As we have already seen, (some) proponents of Singularity read it in a Hegelian way, as the final reconciliation between mind and reality, as the healing of the wound of the Fall. However, such a reading is totally incompatible with Hegel’s interpretation of the Fall. According to the standard reading of Paul, God gave Law to humanity in order to make people conscious of their sins, even to make them sin all the more, and thus make them aware of their need for salvation which can occur only through divine grace. But does this reading not involve a strange perverse notion of god? The only way to avoid such a perverse reading is to insist on the absolute identity of the two gestures: god does not FIRST push us into sin in order to create the need for salvation, and THEN offer himself as the redeemer from the trouble into which he got us in the first place. It is not that the Fall is followed by Redemption: the Fall is identical to Redemption; it is “in itself” already Redemption. That is to ask, what is “redemption”? The explosion of freedom, our breaking out of the natural enchainment – and this, precisely, is what happens in the Fall. One should bear in mind here the central tension of the Christian notion of the Fall: the Fall (“regression” to a natural state, enslavement to passions) is stricto sensu identical with the dimension from which we fall, i.e. it is the very movement of the Fall that creates, opens up, what is lost in it.

We all know Wagner’s motif “Die Wunde schliesst der Speer nur der Sie schlug [Only the spear that struck the wound can heal it]” from the finale of his Parsifal. Hegel says the same thing, though with the accent shifted in the opposite direction: Spirit is itself the wound it tries to heal, i.e., the wound is self-inflicted. That is to ask: what is “Spirit” at its most elementary? The “wound” of nature: subject is the immense – absolute – power of negativity, of introducing a gap or a cut into the given-immediate substantial unity, the power of differentiating, of “abstracting,” of tearing apart and treating as self-standing what in reality is part of an organic unity. This is why the notion of the “self-alienation” of Spirit (of Spirit losing itself in its otherness, in its objectivization, in its result) is more paradoxical than it may appear. It should be read together with Hegel’s assertion of the thoroughly non-substantial character of Spirit: there is no res cogitans, no thing which (as its property) also thinks; spirit is nothing but the process of overcoming natural immediacy, of the cultivation of this immediacy, of withdrawing-into-itself or “taking off” from it, of – why not – alienating itself from it.

The paradox is thus that there is no Self that precedes Spirit’s “self-alienation”: the very process of alienation creates/generates the “Self” from which Spirit is alienated and to which it then returns. (Hegel here turns around the standard notion that a failed version of X presupposes this X as its norm (measure): X is created, its space is outlined, only through repetitive failures to reach it.) Spirit’s self-alienation is the same as, fully coincides with, its alienation from its Other (nature), because it constitutes itself through its “return to itself” from its immersion in natural Otherness. In other words, Spirit’s return to itself creates the very dimension to which it returns. (This holds for all “returns to origins”: when, from 19th century onwards, new nation-states were constituting themselves in Central and Eastern Europe, their discovery and return to “old ethnic roots” generated these roots.)

What this means is that the “negation of the negation,” the ”return to oneself” from alienation, does not occur where it seems to. In the “negation of the negation,” Spirit’s negativity is not relativized, subsumed under an encompassing positivity; it is, on the contrary, the “simple negation” which remains attached to the presupposed positivity it negated, the presupposed Otherness from which it alienates itself. It follows that the “negation of the negation” is nothing but the negation of the substantial character of this Otherness itself, the full acceptance of the abyss of Spirit’s self-relating, which retroactively posits all its presuppositions. In other words, once we are in negativity, we never quit it and regain the lost innocence of origins. It is only in “negation of the negation” that the origins are truly lost, that their very loss is lost, that they are deprived of the substantial status of that which was lost.

Spirit heals its wound not by directly healing it, but by getting rid of the very full and sane body into which the wound was cut. It is in this precise sense that, according to Hegel, “the wounds of the Spirit heal, and leave no scars behind.”[1] Hegel’s point is not that Spirit heals its wounds so perfectly that, in a magic gesture of retroactive sublation, even their scars disappear. The point is rather that, in the course of dialectical process, a shift of perspective occurs which makes the wound itself appear as its opposite – the wound itself is its own healing when perceived from another standpoint. At its sharpest, this coincidence of opposites appears apropos self-consciousness, i.e., the subject as thinking:

“Abstractly, being evil means singularizing myself in a way that cuts me off from the universal (which is the rational, the laws, the determinations of spirit). But along with this separation there arises being-for-itself and for the first time the universally spiritual, laws – what ought to be. So it is not the case that /rational/ consideration has an external relationship to evil: it is itself what is evil.”[2]

And this brings us to Genesis. Does the story of the Fall not say exactly the same thing? The serpent promises Adam and Eve that, by eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge, they will become like God. And after the two do it, God says: “Behold, Adam has become like one of us.”(Genesis 3:22) Hegel’s comment is: “So the serpent did not lie, for God confirms what it said.” Then he goes on to reject the claim that what God says is meant with irony: “Cognition is the principle of spirituality, and this /…/ is also the principle by which the injury of the separation is healed. It is in this principle of cognition that the principle of ‘divinity’ is also posited.”[3]

It is crucial to follow Hegel’s entire line of argumentation here and, not to miss the audacity of his point, to read this passage together with the one in which he asserts that subjective knowledge is not just the possibility to choose evil or good: “it is the consideration or the cognition that makes people evil, so that consideration and cognition /themselves/ are what is evil, and that /therefore/ such cognition is what ought not to exist /because it/ is the source of evil.”[4] In short, what makes us divine is our very Fall (into evil) since thinking is both at the same time, evil and reconciliation. Hegel is clear here: thinking not only opens up the choice between good and evil, but thinking as such is evil since the reflexivity that it implies makes it operate at a distance from immediate substantial unity. When we think, we abstract, we tear up the unity of the object of thought. Simultaneously, this reflexive distance implied in thinking implies freedom (in our thoughts we are free – formally, at least).

This is how one should understand Hegel’s dictum from his Phenomenology that evil is the gaze itself which perceives evil everywhere around it. The gaze that sees evil excludes itself from the social whole it criticizes, and this exclusion is a formal characteristic of evil. And Hegel’s point is that the good emerges as a possibility and duty only through this primordial/constitutive choice of evil: we experience the good when, after choosing evil, we become aware of the utter inadequacy of our situation.

Path-breaking as it is, one should say that Hegel’s reading of Genesis is too short at two (connected) topics, and the reason is not that Hegel was too much a prisoner of his time to see the dimensions he missed. Much more paradoxically, in both cases, Hegel is here not Hegelian enough, as he fails to follow a properly Hegelian twist.

First, when he characterizes an evil person, Hegel reduces evil to a moment of particularity in its opposition to universality (natural egotism, selfish behavior…) This is why, as Hegel points out, every consistent figure of evil has to display some features of goodness. As one would expect, Hegel mentions the Devil from Milton’s Paradise Lost who is obviously a figure of great personal power, pursuing a project that he experiences as profoundly ethical… But was not on this point Schelling (in his On the Essence of Human Freedom) much more profound when he decoded in evil a principled (“non-pathological” in Kant’s sense) stance, which is as such radically spiritual? True evil has nothing to do with particular egotism and selfish interests; it is a positive spiritual project, for which people are ready even to sacrifice their lives (as Nazis did in order to exterminate the Jews or dedicated Stalinist Communists did in order to crush Trotskyist or kulak resistance). If Hegel were to be fully consistent with the core of his own thought, he would have even said that the good itself is nothing but universalized evil, the evil which wins over others and acquires the position of universality. Therein resides, also, Hegel’s critique of abstract universality: for him, French revolutionaries were evil in their Terror, precisely because they were thoroughly principled and ruthlessly pursued a universality, which ultimately excluded all particular content. So, when particular content is not reconciled with universality, the fault is even more on the side of “abstract” universality.

This brings us to the second of Hegel’s limitations, which is even more important for our concern. When Hegel characterizes evil as Entzweiung, as the separation or self-division of the Absolute, he quietly ignores (in his reading of the Fall) the key fact that, when the Absolute is opposed to the “fallen” particularity, true guilt and responsibility are on the side of the Absolute itself. What Hegel should have said (since it follows clearly from the inner logic of his thought) is that in all this affair of the Fall the truly evil character is God himself who pushes the first humans into the Fall. And what makes things even worse is that, instead of doing it openly, he, as it were, washes his hands and presents the Fall as the consequence of a “free” human decision… This is why Christianity culminates in crucifixion, a scene in which Entzweiung (which for Hegel formally defines evil) is directly and explicitly transposed from the split between God and humans into God himself who (at the terrifying moment of “Father, why have you abandoned me?”) is split from himself. The category to be used apropos this displacement of the gap that separates us from God to a gap that separates God from himself is disparity, a term which occurs three times in a key passage from the Preface to Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit where he provides the most concise explanation of what it means to conceive substance also as subject:

“The disparity which exists in consciousness between the ‘I’ and the substance which is its object is the distinction between them, the negative in general. This can be regarded as the defect of both, though it is their soul, or that which moves them. That is why some of the ancients conceived the void as the principle of motion, for they rightly saw the moving principle as the negative, though they did not as yet grasp that the negative is the self. Now, although this negative appears at first as a disparity between the ‘I’ and its object, it is just as much the disparity of the substance with itself. Thus what seems to happen outside of it, to be an activity directed against it, is really its own doing, and Substance shows itself to be essentially Subject.”[5]

Crucial is the final reversal: the disparity between subject and substance is simultaneously the disparity of the substance with itself, or, to put it in Lacan’s terms, disparity means that the lack of the subject is simultaneously a lack in the Other. Subjectivity emerges when substance cannot achieve full identity with itself, when substance is in itself “barred,” traversed by an immanent impossibility or antagonism. In short, the subject’s epistemological ignorance, its failure to fully grasp the opposed substantial content, simultaneously indicates a limitation/failure/lack of the substantial content itself. Therein also resides a key dimension of the theological revolution of Christianity: the alienation of humanity from God has to be projected/transferred back into God himself, as the alienation of God from himself (therein resides the speculative content of the notion of divine kenosis).

This is the Christian version of Hegel’s insight into how the disparity of subject and substance implies the disparity of substance with regard to itself. This is why the unity of the human and God is enacted in Christianity in a way which fundamentally differs from the way of pagan religions where humans have to strive to overcome their Fall from God through the effort of purifying their being from material filth and elevating themselves to rejoin God. In Christianity, on the contrary, God falls from himself; he becomes a finite mortal human abandoned by God (in the figure of Christ and his lament on the cross “Father, why have you forsaken me?”), and human beings can only achieve unity with God by identifying with this God, abandoned by himself.

Again, in his reading of Genesis, Hegel ignores this aspect: he only talks about the separation of man from God, and fails to mention that the reconciliation of God and man is also (primarily even) the reconciliation of God WITH HIMSELF. It is only through reconciliation with humans that God truly becomes God (in the true concrete universality of this notion), so reconciliation between God and humanity is a key event in and for God himself… However, Hegel’s main insight remains fully valid and pertinent: for Hegel, we, humans, reach immortality and infinity not by way of undoing the Fall, by way of somehow getting rid of the obstacle of our finite bodily existence and moving to another dimension of some higher reality, but by way of reconciling ourselves with (what appeared as) the obstacle and accepting that this “obstacle” plays a positive role of sustaining the space of what it appears as the obstacle to. Reconciliation does not consist in overcoming the obstacle but asserting it in its positive role.

At the level of political and social change, this means that we should abandon any extrapolation of a nonalienated future from present tendencies. Such a mode of thinking (the logic of “now we are at a critical moment of utter alienation, and the possibility is open for us to act as agents of overcoming alienation”) is utterly foreign to Hegel who repeatedly emphasizes the retroactive nature of overcoming alienation: we overcome alienation by realizing that we’ve already overcome it. In other words, nothing “really changes” in overcoming alienation – we just shift our perspective and gain the insight into how what appears as alienation is the immanent condition of dis-alienation, is in itself already dis-alienation. It is in this sense that, in his “small” (Encyclopaedia) Logic, Hegel proposes his own version of la vérité surgit de la méprise, ambiguously asserting that “only from this error does the truth come forth”:

“In the sphere of the finite we can neither experience nor see that the purpose is genuinely attained. The accomplishing of the infinite purpose consists therefore only in sublating the illusion that it has not yet been accomplished. The good, the absolute good, fulfils itself eternally in the world, and the result is that it is already fulfilled in and for itself, and does not need to wait upon us for this to happen. This is the illusion in which we live, and at the same time it is this illusion alone that is the activating element upon which our interest in the world rests. It is within its own process that the Idea produces that illusion for itself; it posits an other confronting itself, and its action consists in sublating that illusion. Only from this error does the truth come forth, and herein lies our reconciliation with error and with finitude. Otherness or error, as sublated, is itself a necessary moment of the truth, which can only be in that it makes itself into its own result.”[6]

In short, the ultimate deception is not to see that one already has what one is looking for, like Christ’s disciples who were awaiting his “real” reincarnation, blind to the fact that their collective already was the Holy Spirit, the return of the living Christ. To understand this process of necessary illusion, we have to take a closer look at the structure of temporality that is implied here.

Let’s take a (perhaps) surprising example from the operatic universe. Towards the end of Act 1 of Donizetti’s masterpiece Elisir d’amore, there is a passage which exemplifies in a musical way the basic thrust of the Hegelian Aufhebung (“sublation,” or retroactive re-positioning). It is basically a trio sustained by a chorus; the love triangle is composed of Adina, a beautiful and wealthy farm owner, Nemorino, a simpleton who deeply loves her, and Belcore, an arrogant and boasting sergeant who also wants to marry Adina. Upon hearing the news that Adina is ready to marry Belcore the same evening, Nemorino entreats her to postpone the marriage, and Belcore brutally tells him to fuck off: “Thank heaven dolt, that you are mad / or drunk with wine. / I would’ve choked you, reduced to shreds / if at this moment you were yourself. / So that I can keep my hands under control / go away, fool, hide from me.” The magic, of course, resides in how this simple exchange is put into music: the most impressionable phrase – “va via, buffone, ti ascondi a me” (to be translated as “casse toi, pauvre con” or “fuck off, jerk”) is first sung in an aggressive mode, but is later re-positioned as the background of the predominant love duet. Consequently, at the end of this trio, peace and reconciliation are already achieved, although none of the participants knows it. What interests us here is this strange intermediate time when (as the form suggests) things are already decided, even if the participants are still engaged in their struggles… Are these not moments of pure bliss, not in the sense that there is no conflict but in the sense that the conflict which goes on is already going on within the space of reconciliation?    

We also encounter such an intermediate time in epochs of political turmoil. When, in Venezuela, Guaido proclaimed himself the only legitimate president with vast international support, and when his act triggered a renewed wave of public protests in his support, he declared on February 7 2019: “They (the Maduro regime) are already defeated. Today, our only enemy is despair. Today, our only enemy is doubt. Today, our only enemy is fear.” But, while Guaido presents the situation as already decided, things are more complex and the situation is more uncertain: Maduro was often already dismissed as “already dead,” but was till now able to weather every crisis. The only way to correctly describe the situation is thus: IF, at the end of the day, Guaido wins and Maduro’s regime collapses, THEN we will (retroactively) be able to say that the game was over long before. Once the collapse (contingently) happens, we can state that it already happened and that it was necessary for it to happen.

The intermediate period thus extends between the two cuts: things are gradually changing in reality, the existing regime is undermined, because we act under the premise that, essentially, it is already lost, that its time is over. At a certain point, this premise is then fully asserted in reality and the existing order effectively collapses. The logic of “things change because they have already changed and lost their substantial truth” has to be supplemented by its apparent opposite: things gradually change at the material level, and this change is subterranean, like the secret spreading of a deadly infection; when the struggle erupts into the open, the mole has already finished its work and the battle is de facto over. Here is Hegel’s description of this process apropos the struggle of Enlightenment against traditional religious spirit: the gradual extension of the pure insight of Enlightenment is

“comparable to a silent extension or the expansion, say, of a scent in the unresisting atmosphere. It is a penetrating infection, which did not previously make itself noticeable as something distinct from and opposed to the indifferent medium into which it insinuates its way, and hence cannot be averted. Only when the infection has become widespread is that consciousness alive to it, which unconcernedly yielded to its influence. /…/ In the condition, therefore, in which consciousness becomes aware of pure insight, this insight is already widespread. The struggle with it betrays the fact that the infection has done its work. The struggle is too late; and every means taken merely makes the disease worse; for the disease has seized the very marrow of spiritual life /…/ being now an invisible and unperceived spirit, it insinuates its way through and through the noble parts, and soon has got complete bold over all the vitals and members of the unconscious idol; and then ‘some fine morning it gives its comrade a shove with the elbow, when, bash! crash! — and the idol is lying on the floor’.”[7]

We all know the classic scene from cartoons[8]: the cat reaches a precipice, but it goes on walking, ignoring the fact that there is no ground under its feet. It starts to fall only when it looks down and notices the abyss. When it loses its authority, the regime is like a cat above the precipice: in order to fall, it only has to be reminded to look down… But the opposite also holds: when an authoritarian regime approaches its final crisis, its dissolution as a rule follows two steps. Before its actual collapse, a mysterious rupture takes place: all of a sudden people know that the game is over, and they are simply no longer afraid. It is not only that the regime loses its legitimacy, but its exercise of power itself is perceived as an impotent panic reaction. In Shah of Shahs, a classic account of the Khomeini revolution, Ryszard Kapuscinski located the precise moment of this rupture: at a Tehran crossroad, a single demonstrator refused to budge when a policeman shouted at him to move, and the embarrassed policeman simply withdrew. In a couple of hours, all Tehran knew about this incident, and, though there were street fights going on for weeks, everyone somehow knew the game was over.[9]

(Falling in) love is characterized by the same temporal gap. In one of Henry James’ stories, the hero says about a woman close to him: “She already loves him, she just doesn’t know it yet.” What we find here is a kind of Freudian counterpart to Benjamin Libet’s famous experiment about free will: even before we consciously decide (say, to move a finger), the appropriate neuronal processes are already underway, which means that our conscious decision just takes note of what is already going on, adding its superfluous authorization to a fait accompli. With Freud, decision is also prior to consciousness; however, it is not a purely objective process but an unconscious decision. Freud here rejoins Schelling for whom, also, a truly free decision is unconscious, which is why we never fall in love in the present (time): after a (usually long) process of subterranean gestation, we all of a sudden become aware that we are (already) in love. Like the Fall, the fall (into love) never happens; at a certain moment, it has always-already happened.

To put it in yet another way, freedom does not reside in your ability to resist when you suffer. That kind of resistance comes by nature. Freedom is beginning to enjoy when you suffer. In June 2019, the Greater Manchester police arrested a 93-year-old Josie Birds, despite the fact that she had committed no crime because it was her “dying wish”. Her health was failing and she wanted to be arrested for something before it’s too late, and taken to one of police stations so she could experience what it was like to be on the wrong side of the law.[10] This request was an act of freedom, if there ever was one.

And it is at this level that we can formulate the difference between Sartre and Lacan. For Sartre, the basic free act, by means of which a subject “chooses itself,” formulates the existential project that defines its identity; it is an act of self-consciousness. For him, the unconscious is a substantial, reified entity, something that objectively determines me. For Lacan, on the contrary, the primordial choice is unconscious since the unconscious is not a substantial determination of the subject, but the most basic level of reflexivity.


[1] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1977, p. 129.

[2] G.W.F.Hegel, Vorlesungen ueber die Philosophie der Religion II, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp Verlag 1969, p. 206.

[3] Op.cit., p. 207.

[4] Op.cit., p. 205.

[5] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 21.

[6] G.W.F. Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, Part I: Logic, Oxford: Oxford University Press 1982, p. 286 (§ 212).

[7] G.W.F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 297.

[8] There is probably no book of mine in which I do not refer to it at least once.

[9] See Ryszard Kapuscinski, Shah of Shahs, New York: Vintage Books 1992.

[10] See