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All for Nothing

All for Nothing: Hamlet's Negativity

Andrew Cutrofello
Series: Short Circuits
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: MIT Press
Pages: 240
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  • Book Info
    All for Nothing
    Book Description:

    A specter is haunting philosophy -- the specter of Hamlet. Why is this? Wherefore? What should we do?Entering from stage left: the philosopher's Hamlet. The philosopher's Hamlet is a conceptual character, played by philosophers rather than actors. He performs not in the theater but within the space of philosophical positions. In All for Nothing, Andrew Cutrofello critically examines the performance history of this unique role. The philosopher's Hamlet personifies negativity. In Shakespeare's play, Hamlet's speech and action are characteristically negative; he is the melancholy Dane. Most would agree that he has nothing to be cheerful about. Philosophers have taken Hamlet to embody specific forms of negativity that first came into view in modernity. What the figure of the Sophist represented for Plato, Hamlet has represented for modern philosophers. Cutrofello analyzes five aspects of Hamlet's negativity: his melancholy, negative faith, nihilism, tarrying (which Cutrofello distinguishes from "delaying"), and nonexistence. Along the way, we meet Hamlet in the texts of Kant, Coleridge, Hegel, Marx, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, Freud, Russell, Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Benjamin, Arendt, Schmitt, Lacan, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, Badiou, Žižek, and other philosophers. Whirling across a kingdom of infinite space, the philosopher's Hamlet is nothing if not thought-provoking.

    eISBN: 978-0-262-32604-9
    Subjects: Philosophy, Psychology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    Slavoj Žižek

    A short circuit occurs when there is a faulty connection in the network—faulty, of course, from the standpoint of the network’s smooth functioning. Is not the shock of short-circuiting, therefore, one of the best metaphors for a critical reading? Is not one of the most effective critical procedures to cross wires that do not usually touch: to take a major classic (text, author, notion) and read it in a short-circuiting way, through the lens of a “minor” author, text, or conceptual apparatus (“minor” should be understood here in Deleuze’s sense: not “of lesser quality,” but marginalized, disavowed by the...

    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-14)

    Who is Shakespeare’s Hamlet?

    In “Who Is Nietzsche’s Zarathustra?” Martin Heidegger characterizes Zarathustra as Nietzsche’sFürsprecher, his advocate or spokesman, for the twofold doctrine that the essence of being is will to power, and that the being of beings is the eternal return of the same.² InWhat Is Philosophy?Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari refine this idea, representing Zarathustra as Nietzsche’spersonnage conceptuel, a conceptual persona, or character.³ Whereas a spokesman, even one “prophetically poetized,” remains a mere stand-in or representative for a thinker, a conceptual character is intrinsic to the thought it expresses.⁴

    Conceptual characters are played by...

    (pp. 15-42)

    In the first edition ofThe Birth of Tragedy(1872), Nietzsche compares Hamlet to “Dionysian man”: “both have gazed into the true essence of things, they haveacquired knowledge, and they find action repulsive, for their actions can do nothing to change the eternal essence of things; they regard it as laughable or shameful that they should be expected to set to rights a world so out of joint.”¹

    To gaze into the true essence of things is to discover that it is better not to be than to be. Such is the verdict of the Chorus in Sophocles’sOedipus...

    (pp. 43-64)

    To recognize the affinity between Hamlet and Kant, it is helpful to know something about the cultural context in which theCritique of Pure Reasonappeared in 1781.

    InThe Making of the National Poet, Michael Dobson notes that during the Seven Years’ War (1756–1763) there was an “Anti-Gallican campaign to redefine the British, in the name of Shakespeare.”¹ By the end of the war, a similar campaign was well underway to redefine the Germans in the name, or spirit, of Shakespeare. Between 1762 and 1766, Christoph Martin Wieland translated twenty-two of Shakespeare’s plays. Adaptations had been performed in...

    (pp. 65-84)

    F. H. Jacobi was the first writer to use the wordNihilismusin a philosophical context. In a letter to Fichte in 1799, he complained that Kant had spectralized reality by reducing empirical objects to mere appearances. Fichte had only exacerbated Kant’s nihilistic tendency by doing away with the thing in itself.¹ Mendelssohn had dubbed Kant “the all-destroyer” (Alleszermalmer), but for Jacobi he was theall-spectralizer.² As he explained in his 1787 essay, “David Hume on Faith, or Idealism and Realism, A Dialogue”:

    Suppose ... our understanding only relates to a sensibility ... that exhibitsnothing of the thing themselves...

    (pp. 85-112)

    In what sense does Hamlet tarry?

    In act 3, scene 3, Hamlet comes upon the kneeling Claudius. Having seen the king “blench” (2.2.597) at “The Mousetrap,” he knows his course. Now he has a perfect opportunity. He draws his sword ... anddoes nothing, just as Pyrrhus did when his sword, poised above the “milky head” of “reverent” King Priam, “seem’d i’ th’air to stick”:

    So as a painted tyrant Pyrrhus stood,

    And, like a neutral to his will and matter,

    Did nothing.


    Pyrrhus does nothing as the “flaming top” of “senseless Ilium” (2.2.474–475) comes crashing down,...

    (pp. 113-140)

    In hisMetaphysical Disputations(1597), the Jesuit philosopher Francisco Suárez reflects on the ontological status of entia rationis, or “beings of reason” (what Kant calls “thought-entities” orGedankendingen). Though lacking in “real being,” beings of reason have intrinsic natures by virtue of which they are possible or impossible beings.¹ Just a few years after the publication of Suárez’s treatise, Richard Burbage’s Hamlet posed a similar question about Queen Hecuba, wondering how the First Player can get more agitated over anens rationisthan he himself can about his murdered father (who, as murdered, lacks existence in a far more significant...

    (pp. 141-154)

    “Determinate negation” is Hegel’s way of working out the Spinozistic principleOmnis determinatio est negatio: “Every determination is negation.” As Hegel interprets it, Spinoza’s principle states that everything finite, or determinate, is a negation of the one substance that is God or nature. Hegel supplements it with the dialectical principle that negation is inherent in substance itself: Every negationofsubstance is negatedbysubstance. Determinate negation is then to be conceived as both the movement of negation and the result of negation. But what exactly is determinate negation? How does Hegel think the “not to be” of “To be...

  12. NOTES
    (pp. 155-216)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 217-226)