Saturday, February 12, 2005

Interpreting the "Silent" Gadamer

"... reflecting on Gadamer’s epigraph to his own academic memoir of 1977, Philosophical Apprenticeships: 'De nobis ipsis silemus'—about oneself one must keep silent. Perhaps there was more to that than just modesty."

From First Things journal some time ago, a generous take on the philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer:

"It is reasonable to be dubious about biographies of philosophers, even when they are good. For what, after all, is the life of a philosopher? How much a novelist lived the events he or she wrote about (did Dostoevsky know a Zosima?) seems a natural point of curiosity, irrelevant though it may be to the novels. But could you wonder that about a philosopher? Philosophy concerns ideas, and do ideas have an obscure connection to everyday life? What, for example, can the life of the fellow with the wool ties and Teutonic humor tell us about what was most vital and central to Hans-Georg Gadamer, the German philosopher who died almost two years ago, on March 14, 2002, at the remarkable age of 102. As Gadamer himself noted, philosophers 'are thinkers and their identity is to be found in the continuity of their thought'—'biography' is thus 'marginal.'"

"Gadamer dubbed his work 'philosophical hermeneutics' to distinguish it from hermeneutics proper: that is, biblical exegesis and, in a broader sense, interpretation itself (as opposed to reflection upon it). But philosophy was not its point; philosophy was its means. The point was life, always the affair at which Gadamer’s hermeneutics was aimed. Though you cannot gather it from his academic style, life is the stage for Gadamer’s work the way life looms behind the music of Gustav Mahler (of whom Gadamer was fond). A Mahler symphony seems to want to guide you through birth, death, joy, melancholy, and illness in an altered frame of mind. Gadamer doesn’t offer that guidance: only the voice of Being can give it. But you have to hear that voice, and Gadamer wants to help you to hear it. 'What I am describing is the mode of the whole human experience of the world. I call this experience hermeneutical.' But there has been 'a fateful change in the relationship of humans to the world.' We have become masters. 'We are not at all ready to hear things in their own being.' That deafness means we cannot find our way home; it means a fundamental 'homelessness.' Awakening us to the voice of Being was the issue of all Gadamer’s work."

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