Home and Homelessness: The Illimitable Transcendence of this Dialectic
March 16, 2000

In Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s Phenomenology of Spirit, he advances the idea that every binary relationship exists through a dialectic that generates a point of reconciliation between the two extremes. This point, however, is not inclusive of a range of possibilities as much as it is exclusive of admitting itself to a further reconciliation of its prior poles. For that reason, the product of that dialectic sets itself up to be a pole in its own right, necessitating its attraction of an antithesis, and thus creating a new binary relationship in need of reconciliation.1 As it is possible for this process to continue ad nauseum (or until the finite exhausts itself into the infinite, or Geist), and with no real resolution of the fundamental problems of contradiction and antithesis posed by binary structures, a new method of reconciliation is needed that extends to the illimitable world of possibilities that exists between any polar extremities.

The romanticism of writers like Schiller and Wordsworth lends toward the attainment of this end by offering insight into the imagination of the human condition where the world is not viewed so much by the ontological condition of what it is but by that of what it appears to be to the subjective eye.2 This subject, however, is both subject and object, a being that perceives and is perceived in the perceiving.3 He sees himself both as the arbiter of his own destiny and as reflected through the destinies of members of his society. For this reason, the subject is a social construct. Schiller’s subjects in The Robbers illustrates the effect of these alternating binaries on the social structure, while Wordsworth’s subjects in The Borderers illustrates the effect of these alternating binaries on the lack of social structure. This dichotomous relationship of structure and anti-structure is resolved through a transcendent dialectic—the intention of which is to create a home for the subject in a place of exile or homelessness.

In this concept of home and homelessness, a binary structure is set up that creates both a positive and a negative field around each pole, these fields inverting themselves in the distance between the poles like the inversion of a Moebius strip. That process of inversion is the transcendent dialectic4 because it can not only negotiate the poles, but it can also establish points of reconciliation at any distances between those poles, not dealing with any one point of reconciliation but with the entire thing through every point of reconciliation. Having a home, for instance, carries with it connotations of tenancy that do not necessarily preclude freedom of movement but might; thus, at one pole there is both a positive and a negative working in a micro-binary relationship with itself. Likewise, not having a home denotes an inability or unwillingness to settle into tenancy, but it also connotes greater freedom from the landed responsibilities of tenancy. Within both these poles inside of this binary, therefore, separate binary structures exist that can be broken down ad infinitum on the micro-scale. On the macro-scale, the process is reversed through the reconciliation of the binary structure. Were the subjects of home and homelessness to be reconciled, the new pole would carry within it components of both home and homelessness and attract to its countermeasure a new antithesis.

The simple binary of the tenant and vagrant, therefore, would not be resolved through the static state of the being of one being displaced by, or displacing, the static state of the nothing of the other, where one pole is sublated to its antithesis; however, it can be resolved by looking between the poles at the dynamic process of becoming that bridges the distance between having a sense of home and not-having one. As in the case of the master-slave relationship, the only way a true binary relationship is going to be formed is through the recognition that both poles are integral to the existence of the other and neither of them are, therefore, subordinated to the other, for a master is as much a slave to his position as a master as a slave is to his master.5 Likewise, the tenant is as much a slave to his tenancy as is the vagrant to the tenancy of others that denies him tenancy, so that the binary does not resolve itself through the medium of, say, the rich nomad who carries his home along the road but deposits his wealth in fixed places, but through the recognition that that is only one point of resolution along the spectrum of ideas available through which resolution can be made.

Based on this understanding, we can take Schiller’s play as consisting of the binary poles of home and homelessness within a social structure as represented in the ideals of two brothers, Karl and Franz Moor. Each is a subject within this social order, and each thereby is accountable for interpreting his world through his own senses, understanding and imagination. Regardless of the subjective interpretation of either entity, there are already social constraints placed upon them that neither can ignore and that objectify their situations. Taken in context with the established state, this means that legal sanction can put back into order the disorder created by a power vacuum, as in the case of Franz’s usurpation of Karl’s primogenitive rights of succession to his father’s estate following Karl’s being driven into exile. Without Karl there to claim his position, Franz can occupy Karl’s place and govern it as though it were his own. To ensure his position, Franz works with the subterfuge of Jacob over Esau to deny his brother a share in his patrimony and drives him thereby into the position of rebelling against the system that made such a reversal of roles possible in the first place. In doing so, Karl becomes the antithesis of what he should have been—instead of upholding the laws of the state, he deliberately establishes his own laws and sets himself up as a state within a state, fully prepared to wage war, grant immunity and banish from his society those who displease his sense of justice—and he finds universal approbation amongst his subjects, the robbers (in effect, placing them). A new order is created out of what appears to Karl to be a corrupt one, and he governs this order through the conviction that he is wedded to it. Franz, on the other hand, takes the reigns of power and misappropriates them in trying to establish a similar autocratic rule over his dominion, an act which leads to an impoverishment and unhappiness of his subjects that defies the natural order of the protectorship of the lord in exchange for the services of his tenants (in effect, displacing them). A role reversal is therefore not only accomplished on the surface (that of the condition of laws as social adhesive), but it is also accomplished beneath the surface (that of the condition of allegiance as social adhesive). Because of this, there are not merely two binaries in operation at this pole but several that rely on each other to maintain their fixed positions. For a true resolution of this binary of home/homelessness within the social structure, more than one set of conditions needs to be considered as factors and one or more other binary shifts need to be accounted for.

In Wordsworth’s play, the same process is at work, but its home/homelessness binary lies within the antithesis (or antipode) of a society with shared social bonds. There is a lord named Herbert, who is dispossessed of his estate, but, unlike Karl, he has no objection to being re-enfranchised (in fact, he actively seeks it), and he has not built a society around him to serve as a surrogate for the society from which he has been displaced. The ‘lords’ of the ‘realm’ into whose hands he has fallen are themselves entangled in an ambiguous situation of shifting place as they live in the borderlands between England and Scotland (which are alternately run over by either army and therefore have not developed a consistent national identity). They have no fixed lord upon whom to bestow their allegiance and are themselves much like the robbers of Schiller’s play as a result, with the exception of the fact that there is no large band of them working as a cohesive unit. In fact, the upper leadership (in the persons of Marmaduke and Oswald, who resemble Karl and Spiegelberg) have private agendas that interfere with their ability to share fully their confidence in one other. The binary of home/homelessness generated here lies not in the disputes of those possessed of a society, therefore, but in the disputes of those bereft of one. Within the confines of the play, there can be no room for a role reversal because there is nothing that either party can necessarily gain from the other in the manner of becoming enfranchised, though Herbert is led into joining an unstable anti-society in hopes of being delivered safely to his destination while his hosts have plans of getting rid of him so that Marmaduke can engage with his daughter without his interference. What is apparent, however, if not role reversal, is role-interdependence, which can only function as part of a legitimate social construct and not as part of a dysfunctional one. During various parts of the play, therefore, as a result of this ineptitude of both parties to realize the claims of the other, the idea of reclaiming society, of achieving domestic felicity and tenancy and all the accouterments thereof is championed while the direction in which efforts made to achieve that end further disintegrates into nothingness. At the end of the play, like the conclusion of The Robbers, this collection of individuals is blown apart by its own insolvency as a viable social unit due to its inability to reconcile the contradictions under which it has labored.

The problem that immediately becomes apparent in trying to reconcile a system within itself (namely, this dialectic extended between home and homelessness) is the intrusion of another system once that reconciliation is forced (i.e. an actual choice6 is made). Choice is a historical act with consequences that necessarily preclude going back and making different choices—confronted with a world of possibilities, therefore, one must eventually emerge from any dialectic by choosing an option it provides, reconciling the contradiction between the poles, and establishing an answer. To return to the idea of the rich nomad, then, he becomes a reconciliation of the tenant and the vagrant, but he can never embody a comprehensive resolution to that binary because he creates by his mere existence the idea of a poor tenant and establishes another binary different in degree if not in kind from the parent binary and therefore encompassing a different set of contradictions and possibilities of resolution within its dialectic. This dialectic immerses itself into another system, and that system in no way helps resolve the first system as systems tend to be phagocentric and predatory, that is, they prey on vacuums within other systems in order to promote their own interests. The offspring of a binary, therefore, has no interest in resolving the remaining contradictions in its parent binary as its new antipode pulls it into a different direction, changes its focus and intent, and creates a new dialectic within which many of the possibilities of the former binary cannot be found. If the historical fact of existence, as a result, does not preclude a theoretical resolution concerning the view of home/homelessness as a state of being, it may preclude a practical resolution concerning home/homelessness as a mode of existence.

Thus, while within these two plays there lie smaller binary units, the two plays themselves comprise a binary relationship between them in the form of the society (home) and anti-society (homelessness) construct, which cannot necessarily be reconciled. To reconcile the dichotomy this creates, the dialectic generated betwixt these poles necessarily has to include not only both poles, but also, synchronously, all the possibilities from which a reconciliation (even one that is unfavorable to one pole or the other) might arise. As failing to do so destroys the potential for generation and growth and merely sets up another binary relationship, it must be considered that the original binary relationship is involved in a comprehensive subject/object relationship with itself, which is one in which potential problems should be resolvable by the source dialectic. That is to say, in as much as part of being a member of society is being able to stand apart from that society, a part of being home is being to some extent homeless, for home and homelessness are not so much considerations of place as they are states of being, states that can change through one’s perception of place as opposed to one’s relocation to another place. This is seen throughout the multiple vignettes of each play, notably in the mindset of Karl when he promises not to leave the robbers (he has found a home in the wilderness), in Franz as he is praying for deliverance (he no longer has a home though he is in it at the time), in Herbert as he is traveling with a purpose on the arm of his daughter (his concept of home is with him on the road because he expects re-enfranchisement), and in Marmaduke and Oswald (who are in their native place but have no sense of real belonging). One’s ability to be grounded within a society, furthermore, or find oneself excluded from that society is also as much a state of perception as it is a fact of existence. It is possible, therefore, through the dialectic that binds these binaries to generate a home in any place of exile given the option of employing every choice offered within that dialectic at once, but this is to assume that the infinite possibilities of a given dialectic are open to illimitable claims in the finite ontological system of real choice. Even so, it is only when these infinite choices are closed off through historical choice, and a median point is offered in exclusion of any other possibility, that that range of possibilities is lost and a new extremity that may have nothing to do with the previous problem interferes. Such a dilemma happens in both Schiller and Wordsworth’s plays through a sense of hopelessness, resulting, ultimately, in none of the characters being able to stabilize their sense of home.


Howard, John S. Romantic Dialectics and the Politics of the Subject. Ann Arbor Michigan: UMI Dissertation Services, 1997.

Kemerling, Garth. "Kant: Experience and Reality." Philosophy Pages. Online Publication. 1999. http://people.delphi.com/gkemerling/hy/5g.htm Accessed: 10 March, 2000.

             Taylor, Charles. Hegel. Cambridge: Cambridge University
             Press, 1975.

Schiller, Friedrich. The Robbers and Wallenstein. Trans. by F. J. Lamport. London: Penguin Books, 1979.

             Wordsworth, William. The Borderers. (cp)

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