When Negativity Becomes Vanity: Hegel’s Critique of Romantic Irony

  • Jamila M.H. Mascat
Keywords: Hegel, irony, negativity, nihilism, Romanticism


Hegel, the “philosopher of negation” par excellence, took great care throughout his speculative enterprise to distinguish between opposite stances of the negative, highlighting and differentiating the multiple modes through which negativity deploys itself. And although, in the Phenomenology of Spirit, he celebrated the “tremendous power of the negative” and the constitutive function performed by negativity as the fundamental motion of being, thinking, and acting, he nonetheless developed a harsh critique of Romantic irony’s negative Stimmung1. This article, by focusing on the peculiar exercise of negativity that the philosopher attributes to Romantic irony in the Aesthetics and his “Review of Solger’s Posthumous Writings and Correspondence” (1828), investigates Hegel’s characterization of irony as vanity (Eitelkeit)2. Hegel’s critical understanding of vanity, in fact, conveys a significant political stance regarding the very concept of negation, one that warns against the apolitical retreat into both narcissism and nihilism.

Author Biography

Jamila M.H. Mascat

PhD in Philosophy, Teaching Assistant 
Sapienza University of Rome, Chair of Practical Philosophy 
Piazzale Aldo Moro, 5, Roma RM, Italy 00185
e-mail: j.mascat@uu.nl


Benjamin, Walter (1996). “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism” [1920]. In Walter Benjamin, Selected Writings, Vol. 1: 1913–1926, ed. Marcus Bullock and Mi- chael W. Jennings, 116–200. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press.

Bodei, Remo (1967). “Il primo romanticismo come fenomeno storico e la filosofia di Solger nell’analisi di Hegel.” Aut Aut 101: 68–80.

De Man, Paul (1996). “The Concept of Irony.” In Paul De Man, Aesthetic Ideology, 163–184. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1975). Aesthetics: Lectures on Fine Art, 2 Vols. Trans. T.M. Knox. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1979). “Solgers nachgelassene Schriften und Briefwechsel” [1828]. In G.W.F. Hegel, Werke in 20 Bänden mit Registerband, Vol. 11: Berliner Schriften 1818–1831, 205–274. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1983). Hegel and the Human Spirit: A translation of the Jena Lectures on the Philosophy of Spirit (1805–6) with commentary. Trans. Leo Rauch. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Hegel, G.W.F. (1991). Philosophy of Right [1821]. Trans. H.B. Nisbet. Ed. Allen B. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hegel, G.W.F. (2008). Phenomenology of Spirit [1807]. Trans. Terry Pinkard. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Inwood, Michael (1993). “Commentary.” In G.W.F. Hegel, Introductory Lectures on Aesthetics, trans. Bernard Bosanquet, ed. Michael Inwood, 98–197. London & New York: Penguin Books.

Kierkegaard, Søren (1989). The Concept of Irony [1840]. Trans. Howard V. Hong and Edna H. Hong. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Knox, Norman D. (1973). “Irony.” In Dictionary of the History of Ideas: Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas, Vol. II, ed. Philip P. Wiener, 626–634. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.

Law, Stephen C. (2000). “Hegel and the Spirit of Comedy.” In Hegel and Aesthetics, ed. William Maker, 113–130. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Miller, J. Hillis (2000). “Friedrich Schlegel and the Anti-Ekphrastic Tradition.” In Revenge of the Aesthetic: The Place of Literature in Theory Today, ed. Michael D. Clark, 58–75. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Norman, Judith (2000). “Squaring the Romantic Circle: Hegel’s Critique of Schlegel’s Theory of Art.” In Hegel and Aesthetics, ed. William Maker, 131–144. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Peters, Gary (2005). Irony and Singularity: Aesthetic Education from Kant to Levinas. Aldershot, UK & Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate.

Pöggeler, Otto (1999). Hegels Kritik der Romantik [1956]. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink.

Reid, Jeffrey (1997). “Hegel, critique de Solger: l’échec d’une expression ironique et le problème de la communication scientifique.” In G.W.F. Hegel, L’ironie romantique. Compte rendue des Écrits postume et correspondance de Solger, 9–61. Paris: J. Vrin.

Rose, Gillian (2009). Hegel contra Sociology [1981]. London & New York: Verso.
How to Cite
Mascat, J. (2013). When Negativity Becomes Vanity: Hegel’s Critique of Romantic Irony. Stasis, 1(1). Retrieved from http://stasisjournal.net/index.php/journal/article/view/62