Yes, that’s right folks. After three different tries to read Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit from start to finish, I’ve gotten further than ever I’ve gotten before, namely to the end of the section on consciousness and the beginning of the section on self-consciousness. It’s amazing what the years do. When Dr. Kenneson at Milligan assigned our modern and postmodern philosophy class a section of this beast in 1998, I couldn’t decipher so much as three consecutive sentences. Working on my MA in English in 2003, I could grasp the last couple sentences in each paragraph (that’s where he puts the summaries for the dummies like me). Two years ago, reading it again for a critical theory class, I could read pretty much all if it. I’ve gotten to the point where, although the text is much denser than what I usually read, I can keep in mind the meanings of words that Hegel sets up once and never reiterates. It’s really an exercise in memory to read this book; it just took me ten years or so to realize that. I realize that some genius children can comprehend this thing when they’re twenty, but I’m no genius child; it took me years of effort to get to the point of reading and understanding German philosophy.
Since then I purchased the book and tried to read it in each of the last two summers but couldn’t get settled in enough with a little Micah trying to remove the book and my pencil from my hands. But now, having gotten in the habit of reading from it during my office hours, I’m past the first major section.
Just three hundred ninety pages of it to go.
Such developments do make me wonder about the wisdom of age-graded education. If someone on the verge of a Ph.D took ten years to reach competency to read German philosophy, I wonder whether our philosophy and policy of education should reflect the possibility that not everybody can do algebra at age thirteen or microbiology at age fifteen. I realize that changing the age-grade correspondence would more or less require a revolution, possibly a violent one, but that’s not enough to keep me from wondering whether it’s a good idea.