Half Hour Hegel got its start when my YouTube channel began to draw a significant number of viewers outside of the students in my face-to-face classes. They started making requests - "can you shoot some videos on" this person and that - so I decided to do a sort of poll to see who my viewers were most interested in. Four philosophers' names came up most consistently - Hegel, Heidegger, Sartre, and Marcuse.
I started shooting a sequence of videos on Existentialist thinkers - that took care of the Sartre and Heidegger! - and those were pretty well received (though I've still got more to shoot in that sequence). After a while, I started thinking about how I might create some videos on Hegel. I'd already shot two one of my Introduction to Philosophy classes, but as engaging as those were, those videos were just selective summaries, not really close and comprehensive analyses of the text. So, what would the new video sequence look like?
Hegel is not an easy philosopher to read. Nor is he easy to teach, or to write about! His work is complex and convoluted, intentionally systematic in scope, but dynamic and one might even say interactive with the reader. I know well the temptation - having succumbed to it myself in earlier readings of Hegel - of skipping over the parts that aren't readily intelligible, and trying to just stick with the "main points". But everything is a "main point" in Hegel's massive System, isn't it, in some way?
The most adequate solution to the problem - what kind of videos should I create on Hegel? - was clear, but it made up for that clarity with the daunting scope of the work that it would require. Comment on the entirety of the Phenomenology of Spirit. All of it. Skip nothing. Address every passage.
I decided that the format would involve me reading the text, and then commenting on it at my chalkboard. I'd do that for each paragraph of the text. And, as I do for so many of my videos, in order to place myself in the proper frame of mind, I "dress the part", wearing my traditional jacket and tie.
Up to that point, most of my videos were roughly 1-hour-long lectures, or shorter 10-25 minute core concept videos. I decided that for this new series, I would make each of them about 30 minutes each (somewhere in a 25-35 minute range, as it turned out), and we would call them, fittingly enough, Half Hour Hegel.
Starting The Series
I remember where I was, when I began to edit the footage for the very first video in the series. It was early in 2014. At that time, my wife (Andi Sciacca) and I were living in Kingston, in the Hudson river valley of New York, and I had gone with her across to the other side, to Hyde Park, where she worked for the Culinary Institute of America. The CIA had bought a local restaurant, which was used for faculty development workshops, and that's what she was working on, so I tagged along.I had all the video footage shot - me reading the text, discussing the project, and commenting on the first paragraph.
Now it was a question of what to do with it. That's when I hit on the iconic format that you see in all of the videos. I used powerpoint slides to create the intro slide, the slides announcing the paragraphs, and the slides containing the passages of the text, setting those side by side with the video of my reading the text. I also wanted to have some intro music, so I found some good public-domain Bach that I could use for the series, and placed it at the start. And then, I finished the video, uploaded it, and released it.
It was pretty striking, the enthusiasm that greeted the announcement of this new video series! Many of my YouTube viewers - and my followers/contacts in various social media - got quite excited about the prospect of a lecture commentary series on Hegel's Phenomenology.
For my own part, although earlier in graduate school I had enjoyed a very high self-estimate of my capacities and talent, as I've matured and acquired much more experienced, I have developed a much more measured view of myself. As I thought about what I was putting myself in for - and pledging to do - I was struck by the amount of work that I was committing to, in order to bring this series off.
On the other hand, there was also the prospect of creating something effectively unparalleled as a philosophical resource for the new millenium - an entirely online video commentary, available anywhere in the world where reliable internet exists, that might potentially help thousands of viewers work their way through one of the most notoriously difficult texts of Western philosophy. That seemed like something worth doing, and it seemed to me that I was - barring any major catastrophes - in a decent enough position to be able to pull it off.
The Series and the Project Grows
The very first video came out near the end of February, 2014, and month after month, we plowed our way through the lengthy Preface to Hegel's Phenomenology (which is almost 1/10 of the entire work), finally reaching the end of that section in November, 2014. By that time, we were 31 videos into the series.
Long before that, I had started to realize the enormity of the task ahead of me. I also knew that the work that I was doing on the series was largely uncompensated - which is a tough position to be in when you're starting a business like ReasonIO while still teaching college courses at adjunct wages. That's when I decided it was time to look into crowdfunding.
I settled on Patreon as the platform that I wanted to use to defray at least some of the costs involved in producing the videos - the most significant one being the time that I could be spending on other, more remunerative activities, as ReasonIO started to garner more consulting, tutoring, speaking, and philosophical counseling business. So, I created a Patreon site, and kept plugging away at the reading, rereading, and video production.
It was very heartening to see a loyal base of supporters come forward and support the project, starting with just a few at first, and then a few more, eventually getting to the point of comprising something like a community of people interested not only in Hegel, but in seeing this project continue on to the end.
After enough of the videos had come out that the YouTube playlist was becoming - in my view - a bit cumbersome for those who might want to work their way through them, I decided that I needed another place to curate them. So, I created the Half Hour Hegel blog. Not only did that allow me to create pages for each section of the work, on which I could link to all the relevant videos for that section, but it offered me a place to write a bit about the ongoing work of the project, publicize events coming up, and to set down my reflections about various Hegel-related matters.
The Progress and Impact So Far
As I write this, I have the 150th video in the series about halfway finished, and expect to release it for my Patreon supporters early next week. That doesn't get us quite to the halfway mark of the work, but pretty close! I estimate that, at the current rate of production, I'll need another 2-1/2 years or so to finish the entire series.
Every so often, I take a look at the statistics that YouTub provides me as a content creator. For the Half Hour Hegel series, the numbers are pretty remarkable. At this point, the videos have been viewed over 225,000 times (the very first one has around 40,000 views, and many others have anywhere from 1000-8000 views).
Even more remarkable to me, as far as the impact of the video series goes, is the sheer number of minutes that have been watched worldwide. Just a bit under 2.3 million minutes - which would be 3800 or so hours, or 160 full days of viewing! There have been over 2,000 comments on these videos as well (granted, quite a few of those consisting in my own responses to viewers' comments).
It's impossible to know what the eventual impact of the entire series will be years from now. So long as YouTube remains an integral platform within the internet as we know it, it seems likely that the series will continue to pick up more and more momentum as it continues, particularly once I finish it, and the entirety of the series is available to viewers. It might end up providing a commentary that gets used by tens or even hundreds of thousands of people interested in studying Hegel!
Once the entire series is finished, there should be something around 150-170 hours of video commentary available to viewers, covering every single paragraph of Hegel's text. I've remarked at numerous points that, while I'm competent, I'm perhaps not the best person to be a commentator on Hegel (particularly when I compare myself to some of the classic commentators I myself read and look up to). But I am the one who has committed to create a digital commentary, and as we know from Hegel, ideality without some actuality remains empty and unrealized!