Vote for a structural dialogical hermeneutic: interpretation is academically legitimate!

Oct 7th, 2013 | By | Category: Hermeneutics, Interpretation, Literary Studies

The interpretation of texts lies at the core of literary studies. Yet in the last third of the twentieth century the perception that a justification of the scholarly nature of the interpretation of texts is impossible became established: thus scholars spoke of the “dilemma of interpretation”; literary scholars were disparaged as “charlatans, cynics or idiots” (Hauptmeier H, Schmidt SJ.: Einführung in die empirische Literaturwissenschaft. Braunschweig/Wiesbaden, 1985); and introductions to literary studies can even generally question “whether such a thing as the understanding of a text exists at all” (Geisenhanslüke, Achim: Einführung in die Literaturtheorie. Von der Hermeneutik zur Medienwissenschaft. 3rd edition. Darmstadt: WGB, 2004).

Hermeneutics as the primary discipline responsible for the justification of text interpretation is correspondingly rejected or newly conceived, with new conceptions emerging from the social sciences with their commitment to scientific paradigms (thus for example the transformation of the so called “objective hermeneutic” into a tool of literary studies through Andreas Wernet and Peter Tepe, among others). However, the elimination of the understanding subject is characteristic for this new hermeneutic, with the claim that it is only in giving up the subject that we can be certain of the scholarly nature of the result. In doing so however, we abandon the understanding and interpretation of a text once again.

The history of theory in the twentieth century offers in most branches of philology now forgotten opportunities to find our way out of the crisis of interpretation. In my opinion, Slavic studies are currently particularly called for; the subject’s traditionally strong anchoring with formalism and structuralism on the one side and hermeneutics on the other means that Slavic studies is perhaps the most likely to have a consciousness of the justification and possibility for the scholarly historical validation of analysis and interpretation. Hermeneutical approaches and the structural semiotics, which even in Slavic studies like to separate out into warring factions, could in coming together achieve a scholarly legitimation of interpretation, which can be and has been rightly denied each of them when viewed independently from one another.

Hermeneutics clarifies the sympathies which the interpreting subject brings into the process of realisation; structural semiotics can point to the anchoring of interpretation in the object of realisation. In bringing the two approaches together, we can see text interpretation to be a realisation of the text which is distinguished by dialogism, understood as the interaction of subject and object on a third, superior or inferior level, the level of understanding. In relinquishing the use of this mode of realisation we relinquish a communication, of which every text as text is a part. The anthropological specifics of human communication, which is understanding, are given up together with the core of literary studies when text interpretation is abandoned. The comprehensibility of a highly individual object, as a literary text is, is made possible through the bringing into play of a structural hermeneutics, which grasps the person of the realising subject as essential and yet in the act of understanding transcends the object.

Dialogical thought as the basis of structural hermeneutics awaits its scholarly and cognitive theoretical philosophical basis, an up-to-date elaboration which survives the battle not merely with open enemies but also with false friends (“cognitive” or “objective” literary hermeneutic). May this blog also be a forum for this battle ground.

A scholarly elaboration of this statement can be found under:

Henrieke Stahl: Interpretation als Dialog. Votum für eine strukturale Hermeneutik. // Concidentia. Zeitschrift für Europäische Geistesgeschichte. Beiheft 2: Bildung und Fragendes Denken. Harald Schwaetzer (editor). Bernkastel-Kues 2013. S.117-137.

Prof. Dr. Henrieke Stahl, Slavic studies, Universität Trier

Translated from German by Annie Rutherford

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