Revolution Lullabye

August 30, 2007

CCR 691 Palmer Notes

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 5:10 pm

Wild, John, ed. Northwestern University Studies in Phenomenology & Existential Philosophy. 3-71.

“Chapter 1: Introduction”

What is hermenuetics? There is no coherent definition, even though several fields (theology, literary criticism, etc.) are using it. Therefore, this book attempts to clarify the meaning and the scope of the term hermenuetics, taking into account its slipperary nature and providing bibliographic references for future study. Another purpose of the book is to “delineate the matrix of considerations within which American literary theorists can meaningfully repone the question of interpretation [literary] on a philosophical level prior to all considerations of application in techniques of literary analysis” (5). Modern literary interpretation is scientific in approach: it sees the text out of context and objectively, without a sense of history, a complete separation between the text and the reader, strict analysis. Texts are to be dissected. This is wrong, the author contends. Texts are human and cannot be understood completely with a cold, scientific analysis – texts speak, and we need a “humanistic understanding of what interpretation of a work involves” (7). Truly understanding the full nature of text means risking one’s own sense of reality. There is a difference between a work (made by humans) and an object (not necessarily made by humans); there needs to be a new literary theory that allows scholars to interpret works, not just analyze objects. This requires a historical and humanistic lens. A full theory of hermeneutics involves a broader vision of interpretation – it’s not just about the text, but about human thinking and understanding. It also is not limited to language, but includes interpretation of all art and all of the humanities – all works of men – and could be seen as a theoretical foundation for all of the humanities disciplines.

Quotable Quotes

In American literary interpretation, “we have forgotten that the literary work is not a manipulatble object completely at our disposal; it is a human voice out of the past, a voice which must somehow be brought to life. Dialogue, not dissection, opens up the world of a literary work” (7).

“Hermenuetics is the study of understanding, especially the taks of understanding texts. Natural science has methods of understanding natural objects; “works” require a hermeneutic, a ‘science’ of understanding appropriate to works as works” (8).

Hermeneustics “tries to hold together two areas of understanding theory: the question of what is involved in the event of understanding a text, and the question of what understading itself is in its most foundational and ‘existential’ sense” (10). Hermeneutics sees the understanding and interpretation of a text to go way beyond the text itself; a text is a window on what it means to be human, and therefore an interpretation of it (not strict analysis) must take into account a larger historical understanding and new theories for grasping that understanding.

Notable Notes

Hermeneutics seems like a useful lens for evaluating student work – you can’t just analyze it as an object (even though sometimes, with the scope and purpose of studies, that is sufficient) but you must understand the entire situation that surrounds the text – the circumstances of time, place, writer, reader, etc. It’s a lot more work but it strives to understand the text more authentically and fully.

“Chapter 2: Hermeneuein and Hermeneia: The Modern Significance of Their Ancient Usage.”

The root of the word hermeneutics comes from the Greek “to interpret” and “interpretation,” with ties to the Greek god Hermes, the messenger god, whose duty was to translate what was unknown to humans into what would be intelligible for human beings. He is credited with the discovery of langauge and writing, what humans use to understand the world. There are three basic directions of meaning for the ancient Greek words: to say (express out loud with words); to explain (a situation); and to translate (into another language) – all mean in English to interpret, but in different senses. In all, something unknown is “brought to understanding;” in both literary analysis and theology (who use hermeneutics for interpretation), then, it is making something distant seem near and have significance. The author makes the point that even silent reading is oral interpretation (to say) and that the oral makes the written complete (17). Christianity was about the spoken, not the written, Word, meant to be proclaimed out loud. Hermeneutical theory tries to recapture the full meaning of spoken, oral, and lived language that is held captive in text.

Quotable Quotes

“Rapid, silent reading is a phenomenon brought on by printing” (19).

The Bible: “It is a message, a ‘proclamation,’ and is meant to be read aloud, and meant to be heard. It is not a set of scientific principles; it is a reality of a different order from that of scientific truth. It is a reality which is to be understood as an historical story, a happening to be heard. A principle is scientific; a happening is historical. The rationality of a principle is not that of an event. In this deeper sense of the word ‘historical,’ literature and theology are disciplines more strictly ‘historical’ than ‘scientiric.’ The interpretational processes appropriate to science are different from the intepretational processes appropriate to historical happenings, or to the happenings theology or literature tries to understand” (19).

“Language, as it emerges from nonbeing, is not signs but sound. It loses some of its expressive power (and therefore its meaning) when it is reduced to visual images – the silent world of space. Therefore theology and literary interpretation must retransform writing into speech. The principles of understanding which enable this transformation constitute a major concern of modern hermeneutical theory” (20).

“Meaning is a matter of context; the explanatory procedure provides the arena for understanding. Only within a specific context is an event meaningful” (24).

“Explanation is grounded in preunderstanding, so that prior to any meaningful explanation, [the interpreter/performer] must enter the horizon of the subject and situation. He must in his own understanding grasp and be grasped by the text. His stance in this encounter, the preunderstanding of the material and situation which he must bring to it, the whole proble, in other words, of the merging of his horizon of understanding with the horizon of understanding which comes to meet him in the text – this is the dynamic complexity of interpretation. It is the ‘hermeneutical problem'” (26).

Notable Notes

Hermeneutics is concerned with making meaning – with connecting what the text offers to the reader and the world today. It is about establishing and understanding significance in the most full, human way. This knowledge and understanding cannot be grasped through strict objective scientific analysis; rather, there must be new theories and modern ways of saying, explaining, and translating.

“Chapter 3: Six Modern Definitions of Hermeneutics”

 Hermeneutics has been taken up in six different ways, highlighting six different kinds of interpretation: 1. biblical 2. philological 3. scientific 4. geistewissenschaftliche 5. existential 6. cultural. The earliest form was the principles of biblical interpreation from the 17th century. To understand human beings and interpret their actions and words, you need historical, not scientific, understanding.

Geistewissenschaften – all disciplines focused on understanding man’s art, actions, and writings (41).

“Chapter 4: The Contemporary Battle over Hermeneutics: Betti versus Gadamer”

There are two camps of understanding hermeneutics: either it is a collection of principles (a method) used for interpretation of texts or it is a “philosophical exploration of the character and requisite conditions for all understanding” (46). The first proposes that a text can be interpreted on its own and the interpreter must try to understand the text in its own historical situation; the latter acknowledges that all understanding is historical and connected to the present, but is prone to relativism and questions historical knowledge itself.

The debate is: “One the one side are the defenders of objectivity and validation, who look to hermeneutics as the theoretical source for nroms of validation; on the other side are the phenomenologicsts of the event of understanding, who stress the historical character of this ‘event,’ and consequently the limitations of all claims to objective knowledge’ and ‘objective validity” (65).

“Chapter 5: The Meaning and Scope of Hermeneutics”

All the disagreements over the purpose and meaning of hermeneutics (with questions of what can be known, the role of the author, etc.) are not harmful to hermeneutics; one theory does not invalidate the other – they are all ways of interpretation. It asks what understanding is. The focus of the study of hermeneutics is a dual one: it involves both what it means to understand and what it means to interpret and understand a particular text. Many disciplines  – both those that explicitly deal with langauge and those that don’t – can benefit from a hermeneutical investigation.


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