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The Reader's Supper: A Piece of Hegel

Author(s): Werner Hamacher and Timothy Bahti

Source: Diacritics, Vol. 11, No. 2, The Ghost of Theology: Readings of Kant and Hegel
(Summer, 1981), pp. 52-67
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
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to sketch the program of a religion from out of the spirit of speculative

unity. Jesus-like Hegel, faced with the problem of not being able to
respond to a morality based upon oppositions [e.g., the universal and the
particular] with a morality merely opposed to it-emphasizes that he has
come not to dissolve the laws, but "to fulfill" them. Thus, he asks not for
"respect" before the law, a position Kant had adopted "critically" [kriti-
zistisch]; because respect, as a feeling on the part of particularity, still
remains different from the law as the universal, and-despite its being the
privileged path to an a priori moral knowledge--respect allows for merely
an infinite approximation of the subject of pure practical reason. Hegel
remarks: "Respect is the opposite of the principle which is appropriate to
action; the principle is universality; respect is not this; the commandments
are, for respect, always only something given [ein Gegebenes]" (388)
[382]. They are a given, positive element, the mere letter of the law, even
there where their command is internalized otherwise than it is by the
Tungusic shaman who submits to an exterior fetish (as Hegel establishes
in opposing a passage from Kant's "Religion Within the Limits of Pure
Reason" [A 254]). Respect for the command of reason submits only to an
internalized fetish (cf. 265 f.) [425]. If Christianity is to be for Hegel a
religion of love and thus of unity-the argument of his "Spirit of Chris-
tianity" [Geist des Christentums]--then "to fulfill the laws" must mean
something other than "to respect" them. With the explanation of this
central concept of fulfillment and fullness-pleroma-aporias of the
greatest consequence manifest themselves, including that of the relation-
ship between language and being.
In an early note, Hegel characterizes the Christian strategy of cultural
change with this word from the Scriptures, as plerosai: "Thus Jesus es-
tablishes the principle of virtue, with which he also directly attacks the
morally destructive statutes of the Jews; or rather, he seeks to plerosai
them, to give them their spirit" (363). A sentence from Hegel's text "The

*This piece is cut-precisely pp. 106 to 130-from Werner Hamacher's "pleroma

-zu Genesis und Struktur einer dialektischen Hermeneutik bei Hegel," his intro-
duction (pp. 7-333) to his edition of G. W.F. Hegel, "Der Geist des Christentums":
Schriften 1796-1800 (Berlin: Ullstein, 1978). The text was completed in mid-1976.
The numbers within parentheses in the text refer to the pagination of the "standard"
edition of Hegel's early writings, Hegels theologische Jugendschriften, ed H. Noh/
(TObingen: J.C.B. Mohr, 1907); those within brackets, to the pagination of
Hamacher's edition. Since the English edition of Hegel's early writings, Early Theo-
logical Writings, ed. R. Kroner, tr. T.M. Knox (Philadelphia: The U. of Pennsylvania
Press, 1971) includes the pagination of the Nohl edition in its text, cross-referencing
between the three editions is readily performed.
DIACRITICS Vol. 11 Pp.52-67
0300-7162/0113-0052 $01.00 c 1981 by The Johns Hopkins University Press

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Positivity of the Christian Religion," here still operating entirely within the context of
a "Kantianizing" religion of virtue, translates the Greek word into the Latin comple-
mentum, and remarks: "Thus, from Jesus' attempt to make his nation attentive to
spirit and sentiment . . . this complementum to the laws became once again, under
the regime of the church, the rules and orders which are always once again in need of
such complementi; and this attempt on the part of the church misses the mark again;
for the spirit, the sentiment, is too ethereal an essence to be held fast within
commanding letters and formulae" (207). If in this interpretation of the complement,
it is still "critically" [kritizistisch] imputed that there cannot be a "representation" of
the "ethereal essence" such that representation and essence ar brought into harmony,
but rather only one such that the universality of the spirit always transcends the
[particular, commanding] laws-then the concept of pleroma in the later "Spirit of
Christianity" seems to be directed precisely toward such harmony and unity. Yet
neither the passage from Matthew to which Hegel explicitly refers in his notes to "The
Spirit of Christianity"-

"Mt 5.17: plerosai, to supplement, to make complete through sentiment,

through adding the inner onto the outer." (395) [391]

-and which Hegel's "Life of Jesus" translates as "Do not think that I have come to
preach the invalidity of the laws; I have not come to cancel [aufheben] their obli-
gation, but to make them complete" (82)-neither this passage, nor its citation in
Romans 8.4 and 13.10-"Thus love is fulfillment of the law"-contains any reference
to the union of the fulfilling element with the fulfilled one, to the unity of love and
law. Such a strong connection is, however, very probably intended in the Gnostic use
of the concept of pleroma, which for its part represents an allegorizing re-interpretation
of the evangelical concept of pleroma like that of the Kabbalistic ha-Male'. Hegel may
well have been familiar with this Kabbalistic-Gnostic tradition, at least through con-
versations with Schelling.

In his reminiscences of Hegel, Schwegler reports: "A classmate of Hegel's

told me that during his years at the [Tubingen] Stift Hegel preferred to study
Aristotle in an old, worm-eaten Basel edition, the only one that was readable
at the time, while Schelling preferred the Gnostic system, especially the
Ophitic and Valentinian one." (Hegel in Berichten seiner Zeitgenossen, ed.
G. Nicolin [Hamburg: F. Meiner, 1970], p. 13)

From his letter of 30 August 1795 it is evident that Hegel knew Schelling's dissertation,
"De Marcione Paullinarum epistolarum emendatore," in which is undertaken the
careful attempt at a rehabilitation of the heretic before the court of orthodoxy. The
theme of plenitudo that is important for Hegel is only touched on in passing there, as
the form of the dissertation treatise did not allow otherwise.
The most detailed presentation of the Gnostic systems, Irenaeus' "Adversus
haereses," defines the pleroma in the Valentinian system as the totality of all aeons, as
the fullness of that which, in the strict sense of the word, is or has being. The limit and
law of this being is established by Christ in his function as Horothetes, who excludes
desire for the impossible and unnameable from this sphere of fullness. The fruit of this
totality of all aeons, as it is limited by Christ and united amongst itself by the spirit, is
Jesus as "the most perfect beauty and the star of pleroma" (Irenaeus 1,2;6). One could
thus extract from Gnostic doctrine a concept of Jesus-who, incidentally, is not the
historical Jesus here, but rather the idea of him as it existed before the creation of the
world-in which he appears as the unity of the fullness of being with that which, at
the same time, limits it. Yet this unity comes into being only through the exclusion of
that which arose from desire for the impossible-through the exclusion of matter.
Although the Valentinian system sees figured in Jesus' act of redemption the sublation
[Aufhebung] of even this opposition, the system's ontology-in contradistinction to
that established by Hegel-remains dualistic to the extent that each sublation remains

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tied to the exclusion of matter, the exclusion of the scarcely-being and the non-being.
Being reminded of this process of separation and union, which Gnostic doctrine saw
allegorized in the texts of the Gospels, may have been fruitful for Hegel. But in any
case, the concept of pleroma and of fulfilled being in his early writings relates to the
Gnostic tradition, and to the Kabbalistic and Platonic tradition reworked within it,
without developing linearly from out of it.
Through the concept of pleroma, Hegel takes aim at the whole tradition of
interpretation of the word and at a whole period in the history of philosophy, and
brings the cavity or empty hole [Hohlraum] inside them to light. This can be seen in
the commentary which he inserts into "The Spirit of Christianity" as an addendum to
the term:

... this harmony of inclination or disposition [with the law] is the pleroma
of the law, a being which, as one formerly put it, is the complement of pos-
sibility; for possibility is the object-as something thought, [it is] the uni-
versal; being [is] the synthesis of subject and object, in which subject and
object have lost their opposition ..." (268) [428].

"As one formerly put it" means: as Wolff and his school put it in their interpreta-
tion of Aristotelian metaphysics and Leibniz's philosophy of substance.

In ?174 of his Philosophia Prima sive Ontologia Wolff defines: "Hence I

define Existence as the complement [complementum] of possibility: which
nominal definition is clear (? 191. Log.) ... Existence is also called Actuality."
And Alexander G. Baumgarten follows him in his Metaphysica (Halle, 1743):
"Existence (act, . . . actuality) is . . . the complement [complementum] of
essence or possibility, as the latter is considered as a complex of determina-
tions" ( 55).

Hegel now uses the concept of the complement, as he already had that of the
pleroma, differently from those who had "formerly expressed" themselves with it: not
in order to erect a hierarchy among the categories of reality and possibility, but to
name the condition of possibility for possibility itself, and for its difference from
reality. For the complement is a "being" ["Sein"] which founds, as in their state of
unity, the spheres of subject and object, the universal and the particular, freedom and
necessity, which are separated from one another in the state of possibility. In other
words, what is added to that which displays a lack [i.e., possibility], also precedes it as
fullness. The unity of the spheres that is eliminated in its disintegration, is filled up
once again by the complement in its combining of the spheres. Pleroma is therefore
the fullness of being which fulfills the deficient forms of life, and combines the state
of opposition which rules within them with that of their unity. Hegel's complement
thus corresponds as little as the Wolffian one did to the Kantian type of "supplement"
[Erganzung] in which the "abyss" or chasm between subject and object is still left
unclosed. Pleroma is that which fills out every lack, and as such, it is at once a part
of and the fullness of being. As with being and with love for Hegel, pleroma unites
differences with unity.

Schlegel notes in his Philosophischen Scholien of 1798, roughly contempo-

rary with Hegel's sketches: "A very Xa [chaotic] concept, exist[entia] com-
plem[entum] possibilitatis.-" (Friedrich Schlegel, Kritische Ausgabe, ed.
E. Behler [Paderborn: F. Sch6iningh, 1963], XVIII, 42)

Although the whole history of Western ontology is brought together in the

concepts of pleroma and complement, and, at the same time, receives a new interpre-
tation from them; and although the double function of pleroma is summed up in the
phrase "to fulfill the law," i.e., to be being itself and to be a mere addition to that
which, in the full sense of the term, is not-the unity that is thought in pleroma

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nonetheless bumps up against the limits of language. Just as the "expression" "comple-
ment of possibility" could not be used by Hegel in its historical sense, but rather only
as a distancing citation-the outlines [of an old word] which were to be filled out by
the new concept-in a similar manner, the central "expression" of Hegel's text ("har-
mony of inclination or disposition with the law") must itself appear "inappropriate"

"because in it law and inclination still appear as particulars, as elements that

are opposed to one another ... and since the harmonizing elements are dif-
ferent elements, even the harmony would be only accidental, only just the
unity of foreign elements, [only just] something thought." (268) [428]

This appearance of inappropriateness is the consequence of the fact "that [in the
expression] the living [das Lebendige] is only thought, articulated, or offered in the
form of a concept [which, qua concept, is] foreign to it" (267) [426]. If language
relates heteronomically to life, then the possibility of misunderstanding, of the
confusion between a foreign form and a proper content, would remain indissoluble.
Kant was guilty of such a confusion of heteronomy when he misunderstood the
commandment of love (in which Jesus summarizes his teachings) as a commandment
of love. Yet if Hegel were to acquiesce in such an abstract critique of language, up-
holding the fundamental inadequacy of thought vis-a-vis being, and thereby tending
to banish conceptual language as well as language in general from the realm of
philosophic articulation, then it would not only disallow his own writings and the
critique of language which they present: it would also contradict its own principle-the
union of being and that which is foreign to it. The source of the confusion, of the false
semblance, of the accident, of Kantianism and of Jewishness must therefore at the
same time prove to be a moment of the most fulfilled union.
If in language, as an "assertion about a real thing" or an "assertion about a future
thing," it is a matter of truth, that is, of the "strict connection" between word and
reality (270) [431], then [language's] being [Sein] can in turn not be designated by a
thingly entity [einem dinglich Seienden] without its undergoing a semantic restric-
tion. It is in this sense that Hegel comments upon the Sermon on the Mount's critique
of the practice of the oath as it was practiced by the Jews.

"When the Jews swore by heaven, by the earth, by Jerusalem or by the hair
on their head, and submitted their oath to God or laid it in the hand of the
Lord, they linked the reality of what they asserted to an object, equated both
realities, and put the connection of this object to what was asserted-the
equivalence between the two-in the power of a foreign force; and God is
thereby made into [gesetzt zur] the power above the word ..." (271) [431]

When the truth of a sentence [Satz] is joined to an objectively conceived heaven

or to the object hair, this truth-the unity of the sentence with what it articulates-it-
self appears restrictively equated with only one side of its relation of unity, [with the
objective side,] and it thereby ossifies into a fetishistic object. The onto-logical knot
tied between language and the matter [Sache] thus ties itself together into a foreign,
objective power over language. "Being, represented in an entity, made present in it"
(270) [431], itself shrinks into a mere entity. The unity of sign and significance loses its
founding character as soon as it is joined to the isolated sign, to the representation, to
the hair; it is displaced into the status of sign, representation, and hair, and thereby is
itself groundless, without being, without unity, meaningless. Reduced to the function
of the sign, language loses this status as well. Yet it loses it differently than in its
elevation to the order of being and fulfilled meaning. It loses itself in the non-sense of
a necessary fiction. The language of the oath, of the assertion, of the institutionalized
agreement-this language is the language of the sacrilege of being. It is a heaven that
conceals heaven, hair that occupies the place of the spirit "which alone [can be] the
connector of its word to an action"-a nonhomogeneous tissue out of the remnants


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[Resten] of the onto-logical combination. Every text in which the signifier resists, even
if only partially, the synthesis of its truth (and Hegel's text, which is compelled to
speak of a "harmony of inclination with the law" as if the harmonizing elements were
still different, cannot be exempted from this law); every text in which the sign is
robbed, along with its synthetic relation to its meaning, of the organic, living quality
of being; every text, even if its shame [Scham] in the face of its difference from the
presence of meaning still works on in it: every text turns into hair.
Which must be cut. Elsewhere, Hegel calls the hair of the beard which the
Oriental forbids himself to cut, "the most unessential element of his organic whole,"
the "most indifferent element, in which there is no life"-which is why "the cutting of
nails [is] just as much a mutilation, and .. . circumcision probably even a greater one"
[K. Rosenkranz, G.W.F. Hegels Leben (1845), p. 518]. But only this cut-which trims
the independence and the inanimate stiffness of hair and nails, the positivity of the
concept and especially the inappropriate character of the traditional philosophic use
of language--dissolves their state of being confined to the unessential and finite, and
allows them to pass over into unity with the organism of meaning which is infinite in
itself. The cut [Schnitt] must be [take place], so that no [independent] slice [or cut,
Schnitt] remains. The text on "Belief and Knowledge" ["Glauben und Wissen"] gives a
significant metaphoric formulation to this dialectical figure, itself a constant from the
earliest to the latest of Hegel's texts. Abstraction from sensual finitude--regardless
whether that of the body, of language, of cultural or social institution--"is conceived
as the painful cutting-away of an essential part from the completeness of the whole;
for the temporal and the empirical and the privative are recognized as an essential
part and as an absolute in-itself [ein absolutes Ansich]; it is as if one who sees only the
feet of a work of art complains, when the whole work is revealed before his eyes, that
he has been deprived of privation, that the incompletion has been rendered incom-
plete" [Hegel, Theorie-Werk-Ausgabe, ed. E. Moldenhauer and K.M. Michel (Frankfurt
a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970), II, 300 f.]. Just like the fetishistic predominance of the feet or
the hair, the fetishistic predominance of language is the covering over the complete
form, the pleroma of being, the other likeness of Sais. To speak onto-logically, to read
Hegel's text would thus mean to "take off" [aufheben] this cover, to cut it, so that this
likeness appears at once undercover and in fullness [in HOlle und FIlle].
For it must also appear under its cover, in the cut cover [that is] completed
through the cut. But how may one project a cut that for its part does not operate
according to the pattern of dichotomy which it is supposed to dissolve? How may
there be a cut that does not relate privatively to that which for its part defines itself as
the privation of wholeness? How may there be a cut that turns back upon this original
wholeness in such a manner that not only its decayed forms, but also it-the whole-
ness- is itself completed? How may a cut be thought that retrieves what becomes lost
in the separation [of the cut]; a cut of repetition that does not separate but rather
unites-even with separation?
And how must the language that makes this cut be constituted, and how that
which comments upon it?
The cutting-uniting language cannot be that of consciousness. Every language
which represents itself as the utterance of a consciousness orders itself, as a particular
[of consciousness], underneath the principle of universality contained in conscious-
ness, and thereby renders itself, the universal, "sublimated [erhaben] above itself as a
particular" (272) [433]. Self-consciousness is a shamanistic relation of mastery. Since
its language does not speak as one, [as unity,] but rather, as a particular, only speaks
against or contra-dicts the idea of its semantic and moral content, it must, according
to Hegel, remain a "sham" ["Heuchelei"] (273) [434]. Despite the indissoluble dif-
ference which obtains in this language between what is intended and its realization,
this difference is so closely tied to the demand for equality [Gleichheit] that, in the
system of consciousness, every intention strives to realize itself according to the
model of equivalence. The law of action as well as of language is the ius talion: "an
eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." Instead of the sublation of the one lack through
the other, the one is merely to be equal to the other. The castration to castration. The

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economy of equivalence, of semantic, social and evaluative equality, stands in the
service of privation and is thus, ununified in itself, the economy of the difference
which ceaselessly maintains itself. The economy of the ius talion, which establishes
the structure of self-consciousness, prescribes the law of death, not of life; that of the
regulative fiction, not of being. Instead of the copula, radical disjunction is the law
of self-consciousness. The blinded eye is not the blinded eye. Castration does not

It is otherwise with the cut of pleroma. Castration is, and is therefore

ment of the lack that it marks. It is, not because it might have become eq
but because it is more than its mere concept. If the pleroma has a measu
this: that it is more than could be indicated by a measure. Being is to be
economy of its movement is then also never that of equivalence, but mu
asymmetrical economy of surplus. It is only the radical inequality of signi
sign, of commandment and action, of consciousness and its correlative, tha
both the possibility of their orienting themselves vis-a-vis anything other as
mous element; it renders them autonomous vis-A-vis one another, and ca
only of becoming equivalent to one another, but of becoming one. Thus t
process of language and action must always contain more than any p
sciousness which refers to it. This is the content of the maxim from the Serm
Mount, as Hegel comments upon it: "Do not let the left hand know what
hand is doing" (272) [432].
If knowledge is a subsumption of a particular content under universa
of understanding or of moral reason, then it must be said of being [Sein] t
not know. Being is bound to the condition of its being unconscious. Its la
becomes onto-logical when it overshoots [Oberschiesst] the limits that ar
for it by the material of its articulation, by its objective referent, and b
which transcends it [a transcendental subject]. Only this surplus [Ubersch
language of being-beyond the boundary line of consciousness and its
-can circumcise the semantic relation between designation and meanin
way that the difference to which this relation is bound disappears, and th
tion of the sign is sublated [aufgehoben] into the unity of representation an
The onto-logical cut of pleroma cuts the transcendental-semantic cut
between universal meaning and its particular designation. The sign se
difference to the difference that separates it from its significance. The pr
negation of negation through which the cut runs flows into the presence
in that which articulates it (be it verbally or be it in contexts of action). T
even this one, does not cut. In that it is, it draws together the reference of
signified within it in such a manner that both are in unity. The cut com
exponentially raises the life of the particular sign-of the sign valid merely
to a heteronomous other-to the power of meaning which is universal in i
This conversion of castration into potency [Potenzierung]--the dialect
ment kat exochen-marks the center of Christianity and its fate in Hegel's
tion. Concerning the injunction that "if a member (limb) bothers you, ch
Hegel comments:

"The greatest freedom is ... the possibility of giving everything up in o

to retain oneself. But whoever would save his life, he will lose it." (28

Inversely: "In order to save himself, man kills himself" (285) [448]
negation of the difference which separates the sign from its meaning, the
turn efface itself-this is the consequence of the contraction of signifier an
Only the sign's self-negation, its self-castration realizes the higher life of u
restricted [objective] nature and its categories of understanding. The
point of the copula would be a loving union of subject and object, a union
their opposition and their unity-a being in which everything that is an en
thing objective, and every opposition would have died. It would reduce it
punctual experience of the coincidence [Zusammenfall] of life and death,


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and universality, sign and signified, and thus to a form of unity which, at the moment
that it is attained, is also already past. The onto-logical language-were it to deplete
itself with this suicide of the sign-would then be the meaningless discourse of
meaning. The fullness of pleroma--empty subjectivity.
Thus, for the fullness of being, the possibility of repeating the suicide of objec-
tivity-[an activity] bound to objective forms-is still lacking.
For the fullness of language, the possibility of repeating the cut against its
objectivity-lan activity] bound to objective forms-is still lacking.
Perfect love is reduced to a mere moment, and to the extent that it circumcises
within itself the space for objectivity, to the same extent reflection and its categories
of understanding gain power over love on the far side of its most essential moment.
The fleeting character of the union that fulfills itself in love itself leads, with its
realization, to recidivism into the realm of difference. Since the possibility of any
objectification in an existing element is what is lacking for it, the pleroma of the law,
the completing moment in love, itself still remains "incomplete nature" (302) [469].
The complement has need of a further complement, just as it itself already had to sup-
plement another complement of the law, namely virtue. "The religious is thus the
pleroma of love (reflection and love united, both thought together or bound together)"
(302) [469]. But in between the representation of love and the representation of the
religious, Hegel's analysis [in "The Spirit of Christianity"] introduces yet another type
of union. If love is the union of the law with the inclination to act as the law
commands; and if religion is the union of love with the philosophic and social forms
of love's objectification; then the middle form of a precarious union of love wit
perceptual representation [anschauende Vorstellung] is constituted by a cultic action
which takes on an extraordinary importance in Hegel's later systematic conceptions,
and which, after relatively traditional representations of it in the earliest texts, finds its
first great speculative analysis in the fragment on "The Spirit of Christianity": the Las

"The farewell which Jesus took from his friends was the celebration of a
supper of love; love is not yet religion, and therefore this supper is also not a
properly religious action . . . But with the supper of love an objective
element nonetheless also comes forth, [an objective element] to which
feeling is connected but with which it is not united into one single image,
and consequently this eating hovers in between an act of eating-together
out of friendship, and a religious act, and this hovering makes it difficult to
denote its spirit clearly." (297) [463]

The supper is a passing-over, a passage or transition, and a Passover [Ubergang].

And indeed, a passage on the one hand from the subjectivity of love to its objectifica-
tion in religious forms; but inversely, as a form of the disappearance of the love that is
objectified in [the person of] Christ, it is the passage from a union "joined to a real
[objective] element" to a union that is almost completely taken back into the sub-
jectivity of feeling.
The trajectory toward objective manifestation of union in the form of the supper
is, in its accomplishment [the eating], turned into the internalization of the outer
[objective element]. Hegel himself discusses this movement of the supper, doubled as
it is in itself, as a passing-over from a semiotic to a hermeneutic process, from the act
of the production of a sign to the act of its interpretation. The fact that the supper
nowhere resolves the ambiguity of a thingly image combined with a subjective ex-
perience of that which the image represents-the fact that the supper remains
equivocal in itself, and in a state of suspension [in der Schwebe]-leads to the
difficulty, acknowledged by Hegel, of "denoting its spirit clearly." But Hegel leads,
beyond this difficulty, to aporias in the critique of equivocation that cannot be
resolved by means of a dialectical theory of unification, but rather can themselves
only still be passed, passed by or passed over.

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The communal eating that is celebrated in Jesus' farewell feast is no "conven-
tional sign" (297) [463]. The eating does not merely signify, it is: Hegel insists upon

this point,
is for without
pleasure already here-as later with great emphasis--differentiating that it
and belief.

"'esus broke the bread: Take it, this is my body, given for you, do this in
remembrance of me; similarly he took the goblet: Drink of it, all of you, it is
my blood of the New Testament, shed for you, and for many, for the
forgiveness of sins; do this in remembrance of me!" (297) [463]

Not just the eating of flesh and the drinking of blood-any eating and drinking
passes beyond the limited sphere of the "conventional sign" and discloses itself as the
sphere in which -only then, afterwards-the restrictive characters of signs can for the
first time inscribe themselves. For if sign and signified are, according to the definition
Hegel gives them, "foreign to one another," and bound together only in a third
element which is thought according to the categories of understanding, then the
semantic reference which is made real in the supper is only conceivable as [an act
of] concrete unification. The model for unification is in this case eating, as formerly
[in "The Spirit of Christianity"] it had been the act of love. In communal eating
objective manifestation and subjective experience on the part of several participants
are brought together into one.

Hegel cites an ethnological example: "When an Arab has drunk a cup of

coffee with a stranger, he has thereby made a bond of friendship with him.
This communal action has joined them, and through this act of joining the
Arab is bound to [render] all loyalty and help to him" (297) [463]. For the
same problem, Freud cites the same example in Totem and Taboo: "The
ethical power of the public sacrificial meal rests upon archaic notions
regarding the significance of communal eating and drinking .... Practices
which today are still in force among the Arabs of the desert prove that the
binding element in the communal meal is not a religious moment, but rather
the act of eating itself. Whoever has shared the smallest bite with such a
Bedouin, or drunk a swallow of his milk, no longer needs to fear him as an
enemy, but rather may be certain of his protection and his help. To be sure,
not for time eternal in the strict sense, but only for as long as the material
enjoyed together remains in his body after its acceptance. . . . If one shares
the meal with his god, then it expresses the conviction that one is of one and
the same material with him ..." (Gesammelte Werke [London: Imago, 1940-
48], IX, 163/64).
And Hegel continues: "The communal eating and drinking is here not
what one calls a sign; the connection between sign and signified is not itself
spiritual, not life; it is an objective bond ... To eat and drink with someone
is an act of unification and itself a felt union, not a conventional sign .
(297) [463]

As little as the meal can be, for Hegel, a sign from which the signified still
remains distinguished, it is just as little the case that the meal's ontological quality is
exhausted by the mere feeling on the part of its participants to be already united with
one another through the communal act of eating. The object of their communal
eating-which, as [the objects] food and drink, is still differentiated from their
community [as eaters]-is already conceived as this community itself. The cup of
coffee or the swallow of milk is already the material, perceptible union of the
communal persons; similarly, the swallow of wine or the smallest bite of bread is
already the body and blood of the loving union that has come into being in the figure
of Christ. Hegel can therefore call the conclusion uttered by Jesus-"This is my body,
this is my blood"-a religious conclusion, and, more precisely, one that "aproxi-

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mates" and nourishes1 the religious, for in it the principle of subjective union in love
appears bound to the objective food. In the food the union "is not presented in an
image, in an allegorical figure, but rather is joined to a real thing, given and enjoyed
in a real thing, the bread" (298) [464]. Just like a sign, the supper as an allegorical
figure would still signify; and as such, it would only fulfill its significance in an other,
not in a sensually present [objective] element, but only in an element that is merely
[subjectively] thought. And similar to the [structure of a] parable, in which the
compared element appears materially distinguished [from the comparing one] and
only appears the same [as the latter] in the thought [which joins them], the supper as
an anticipation of salvation, as "use," "advantage," or "benefit," would only be
referred to a concept which itself transcends the present union of objectivity and
idea, particularity and universality. Hegel's distinctions here direct themselves as a
whole against the semiological reductions of the supper to a structure of signification,
which reductions displace the synthesis of signifier and signified-their understanding
-onto some "far side" of the actual context of experience. This restriction was pre-
sented in an exemplary manner by Kant's critical limitation of judgment to the
mechanism of nature, the restriction of teleology to a fiction-with the consequence
for the philosophy of religion that he denounced the Last Supper as a fetishistic meal
when it is viewed, not as a means for moral self-ascertainment, but rather as in itself
pleasurable [wohlgefEllig] to God ("Religion Within the Limits of Pure Reason,"
A 282). In opposition to this mechanistic and, in its turn (according to Hegel), equally
fetishistic semiology of the supper, Hegel seeks to prove that the supper is in itself a
divine one. In any other manner-for example, through (seemingly) empirically
grounded transcendental izations of significance-the fact of non-misunderstandable
communication of truth, and even the experience of the unity of the self that is closed
in itself, would not allow itself to be explained.
The supper is neither parable nor anticipation, neither sign nor allegory; it is
symbol. Hegel speaks of "symbolic action," and his commentaries make explicit the
strict concept of the symbolon as it was used in antiquity. In order to make clear that
in the supper of love bread and wine are not merely bread and wine, but rather are
more than objects merely useful in a thingly manner, he compares them to pieces of a
ring which are worn by friends as signs of recognition, and as indications of their
belonging together, exactly as symbols. As symbols, pieces of a circle belonging
together, there figure in Hegel's text on the one hand food and drink, the body and
blood of Christ, on the other hand the act of eating and the eaters, but on the third
hand the union of the eaters and the eaters in their individual particularity. Just like
the distinct elements within the pairs, all three pairs relate symbolically to one
another. The supper (communion) is their synthesis. A synthesis of suppers which in
no case refers representationally to an abstract significance in opposition to them;
rather, in them themselves, as the pieces of a ring, the surplus [of their individual
meanings] is manifest-that they belong to a whole. In the supper, the parts are the
whole. Every single bite of bread is the bread, is Christ, and is the community of eaters.
Every single swallow of wine is the wine, the life of Christ, the gathering of drinkers.
They themselves are objectively the union of themselves, as relata, with their relation.
The supper closes the ring of symbols together, and in itself makes real the union of
differentiation and union.
But: Every single bite of bread eats2 the bread, eats Christ, and eats the community
of eaters. Or, as Hegel writes: "But the love that has been made objective, this sub-
jective element that has become material [Sache] [which means: subjective union of
unity and differentiation], reverts once again to its [former, essential] nature, and in
eating become subjective again" (299) [466]. Thus, in that the supper-the love that
has become objective-ceases to be objective and becomes of course3; in that the

1The German "nihert" ("approximates") plays on nahrt (nourishes). (Tr.)

2In this sentence, the German isst (eats) refers to the preceding sentence: "Every single bite
of bread ist [is] the bread, is Christ.. ." (Tr.)
3 The German in Gang kommt means both "enters into motion" and "becomes a course [of a
meal]." (Tr.)

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food of love is consumed and the wine of unity and difference is drunk, the surplus of
totality that was bound together with them disappears along with its thingly form [as
food]. The bite shortens-bites off-the objective unity of the subjective element
down to its subjective experience, and thereby destroys its-the bite's-own par-
taking of that which it eats. The supper breaks the ring of symbols that it itself forms.
Its pieces are no longer symbols that, already, in themselves, were closed together
into a whole [the ring.]. With the symbolic objects of bread and wine-the mystical
objects, as Hegel also calls them-spirit and feeling do indeed enter into an image,
but as objects they disappear [in the eating]: "the understanding is robbed of its own
stuff; the material, the soulless [is] annihilated" (299) [466].
The heterogeneity which enters into the cultic action through [this process of]
the annihilation of the sensual manifestations of the subjective element, also prevails
in Hegel's own analysis. If, in the first part of Hegel's commentary on the Last Supper,
in the speculative interpretation of the institutional formula, perception and the spirit
of love are taken as unified, then here it is the case that-as if the text itself felt the
pressure of the bite, and would [fragment, and] multiply the differences beneath that
pressure-the non-unifiability [of perception and spirit] is upheld. It says:

"They are always at hand in a twofold manner, the belief and the thing, the
devotion and the seeing or tasting; the spirit is present for the belief, the
bread and the wine for the seeing and tasting; there is no unification of
them. Understanding contradicts feeling, feeling [contradicts] understanding
..." (300) [467]

Under the bite which-while about to join together the objective union of love
with its subjective experience--destroys its closing; under the bite which, between its
character as objective and itself as subjective, reintroduces the difference which was
already sublated [aufgehoben] in its object by way of the sacramental magic of
symbolization-[ under the pressure of the bite,] the spiritual food, as which the Logos
Christ offers himself, displays itself as script [Schrift].

But the love made objective, this subjective element that has become
material [Sache], reverts once again to its nature, and in eating becomes
subjective again. This reversion may perhaps in one respect be compared
with the thought which in the written word has become a thing, and which
in the act of reading receives its subjectivity once again from out of a dead
thing, an object. The comparison would be more striking if, as the written
word were read or gathered up [aufgelesen], it were to disappear as a thing in
its being understood; just as in the enjoyment of the bread and wine .. they
themselves disappear as objects." (299) [466]

The difference between eating and reading, between corpus mysticum and script,
which difference Hegel seeks to maintain against [the power of] his own comparison,
is expounded yet again through a further comparison. Script is [said to be] a stone that
resists the transformation into the subjective totality which represents itself in it.

"When lovers sacrifice before the altar of the goddess of love, and the
prayerful outpouring of their feeling raises their feeling to the greatest ardor,
then the goddess herself has entered into their hearts-but the statue of
stone remains forever standing before them; in opposition to this, the
corporeal element passes away in the supper of love, and only the living
feeling is present." (299) [466]

If on the one hand, then, the stone is like the script in that, as a thingly object, it
also still remains exterior to its subjective experience, it is also, as a worn-down thing
decayed into dust, once again like the crushed host, in the eating of which the feeling
of love and its thingly form separate from one another, and thereby force the symbol


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-in which they are grasped together into one-into diremption. In the face of
both-the Greek gods decayed into dust, and the divine food melted away in the
mouth-the feeling is not of love objectified in the individual, but rather of "mourn-
fulness at the non-unifiability of the body and the notion of the living forces" (301)
[467 f.].
A similar experience holds for reading. All reading is mournful, since it has to
work through the experience of the non-unifiability of the body of the script-in
which the thought is ossified into an exterior form--with its subjective animation in
the act of understanding. Reading is the labor of mourning over the loss of this union
of objectification and subjectivity, which loss the act of reading itself causes. Thus it
is potentially endless--melancholy--since it itself repeats the tear [Riss] which it
labors to close.

Twenty and thirty years after writing down these fragments, Hegel, in his
lectures on aesthetics, once again notes the connection between mourning
and reading in the form of the plastic gods of Greece: "The blessed gods
mourn, as it were, their blessedness or corporeality; one reads [liest] in their
state the fate which stands before them, and the development of which-as
the real appearance [Hervortreten] of that contradiction between grandeur
and particularity, spirituality and sensual existence-leads classical art itself
toward its decline." (Vorlesungen Ober die Asthetik, in Theorie-Werk-Aus-
gabe [Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1970] X/V, 86)

The reading of script, like the eating of the host, opens up the difference while at
the same time it seeks to complete the lack immanent in its objects-the fact that
they remain exterior-and to close the difference.
The reading in the drama of the Christian eucharist repeats, as it were, the
"mourning-play [Trauerspiel] of the Jewish people" (260) [419].
The union manifest in-the supper thus at once reverts to strict opposition when
the promised divine element melts away in the mouth, for the promised divine
element remains something other than the bread that can be eaten and the wine that
can be drunk.
In that the eating transforms without remainder [restlos] the perceptual representa-
tion of a union-of the eater with the food, of the eater with his fellow eaters, and of
the mere representation of this union with the union itself-into pure subjectivity,
and interprets the content of the sacramental food in such a manner, it annihilates

even thissubjective
to mere content-union of subjectivity
experience. and objectification--through
The subjectification its restriction
of the objective unity of sign and
signified leaves this unity behind as a mere objective representation. The result of the
symbolic supper is thus anything but symbolic: it divides itself irreconcilably into two
relics of the union originally contained in the supper, into a perceptual or intellectual
representation on the one hand, and empty feeling-feeling empty-on the other.
The eating of the supper-like the reading of the script-has the paradoxical character
that this supper, as a symbolic one--like this script as a meaningful one- is not eaten,
not read. The symbol of onto-logical union falls apart through its interpretation,
through the practical union in which it alone can realize itself; the symbol literally
falls apart, of itself, into allegory [zerftillt durch sich selbst buchstiblich zur Allegorie].
This dialectic of the supper-which breaks the symbolic ring of speculative
dialectic in such a way that its pieces no longer fit together with one another-has as
its consequence the fact that the supper, to the extent that it negates objectivity, is
"not objective enough" for a religious action (300) [466]; but to the extent that it
remains, as a thingly element, as a representation of union, distinguished from its
onto-logical content, it is too objective for a religious action, that is, it does not have
its objectivity as the union of the subjective and the objective. Too subjective, too
objective; to have eaten too much, and not enough. The infinity imaged [eingebildete]
in the food not only remains ungraspable for the bite [vom Biss unerfassbar]; it also

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remains inappropriate to the system of graduated completion in which it is supposed
to be incorporated; since from [the supper] onward-contrary to what he would have
himself believe-once Hegel characterizes the Last Supper as the pass-over or transition
[Ubergang] between love and religion, no path leads forward to religion which would
not at the same time be a regression [ROckgang] into the forms of dead opposition.
With this tear [Riss] in the ring of progressive synthesization, which [consequently]
no longer leaves its pieces behind as symbols, Hegel's text itself, in that it offers up the
speculative food as script, winds up in a mouth which reads it neither in the sense
[Sinn] of a transcendental hermeneutic nor in that of its speculative sublation [Auf-
hebung]-a mouth for which it is unreadable and inedible. For as Hegel comes to
present the founding of a religion of love in the allegory of its foundation through
Christ, he utters the initial formulation of the Last Supper not just in the voice of a
commentator, but also, indistinguishable from this [first voice], in that of Christ; at
once citational and imitative:

"[Jesus] broke the bread, gave it to his friends: take it, eat it; this is my body,
given for you; likewise the goblet as well:. . . this is my blood ... Not only is
the wine blood, the blood is also spirit; the communal goblet [is] the com-
munal drinking of the spirit of a new union, ... and from this product of the
vine I will drink no more until that day of fulfillment [Vollendung, the Last
Judgment]." (298 f.) [465]

What Christ offers as his own flesh and blood to his apostles and to his congrega-
tion is not merely named and interpreted by Hegel; rather, this gift is mimetically
repeated as the gift of the text, a script out of flesh and blood. But just as bread and
wine not only are flesh and blood, but also "is" that which produces their unity-the
spirit, in that they are combined in a new union; the supper which this text once again
offers up is similarly not just script and stone and flesh and blood, but also the being
which their identity-as spirit--produces. But now if, in that manner, the being [das
Sein] is the script, the supper of the spirit a stone [Stein], then it-a stone-falls out of
the ring of its unity and remains-script-laid out [interpreted, ausgelegt] in its
reading, in opposition to the unity which is achieved in it. Being, since it writes itself
as a whole onto-logical relation, and not-Hegel insists on this-as a paralogical or
parabolic one; since being thus does not just superficially equal the script which seeks
to establish its union anew, nor remain foreign to it in the "hard combination" of
allegory that is censured by Hegel (298), but rather is itself this script; it transforms
itself, in the ontological process of its transsubstantiation, into the characters of an
ontography. Hegel-once again-reads. And when he reads-and, as he reads it,
writes-the scene of the Last Supper as script, the scene of the supper and the scene
of its script are at the same time set out for the cut through which the unity separates
from itself within the unity, the being [divides from itself] within being. Hegel, the
new evangelist and favorite apostle of the Lord who he himself is, is beheaded, and
that which is served by him in the goblet and on the platter of the text-the gift of his
word, his flesh and blood, his script--is, for him, inedible, unreadable.

"His head falls and the golden,

lay like inedible and
unfading script
Visible on a dry platter."

This script of the supper which Hegel offers would-[when] read and gathered
up [aufgelesen]-vanish in the pure subjectivity of its meaning, and display itself, in
the mere interiority of its significance, as separated from the union of the subject with
its objective form, and therefore as empty. The promise of the divine word would not
be fulfilled, but merely promised, an error of the pen [lapsus calami]. Merely read,
this script would be, even after the reading, exterior to the understanding of its
content, a dead object which would remain without connection to the union laid


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down in the very script. Read and gathered up, or read-the script of the speculative
supper remains unread. And as the spiritual food of the corpus mysticum is inedible,
because determined merely for eating, the script of the onto-logical word remains
unreadable because it is determined for reading.
What goes away empty is being. It remains behind in the form of a fetish-like left-
over [Rest]-be it of the representation of possible union, or of its thingly sign-from
the supper, as garbage and crumbs. The complement, which joins script and food to
the subjective synthesis of love, tears apart the union already immanent in love, and
subverts its proper function. The addition subtracts. The bond cuts. The complement

The title, the head, of pleroma falls and transforms itself into an other, the
travesty of an other:4


Just as the reading, which Hegel adds as a supplement to the text of the Gospel,
bumps up against its unreadability, the unreadability of that which is only readable
and read-in a similar manner, a reading which adds itself on to the Hegelian text,
according to the latter's own example as interpretation, places its script-aimed at
readability-in difference to itself. How may a reading still be read, which bumps up
against the impossibility of a speculative reading of script; how may a meal be eaten,
which offers its material as inedible?

How may the Hoc est enim corpus meum above the corpse of the script be
understood at the absolute mass that Hegel, an other, reads?5

With the question of readability-which means, the question of the speculative-

dialectical sublation [Aufhebung] of the script in an understanding which unites its
objective characters with its subjectively intended meaning, and restores the circle of
signification without any residue or left-over-the reading of the texts of speculative
philosophy bumps up against its own impossibility: the impossibility of sublating
sublation in such a manner, and of sustaining the circulation of its meaning which it
itself demands. This impossibility is not posed for the reading and its script as an
exterior limit, which, as a merely empirical objectification, would always already be
transgressed by the onto-logical process; it is much more the case that it displays itself
from out of the principle of the philosophy of unification [Vereinigungsphilosophie]
itself: namely, that the union of subject and object must objectify itself symbolically,
and that this objective subject-object relation must be able to integrate itself into an
objective-subjective one. The difference between signifier and signified-which no
rationalistic nor psychologistic, no sociological and no speculative reading, and no
hermeneutic nor pragmatic metatheory of reading, can fill up-is itself opened up by
the system of the restitution of their union. The bite of incorporation into the pure
being of the word itself cuts into being and into the word, and splits every possible
self off from itself. Within the union of being and language, subject and object,
something other inscribes itself, which is not reducible to their relation. Symbol and
system circumscribe a breach which in its closing still remains open. In it there
speaks-if it indeed speaks-not something other, but rather-allegorically-an other
speaking that cannot be gathered-in or re-collected [er-innert] by an ontological one.

4With Apeptos oder Wie zu essen sei, Hamacher alludes to the title of Theodor Adorno's
essay on Hegel, "Skoteinos oder Wie zu lesen sei" ["Skoteinos, or How to read"], in Drei Studien
zu Hegel (Frankfurt a.M.: Suhrkamp, 1963). (Tr.)
s Hoc est enim corpus meum is the formula of transsubstantiation in the Catholic mass. (Tr.)

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Concerning the interpretation of the lamb of Passover at the Last Supper as
the Holy Scripture, and of the Holy Scripture as the lamb of Passover-an
interpretation current among the Church fathers-Origen writes in loan. lib.
10.18: "In eating one must begin with the head, that is, with the most
important and most fundamental doctrines concerning divine things. One
must end with the feet, for the last thing that one seeks to learn to know
should be the hierarchically lowest things of the nature of entities: the
purely material, the subterranean, the evil spirits and impure daemons. For
the doctrine of these things, which is included in the mysteries of Scripture,
can metaphorically be called the 'feet' of the lamb. The 'intestines' [of the
lamb], the inner ... and hidden element [of Scripture] may not be thrown
away; but rather, as with a homogeneous body, one must go at the whole
Scripture. And the coherence, well-stretched and extremely taut in the har-
mony of its whole composition, may not be ground or chopped up. This is
done by those who arbitrarily rip apart the unity of the spirit that blows
through all scriptures." (Cited from H.-j. Spitz, Die Metaphorik des geistigen
Schriftsinns [Munich: W. Fink, 1972], p. 20)

A reading which reads its text from the perspective of the impossibility of a resti-
tution of its totality must not only read something other than what stands written in
it, and thereby refer to it not as a living coherence of meaning, but rather as a
written, ground-down, a crunched and chopped corpse; it must also read something
other than the other compatriots in this totem-supper of the text. Those who read this
script and eat this supper are-for the symbolic surplus of union perpetuates itself,
even if it is allegory rotten within itself-put in reference to the corpse, one after
another, as dead men; and thus, as they eat and drink from one another in this bread
which is flesh and in this wine which is blood, this dead union, the corpse of the
script, also eats from their flesh and blood. Just as I read them-the script and the
others-and, in this other, read myself as a universal, the script and the others read
me and, in me, read themselves as a particular. Reader and script are the terms of a
necrophilological syllogism. We are about [im Begriff] to conclude; but the con-
clusion does not close in a concept [Begriff]. The script and its other readers read me,
a piece of the corpse like themselves, without my being readable; they eat the piece
without its being integratable into the dead organism of their universality without a
remainder [restlos]. Break, throw up [Brechen]-with me. Since script and reading
remain exterior to the speculative content of that which is given and received in
them, the relation between the supper that they offer-the one that they have in their
reading-and the one that the readers have with one another also cannot be specula-
tive. They remain, as they read one another, unreadable. Indigestible, like stones, one
of which has petrified the others--medusaized Medusas that wear one another down.

Even in his final period, Hegel did not relinquish the wish of effacing and
devouring the script, which wish he pursued so rigorously, to its limits, in this passage
on the Last Supper-perhaps the most expository passage in his early writings. And
just as this wish remains, the analogy between script and food also remains alive in his
texts as the function of the wish, from the earliest ones to his last. Very early on he
complained of Klopstock that, regarding his Messias, sensitive hearts "once again
repulse much that is digestible, believable, for sturdier men" (358); and concerning
objective religion, which impresses its scriptural signs into the memory of believers,
he criticized the fact that "the beautiful, tender plants of open, free meaning are
suppressed under the burden [of dead knowledge], or as roots work their way up
through loose earth and thereby swallow in and suck their nourishment out of it, but
are turned aside by a stone, and other

(Translated by Timothy Bahti)

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