Studies in Contemporary Phenomenology, Volume 23
Reviewed by: Sandro Herr (Bergischen Universität Wuppertal)
It is a unique quality shown in philosophical books, when they manage to treat topics which concern philosophy in a fundamental sense without falling prey to banal commonplaces or turmoil by endlessly adding relevant contexts. “A study in relation” (3), as Peter Hanly refers to his recent book Between Heidegger and Novalis, would precisely fulfil the criteria for such a topic. Yet, Hanly demonstrates stupendously well how to avoid said dilemma. His study is guided by a specific thinking of «between-ness» that “introduces a dynamic tension into the category of relation by conceiving it in terms of contradictory energies of separation, dispersion, pulling- apart, and gathering or converging” (3). Said between, as Hanly wants to show, comes from a heraclitean idea of harmonia which Heidegger and Novalis share as the common source for core elements of their thinking (7). The book is divided into two parts, eight chapters and an epilogue. Chapter transitions will be marked by the end of the paragraphs in the review at hand. Each part of Hanly’s study highlights an aspect of the between, the former its “Fertility” in Novalis and the latter “Pain” in Heidegger (16). Both parts explore these aspects in various philosophical areas, be they materialistic, idealistic, linguistic, or ontological, but also performative, rhetorical, or dramaturgical. Furthermore, by reconstructing historical and systematic contexts, Hanly gives insight into developments of both thinkers individually. In doing so, Hanly provides the reader not only with a vividly detailed depiction of each philosopher’s thinking regarding the question of between, but he also indirectly shows how the ambiguous relation of Heidegger and Novalis displays itself said between-ness. To outline the most important arguments of the book, I shall give a summary of both its parts followed by a few critical remarks at the end of the review.
Oftentimes, Novalis is neglected as an autonomous philosophical thinker. Heidegger, for example, illegitimately associates him with Hegel’s dialectical idealism (11) or merely uses him as authoritative reference (8). The first part of Hanly’s book makes it clear, among other things, that this view is not tenable. Quite the contrary, there is a highly original torsion of speculative philosophy and empirical naturalism in Novalis’ thinking.
The first context in which Hanly elaborates the notion of between is Novalis’ account on metaphor. Phrases such as “all is seed” (19) and the frequent use of terms like “dissolution”, “elasticity” or “fluidity” (22) demonstrate an affinity with the natural world that Novalis incorporates in his writings. For Novalis, however, metaphor is not simply an instrument that allows the illumination of abstract concepts. Much rather, it works as an “interweaving of registers such that a movement of exchange takes place, one in which the relations between concrete determination and ideational figuration seem to dissolve.” (24) Already here we find an implicit criticism of a hierarchical order between philosophy and poetry. Nonetheless, Hanly underlines that Novalis does not simply invert their relation. His understanding of metaphor derives itself from a philosophical endeavor, where philosophy becomes “the poem of the understanding” (26). To fully grasp the new fashion of this interpretation, one must trace back Novalis’ thinking to its roots in the early Fichte-Studies and, at the same time, not reduce his style of writing to an abstract ground (26). According to Hanly, the relation of I and not-I is the “crucible” (29) for Novalis. In Fichte there is the positing activity of the I which has already occurred in formalizations such as I = I or also I = not-I. This logic of activity or productivity becomes fragile for Novalis because the formalizations as such do not reveal any prioritization (29) and, counter to that, they explicitly stand for a limitation (33) that renders their relation less unilateral. While Fichte himself senses these problems, only Novalis shows the rigor to contest the recourse to an ultimate principle consequently. Instead, he keeps an “insistence on movement, on the motility of the exchange between I and not-I that governs their equivalence” (34). As Hanly underlines, abstraction from then on will be the transforming work of thought for Novalis, “effecting ‘logarithmic change’ upon both the obduracy of the sensible world and the ideality of the I” (36), where everything is unified or “chaos is transformed into a manifold world” (36) but unified only as free and self-determined beings. Novalis develops his very own “rigor of variation and combination” that he will retain throughout his oeuvre and most fully in his encyclopedic project Das Allgemeine Brouillon (59). Therein, abstraction becomes a specific task of the imagination. Other than just picturing things, imagination keeps various polarities in the state of hovering or, as Hanly puts it, of between (38).
The aforementioned philosophical consequence of Novalis becomes comprehensible if one understands where his thinking is initially situated. Reaching for a better understanding of the faculty of imagination and its hovering especially, Hanly addresses himself to Kant’s concept of «ideal» and Fichte’s «intellectual intuition» (39). Kant tries to understand the ideal as an Urbild without further instantiation that excludes any sort of oscillation which he then allocates to the so-called “schwebende Zeichnungen” (40). Whereas Fichte develops different models, circular and linear, to solve the problems of the oscillatory imagination that he himself recognizes. However, each of the models serves the purpose of banning the characteristic instability of the “hovering” by attributing a clear function to the faculty of imagination. It is only Novalis who unhinges the hovering of the between by revealing the inconsistencies of Fichte’s approach and by asking of the hovering: “What if we were really to take seriously its determinative instability, and orient our account around the effects that such an uncertainty introduces?” (47). Thus, I and not-I are not to be understood as “mutually determining poles, mediated by a “between” space” (50) but as markers, as words of coalescence which are the result of the perpetual movement of a between (52). But as Hanly carves out in several of Novalis’ writings, the overall approach goes further. By questioning why there are dichotomous oppositions everywhere (52), Novalis extends his criticism towards a primordiality of dichotomic relations in general. At last, this leads him to an “absolute sphere” of relation, of connectivity or of not-word (52) that synthesizes dichotomies (53). Based on this, the idea of an oscillatory movement between nodes (55) becomes predominant for Novalis. From “zones of visible and invisible, ideal and real” (56) or abstract and concrete, philosophy and poetry, Hanly lists the numerous nodes which are mutually exchangeable, involved in a constant reciprocal movement (56).
“Fragile and Fundamental” (56), as Hanly poses it, this between becomes the axis around which Novalis’ writing evolves. As an act of non-reductive mapping and intertwining, he ceaselessly advances to new territories. With his Encyclopaedia project, Novalis attempts a writing that abides by a “Combinationslehre” (62) about the scattering and dispersion of word-seeds and which at the same time gathers “into a totality” (61). In this regard, Hanly also finds Novalis’ “close involvement with the Schlegel brothers and with the sympraxis of the Athenaeum project” (68). But as demonstrated, he goes even one step further. In concordance with Blanchot’s criticism, Novalis does not only use the fragment in a way that the content works as “the mere illustration of a dynamics of the formal dance of writing.” (69) Much rather, he “pushes precisely towards a fusion of form and content” (70), where through the gathering of their between-space both mirror each other and dissolve their boundaries (72). As the overarching experience in the background of this phase, Hanly reconstructs the time Novalis spent at the Mining Academy under the influential presence of Abraham Gottlob Werner (74). Engaging with his studies, Novalis gains important insights in mineralogy and the natural sciences. For Werner, there is a “natural order” of description that “involves the coordination of a series of sensible traits with a certain kind of linguistic ordering” (75). While on the one hand Novalis shares the same kind of interest as Werner, he sharply criticizes him on the other. In analogy to his Fichte-Studies (79), Novalis spots a lack of engagement with the question of the between in Werner as he
fails to discern the possible transition — from the external characters to the inner constituents, or from symptomatics to chemistry, and yet this is the main approach for solving this problem. (78)
Just as minerals, stones and solid-state objects in general are exposed to transformative chemical processes, in his “Encyclopaedia” Novalis subjects the solidity of the word to liquefaction, to “fluid rhythms of gathering and dissolution” (80).
With that in mind, Hanly lastly turns to Novalis’ novel Die Lehrlinge von Saïs, which he says is best interpreted through the lens of Schelling’s First Outline of a System of the Philosophy of Nature (82). Other than Kant, who constructs nature as an interaction of active and passive forces, Schelling tries to abolish this dichotomy by grasping nature as “determining itself in and through its activity” (83) and as a force that dissolves everything (86). Drawing inspiration from here, Novalis wants to realize this nature of between at the level of writing (88) and planned, as noted in a letter to Tieck, great transformations of his project (89). He died the following year and so Die Lehrlinge von Saïs was left unrealized in that respect. Nonetheless, Hanly sees the written word as explicitly responsible for the rhythm of natural liquefication here, because
like Schelling’s natural object, but seemingly intimately bound up with writing: each figure, emerging from the play of gathering, seems to “belong to that great cipher- script” [Chiffernschrift ] that we “glimpse” everywhere (92).
The sense of lost plenitude, of dispersion (95), introduces a longing into the world and can only ever be restored “in the form of new ‘mixings’, new bindings— new configurations of connectivity” (96). At the end of the first part, Hanly requires us to ask for the resonance that Novalis’ thinking might have in our own. For Hanly, turning back to the very motif of his study, it is a “poetics of materiality: poetry names the word insofar as it emerges from and as a zone of relation between the human and the natural world. Poetry, thought thus, is relation” (98).
In the second part of his study, Hanly starts off with Heidegger’s reflections on Trakl. The primary intention of this second part is to map out the subject of pain as another facet of between. In this regard, pain is “the tension of a play of belonging such that what is kept apart is joined in that very separation, and what is joined is kept apart in its very joining” (103). However, with pain, the tensioned between-space we found at the core of Novalis’ thinking “is possessed of an entirely different affectivity” (104). Thus, Hanly follows the path of Heidegger’s thoughts on pain and its “semantic complex” (106) starting off from its most explosive appearance in the Bremen Lectures from 1949, then back to texts from the seynsgeschichtliche phase such as Das Ereignis, and to its later occurrence in Unterwegs zur Sprache (106). Pain in Heidegger is the rift “— a rending or tearing, an opening, a gap —” (108) as a central possibility of the human. As a rift it exceeds the limits of how the human being is construed. This results from an “’opening’, in which the differential structure that Heidegger calls ‘the fourfold’ emerges as such” (108), as a grounding structure of the world. However, leaving aside this notion for a moment, Hanly initially focuses on the concealment that suffering brings about pain which actually “is closer to us, more intimate” (109). It has the capacity to expose this danger of concealing, thereby acknowledging its own “hidden proximity” or “nearness” (109). Other than in Sein und Zeit (112), as Hanly mentions, nearness here is not to be understood in spatial terms. The positioning of a coffin, for example, implies a different nearness because “what is effected in this nearing is the determination of a world that gathers itself around an absence” (113). With Hanly’s elaborations on the first two of the Bremen Lectures, the coffin is much rather a “thing” than an “oppositionally objective” (114). It “draws together like a net” (115) the different interrelations of the world to let them eventuate and thus manifests the same dynamic of between around which Hanly’s study revolves (116). The consonances in which Heidegger expresses this dynamic such as «das Dingen des Dinges» are not merely rhetorical according to Hanly (117). Instead, “the rhythm of their sounding” (118) tends towards an «Einklang» (117) or a concordance of thing and world. This concordance could dissolve any sense of difference which is why Heidegger himself in the Appendix begins to suspect a “collapse of ’nearness’” (118).
As opposed to the «thing», pain as the rift and rending will be “the insistent reinscription of difference” in the third lecture. For Hanly, this contrast corresponds with a language of pain “that both considers pain and makes it manifest” (120), and for which he seeks out first signs in Das Ereignis but that “first comes clearly to the fore” (122) in the texts of the 1950s. As already indicated in the Beiträge, the between will no longer be the thread that connects structural elements of the world and that in so doing “remains subordinate to the poles it conjoins, […] fixing and reinforcing their complementarity” (125). Instead, it will “be given a kind of priority, to speak in a voice that does not defer to the complexes it separates” (125). The locus of said between will then be Dasein itself, not in a spatial sense but because it is the between more strictly (126), e.g., between men and God as elements of worldliness. Hanly investigates the experience of pain in Dasein along different aspects. He shows that while Heidegger rejects the tendency of Jünger to reify pain as the object of a relation (128), he resonates with the ideas of Nietzsche as he interprets pain as the erratic betweenness or oneness of terror and bliss (130, 135). Affiliate notions of pain are also identified by Hanly in Heidegger’s reading of Hölderlin. This especially concerns the Hyperion, where Hölderlin explores the subject of leave-taking both narratively and metaphorically (140) and what is then, as affective domain, brought into a connection with the thinking of difference or Unterschied by Heidegger (142). Furthermore, in this context, pain must be thought in its relation to Stimmung, that constitutes the possibility of «there» in Da-sein as it “hears the pain of its dislocation, and thus ‘accords’ with that pain” (133). As Stimmung belongs to Dasein, it is equally irreducible to oppositional poles and therefore to be understood as “a pulling-away from the stable orderings of sensible and intelligible and into the unstable domain of a between” (134). Having followed the path of Heidegger’s thinking through all these different stations, Hanly arrives at a question:
[W]hat, fundamentally, is the relation of pain and language […] The question, then, will be whether it is possible to hear in language the same tension of gathering and pulling apart, the same primal movement of a one always differentiated in itself that seemed to mark out the space of pain in Heidegger’s discourse (134).
The cited question is of major importance for the rest of his book but before arriving at this language of pain, Hanly wants to approach the subject of «inception» or «beginning». He does so in the so-called “seynsgeschichtlich project”, (144) which “is never far from the question of difference, of the pain of difference” (144). Apart from describing the «there» of Dasein as an “agonistic between-space” (145), Heidegger also offers another way to think it. In the seynsgeschichtlich treatises, “Dasein is the crisis between first and other beginnings” (145). But as Hanly underlines with regard to the Beiträge, the relation of «first» and «other» beginnings “must be seen to break out of the constraints a chronology would impose on them” (148). They are therefore beyond a metaphysical narrative of progression. The goal is to think another kind of confluence between being, event and inception, where «what is» no longer precedes «what occurs» (149). According to Hanly, the inception describing the there-ness of Dasein is a singularity which “must be given over to an original multiplicity.” This multiplicity consists in the fact that “in the ‘uniqueness of its incipience’, the inception is fractured, sundered” (152). Hanly then approaches this problem of inception from three different perspectives, “the thought of repetition, the thought of confrontation, and the thought of belonging” (153). Repetition signifies the inherent structure of inception. It means that inception is never just «the same», but it becomes itself by self-division, “it reaches ahead and thus encroaches differently each time on that which it itself initiates” (155). From the aspect of confrontation, it is important to note that neither are different inceptions opposed to one another in the sense of a counter-direction, nor does one of them sublate the other. Much rather, as Hanly puts it
Inception, we are told, is “assigned” or “allotted” (zugewiesen) to its other. The sense of this assignment seems to be that of an ineluctable and necessary gathering: Heidegger says indeed that the “other inception” “must be the only other” in relation to the uniqueness of the first beginning. (159)
Thirdly, the aspect of belonging is the other side of this specific form of non-oppositional negation. First and other belong together, because they are different, “but yet cannot be withdrawn from the fracture that binds them” and not resolved in the unicity of a whole (160). All three aspects undermine a logic of timely progression. In their light, and because of the multiple senses of the word «inception», Hanly says that “perhaps words themselves halt, reaching a kind of limit, a breaking-point in which a silence, a Sprachlosigkeit will come to dominance” (161).
For the last chapter of his book, Hanly elaborates more deeply on the relation of language and pain. To this end, Hanly argues for an “irruptive pain of the word” (163) that Heidegger foregrounds with a particular style of writing. A central influence here comes from Herder’s Treatise on the Origin of Language. In Herder’s thinking, it is crucial that human experience is unspecified, “his forces of soul [Seelenkräfte] are distributed over the world” (165). Hanly sketches out how this dispersion is linked to the origin of language, because “the word, for Herder, will be torn out of this dispersive field: a mark, scarring the indifferent surface of sensation” (165). However, this word or mark cannot simply be reduced to the acoustic. Hanly shows how, according to both Heidegger and Herder, there is a dimension of gathering between the multiplicity of the sensually given and the expressed sound. This dimension is the mark understood as hearing and thus hearing “is to be of the non-sonorous as much as of the sonorous” (168). Coming back to the subject of Dasein, the point is that it is itself the mark of hearing. The «there» of Dasein is thus a figure of between that avoids metaphysical opposition. It carries silence in and as breaking, in-between, being “precisely the index of this movement, the crossing that the mark effects” (169). Finally, this ambivalence of the mark, the word as joining and tearing apart becomes manifest in a new sense of system. With Heidegger’s view on Schelling’s Philosophical Investigations into the Essence of Human Freedom in mind, Hanly interprets the Beiträge as the execution of this systematicity. Hanly says that when Heidegger is writing “’a legitimate renunciation of system can only originate from an essential insight into it’ (GA 42: 46/24), what he is requiring of us is an experience that fully acknowledges the necessity of system before it can move beyond it” (172). Pursuant to the etymology of «sunistemi», which translates to “placing together”, system can mean two things: on the one hand, it merely means “accumulation and patchwork” of extrinsic, indiscriminate elements (173). On the other hand, it refers to the order, manner, or content according to which elements are intrinsically composed. What the Beiträge are purposefully exposing after Hanly is that at the very core, any gathering will produce both kinds of joinings, extrinsic and intrinsic (173). Regarding each gesture of thinking, Heidegger says that “they unfold, on the one hand, necessarily in sequence, each adding to the force, the urgency (Eindringlichkeit) of the others, while at the same time, each says always ‘the same of the same’” (174). This movement of thought in language is enabled by the fundamental attunement which is “in a tense relation with that “coming to word””(175), although there is no word for itself. The fundamental attunement hovers between verbal determinations, it is characterized by a principal namelessness, by a failing of the word which makes it “accessible only to a thinking that belongs in a primary way to silence” (175). Therefore, the style of this thinking is one of restraint, as only “Erschweigung, as Heidegger calls it, can play out fully the demands of the systematic” (176) as it circulates around silence, unfolding it each time anew. Only with this writing and its peculiar rigor the task of philosophy can be most fully realized.
In the epilogue, Hanly underlines for one last time the importance of the motif of harmonia in Heraclitus that guides his study time and time again. The join of harmonia appears in multiple different configurations, which explains the plenitude of contexts that Hanly references throughout his book (178). However, there is a danger that lurks precisely in this multiplicity, namely that the harmonia is “just another metaphysical structure, a form that underpins or overlays the multiple modes of its encounter: a schema, in other words” (178). But it implies a specific nothingness, as it is nothing but joining, only apparent in multiple concrete contexts without “coalescing into a uniform conceptual structure” (178). Also, Heidegger and Novalis are historical possibilities of its appearance and perhaps even the between of them, “the resonance of their work is best felt together, conjointly” (179). Through Hanly who, one could say, produces this resonance with his book, “it could be that, if we listen, we will hear it too” (181).
In conclusion, Hanly’s study is convincing in various respects. The abundance of the collected material, the depth of the connections made regarding the subject of between-ness and the original dramaturgy of the book as an indirect comparison being only some of them. From a critical perspective, there are nonetheless two objections that I want to raise in the following. The first concerns a programmatic issue. Although Hanly says that the relation between Novalis and Heidegger is itself manifold, he divides his book in respect of a very univocal claim towards their contrast (16). Novalis thinks the between as fertility, Heidegger thinks the between as pain. First and foremost, Hanly does not really treat fertility in Novalis as a concept of its own right, whereas regarding Heidegger he gives an in-depth reconstruction of an explicit line of thought that makes pain its subject, giving numerous explanations and references. This imbalance is further mirrored in the mere amount of mentions of “fertility” in the first part of the book on Novalis. Here, the reader finds the expression only three times (60, 98) and even the reason for its usage remains opaque. One time, Hanly links it to the motif of seed (60), which is used several times as a specific, non-reductive thought-image of the between (20, 36), and the other time he speaks of it is when it occurs together with notions such as generative force, increase, words that blossom, proliferation, germination, or explosion (96), appearing almost synonymously with them. Furthermore, the claimed divergence between fertility and pain does not really hold up to scrutiny. When I and not-I, for example, become the poles of a movement of exchange that is a “chaotic motility” (50) then it remains questionable why this chaotic character is particularly fertile and not equally well limiting or determining. The same applies when Hanly names the between a “zone of fragility” (56) that is characterized by “porosity” and “volatility” (56), or when he highlights the «word» as between-space that is “amid the fluid rhythms of gathering and dissolution” (80). All these aspects stand against the highlighting of the aspect of fertility because they speak just as much for the opposite side of pain. This is also true if we do not presuppose our own understanding of pain but that to which Hanly’s study itself relates to, namely Heidegger’s. Not only because Heidegger speaks of a “pain of inceptual separation” which is precisely between gathering and separation or fracture (136) but also vice versa, as the pain in Dasein always already implies bliss as well as it marks a point of transition in its «there» which hovers “between ‘recollective energies’ and the possibilities of an ‘other inception’” (174). Considering these things, the reader finds no clue why they are not exemplary aspects of fertility alike. For all these reasons, the claimed contrast between fertility and pain appears as if it would only serve dramaturgic purposes of the book and as a means of dividing it into parts, parts that by their content however deconstruct this very dramaturgy.
The second of my objections concerns a methodological problem. It appears repeatedly as if Hanly would presuppose the central thesis of his study as an implicit hermeneutic method. I will try to illuminate this by pointing out two examples, one concerning Novalis and one Heidegger. Firstly, while searching for the philosophical grounds of Novalis’ thinking, Hanly cites the fragment that goes: “like us, the stars hover alternatingly between illumination and darkening” (27). Without giving a reason in the same context, he says that this fragment must be seen as something different than just a poetic ornamentation of a philosophical ground. Afterwards, he suddenly generalizes the argument and says that regarding the thought of between, its philosophical ground is being forsaken and still must be considered (27). And then, lastly, from the same fragment it is said that it can be used as a passageway back to these philosophical grounds. Shortly after, the hovering of the fragment is itself the between and should moreover negotiate the relation of philosophy and poetry (37). Then, eventually, the hovering will be thematized all from Kant’s theory of drawing to Fichte’s thoughts on intellectual intuition and Novalis’ Fichte Studies. Here it turns out to be not just a passageway but the very core of Novalis’ speculations (55). My critique is not about right or wrong, but about the way in which Hanly creates his line of thought. He both gathers several contexts in which variations of his major thought appear and disjunctive as the steps therein are often mediated vaguely. With regard to Heidegger, one can perceive something similar. Heidegger says that inception retains a multiplicity of senses and only thereby keeps open its incipience, meaning the principal possibility of (new) inceptions. In the face of this, Hanly says that “perhaps words themselves halt” and that a speechlessness will be dominant (161). Although it is only ‘perhaps’ the case, Hanly proceeds to the next chapter of his book and assumes this premise categorically, so that he can now reflect on speechlessness. Then, referencing Heidegger who says “In the first inception: wonder. In the other inception: foreboding” (162), he links inceptions to fundamental attunements. Again, he leaps from ‘wonder’ and ‘foreboding’ to the gathering of terror and bliss (162) who are supposed to be analogous and map closely with each other. The reader does not find any other reason for this than the fact that Heidegger speaks of wonder and foreboding in terms of “recoil, of shock, of horror” (162). But neither is the analogy suitable, because bliss is not mentioned in this context at all, nor does speaking of something in the same words imply that the matter talked about is the same. Especially so, if the subject of gathering which is of central relevance for the relation of terror and bliss does not occur at all on the other side of the analogy. Nevertheless, this enables Hanly to move on to pain as a gathering of terror and bliss and finally to the question of a language of pain at which he aimed beforehand (134). Here, citing Heidegger’s saying that “pain has the word” (163), Hanly again categorically claims it would mean that the word itself is pain. He does not consider different interpretations, e.g., that pain has the word because as an attunement it discloses the understanding of the world in a certain manner. Hanly says that his remark is an iteration of an earlier passage, although he did not justify his interpretation even the first time (143). However, it allows him to equate pain with word and thereby proceed to the irruptive pain of the word that is “to be most clearly felt” (163) in the seynsgeschichtliche treatises. To put it briefly, oftentimes it seems as if Hanly would have his conclusion already in mind, whereupon he collects, not always justified, elements of Heidegger’s text that are suitable to arrive there. In other words, he conjuncts and separates textual material in the modus operandi of the very between-ness he wants to prove in these texts.
Reviewed by: Leen Verheyen (University of Antwerp)
In their introduction to The Cambridge Companion to Hermeneutics, editors Michael N. Forster and Kristin Gjesdal immediately make clear that the volume differs in approach from other, similar guides to hermeneutics. Whereas there are a number of volumes available that offer histories of hermeneutics or treatments of individual hermeneutical theorists, this book focuses on the question of how hermeneutical issues relate to different fields of study, such as theology, literature, history and psychoanalysis. In this way, the authors aim to demonstrate how hermeneutical thinking thrives and develops through concrete interdisciplinary reflection.
The book opens with an article on “Hermeneutics and Theology,” written by Christoph Bultman. In this essay, Bultman offers a historical overview of different approaches to the interpretation of religious texts and focuses in particular on the various approaches that were developed and debated during the German Enlightenment. Although Bultman offers a clear overview of different approaches within biblical hermeneutics, to a certain extent his precise aim and argument remain unclear, with the central questions behind his overview not made explicit.
In an interesting contribution in the second chapter, Dalia Nassar focuses on the way in which the study of nature in the eighteenth century involved hermeneutical methods and insights that transformed the way in which we approach and represent the natural world. In her essay, “Hermeneutics and Nature,” Nassar directs attention to the ideas of Buffon, Diderot and, especially, Herder. Nassar starts her investigation by highlighting the fact that the emergence of a hermeneutics of nature that can be found in their works must be understood in light of the liberalization of science in the mid-eighteenth century. This liberalization meant that science was no longer understood as founded on mathematics, which led to the introduction of new modes of knowledge in scientific research. According to Nassar, one of the important ideas within the development of a hermeneutics of nature in the eighteenth century was Herder’s concept of a “circle” or a “world.” If we want to understand the structure of a bird or a bee, we should focus on their relationship to the environment or world. Instead of being devoted to classifying animals or other forms of life into different categories, Herder thus directs his attention to grasping the particular “world” a certain creature inhabits and to the way this world is reflected in the structure of its inhabitants. Interpreting nature thus implies seeing the parts in their relation to the whole and, in turn, seeing how the whole is manifest in the parts.
In the following chapter, “Hermeneutics and Romanticism,” Fred Rush focuses on the form that hermeneutics took in German Romanticism, and in particular in the works of Schlegel, Schleiermacher and Humboldt. It is in their works that hermeneutics becomes concerned explicitly with methodological questions. Rush sketches the historical and philosophical circumstances in which this turn comes about.
In his chapter on “Hermeneutics and German Idealism,” Paul Redding also focuses on the emergence of a philosophical hermeneutics in the wake of an era of post-Kantian philosophy. In particular, he explores the different stances taken by hermeneutical philosophers such as Hamann and Herder, and idealist philosophers such as Fichte and Hegel, towards the relation between thought and language. Particularly interesting is his reading of the later Hegel, in which he emphasizes that Hegel can be read not as the abstract metaphysician he is often seen to be but as a philosopher engaged with hermeneutical issues.
In the following chapter, “Hermeneutics and History,” John H. Zammito explores the disciplinary self-constitution of history and the role of hermeneutics in that disciplinary constitution. Through this exploration, Zammito aims to show a way out of contemporary debates on the scientific status of disciplinary history. By investigating the views of Herder, Schleiermacher, Boeckh, Humboldt, Droysen and Dilthey, Zammito argues that the hermeneutical historicist’s attempt to give an account of the past is a cognitive undertaking and not a mystical one. The historian thus does not aim to relivethe past but to understand it. As Zammito’s exploration makes clear, such a view acknowledges the importance of the imagination in this practice, but at the same time ensures that this imagination is harnessed to interpretation, not unleashed fantasy.
Frederick C. Beiser also connects a contemporary debate to the period in which disciplinary history emerged. He starts his chapter on “Hermeneutics and Positivism” with the statement that the distinction between “analytic” and “continental” philosophy has a harmful effect on many areas of philosophy and that one of worst affected areas is the philosophy of history. Beiser notes that, starting in the 1950s, there was a sharp rise in interest in the philosophy of history among analytic philosophers in the Anglophone world, but that these analytic discourses almost completely ignored the German historicist and hermeneutical tradition. The main cost of this, Beiser argues, has been the sterility and futility of much recent philosophical debate, and in particular the long dispute about historical explanation. The dispute has been between positivists, who defend the thesis that covering laws are the sole form of explanation, and their idealist opponents, who hold that there is another form of explanation in history. One of the reasons this debate has now ended in a stand-off can be found in the neglect of alternative perspectives, and in particular that of the historicist and hermeneutical tradition. Beiser argues that if these perspectives had been taken into account by analytic philosophers, they would have recognized that there are goals and methods of enquiry other than determining the covering laws. Had they done so, their focus of attention may have shifted in the more fruitful direction of investigating the methods of criticism and interpretation that are actually used by historians. Beiser therefore concludes that the philosophy of history in the Anglophone world would be greatly stimulated and enriched if it took into account these issues and the legacy of the historicist and hermeneutical tradition.
In the subsequent chapter, “Hermeneutics: Nietzschean Approaches,” Paul Katsafanas explores several key points of contact between Nietzsche and the hermeneutical tradition. As Katsafanas notes, Nietzsche is deeply concerned with the way in which human beings interpret phenomena, but also draws attention to the ways in which seemingly given experiences have already been interpreted. By highlighting these two aspects, Katsafanas argues that it is not wrong to characterize Nietzsche as offering a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” as Paul Ricoeur suggested, but that this statement can easily be misinterpreted. As Katsafanas notes, the hermeneutics of suspicion is often understood as a stance which discounts the agent’s conscious understanding of a phenomenon and instead uncovers the real and conflicting cause of that phenomenon. Nietzsche is clearly doing more than this. According to Nietzsche, the fact that a conscious interpretation is distorting, superficial or falsifying does not mean that it can be ignored. On the contrary, these interpretations are of immense importance, because they often influence the nature of the interpreted object.
The following chapter, “Hermeneutics and Psychoanalysis,” also deals with one of the thinkers who Paul Ricoeur identified as developing a hermeneutics of suspicion, namely Sigmund Freud. In this chapter, Sebastian Gardner argues that there is an uneasy relationship between hermeneutics and Freud’s own form of interpretation. As Gardner shows, Freud may be regarded as returning to an early point in the history of hermeneutics, in which the unity of the hermeneutical project with the philosophy of nature was asserted. In line with this thought, which was abandoned by later hermeneutical thinkers, Freud can be seen as defending the idea that in order to make sense of human beings we must offer an interpretation of nature as a whole.
In “Hermeneutics and Phenomenology,” Benjamin Crowe explicates some of the fundamental insights and arguments behind the phenomenological hermeneutics developed by Heidegger and brought to maturity by Gadamer. Crowe shows how Heidegger opened up a radically new dimension of hermeneutical inquiry, because his conception of hermeneutics as a phenomenological enterprise intended to be a primordial science of human experience in its totality, and in this way took hermeneutics far beyond its traditional purview. By building on Heidegger’s approach, Gadamer developed this thought further, thinking through the distinctive role and value of humanistic inquiry in an age that prized exactitude and results above all else.
In “Hermeneutics and Critical Theory,” Georgia Warnke focuses on the critique of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics by Jürgen Habermas and Axel Honneth, two thinkers from the Frankfurt School of Critical Theory. Warnke starts her investigation by returning to Horkheimer’s description of critical theory and shows how these ideas form the basis of Habermas and Honneth’s philosophical framework. Taking Horkheimer’s framework as his starting point, Habermas seems to see many virtues in Gadamer’s philosophical ideas. Gadamer’s theory, for instance, begins with the social and historical situation, and in this way provides an alternative to the self-understanding of those forms of social science that assume they can extract themselves from the context. Habermas and Honneth nevertheless see Gadamer’s attitude to reflection as a problem, because his emphasis on the prejudiced character of understanding seems to give precedence to the authority of tradition and immediate experience instead of emphasizing the importance of reason and reflection. As Warnke shows, Gadamer’s response to this critique consists of showing that the dichotomies between reason and authority and between reflection and experience are not as stark as Habermas and Honneth suppose. We can, for instance, only question the authority of aspects of our tradition on the basis of other aspects, such as inherited ideals and principles that we do not question, just as we can only reflect on our experiences if we do not begin by distancing ourselves from them. Full transparency is therefore not possible.
In “Hermeneutics: Francophone Approaches,” Michael N. Forster focuses on the French contributions to hermeneutics during the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. In the first part of the chapter, Foster argues that the roots of German hermeneutics were largely French. German hermeneutics, for example, arose partly as a response to certain assumptions of the Enlightenment, one of which was the Enlightenment’s universalism concerning beliefs, concepts, values and sensations, etc. According to Forster, this anti-universalism of German hermeneutics was largely a French achievement and was exported from France to Germany. In particular, Montaigne and the early Montesquieu and Voltaire had developed an anti-universalist position, which emphasized, for example, profound differences in mindset between different cultures and periods.
In the second part of the chapter, Forster focuses on some key figures within twentieth-century French philosophy who contributed to the development of hermeneutics, despite not describing themselves as hermeneutical thinkers. One of them is Jean-Paul Sartre, who gave a central role to interpretation in his early existentialism developed in Being and Nothingness, where he included what Forster calls a hermeneutical theory of radical freedom: although we do not create the world itself, we do create the meanings or interpretations through which we become acquainted with it.
Paul Ricoeur is the only French thinker Forster discusses who not only contributed to hermeneutics but also regarded himself as a hermeneutical thinker. Forster, however, does not seem to regard Ricoeur’s philosophy as very attractive. According to Forster, Ricoeur’s most important contribution to hermeneutics lies in his development of the concept of a “hermeneutics of suspicion,” in this way drawing attention to the fact that three major philosophical developments in the nineteenth century, namely Marx’s theory of ideology, Nietzsche’s method of genealogy and Freud’s theory of the unconscious, can be classified as forms of hermeneutics. It is, however, somewhat strange that Forster does not give much attention to the way in which Paul Ricoeur, as the only philosopher he discusses who also regarded himself as working in the hermeneutical tradition, described his own philosophical project as a hermeneutical one. In particular, Ricoeur’s idea that understanding and explanationshould not be regarded as opposites but rather as being dialectically connected, perhaps deserved more attention.
In “Hermeneutics: Non-Western Approaches,” the topic of which is rich and broad enough to be the subject of a companion of its own, Kai Marchal explores the question of whether modern hermeneutics is necessarily a Western phenomenon. As Marchal points out, philosophers in Western academia only rarely examine reflections on interpretation from non-Western traditions. Marchal therefore offers a very short overview of some of the most important scholars and texts on interpretation from non-Western cultures, while at the same time pointing toward the problem that arises from the use of the word “non-Western,” insofar it refers to a multitude of cultures and worldviews which do not have much in common. Instead of presenting an overview of the different hermeneutical theories and practices around the globe, Marchal therefore focuses on one particular example: the history of Confucian interpretive traditions in China.
After this first part, Marchal changes the scope of his investigation and focuses on the possibility of a dialogue between Western and non-Western hermeneutics. As Marchal shows, Western hermeneutical thinkers from the eighteenth century, such as Herder and von Humboldt, engaged with non-Western thought and languages, while most representatives of twentieth-century hermeneutics highlighted the Greek roots of European culture and emphasized the idea that we are tied to this heritage. Many non-Western philosophers, however, have engaged with ideas that were formulated by Heidegger and Gadamer. Nevertheless, such non-Western philosophers often unfold their understanding of European philosophical problems in their own terms. Furthermore, they are encouraged to do so by Gadamer’s claim that understanding is necessarily determined by the past. Marchal concludes his short introduction to non-Western approaches to hermeneutics by emphasizing the value of engaging with hermeneutical thinkers from other traditions. This engagement may result in an awareness of the Other’s understanding of ourselves against the backdrop of their traditions, and even in becoming open to the possibility of a radically different outlook on things.
In a chapter on “Hermeneutics and Literature,” Jonathan Culler aims to answer the question of why the tradition of modern hermeneutics has not figured significantly in the study of literature. Culler starts his investigation by noting that in literary studies there is a distinction between hermeneutics and poetics: while hermeneutics asks what a given text means, poetics asks about the rules and conventions that enable the text to have the meanings and effects it does for readers. Poetics and hermeneutics therefore work in different directions: hermeneutics moves from the text toward a meaning, while poetics moves from effects or meanings to the conditions of possibility of such meanings. In his historical overview of literary criticism, Culler highlights two important evolutions that enable us to explain the absence of modern hermeneutics within contemporary literary studies. The first is the revolution in the concept of literature in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In this period, the concept of literature as mimesis shifted to a concept of literature as the expression of an author. Although this means literary criticism no longer assesses works in terms of the norms of genres, of verisimilitude and appropriate expression, most discussion of literature nevertheless remains evaluative rather than interpretive. The change in the conception of literature, however, also inspired German thinkers such as Johann Gottfried Herder and Friedrich Schleiermacher to propose a general hermeneutics, as opposed to the special hermeneutics that had focused on biblical or Classical texts. Once the mimetic model of literature is displaced by an expressive model, Culler writes, the question of what a work expresses also arises.
The arguments about what kind of meaning a work might be taken to embody or express seldom draws on this hermeneutical tradition. One of the reasons for this is the second evolution that Cullers highlights, which occurred in the twentieth century when hermeneutics itself changed. Modern hermeneutical thinkers such as Dilthey, Heidegger and Gadamer shifted their focus to the understanding of understanding. In this way, their hermeneutical theories offer little guidance on interpretation or in distinguishing valid interpretations from invalid ones.
In “Hermeneutics and Law” Ralf Poscher starts from Hans-Georg Gadamer’s claim that hermeneutics in general could learn from legal hermeneutics. Poscher, however, disagrees with Gadamer about what exactly can be learned. As Poscher summarizes, Gadamer thought that what could be learned from the law is that an element of application must be integrated into the concept of interpretation. Poscher, however, disagrees with Gadamer’s idea that hermeneutics is a monistic practice consisting of interpretation, and he argues that what can be learned from law is that hermeneutics is a set of distinct practices that are of variable relevance to different hermeneutical situations. Poscher develops this thought by exploring the different hermeneutical activities in which a lawyer must engage when applying the law to a given case, such as legal interpretation, rule-following, legal construction and the exercise of discretion, and he highlights the important distinctions between these different means for the application of the law to a specific case. To prove the point that hermeneutics is not a monistic practice but rather a complex whole of different practices applicable to hermeneutics in general, Poscher draws some minor parallels between the different hermeneutics applied in law and in art. These parallels are often very clear, although the fact that they are often reduced to brief remarks means that Poscher does not really engage with debates on the interpretation of art. Nevertheless, these remarks do indicate that such a profound comparison between legal hermeneutics and the hermeneutics of art could be an interesting subject for further investigation.
In the final chapter, “Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences,” Kristin Gjesdal explores the question of how best to conceive of the relationship between philosophy and other sciences through the lens of hermeneutical theory and practice. Gjesdal reveals that different responses can be given to the question of what hermeneutics is, and she explores the various answers. First, she outlines the Heideggerian-Gadamerian conception of hermeneutics, in which philosophy is identified with hermeneutics and hermeneutics is identified with ontology. According to Gjesdal, this tendency is concerning because it takes no interest in the different challenges emerging from within the different areas of the human sciences, nor does it acknowledge different subfields of philosophy or textual interpretation. When looking for an answer to the question of how the relationship between hermeneutics and the human sciences might be understood, an investigation of hermeneutics in its early, Enlightenment form, seems to be more fruitful, Gjesdal argues. Through such an investigation, Gjesdal shows that hermeneutical thinkers such as Herder, Schleiermacher and Dilthey combined an interest in hermeneutical theory with hermeneutical practice and in this way can be seen as an inspiration to explore our understanding of the relationship between philosophy and the other sciences. Philosophy would then no longer be seen as the king among the sciences, and our thinking about the relationship between philosophy and the human sciences would start with a more modest attitude and a willingness not simply to teach but also to learn from neighboring disciplines.
It is clear that for a large share of the contributions to this companion, the history of hermeneutics itself and the way in which this history has been constructed by later hermeneutical thinkers is under investigation, leading to new insights into contemporary debates. In this way, this companion as a whole can be seen as engaging with the question of what hermeneutics is, with the various approaches leading to the formulation of different answers to this question. Furthermore, the different readings of the history of hermeneutics also means that a number of contributions go beyond the traditional understanding of hermeneutics, drawing attention to thinkers who are not commonly associated with the field. In this way, the approach to hermeneutics does not remain limited to an investigation of the works and ideas of those thinkers who are generally understood as belonging to the hermeneutical tradition, which also makes the relevance of hermeneutical thinking to diverse contemporary disciplines and debates more apparent. Although the diverse contributions to this companion engage with the fundamental question of what hermeneutics is in different ways, this book as a whole will probably not serve as a good introduction for someone who is not already familiar with philosophical hermeneutics and its history to some extent. Some of the contributions are successful in offering the reader a clear introduction to the subject and discipline they discuss, but this is not always the case, with some authors presupposing a lot of prior knowledge on the subject. Nevertheless, for those already familiar with the subjects discussed, several contributions to this companion will offer the reader fruitful insights and perhaps provoke thought that invites further research.