Subjects of Desire

Subjects of Desire: Hegelian Reflections in Twentieth-Century France

Judith Butler
Copyright Date: 1987
Pages: 304
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7312/butl15998
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  • Book Info
    Subjects of Desire
    Book Description:

    This classic work by one of the most important philosophers and critics of our time charts the genesis and trajectory of the desiring subject from Hegel's formulation in Phenomenology of Spirit to its appropriation by Kojève, Hyppolite, Sartre, Lacan, Deleuze, and Foucault. Judith Butler plots the French reception of Hegel and the successive challenges waged against his metaphysics and view of the subject, all while revealing ambiguities within his position. The result is a sophisticated reconsideration of the post-Hegelian tradition that has predominated in modern French thought, and her study remains a provocative and timely intervention in contemporary debates over the unconscious, the powers of subjection, and the subject.

    eISBN: 978-0-231-50142-2
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Foreword Finished with Hegel?
    (pp. vii-xii)
    Philippe Sabot

    Subjects of Desire is the work that emerged from Judith Butler’s dissertation thesis, completed in the mid-1980s, on the reception of Hegel in twentieth-century French thought. This work compels attention on several accounts. To begin with, it allows us to take stock of the importance of the Hegelian reference in Butler’s subsequent work, in particular through her critical elaboration of the theme of recognition and its contemporary reformulations (such as in Axel Honneth’s recent work¹). In Subjects of Desire, however, the dialogue with Hegelian thought has different stakes. It consists both in reconstituting the conditions of elaborating a Hegelian paradigm...

  4. Preface to the Paperback Edition
    (pp. xiii-xxiv)
    Judith Butler
  5. Preface
    (pp. xxv-xxviii)
  6. Abbreviations Used in the Text and Notes
    (pp. xxix-xxxii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)

    When philosophers have not dismissed or subdued human desire in their effort to become philosophical, they have tended to discover philosophical truth as the very essence of desire. Whether the strategy is negation or appropriation, the philosophic relation to desire has been imperious and brief. No doubt, the bulk of the Western tradition has sustained skepticism toward the philosophical possibilities of desire, and desire has been figured time and again as philosophy’s Other. As immediate, arbitrary, purposeless, and animal, desire is that which requires to be gotten beyond; it threatens to undermine the postures of indifference and dispassion which have...

  8. 1 Desire, Rhetoric, and Recognition in Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit
    (pp. 17-60)

    A consideration of desire in the Phenomenology of Spirit requires a preliminary turn to the larger problem of how philosophical themes are introduced and “argued” within the terms of this sometimes tortuous text. I place the verb “argue” within quotations, not to dismiss the kind of argumentation that Hegel pursues, but to draw attention to the idiosyncrasy of its form. After all, the Phenomenology of Spirit is a Bildungs-roman,¹ an optimistic narrative of adventure and edification, a pilgrimage of the spirit, and upon immediate scrutiny, it is unclear how Hegel’s narrative structure argues the metaphysical case he wants to make....

  9. 2 Historical Desires: The French Reception of Hegel
    (pp. 61-100)

    As late as 1931 Alexandre Koyré reported in the Revue d’histoire de la philosophie¹ that Hegel studies in France were practically nonexistent. With the exception of Jean Wahl’s Le Malheur de la conscience dans Ia philosophie de Hegel, published in 1929, no major French commentary on Hegel claimed any intellectual popularity in France.² By 1946, however, the situation of Hegel studies in France had changed considerably: in that year Merleau-Ponty was to claim in the preface to his Phenomenology of Perception that “all the great philosophical ideas of the past century—the philosophies of Marx and Nietzsche, phenomenology, German existentialism,...

  10. 3 Sartre: The Imaginary Pursuit of Being
    (pp. 101-174)

    Sartre’s early studies of the imagination, L’imagination and L’imaginaire, differ in style and purpose, but both outline an intentional theory of imaginative consciousness that has far-reaching consequences for a theory of emotion and desire. The first of these, published in 1936, criticizes theories of imagination that fail to distinguish between imagination and perception and that posit the “image” as a self-contained reality posing somewhere between consciousness and its object. In this treatise, Sartre follows the Husserlian program of phenomenology and calls for a reflexive analysis of imagination as a form of consciousness. Sartre here criticizes empiricist and intellectualist theories alike,...

  11. 4 The Life and Death Struggles of Desire: Hegel and Contemporary French Theory
    (pp. 175-238)

    The twentieth-century history of Hegelianism in France can be understood in terms of two constitutive moments: (1) the specification of the subject in terms of finitude, corporeal boundaries, and temporality and (2) the “splitting” (Lacan), “displacement” (Derrida), and eventual death (Foucault, Deleuze) of the Hegelian subject.¹ In the course of this history, the Hegelian traveler in pursuit of a global place which he always already occupies loses his sense of time and location, his directionality and, hence, self-identity. Indeed, this subject is revealed as the trope it always was, and one comes to see the hyperbolic aspirations of philosophy now...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 239-252)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 253-264)
  14. Index
    (pp. 265-268)