Jan 5, 2015

Half-Hour Hegel Series: Ready for Sense Certainty

For nearly a year, I've been engaged in a rather long-term and massive project which I don't think I've mentioned previously here on this blog -- the Half Hour Hegel video series.  By the end of December, I'd managed to make it to a minor milestone -- small in comparison, that is, to the amount of work that is still waiting to be done! -- I'd shot, edited, and released all of the videos for the Preface and the Introduction to Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel's early masterwork, the Phenomenology of Spirit.

The general idea behind the series (the motivations for which I'll discuss in more detail below) was that I would go through the entire text, paragraph by paragraph, first reading and then commenting on each paragraph (there's a from over 800 total) in turn.   The 70-odd-paragraph Preface -- famous for, among other things, asserting the impossibility of actually providing a preface to any genuinely philosophical work -- ended up taking me 31 total lectures -- around 15.5 hours.  The much shorter and more straightforward Introduction required just 7 lectures -- 3.5 hours. 

Once I started to realize how tricky it might be to curate all of the videos that would eventually comprise the series, I actually ended up creating a new blog to do precisely that -- called, appropriately enough, Half Hour Hegel -- where I'd not only have a page on which I could list links to the entire sequence of videos as I released them, but could also provide some other Hegel-related resources, link to translations of the text, and occasionally write about related matters that I thought might be of some interest.

The original, possibly quixotic, decision motivating the whole series (of which at this point, about 1/8 has been produced) was one that I arrived at after about a year of repeated requests by my YouTube viewers and subscribers that I provide more videos delving into Hegel's thought (I'd shot two videos on portions of the Phenomenology -- the Introduction and the Master-Slave Dialectic -- in one of my Intro to Philosophy classes).

After a lot of thought, I eventually realized that the only way that I could really do justice to this quite convoluted but marvelous text would be to go through it in its entirety, avoiding the temptation to summarize, following out the entire sequence of Hegel's thought without any skipping over parts.  If I had been about ten years younger, when I was much less measured and more audacious in my planning, I would have jumped into it immediately, but now in my forties, I understandably had some qualms.

Would anyone really want to watch, let alone work through, hundreds of hours of video footage in conjunction with Hegel's text?  Was I myself even up to the task of effectively teaching Hegel to an unknown internet audience, not just in summary (that's not quite so tough), but paragraph by paragraph?  (I'm still hoping some of my confusions about the section Truth and the Understanding sort themselves out by the time I end up discussing that material!)  Could I commit to a project that might require several years to see through to its fulfillment?

There were two main considerations that infused some of the optimism and energy necessary to embark on such a long-term work.  The first was that, after all, other people had managed to work their entire way through the text -- and not just in the way in which I did so several times in graduate school (reading Hegel in the German, with a second-edition copy -- there's an interesting story there I'll tell sometime in the Half-Hour Hegel blog!), getting to the end, reading the entire text, but doubtless missing quite a bit on the way.  Hegel himself did write the book.  and Jean Hyppolite (who I very much like) translated the whole thing into French (I've still got photocopies of that in my files!)

The second consideration was that nothing like this has been done before.  There are indeed many great commentaries (and equally many not so great ones) available on Hegel's Phenomenology, with a few of them even going through paragraph by paragraph.  And there were some good videos discussing some of Hegel's ideas as well.  But there's nothing bringing the two of them together -- full commentary and video.  Even though I disagree with him on many points, I've got a deep appreciation for Hegel's thought and work -- and I know that for many people his text remains very difficult, confusing, even inaccessible -- so I wanted to create something that might make it possible for others to unlock, unpack, and understand one of his major contributions to Philosophy.

Doubtless I'm far from the best person to be carrying out such an exposition.  But, at present, I'm the only one who seems willing to attempt it.  If I can see it through, there will then exist a rather unique kind of educational resource, one accessible and available for free all over the world, something that -- depending on the difficult-to-predict shapes that technology takes in the decades to come -- might even become a predominant mode for studying and understanding Hegel, supplanting books (which, actually, is not my hope). I suppose we'll see.  For now, there's 7/8 of the task still ahead.

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