Between Scylla and Charybdis

I’m managing to finally piece these two together, after at least a year of uncertainty…

Even if he had set aside his idealist prejudices, nothing would have seemed more unreasonable to Hegel than looking for the foundations of the objectivity of dialectical laws in the study of nature. This effort would in fact lead again to basing the dialectical construction on its weakest part; it would lead to the paradox of the colossus with feet of clay. The very elements that suddenly become, for Marx and Engels, the method’s foundations are precisely those that offer the most resistance to the application of this method, and not only by definition, but above all in practice. In spite of the trouble taken by Hegel to resolve the difficulties encountered in the Philosophy of Nature, this part of his work left even him unsatisfied. It must be recognized in principle that difficulties of this kind do not in any way permit Engels’s efforts to be considered inherently untenable. Nevertheless, in fact, the failure of this effort was, in a way, given in its premises. The substitution of nature for logic is only the Scylla and Charybdis of post-Hegelian philosophy.”

Georges Bataille, “Critique of Hegelian Reason”, Visions of Excess: Selected Writings 1927-39, trans Allan Stoekl (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 107]


To make the matter still clearer, take the following example. If someone conceives Duration in this abstracted way and, confusing it with Time, begins dividing it into parts, he can never understand how an hour, for instance, can pass by. For in order that an hour should pass by, a half-hour must first pass by, and then half of the remainder, and the half of what is left; and if you go on thus subtracting half of the remainder to infinity, you can never reach the end of the hour. Therefore many who are not used to distinguishing mental constructs from real things have ventured to assert that Duration is composed of moments, thus falling into the clutches of Scylla in their eagerness to avoid Charybdis. For to say that Duration is made up of moments is the same as to say that Number is made up simply by adding noughts together.”

– B.d. Spinoza, “Letter [12] to Lodewijk Meyer, 20 April 1663” in Complete Works, trans. Samuel L. Shirley (Indianapolis: Hackett, 2002), 789.

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