The Birth of Theory
University of Chicago Press 2014
Was Hegel a medieval thinker?
In The Birth of Theory (University of Chicago Press, 2014), Andrew Cole puts forward a reexamination of Hegelian dialectics that embeds Hegel in a long tradition of medieval dialectical thinking and suggests that it is precisely Hegel’s engagement with medieval modes of thought that make his work a productive source for Marx and the later thinkers who develop dialectical thinking into theory as we know it today. The Birth of Theory challenges readers with insights won from strenuous contests with the writing of history, philosophy, religion, literature, and political economy. As he makes the case for rereading Hegelian dialectics based on the essentially feudal social and economic organization of Germany in Hegel’s moment, Cole drives at the arbitrary distinctions between medieval and modern but also those between dialectical and anti-dialectical thinking, writing a long arc of intellectual history that renegotiates theory’s relationship to Plato, Aristotle, Plotinus, Hegel, Marx, Heidegger, Deleuze and many others in between (xviii).
Along the way, the argument asks readers to dispense with a host of critical cliches as it winds deftly between close readings of Pseudo-Dionysius and Nietzsche’s Birth of Tragedy to comparative readings of Hegel on the Eucharist and Marx on the commodity, closing with focused and revelatory attention on the legacy established by Hegel in using medieval genres in response to the modern condition.
Carl Nellis is an academic editor and writing instructor working north of Boston, where he researches contemporary American community formation around appropriations of medieval European culture. You can learn more about Carls work at carlnellis.wordpress.com.