Well I can’t really speak to Levinas specifically, because the deepest engagement I have with his work is some comments that someone much smarter than me once made in a seminar. But on the Hegel point, it’s definitely fair to say that there’s a significant Hegelian influence on Butler’s work, given that he tends to show up throughout her canon (including Account) and she was awarded her PhD based on a series of Hegelian reflections. That said, I think we’d be hard pressed to categorize her work—specifically Account, which, to answer your question, I think is lovely—as Hegelian in a general sense. In fact, in the early pages, she states pretty directly that she’s gunning for a “post-Hegelian” posture, and seems to get there through the (apparently) Levinasian work of Cavarero, who herself gets to Levinas by way of Arendt. Poststructuralism is such a nerd club.
At least in the case of this particular text, she seems to depart from Hegel primarily at the methodological level. I’d actually say her mode of analysis is more Benjaminian or even Arendtian. She expressly states that the text is eclectic with respect to its theoretical forebears, and makes absolutely no attempt to synthesize or unite them into a coherent program of thought. This, for me, seems to echo Arendt’s description of Benjamin’s work. She always compared his method to “diving for pearls.” She admired his ability to excavate the fragments of history that acted upon the present, and organize them in such a way as to open up a constellation of tensions that produced fields for theoretical inquiry. Benjamin himself uses the image of the “constellation—“many pieces acting upon one another to bring into being a particular, if fleeting, political/cultural/social/historical formation—frequently in his own work. Probably most notably in the Arcades Project, with respect to his description of the dialectical image.
Butler seems to do the same thing in Giving an Account. She hops around from Nietzsche to Foucault to Arendt without much trouble, and hangs them all off of one another. To again pull on the Arendtian lineage in this method, one of Arendt’s major influences, Karl Jaspers, always maintained that in analysis, one could be systematic without systematizing; that is, comprehensive, complete, and critical in a way that doesn’t enforce some definite methodological framework and also refuses to narrativize or serialize the forces that constitute a particular moment in history. Arendt tended to refer to this method as a kind of “crystallization.” That’s what I think Butler’s doing in Account.
The methodology is echoed in the content. The passage about the unknowability of the self, or the opacity of the self to itself as the condition that makes us responsible to others, for example, runs in tandem to the constitutive openness of her method. There can be, in her archeological, theoretical “pearl diving” no methodological opacity; nothing that is given or furnished by the method that can’t be undone by the introduction of other vectors of force. Her turn to Foucault’s ethical writings seems to corroborate this. She is particularly fixated on his later engagement with not just brute, one-directional subjectification at the hands of discourse, but on how agency, exercised within a field of both constraining and enabling forces, interacts with discourse to crystallize a subject in relation to itself, but open to rupture and injury all the same.
Granted, seeing it this way doesn’t make the text any more readable, but at least it gives some kind of meaning to its slipperiness. Maybe? Does that help anything at all? I’m hardly a Hegel expert either, so maybe ignore me?
Also, it fucking WOULD be on Main Street.