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Hermeneutics: the Art of Understanding and Interpreting

Hermeneutics: The Art Of Understanding And Interpreting

Understanding as a Natural Gift

Well, of course, the first thing I have to say is that I cannot read a paper because my English is too bad and I know by experiences that improvisatory speaking is more tolerable. So you understand that the improvisatory character of my speech is legitimated by my own limitations. On the other hand, I have it easy by the fact that this morning Fred Lawrence1 gave a very comprehensive outline of the background of my own thoughts in combination, of course, with his own interests and thoughts. And so, I think, I can do what you will expect the most in this conference —  to speak exactly about literary texts and the task of understanding them.

Well, you know, hermeneutics, as I renewed this word in past years, is the art of understanding and interpreting. And it is parallel with rhetoric. To speak and to understand speech are obviously two corresponding activities and excellences of human beings. And so, the first we can learn from this quite trivial remark: that is, that understanding and interpreting is not, in the first place, an art in the sense of a scientific art or skill. It is the same as in rhetoric; without some natural talent for speaking and rhetoric, no good rhetoric will come out. And good rhetoric is at least, in a certain sense, a perfection of a natural gift, and not at all a man who learned all the general rules and figures of rhetorical skill, which were discovered especially in the Greek culture, in this culture of the most speakable of all languages of the world, as Nietzsche said in a famous statement.2

And so it is clear that rhetoric, at least, is not first of all an application of general insights to concrete cases. And, I think, we should learn from it that understanding is a natural gift. There are people who have this natural gift of hermeneutics in their own heart as to the use of language — of the use of the word in the late 18th century — proves sometimes people who feel how others are and what they think and what they expect as appeal or as consolation or whatever it may be. This empathy, this natural gift of synesis, in Greek “synesin,” is certainly not a method. And to speak about the method of rhetoric seems to me absolutely no more natural than to speak about a method of hermeneutics.

The subordinated function of the general rules, in both aspects, is absolutely undisputable: it is quite clear; and, obviously, both are the two sides of this natural structure, dialogical structure of human beings: to have speech. To live together on the basis of speech, includes, of course, mutual understanding. And, in this way, hermeneutics has its place very deeply rooted in the anthropological excellences of human beings.

Well, of course, that does not mean that hermeneutics did not accept the special relevance and a special function when culture became something where writing and reading existed. And so, we can indeed see, in the whole history of hermeneutics, we have two quite obvious sections of this history: of course the old Greek and Christian task to appropriate the heritage of the classical and humanistic Greek time and of early Christianity. This is the hermeneutics of medieval times, which as you know was a special system of allegoric and anagogic interpretation, which was connected with the appeal and the function of the Holy Scripture and the message of the Church.

From Rhetoric to Heremenutic

In the humanistic time, then, we have a new turning and there we have a real transition from rhetoric to hermeneutic. It was with Melanchthon3 and you know, of course, why in this 16th century the art of reading and the art of writing had a new relevance. It was the Reformation; it was the discovery of printing; it was the widespread skill of reading; and the religious function of it in the universal priesthood of the Christian men in the various interpretations of the Holy Scripture and, of course, for very, very many other reasons it was quite clear that in the late humanistic era writing and reading became more and more the dominant form of the art of speech.

And so, it is not by contingency that Melanchthon in his lectures was talking about rhetoric. In his three books of rhetoric he forgets in the ongoing discourse of his teaching, forgets completely that he is speaking about rhetoric, not about the interpretation of writings. And in this way, indeed, hermeneutics is the natural continuation of the art of speaking in our literary times.

Of course, it is needless to develop what I said very often and is now, I think, quite common that in this Protestant evolution of the development of theology, of the Holy Scripture in the rejection of Tradition: sola scriptura sui ipsius interpres and in the parallel fact that the modern states needed in the ongoing process of economic development, an equalizing, a homogenized jurisdiction in the place of the traditional forms of law and punishment, and so on. And that was the paradigm of the Roman law which motivated new efforts to adapt the Roman law to the home laws of the European states in the same period.

And so we have two streams of hermeneutics that were recognized: the theological hermeneutic and the juridical hermeneutic, both going on from that time until today. It is clear that there are two concerns: the Bible written in two different foreign languages and the Roman law with its own historical and political involvements. Both, of course, needed interpreters and adaptation to the concrete demands of the time.

German Romanticism and Hermeneutics

And so, I think, it is not surprising that at the end of the 18th century, when the Hellenic, Greek tradition, broke down at the beginning of the movement of the Enlightenment, with the French Revolution, and with the expectations at the time of the Rationalism, I think it is quite comprehensible that at this time the German Romanticism reestablished hermeneutics as a universal discipline. Because, when the alienation is universal, then also, the task to overcome the alienation is universal.

And so, Schleiermacher 4 was the first to introduce the general task of hermeneutics as appropriation, as overcoming misunderstanding, as finding agreement in social life as well as against the tradition and the texts. Later, for reasons I will not discuss at the moment, the heritage of Schleiermacher became more and more literary. Heritage means that his impulse was resumed and continued by thinkers of the Historical School, of the new Humanities, the Geisteswissenchaften as we Germans learned to call it. And in this line, Dilthey5 then was the representative figure who worked out a hermeneutics as the special, methodical core for understanding the humanities. (August Böckh,6 that great philologist, collected the whole tradition before Dilthey did it in a representative form.)

And then, I think it was in our century that the narrowness of this foundation of having hermeneutics’ task to interpret the text becomes a game, and irrelevant. It was the special merit of Heidegger7 to expand the view of Dilthey and to base the skill of understanding and interpreting in the existential structure of human beings. So it is just our own excellence to be futurists by definition, to be projecting towards our own possibilities and to experience the limitations of our self-projecting in the future. And it means, of course, the limitations of our heritage of the past.

I think this temporal structure of human beings, to be projecting and to be “thrown” in their own life conditions, was a new, deeper foundation of the whole task of hermeneutics. And you see immediately in this newer foundation, it became absolutely clear that hermeneutics is not the renewal of idealistic dreams of the identity of the object and the subject, of the full transparence of the resistant reality for the human mind. It was quite clear, in the first attempt of Heidegger, that it was a finitude of human beings and therefore the restricted and limited character of all our interpretation of facticity which makes our own efforts what they are.

In this line, my own contribution consisted especially in the attempt to elaborate the structure of the Dialogue as the living source of language, of communication, and of understanding. And in this context, I developed in a certain continuation of things that were done by Collingwood: the logic of question and answer.8 But not in the trivial sense in which it was simplified in the description of Collingwood who described the technique of his own discoveries as one of the leading historians of Great Britain. He describes in a very convincing way how he made first his considerations about the lines [tracks] made in Roman Britain and how one could expect them to be at such and such a distance, one from the other, places [where] a new castle could be expected; and so formulated the question before he began his excavations and then the tremendous success of them.

Though it is a very simple illustration, I think in our field the situation is much more complicated, because it is here not so clear in the case of Texts. Who is the first speaker? Who is the first questioner? Who gives the first answer? There seems to be an ongoing process of exchanges and the life of the humanities, of the human condition [that] consists exactly in the ongoing process of questioning and answering and answering and questioning. That seems to me — so far — a contribution. And I tried then to develop this model of dialogue and of linguisticality as a basic structure of human word experience, so it is no longer a special methodology of the humanities; but it is the basic approach we have to our world, because nobody has his experiences in splendid isolation, without learning first a language, and by learning the language, learning the word.

The Literary Text

But now, to our Subject!

Of course, one can say a text is nothing else than written communication. It is true that very often the use of the art of writing consists just in conveying information from one to the other, or even for an exchange of views between one and the other. Then, of course, the written is a form of speaking; it is a form of conveying what we would do also in a living form of speech.

And that means that there we have indeed a continuation of the dialogical situation. Every [piece of] information I receive refers to the sender of it and I am the receiver; and I am then the answerer; so the process of communication goes on: even through the form of the written text. Of course, with some new conditions: it is a loss and it is a gain, in the written form of communication.

The loss is obvious: that all that modulates, that makes persuasive by gesture, by modulation, by the occasion, and all that, is no longer helpful in conveying or transmitting our opinions. Certainly, therefore, to write a letter is a little more difficult than to make small talk; but obviously this loss of the combined modulation by our gesturing attitude is compensated in a way by the fixed form and the idealized form of written texts.

So, we are not only exposed to our reconstruction of the speaker and writer but we are also exposed to the meaning of the text in itself — I mean — by an anonymous writer, by somebody who wrote it down, and we can nevertheless understand it, i.e., these writings. But you see, a real problem is not involved in this modification of writing from a hermeneutical point of view; it remains, as a matter of fact, the continuation of this interaction between the questioner and the answerer, and, I think, it remains true that we would never understand the letter we receive without immediately presupposing: Why does he say it? What is the question he answers?

But now, and this is, of course, our topic — Literary Texts. I am sorry I cannot entertain any doubts concerning the excellence of literary texts. They are standing texts. We feel it immediately when a text goes beyond this occasional function of information. And perhaps it is also clear that the art of writing which is demanded for literary texts is a much higher standard of use of language and ordering of ideas, so that the text gains its own unity and life, just by linguistic means.

I like to refer to the authentic meaning of “text.”  “Text” means something where the different lines of the text creator are no longer visible but they are now a new unit of textual material. In the same way, I would say in a literary text the lines and letters of the text are no longer visible evidence of the words and especially sounds. But the text is speaking in the moment in which the melody of the whole and the meaning of the whole is captured by the reader.

That seems to be a new situation, of course; especially, for my own hermeneutical schema of the dialogue and the dialogical logic of question and answer. How is it with these standing texts? Against some trends of today, I would say that texts are works. And, you know, a work is something that is detached from its maker; even the craftsman is not sovereign over against his fabrications. The consumer of it: he can use it and abuse it; he can treat it correctly; he can destroy it quickly.

And so, indeed, that is an old Platonic insight: the user is more sovereign than the maker. Well, in the case of a literary work, literary works are works of art. I know it is all very, very doubtful: how far the dimension of “art” is, in a way, a well defined one. One can say, of course, that there are transitions from ordinary language to the art of writing, and then to reading, and understanding has a similar continuity from the lowest to the highest degree.

That may be right, but nevertheless, I would say there are some quite clear traits. To be a literary text is not self-evident, just by the effort of the writer. And, when he has the illusion (and I think any poet, or such a man has, of course, the illusion) that it is for eternity what he writes down: and, certainly, it is correct to say that he means not merely an immediate address to contemporary people:

“Who is of today? Who is of tomorrow? Many people of tomorrow are from yesterday.”9

And so, the author, of course, realizes that he has to give to his writing a stamp. And it is well known that there are many, many forms in which he can give it: can make it so that the structure as you see meanwhile, 60 years after he said it, that the structure of a text — that is a term of Dilthey — that the structure of the text is indeed unified and unifying and bringing together the manifold facets of appearance, surroundings and meanings, the melody, the statements involved. All that is obviously functioning and the text is, in a way, representing it.

Well, this I think is a fact. It is a work. And I think we have good reason, that by this closed structure of any work; it is, in a way, a world. It is not embedded in the ongoing world without traces of the passing of time. It has a certain simultaneity through the ages, in some excellent cases at least. It is unique. And even its maker should agree with us theoreticians that he is not privileged as an interpreter of his own text.

That, of course, is not very novel. At least the Kantian idea of the genius, who was defined by this excellence, that he did not apply pre-given rules and did not make something in conventional patterns of regularity but that he did it so as if nature inspired him to find out new rules, so that a new crowd of imitators can follow his own original creation.10

So, indeed, genius — you know it’s a religious term, which means in the end that there is no real bridge from the application of rules to the success of it. But there is something like religious inspiration in all the Romantic feeling that is well known is related to this term of genius. I am not a very good friend of this term, because it obscures many things in later literary aesthetics.

But for the first approach, I think it is a good illustration for my point, that interpretation, at least, has nothing to do with the intentions of the writer. The art of writing, of course, is a special point. And just when an author reaches this autonomy of a living and speaking text, one will class it as literature; and you know even great historians or some great other scientific writers can claim to be classified as a literary work, because they have such evocative power in their own use of descriptive, scientific prose, that it is in a way a self-fulfillment of the presentations which are involved by their own descriptions. So that we prefer a great historian, like Gibbon, at least for my taste, to the newest volumes of the Cambridge Ancient History, because it has so much more life. Well, these are things you are well acquainted with.

If it is so, then, I think the literary text is a partner; a partner for an ongoing dialogue. It is a partner, not least because it is not a question of something alien and un-understandable, that one can overcome by means of information, research work, etc. That is all involved but it is not the central thing. The central thing is obviously the difference between a literary text and an ordinary text. When I read an ordinary text, I know what’s being said and I have done with it, and put it away.  

Reading as the Stabilization of a Text

When I read a literary text, then I feel I should return to it; I should return to it again; and I shall discover more in it; it is not exhausted by the picking up of information conveyed by the text. Oh no! It becomes more and more a work.11

We grow more and more familiar with it; it is a process of enrichment, which happens there. And I think going into the interplay of soundings and meanings, of allusions and descriptions, and moments of tension and moments of lowering the tension and all the different forms of literary works; all that is never exhausted by our acquaintance with it. But it is like a good painting: we begin to read it. We must read a text like a painting; a painting like a text.

And what is reading? Reading is a very complicated structure of temporal approach. It is not that we read one word or one letter after another; that is a form in which one learns reading but is not yet being able to read: then one must spell it, then one must construe. The construction in a foreign language: we learned it in Latin and Greek. Our schoolmasters would say: don’t divine it; construe it.

Well, this is reading, in the end: that in this process of going through the given text, and at some point a certain centralization of the whole begins to crystallize and we need not the last word of the poem to have the whole poem. Normally, we would even be able to supply the last word, even when it should not have been transmitted completely because of some corruption in the transmission.

So, I think, it is quite obvious, that the problem of reading is a certain access to the stabilization of a literary text, like for other works of art. We have to realize the unseparability of the different structures and movements. As the structuralist, Jacobson taught us — made a very good descriptive analysis of such symmetries and allusions — and so it seems to me something that a good reader should indeed do.12 (I am not so sure that he needs for it the help of the scholars.)

My point is that the schema of the dialogue is indeed adequate also to literary texts. That we are giving different answers, that we are questioning them in different ways, that this whole process of reading and reading again has also its temporal aspect. You know that it is remarkable thing: that the discontinuity of reading does not prevent us from construing the unity of the literary work. We are not reading in one breath; we are not listening like the audience of the Rhapsodies in the oral tradition of Homer. We are breaking and resuming and nevertheless we can and we do construe the whole of the structured poem, whatever character it may have.

I cannot go into details here to describe that it is not a memorizing activity. It is a widespread prejudice; but we philosophers learned — especially from Husserl and later also Heidegger — that it is not a process of memorizing when I retain the past in the given moment. Husserl gave a description of what a sound is: a temporal structure: it has its  extension in time.13 Well, I am hearing the sound now, and what I heard  a moment before I have in my memory? That’s a false construction: that doesn’t happen at all. Then, Husserl invented the concept of retention, to see it is “retained.” It is in way present as a past. Well, in the same way we should analyze; and that is, of course, not yet done. We should realize how the temporal synthesis of reading goes on.14

 I think my hints are sufficient to accept that to read a text means to “construe” it, built it up, to let it speak. And when I should define what hermeneutics are, I would say “exactly that: to let speak again.” So there is a continuing transition from reading and interpreting and, especially, in the case of the literary art. I would say that no reading is possible at all in which in which we are not articulating in very different directions and are listening and withdrawing, putting questions again, until we begin to cover the whole of the text and to listen with our inner ear to this life of speech.

I said, with the “inner ear” because I am indeed convinced that the transformation of a literary text in performance, recital, or whatever it may be, is always away from the apperception by reading, and goes in a way towards a new realm of contingencies where everybody has a different voice, everybody has a different modulation, and the only thing I know is that when I hear and listen to somebody who recites or performs a literary text, I say he does it well or he does it not well; and why can I say it? Because I knew it, I’ve heard it  better. So we do art.

You see, the givenness exactly of the voice, and the sounds of the poem, is idealized and, I think, that is the reason why literature, why poetry, can be called “literature” — letters are idealizations of sounds. Well, now I think I should ask: if it is so, in the main lines, as I described, that reading and interpreting are a certain dialectical unity, so I cannot separate one from the other?  So that everybody wants to know, for example, did the reciter of the text understand it or not? It is obvious that so long as we are not understanding the text we cannot recite it; and, indeed, we need interpretation very, very often, in many, many ways, to read a text adequately. And therefore the ideal of real, natural and not deformed hermeneutics is to disappear. Why have you learned to read a text? This text? This special text?

Now, if it is so, how is it then, with the contribution of modern critical, methodical, efforts in this field? No question but that there are many things we can learn; and the sciences and humanities are also an immense store of scholarship and information; and we also have so many poets of a very high standard of information and education, and so it is clear that we need a lot of knowledge.

Nevertheless, I would say we have to discriminate between the scope of a work and the scopes of interpretation. Here, I can refer at first to the classic description of interpretation by August Böckh, the four modes of interpretation: grammatical, aesthetic, historical, psychological — it is not important to retain exactly these four; we will speak later about some others.15 My point is: what happens, what happens when I apply a grammatical scope? Well, I make a guess, an observation in the text and find there a word which I should perhaps examine and put in the context of the epoch, or of the author, or of the history of the word, or whatever. Certainly, it is an advancement in our  scholarship when we are able to have a new example for the use of this word, and the dictionary is enriched.

Is also our understanding of the poem enriched by it? Well, I would say “yes, we must understand the word; but certainly the intention of the grammatical explanation  is the enrichment of our grammatical scholarship; and when we speak about a literary genus, and we say that it is love poem; and we have the whole history and modifications of love poems in world history. We see, ah yes, that is a love poem; that is different from that and different from that — and all that you learn. Is it really so that this poem is enriched by it?

Perhaps, you are led to articulate the whole structure of the poem by these references to the genus in a better way? That can happen through historical conditions, biographical conditions. In short, this may be helpful, but may also be disturbing. I would prefer not to know too exactly when Goethe wrote the poem, “Uber allen Gipfeln.”16 I think the speech, the address of the poem is at least so that we are appealed to and we should answer to it. We have to listen, and I would say in the first place, to its silence. Literary hermeneutics, I think, begins with listening to the silence; then it goes through a verbalization, an explanation, and must end in listening.17  Well, that, of course, is — how would I call it? — the description of a hermeneutic of good will; it is our effort to to let it speak again; it is our openness to this effort.

The Hermeneutics of Suspicion

There are other approaches, hermeneutics of suspicion, as we call them, and they have a very different intention, and I will not say that it is without interest:  to see for example a critique of ideologies, to see how in a literary creation, in a poem: a special social situation, and a special ruling class, and a special economic foundation of this ruling class reflects itself. It is interesting, for example, to see how this famous poem, “Die Lampe” by Morike,18 which Staiger and Heidegger and Spitzer19 made so interesting in their different comments. It quite interesting to see, that after the break of a great tradition of Humanistic, Christian literature, one of the highest lyric talents writes a very fine and even deep poem about a lamp.

There are these so true and interesting points.  One can say:”Ah! Biedermeier;”  “Ah! Restoration Politics!” “Ah! And so on.” Well, that’s quite nice, quite interesting. But I would not say that this poem is very enriched by the application of this critique of ideologists on our listening to it.

And how is it with psychoanalysis? Well, you know, there we have a very good illustration by the writings of this genius of researches, Freud, when he, for example, describes the Mona Lisa. Well, I have to forget it when I again look at and admire the Mona Lisa. In the Mona Lisa, I see, when I follow Freud, how this Leonardo missed the tenderness of his mother, and what not. I have no criticism against the investigation of the unconscious by means of such illustrations of excellent paintings. That is an experience that is perhaps a little more interesting than the very contingent client of a psychiatrist; that can be. But I would not say it is central for the interests of an admirer and interpreter of this “poem” and its mysterious smiling.

Or, we have the Structuralists when they discover so many symmetries in the mythological background or in the sounds, and so they forget sometimes the meanings. As I said before, that is something one should learn. And I understand completely that in an age when poetry is a little [disregarded], I hope that in such an age the emphasis, the underlining of the hand work in a good verse, this craftsmanship in fabricating this architecture of sound and meaning is indeed thematized as a warning to people not to take it in too superficial a form — of conveying information. So, I have no objection against that.

And, there are the Deconstructionists, that were discussed this morning: Is reading no longer possible? I think you should decide and not Yale University. If you decide to make the effort to read, when you read you will not deconstruct, but you would learn to construct. But I should concretize the whole thing by a question that seems to me not easy to answer.

Sometimes I was confronted with this question and I must confess that, and I am, of course, old fashioned, and that therefore this confrontation had some challenge for me. I mean, for example King Oedipus, this greatest tragedy of the Greeks, as Aristotle says. How is our experience of this tragedy changed by the increasing knowledge and insight that we have regarding its many aspects?

Is my insight increased by what I know of Levi-Strauss: that the relation between father and son and wife and the oldest brother of the wife, and all that grammar that is indeed recurrent in many mythological traditions? Certainly, very interesting: how we can now see, even in this field where we have no approach at all, some rationality, and how fine! How we feel superior! Is it really the point of what we experience in reading or in seeing the tragedy of King Oedipus? How we are superior?

Psychoanalysis and Literary Meaning

What about psychoanalysis? Indeed I think no modern student is able to forget that King Oedipus has something to do with Freud! And so, certainly, he feels some immediate associations with things like incest, castration, [inaudible] all in this very interesting field of the mechanics of the subconscious. Probably, it has real scientific validity, not only a therapeutical one; but that is another problem. And I will not discuss the scientific validity of psychoanalysis. I will assume for the moment it is scientifically validated.

Would you say that to look to the tragedy gives us now an enriched insight into what happened there? Do you think the message of this poem is now more deeply grasped and accepted, since I feel this superiority in making reference to Freud and to say: Ah! Yes, yes! I know, of course, it’s incest; that is clear! Is it not much more so to get another, and I think a more old fashioned but not quite past approach?

King Oedipus, yes, of course: he was an underprivileged man, he should not have killed the man who would not yield in the crossway, so he is guilty. He had guilt and he is then punished, and in the whole tragedy with all these involvements; the gods are cruel and so because he was not disciplined enough as a traveler, he became this tragic hero. This is also obviously nonsense. It is something we learned: the French and German theory of theatre; the theory of the tragic guilt and punishment.

But obviously this also is not an apparatus for our understanding King Oedipus. When we are not open enough to accept that in the blindness of this man who runs with insistence into his own catastrophe; when we are not exposed by it to the feeling that we are, so blind we are, when it is not a recognition of our own human life situation; and when it is not a certain analysis even, by looking to the tragedy, that we realize our own blindness, without suffering the same pain of the hero; the catharsis theory of Aristotle is much better than the moralistic account or, I think, the elucidations by modern scientific advancements.

And so I think this paradigm may illustrate why our learning in scholarship, and in literary criticism and in languages and in mythology and in history and in psychology is not sufficient. And so, I know, of course, the general disappointment of young people, when they begin to study literary criticism, that they have to learn so many things which are not fulfilling their own expectation concerning learning how to read and to speak more vigorously than they could do on their own. Even when that is all conceded, I would nevertheless say It is not just our own private decision. It is exactly the way in which human tradition goes on — just by our surrender to the voices of the work of art, especially; but of course also to many other voices of the past. It is exactly by this surrender that human life conveys its own richness. And, perhaps, you will allow me to finish my presentation with a quite short allusion to a Platonic insight.

Plato speaks at the Banquet 20about Eros, an almost divine figure which is always in the metaxy, of which Dr. Voegelin spoke last evening. This metaxy  between the mortal and the divine; this longing for, this tension towards all this, is in Eros. Then, there is a special illustration. And this illustration says, that also in our human cultural activities we are doing the same as Eros does in the other forms of animals; the species survives by reproduction. That is the biological law of life.

Human life must do the same with its own human riches. No knowledge is definitively fixed; it must be renewed; it must be reproduced, like the species in the realm of living beings must reproduce themselves by individuals. The whole life of art, of knowledge, is an infinite process of re-enacting and just that is the form of human immortality.21 This is the Platonic description. Of course it is much more beautiful than my poor reproduction of it in my English. I hope, in the end, you see that behind this whole question is a basic problem of our culture: is it mastering of things or is it preserving and participating in the richness of our human world? The central task of humanity and, I think, the limitations of our mastering the world, should no longer be forgotten.



1. Frederick Lawrence of Boston College

2. KGW II/4 (Kritische Gesamtausgabe Werke abbreviated as KGW); see Christian Emdem, Nietzsche on Language, Consciousness, and the Body, 2005, p. 14

3. Philipp Melanchthon (1479-1560)

4. Friedrich Schliermacher (1768-1834)

5. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833-1911)

6. Phillip August Böckh (1785-1867)

7. Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)

8. R.G. Collingwood (1889-1943)

9. Nietzsche in Beyond Good and Evil, Part  8, quoting Goethe.

10. Emanuel Kant (1724-1804); the idea of genius is found in the Critique of Judgment

11. See Rainer Maria Rilke poem on frontispiece of Gadamer’s Truth and Method: “Solang du Selbstgeworfnes fängst

12. Roman Jacobson (1896-1982)

13. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938)

14. See, Paul Ricoeur, Time and Narrative, 3 vols., with copious references to Northrop Frye

15. Phillip August Böckh (1705-1867)

16.  Goethe’s poem is better known as “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (“The Traveler’s Night Journey II”)

Wandrers Nachtlied II

Über allen Gipfeln
Ist Ruh,
In allen Wipfeln
Spürest du
Kaum einen Hauck;
Die Vögelein schweigen in Walde.
Warte nur, balde
Ruhest du auch.

(The Traveler’s Night Song II)

Over the hilltops

It is peaceful,

In the tree-tops

You feel

hardly a breath:

In the woods the little birds are silent.

Only wait a little, and soo

You too will have peace.)

17. See, N. Frye, The Secular Scripture, p. 188/CW vol. 18, p. 124: “real silence is the end of speech, not the stopping of it”

18. “Auf eine Lampe” (“To a Lamp”) by Eduard Morike

Noch unverruckt, o schone Lampe, schmuckest du

An leichten Ketten zierlich aufgehangen hier,

Die Decke des nun fast vergebnen Lustgemachs.

Auf deiner weiben Marmorschale, deren Rand

Der Efeukranz von goldengrunem Erz umflicht,

Schlingt frohlich eine Kinderschar den Ringelreihn.

Wie reizend alles! lachend, und ein sanfter Geist

Des Ernstes doch ergossen um die ganze Form –

Ein Kunstgebild der echten Art. Wer achtet sein?

Was aber schon ist, selig scheint es in ihm selbst.

(Yet unmoved, you beautiful lamp, gracefully suspended here by light chains, you ador

The ceiling of this almost forgotten folly

About your cup of white marble, whose rim

Is enshrouded with a wreath of ivy golden-green,

A group of children join hands in a circle dance.

How charming is this! Smiling a gentle spirit

Of gravity descends indeed about the image –

An artwork of the authentic form. Who notices it?

True beauty radiates from a light within.)

19. Emil Staiger (1908-1987), Leo Spitzer (1887-1960); See, Staiger, Heidegger Correspondence;  For Staiger the word “scheint”  was to be understood in the sense of external appearance (videtur) and hence the poem is a comment on the classical concept of vanitas. But for Heidegger, the word had the meaning of the English term which derives from it, namely, “shine,” or the Latin that Heidegger mentions, lucet.  In this case, of course, the poem takes quite a different sense, namely a reference to an inner beauty following the classical ideal — an ideal that matches the esthetic perception of writers such as Schiller. Nicholas Graham.

20  Plato’s  Dialogue, TheSymposium

21. Recreating Frye’s Creating and Recreating, CW vol. 4, 200, pp. 23-35


This is transcribed from the video of a November 24, 1978 lecture at York University, Toronto: “Hermeneutics and Structuralism: Merging Horizons.” Nicholas William Graham organized this conference and has given us the transcript to use here at VoegelinView. 

Hans-Georg GadamerHans-Georg Gadamer

Hans-Georg Gadamer

Hans-Georg Gadamer (1900-2002) was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his book, Truth and Method (1960).

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