Thursday, September 04, 2014

Ricoeur: Conclusion

Finally, the conclusion of Paul Ricoeur's Interpretation Theory, a series of foundational lectures on hermeneutics that he gave in 1973 at Texas Christian University.

1. Language as Discourse
2. Speaking and Writing
3. Metaphor and Symbol
4. Explanation and Understanding

In these last seven pages or so, Ricoeur concludes his series of essays. He returns especially to a dialectic he presented in the second essay, the dialectic between the distanciation of a written text and our appropriation of it. We are estranged from a written text in that it has been severed of its context and author, yet somehow it creates a new way of being in the world for us.

This is the question of how distance can be made productive (89).

He finds the key to his answer in the text as a world in itself. He repeats his disagreement with Romanticist or "historicist" hermeneutics. To explain a text, for him, is not to see it as an expression of certain socio-cultural needs, a response to perplexities localized in space and time (90).

He is more sympathetic, although not uncritical of the trajectory of Frege and Husserl, which sees a text to have its own ideality. They pushed back against the hermeneutics of Dilthey--"the act of verstehen is less geschichtlich and more logisch" (91). Understanding a text is less historical and more logical. A text is "a kind of atemporal object."

Ricoeur says, "I agree" with the main presupposition of this trajectory--"the objectivity of meaning in general." "The semantic autonomy of written discourse and the self-contained existence of the literary work are ultimately grounded in the objectivity of meaning of oral discourse itself" (91). "The text--objectified and dehistoricized--becomes the necessary mediation between writer and reader," not the inner psychic connection of Dilthey.

Thus far he has summarized the element of distanciation. Now he moves on to appropriation.

"To 'make one's own' what was previously 'foreign' remains the aim of all hermeneutics" (91). "Appropriation remains the concept for the actualization of the meaning as addressed to somebody" (92). Now severed from its context, "potentially a text is addresse to anyone who can read. Actually, it is addressed to me, hic et nunc," here and now. "As appropriation, interpretation becomes an event."

He then addresses several misconceptions of appropriation. First, for him, appropriation is not a return to Romanticist hermeneutics. It is not about finding the intention of the author or the original historical situation. Those are technically lost. "What has to be appropriated is the meaning of the text itself, conceived in a dynamic way as the direction of thought opened up by the text" (92).

Appropriation is not about recovering the inner life of another ego, that of the author. It is about disclosing a possible way of looking at things for me as a reader. "Appropriation has nothing to do with any kind of person to person appeal. "To understand an author better than he could understand himself is to display the power of disclosure implied in his discourse beyond the limited horizon of his own existential situation" (93).

In Gadamerian fashion, the ideality of the text, its self-contained ahistoricity, mediates a fusion between the horizon of the reader and the horizon of the author.

A second misconception is the notion that it is the original addressee of the text that rules the hermeneutical task. For Ricoeur, "the letters of Paul are no less addressed to me than to the Romans, the Galatians, the Corinthians, and the Ephesians" (93). "The text has escaped its original addressee."

Finally, he rejects the notion that the interpretation of a text by a reader is contained by the finite capacities of the understanding of a reader (93-94). "What is 'made one's own' is not something mental, not the intention of another subject, presumably hidden behind the text, but the project of a world, the pro-position of a mode of being in the world that the text opens up in front of itself by means of its non-ostensive references" (94).

"If the reference of the text is the project of a world, then it is not the reader who primarily projects himself. The reader rather is enlarged in his capacity of self-projection by receiving a new mode of being from the text itself" (94).

In this way, appropriation is not a matter of possessing the text but a "dispossession of the egoistic and narcissistic ego" (94). "Only the interpretation that complies with the injunction of the text, that follows the 'arrow' of the sense and that tries to think accordingly, initiates a new self-understanding."

The "ego," the I that precedes the text, receives a "self" from the understanding of the text.

Here endeth the reading.

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