Stocking (Friday in July)

Hegel offers a beautiful metaphor when discussing the 'return to the origin':

  • [...] this stocking has been unravelled.

The origin is abstract, poor, and contradictory. From there, the only thing to do is to start knitting again.What's surprising is that Hegel has, in a way, given his variant on an ancient metaphor for tradition, the metaphor of weaving, of a bond (re-ligare, one of the two competing etymologies for the Latin religio). Hegel almost never gives a positive role to the concept of tradition. The only places I have see him do so are the introductions to his first two lecture courses on the History of Philosophy, from 1820 and 1823, and even there he is careful to say that it's Herder's word:

  • [...] what we are in science, and more specifically in philosophy, is [...] indebted to the tradition that, in Herder's expression, weaves itself as a sacred chain throughout all that is transitory and that is therefore past, what former ages have brought forth, maintained for us, and transmitted to us. But this tradition is not just a housekeeper, who simply preserves faithfully what is received and so passes it on unaltered to her successor; no immobile statue, it is instead living, and it swells as a mighty river that grows greater the further it presses on from its source.

But even if the concept isn't his, Hegel proposes no fewer than three symbols for it: the sacred chain -- or woof, Kette -- that is woven through history; the housekeeper (negated metaphor); the river that grows as it leaves the source. By the third volume of the lectures, when he is taking Luther to task for his idealisation of the origin (of the source, Ursprung), he manages to unite the first and third metaphors more intimately. Tradition is a stocking. This new symbol exaggerates the reproachful subtext of the metaphor of the river. A spring is, at least, something. An unravelled stocking, mere yarn and space.What is Hegel's meaning, here? Is he simply saying, 'Less is less,' 'Going backwards is not going forwards,' 'Progress is not return'? If he stopped there, we could say he had collapsed into the finitude of the understanding, reasoning from static oppositions. But the symbol of the stocking has a dialectical meaning. For Hegel, the only way back -- to the simplicity of the concept -- is to continue knitting, because what comes later, what 'follows' is, in fact, the 'absolute prius.'Hegel's dialectical twist on the notion of foundation is, in a strange way, the inverse of the Roman notion of auctoritas. Authority, for the Romans, belongs to an act that returns to the foundation5 (in a crisis, or faced with a new problem, a new case) in order to augment it. In other words, we stitch another row by unravelling.What we've seen in this chapter, by contrast, is a symmetrically opposed paradox: philosophy begins from authority, in order to internalise it to the point at which it becomes a presuppositionless beginning.