Hegel explains the Cookie Monster

Cookie-cutter thinker?

Some time ago I told my sister about seeing an episode of Sesame Street in which Cookie Monster expressed a fear of monsters. But how could this be, she asked, when Cookie Monster is himself already a bona fide monster? Here is how Hegel might have answered:

Self-consciousness is both a subject and object to itself, even within childhood, and monsters enter both sides of this mediated reflection in the realm of childhood terror.

A monster can experience terror of another monster, and recoil in horror at the very sight. At the same time, however, this negation in its actual manifestation is not something alien and external to the monster who is scared. It is, quite simply, the universal idea of monsters, which in this its last abstraction has nothing positive, and hence can give nothing to reassure the child who is reluctant to look under his bed, and nothing to reassure the monster who encounters another monster and sees only the object in its pure scary universality, forgetting the subject that is capable of reason just as he is.

But just on that account this will is in unmediated oneness with self-consciousness, it is the pure positive because it is the pure negative; and that meaningless “Boo!” from underneath the bed, the unfilled, vacuous negativity of self, in its inner constitutive principle, turns round into absolute positivity. Consciousness is changed and converted into the absolutely opposite experience.

This logic requires the healing mediation of childhood consciousness. A monster presents itself in its immediacy as an object of fear, even to itself, but this object, once named as a friend and entered into the domesticated self-consciousness of a child, can be the very means by which dangerous monsters external to the child are kept at bay. Thus the cold-blooded marching of monsters on the cold and crunchy snow outside a child’s window – timed to coincide with the heartbeat of that child reverberating on a pillow, in a futile effort to avoid detection – is overcome through the conscious introduction of a now domesticated monster who becomes an object of fear for those monsters lingering outside, because it has now taken an alien form to them in the form of a stuffed animal. And precisely in taking an alien form to other monsters, this monster rises out of the swamp of ghoulish imaginings and the fog of unhappy consciousness, and for the first time discovers the possibility of self-reconciliation through the magical mediation of the child and family life.

Thus the domesticated monster desires no longer childhood terror but cookies and milk, and in this mediated desire has squared and balanced both his own self-opposition as a scary monster and also the opposition of other monsters, with each now fearing the other and the opposition between them representing a new certainty through which freedom and childhood reassurance find expression once again. Just as the realm of childhood terror passes over into that of childhood imaginary friendship by which the monster is given a name, so the monster can leave its self-destructive sphere of reality, and pass over into the magical land of self-conscious spirit and affirmation in a loving home, where freedom is at last taken to be and is accepted as a positive notion which can endure.

And even though an adult puts away such childish things this speculative freedom endures, and is renewed with each generation of children as the opposition between friendly and unfriendly monsters is rediscovered as a problem for childhood consciousness. Children work their way to reconciliation through the self-alienation of the monster’s spirit, and the monster’s fear of itself ultimately gives way to reassurance, laughter, awe at the childhood imagination, and finally nostalgia.

Happy Halloween!

14 thoughts on “Hegel explains the Cookie Monster

  1. Thanks. Readers of Hegel will recognize the prose as rooted in his famous passage in the Phenomenology of Spirit, “Absolute Freedom and Terror,” an account of how an abstract version of Rousseau’s general will descended into beheadings and violence following the French Revolution. Charles Taylor has described this concentrated passage as one of the great accounts of evil in the modern world.

    As for the terror in Hegel’s prose, which has indeed frightened many a well-meaning philosophy student, he is capable of writing in a more accessible style, as is evident in the preface to his Philosophy of Right – but unfortunately for us he thinks that doing so is external to the subject matter of philosophy.

    P. Haffner, thanks for writing. Have we met? 🙂

  2. I disagree very strongly about that, and I’ve read a lot of philosophy, or what you call philosophy. Hegel refuses to take into account reality, like Descartes does, but still rejects it to conjecture something Aristotelian or mostly Platonic folly. As if you can make sense of the world without experiencing it at first hand. So closed minded things belong to the past.

    Cookie Monster is obviously and simply a manifestation of our need to consume more and more, and only good things are enough, cookies. He is a below average IQ person that has an obsessive personality disorder, and an eating disorder to boot. He has no purpose other than to eat cookies. He is not a monster, except in ourselves, what the western civilization has become.

  3. Well Done,

    Although there was one major oversite about the causation of reality. Although correlation does not equal causation – in my experience the more “cookies” that one eats – the more subjective one reality gets. Not to mention a positive realtionship with intense feelings of self conciousness, at the most extreme hallucinations. But maybe we are never met to know the real answer to this, thats just how the cookie crumbles i guess.


  4. hello i am a good cookie monster i love cookies and the cookie monster >>>>>>>>>he is my favorite charicter since i was really littel and i still do no matter what …..:)

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