This is not the deathof history

or philosophy but rathera standpointthat, in a somewhat priestly act (contra Nietzsche's dire postmortem),activatesriddleinto revelationand translates archaic and classical time into the possibility of an infiniteend.

l I am indebtedto David Clarkfor this referenceand for his generouscommentson an earlierdraftof this essay. 2 Hegel has been reading their publications:"the fundamental character of this huge architecture [of the ancient Egyptians]has been made familiarto us recentlyprincipally by Frenchscholars"(Aesthetics2: 644). The principalwork is that of Denon's team, with 907 plates, The Description of Egypt, 9 volumes (1809-22). Hegel's first lecture notes for the Aestheticswere begun in 1823. 3I intend "the anesthetic"literally,as the incapacityfor or insensitivity to feeling, thus as a rejectionof the object's potentialto hold spirit. 4 For Keats's understanding of Egypt as archaic and embalming,preliminaryto Hellenic imagination,see Bewell, as well as Kelley's use of Bewell's argument(220-21). English-languagetranslatorsof the Aesthetics usually capitalize Idea, Concept, and the Ideal to indicate the transcendent sense, but they often use the term absolute spirit. I use Spirit instead for consistency and to preventconfusion with humanspirit. 5 Schelling mortifies, using, e.g., Hegel's phrase caput mortuumto discuss the resistantopaquenessof dead matter to spiritual light, disregarding Hegelian dynamism (Clark 117-19). 6 For a discussion of Hegel's conception of contagion, see Krell 145-60. 7 For Hegel's thinkingaboutthe state's expressionof individual death and the problem of purity,see Phenomenology 311-12. 8Champollion's decisive victory over Thomas Young, JohanAkerblad,and Silvestre de Sacy in the struggleto decode the RosettaStone occurredin 1822 and was announced in his Lettre a M. Dacier (Bon-Joseph Dacier, a renowned Hellenist, was directorof the Academie des Inscriptionset Belles-Lettres; Champollion's brother, an Egypt scholar, was Dacier's private secretary). See Wortham49-56; Adkins and Adkins 57-66, 155-81. 9 Sense certaintyis the "firstimmediate opposition"between the subjectand its object, after which subjectand object engage in a dialectical process between universals and particulars that ends in absolute knowledge of the object (Phenomenology58-66).


Archaic Contamination: Hegel and the History of Dead Matter


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Keats, John. "Ode to a Nightingale." The Poetry of John Keats. Ed. Jack Stillinger. Cambridge:Belknap, 1978. 369-72. Kelley, Theresa."Keats,Ekphrasis,and History."Keats and History. Ed. Nicholas Roe. Cambridge:CambridgeUP, 1995.212-37. Krell, David Farrell. Contagion: Sexuality, Disease, and Death in German Idealism and Romanticism. Bloomington:IndianaUP, 1998. Kristeva,Julia.Desire in Language:A SemioticApproachto Literatureand Art. Trans.Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine, and Leon S. Roudiez. New York:ColumbiaUP, 1980. .Revolution in Poetic Language. Trans. Margaret Waller.New York:ColumbiaUP, 1984. Nietzsche, Friedrich.Twilight of the Idols. Twilight of the Idols and The Anti-Christ. Trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1968. 21-112. Stewart, Susan. On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection. Durham: Duke UP, 1993. Wendorf,Richard. "Ut PicturaBiographia:Biography and PortraitPaintingas Sister Arts."ArticulateImages: The Sister Arts from Hogarth to Tennyson. Ed. Wendorf. Minneapolis:U of MinnesotaP, 1983. 98-124. Wortham,John David. The Genesis of British Egyptology, 1549-1906. Norman:U of OklahomaP, 1971.