kojève on desire and time

Here’s Alexandre Kojève (planner and drafter of legislation for the European Common Market and allegedly a KGB agent!) interpreting—and correcting—Hegel:

Man is Self-Consciousness. He is conscious of himself, conscious of his human reality and dignity; and it is in this that he is essentially different from animals, which do not go beyond the level of simple Sentiment of self. Man becomes conscious of himself at the moment when—for the "first" time—he says "I." To understand man by understanding his "origin" is, therefore, to understand the origin of the I revealed by speech.

   Now, the analysis of "thought," "reason," "understanding," and so on—in general, of the cognitive, contemplative, passive behavior of a being or a "knowing subject" never reveals the why or the how of the birth of the word "I," and consequently of self-consciousness—that is, of the human reality. The man who contemplates is "absorbed" by what he contemplates; the "knowing subject" "loses" himself in the object that is known. Contemplation reveals the object, not the subject. The object, and not the subject, is what shows itself to him in and by—or better, as—the act of knowing. The man who is "absorbed" by the object that he is contemplating can be brought back to himself" [rappelé à lui] only by a Desire; by the desire to eat, for example. The conscious Desire of being is what constitutes that being as I and reveals it as such by moving it to say "I"… (p 3)

Now, we have seen that the presence of Time (in which the future takes primacy) in the real World is called Desire (which is directed towards another Desire), and that this desire is specifically human desire, since the Action that realises it is Man’s very being. The real presence of Time in the World is therefore called Man. Time is Man, and Man is Time. … Therefore the natural reality implies Time only if it impliesa human reality. Now, Man essentially creates and destroys in terms of the idea that he forms of the Future. And the idea of the Future appears in the real present in the form of a desire directed towards another Desire – that is, in the form of a Desire for social Recognition. Now, Action that arises from this Desire engenders History. Hence, there is Time only where there is History. … On the last page of the Phenomenology, Hegel says, time is history whereas nature is space.… But in his other writings Hegel is less radical. In them, he admits the existence of a cosmic time. But in so doing, Hegel identifies cosmic time and historical time. This, I believe, was his basic error. (pp 133, 147)
—Alexandre Kojève, Introduction to the Reading of Hegel, trans. James H. Nichols, Jr. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1969.


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