Some questions I want to ask, in order of increasing importance about Alexandre Kojève’s reading (taken from the introductory essay, pgs 11-34 of the larger book), of the Master-Slave dialectic: translation, source, portability.
I know that in the 1860s, a first translation of various parts of Hegel’s corpus, including the Phenomenology was made into French by an Italian philosopher named Augusto Verà. It is said to be a terrible translation, and the little of it that I have looked at has lead me to think the same thing. A new translation was made by Jean Hyppolite (it was not, as Hyppolite’s wikipedia.fr entry says, in fact the first), but my understanding is that this was done after, or at least in tandem with, the seminar. What, then, is the relation of the French text we get in Kojève’s introduction to Hyppolite’s later translation? A few hours of real research (I’d look at Roth’s book, and a few others) would clear all that up. As I read through, I’d thought that I was noticing discrepancies, in particular with Kojève’s use of the phrase “la négativité-négatrice,” but looking back to the two that I noted, things are not so inconsistent as I thought—although I still don’t quite understand why, in $194, Hegel’s phrase “die absolute Negativität” (which Pinkard renders, “absolute negativity”), is given in French as “la négativité-négatrice absolu.” Going through systematically would be time-consuming and redundant. Should have done it the first time around.
Where does this way of thinking about Hegel come from? At first, I was unconvinced that Kovève’s reading had very much to do with the original text—and still I’m curious about how well it fits with the remainder of the Phenomenology—but in the end I am convinced by Kojève’s ability to make sense out of enormously obscure language that he must be onto something. I have a superficial understanding, from various reading around this famous seminar, that Kojève is in some sense using Heidegger to read Hegel as a commentator on Marx. I see quite clearly the sense in which this reading of Hegel does things to Marx. I do not yet understand precisely where Heidegger fits into things. Perhaps the terrifying passages on existential disintegration as the first step on the path to authentic human being?
Finally, portability. On the one hand, it is pretty obvious that this text from 1939 contains much that will be important for Sartre, but more interestingly, Lacan. I was in fact most surprised by the degree to which Kojève’s way of thinking about the nature of the Master authorizes what I understand of Lacan’s approach to psychoanalysis. This is entirely aside from the use of ‘jouissance’ as a technical term in Kojève, as well as the related dialectics of desire and recognition. Obviously, these are all yet more crucial for Lacan than Sartre. The idea of emancipatory totalitarianism works better as a tool to explode the clinical relationship from within than it does as, say, politics. In the end, it is very difficult to read, “c’est par le travail effectué dans l’angoisse au service du Maître que l’Esclave se libère de l’angoisse qui l’asservissait au Maître” (31) without thinking, “Arbeit macht frei.”