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January 26, 2011 7:53 AM   Subscribe

Good authors to get into hermeneutics with, any authors who write on hermeneutics and the body?

Hello hive mind,

I'm doing some research about bodies and information processing and I'm trying to get a little more deep into phenomenology and/or hermeneutics. I have a good buddy doing and MA in phenomenology so that base is covered, but I don't really know where to start in terms of writers doing hermeneutics. I know Ricoeur and Gadamaer talk about it but I don't know what the best texts to start with these guys are, or alternately if they have any body-talk that would be very relevant for me.

If anyone knows any other texts (I'm doing mostly kind-of-canonical stuff for the purposes of this project) involving hermeneutics, bodies, and the general process of our-bodies-understanding-things-our-brain-tells-us-or-the-other-way-around-because-no, no-there-is-no-duality that would be spectacular.

Thanks hive!

posted by ameliaaah to Religion & Philosophy (12 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Ricoeur's 1976 Interpretation Theory is the easiest starting point for Ricoeur.

For Gadamer, you'd have to just dive into Truth and Method; it's long, but he gives lots of exposition of the hermeneutic tradition.

Schleiermacher (Hermeneutics and Criticism) is frequently cited as the father of modern hermeneutics, but that title really belongs to Johann Chladenius.

Then, look at Kant, Dilthey, Heiddegger. On the contemporary scene, you may consider Richard Bernstein, Richard Kearney, or John Caputo.

For body-oriented phenomenology, I know that Merleau-Ponty is probably your go-to thinker, though I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with his work to recommend a starting text. I wrote my PhD dissertation on hermeneutics (but not somatic phenomonology). Good luck, and MeMail me if you need further info!
posted by reverend cuttle at 8:02 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hmm, not canonical, but I personally think this is the smartest book ever written on meaning and phenomenology:


(He references Merleau-Ponty and many others. You can also find a lot of his work online to see if it jives with what you're looking for.)
posted by zeek321 at 8:23 AM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, came to suggest the usual suspects: Gadamer, Schleiermacher, Heidegger.

In general, hermeneutics is the study of how we interpret texts, especially historical texts. Obviously the implications of such a realm of study are far reaching, and while I don't think there isn't a lot of relevance for hermeneutics in your project, you may not find it to be quite as applicable as you wish (though I don't know the details of your work). Phenomenology makes a lot of sense as there is a good deal of work out there on phenomenology and perception. Christopher Peacocke comes to mind first as strictly a philosopher who deals with this.

You might be interested in Foucault's 'Hermeneutics of the Self.' Foucault writes a lot about the philosophy of the body, so if you haven't sought out his work in more detail (especially perhaps The Order of Things, History of Sexuality), probably worth it.

the general process of our-bodies-understanding-things-our-brain-tells-us-or-the-other-way-around-because-no, no-there-is-no-duality that would be spectacular.

Increasingly these sorts of questions are turning to cognitive and neuro-science, as much as is possible, with philosophical extrapolations following (I'm probably preaching to someone who knows much more about this than I, so apologies). There's been at least a modicum of studies that have been conducted showing how often we begin to react to things emotionally before our brain has actually processed what has happened, etc. In other words, while the rejection of duality is at the heart of Heidegger's work, there are probably much better scientific and philosophical non-canonical works out there that are much improved since Heidegger's (difficult and esoteric, some say meaningless) work.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:25 AM on January 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

A quick free overview, with bibliography, that might give you some jumping off points: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on hermeneutics. At the bottom of the page are links to entries on the individual thinkers, too.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2011

Thanks everyone!

reverend cuttle - part of the problem with the background i am coming from (see below for boring expletive) is that i don't know the terminology/vocabulary of straight philsophy very well - so thanks for the words 'somatic phenomenology' - somehow I've never thought to put them together like that!

Lutoslawsky - I'm not sure yet how relevant it (herm.) is (and by 'project' I mean 'little seeds of a thesis', so I have awhile to figure it out) but I'm coming from a contemporary dance background and looking at how we process knowledge, interpret information and understand stimulus and how that relates to impulse in movement. the interpretation thing is important because the french term, frequently adopted in english, for dancer is interpr├Ęte - so literally they call us 'interpreters'. I'm interested in that process of iterpretation/embodiment; I don't know, like I said, if hermeneutics is the place to go, but it seems a good place to think in.

It's funny you should mention cognitive/neuroscience - that's very much where a lot of what I'm looking at is going, specifically a new collection of papers called The Neurorecognition of Dance. Mirror neurons, etc.

(also, I have a weird soft spot for Heidegger's difficult esoteric meaningless work, I'm trying hard to make him work in this)

I've thought about looking into Foucault but I again haven't known where to start - so thanks for the tip!

ugh all this stuff gives me such a somatic brainbody boner
posted by ameliaaah at 1:00 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

somatic brainbody boner

um, that's my new favorite phrase.

Your project sounds interesting! When I was doing a lot of study in aesthetics and philosophy of art (albeit mostly concentrated on classical music), I came across very little material that dealt with dance, so I think that will be a very interesting and timely topic! Please post it to projects when you finish!
posted by Lutoslawski at 1:46 PM on January 26, 2011

Since you say you don't have much philosophy background - a quick oversimplified overview of the kinds of sources you're going to see:

There are sort of two main threads in present-day philosophy, which are sometimes called "analytic" and "continental" philosophy. The division has to do with the style/method of doing philosophy, sometimes the kinds of questions and presuppositions that everyone in a given thread takes as the important ones, and in which thinkers everyone in a thread presumes to be the important thinkers. This division comes about in the late 19th -early 20th century, so everyone agrees that for example older guys like Plato are important, but they disagree about how important for example Heidegger vs Bertrand Russell are. In most US university philosophy departments, they mainly do analytic philosophy -- which tends to disvalue "continental" thinkers like Hegel, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, Derrida, etc. In US academia, you'll find some people in philosophy departments who like those guys, but more commonly those guys will be studied in comparative literature or film studies departments (a keyword is "literary Theory").

So - if you want to read these guys but you find that the philosophy department at your school is unsympathetic, you might try looking at the websites of the other departments - English lit, German, French, comp lit, film studies, queer studies, etc - to see if there are faculty who are more into these continental guys.

If you wanted to look into what "analytic" philosophy has to say about these issues, try these keywords: mind-body problem, consciousness, kinesthesia, proprioception

(As I said above, the "division" into analytic and continental styles is a very oversimplified framework - but I think it's very useful for a beginner to know that there are, sort of, these two streams running parallel and they don't have as much interchange as you might expect.)

Finally, a helpful listing of mostly current papers and books in philosophy (which tends more toward the analytic side, but does include some continental) is at philpapers.org: PhilPapers search for "dance" might give some more interesting starting points.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:00 PM on January 26, 2011

For body-oriented phenomenology, I know that Merleau-Ponty is probably your go-to thinker, though I'm afraid I'm not familiar enough with his work to recommend a starting text

Yeah, Merleau-Ponty just occurred to me. Definitely check out Phenomenology of Perception. It's a really tough book (and I myself have never made it all the way through), but he deals a lot with the deconstruction of Western Dualism, perception and the body.
posted by Lutoslawski at 4:06 PM on January 26, 2011

Hm, so here's a Heidegger fanboy summary of this issue. Before Heidegger, hermeneutics was pretty strictly a study of how Biblical and/or historical interpretation should properly work, and it was Heidegger who thought Schleiermacher and Dilthey and so on were thinking things more or less analogous to the question of how interpretation overlaps with the phenomenological situation.

But what Heidegger does under the heading of hermeneutics isn't really the same thing at all. That's typical. The many things he does under the heading of logic really seriously aren't what you think of as logic. The few things he does under the heading of rhetoric are pretty obliquely related to rhetoric. Etc. He's interested in hermeneutics and logic and rhetoric, but much more interested in how they indicate existential problems that others who've blithely assumed stuff about what human beings are or how language, subjectivity, and so on work have overlooked to the point where even the terms 'human being' and 'subjectivity' are unusably contaminated with problematic assumptions.

Anyway, back to the point. What Heidegger is up to is so far from Schleiermacher and Dilthey that you might as well not call it hermeneutics or even philosophical hermeneutics. He gets way more from logic, and you pretty much never hear anyone say Heidegger is a phenomenological logician. But along comes Gadamer, among others, to really try and make the idea of philosophical hermeneutics stick, on the one hand by trying to pin down what Heidegger means by key points (you can match single sentences from Heidegger to ~200 page sections of Truth and Method--I'll take the short version any day) and on the other hand by expanding on the analogy with hermeneutics _ad infinitum_ without really adding much to it.

In short, philosophical hermeneutics is for the most part a really, incredibly dull effort to make Heidegger's vague but provocative gestures in the direction of hermeneutics into something else with little success. Seriously. I co-taught a course on hermeneutics for three semesters, mostly regurgitating the usual suspects, including Chladenius, Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Gadamer, and Ricoeur and discussing summary books like Palmer and Grondin--we used them all. And I really have to strain to remember anything worthwhile from any of it. Here's my advice: forget hermeneutics. Treat it as a synonym for interpretation, and if you're still interested in what someone is actually saying after that, then care. But don't assume there's a worthwhile or even reasonably coherent philosophical approach underlying use of the term. A few people using the term are still OK, but as a label, hermeneutics mostly signifies allegiances or affinities, not something you need to understand as a whole (possible exception: religious studies, where the earlier stuff is at least vaguely relevant too).

Your actual question is more interesting. Regarding "the general process of our-bodies-understanding-things-our-brain-tells-us-or-the-other-way-around-because-no, no-there-is-no-duality" Heidegger's distinction between Zuhandenheit and Vorhandenheit is very much on point. He's not known as a "body" thinker, but insofar as his terminological usage is so often motivated by etymology, it's a safe bet the "hand" in those terms is intentional. This MeFi post links to some folks who've assimilated the distinction to a very much Vorhanden way of approaching the problem, and this book is working the same vein. But keep in mind is these psychology guys are really far from being Heideggerian themselves.

Other than that, I vaguely recall some passage in Heidegger's Nietzsche lectures about the bodying of the body, but I don't even remember what he meant by that or what the context was, and I'd hardly recommend Heidegger as an introduction to Nietzsche. I guess Augenblick (moment of insight) is another body part reference in B&T, but it's not an especially important one to Heidegger, except insofar as (like vorhanden and zuhanden) it's a translation of one of Aristotle's five manners of truthing things out in the world.

Heidegger is without a doubt a philosopher enchanted by the stuff with us, in front of us, and around us--a wooded path, an open field, a pair of beaten up shoes, a jug, our own hands, etc. And he has hardly forgotten the body. But still, the right place to look for stuff on embodiment is mostly elsewhere and very rarely under the heading of hermeneutics (possible exception: Ricoeur's Oneself as Another, though I'm not recommending it).
posted by Monsieur Caution at 6:31 PM on January 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

thanks again for the advice everyone!

I think I'm increasingly aware that herm. is possibly not the best place to look for what I'm interested in, but like I said, I'm interested in how it could possibly lead to other places. then again, if it's just a field where people don't talk about bodies, I might peace out while I can.

I should clarify - I'm not as new to philosophy as I may have made myself sound (whoops) - phil. minor at school, but it's pretty hard to find books that are thinking about and with bodies in the same way that dancers can, while using the same kind of language that books written not-for-dancers are written in (read: not dumbed-down)
posted by ameliaaah at 8:19 PM on January 26, 2011

If you're willing to go a different direction, then I'd put Michel Serres on your list. He's not in the hermeneutics canon, such as it is, but I get the feeling he's doing what you wish philosophical hermeneutics informed by phenomenology would do. See especially the ballet section of Genesis and the first section of The Troubadour of Knowledge. Be prepared for some WTF classical allegories mixed with high-flown language and everyday banalities that make even late Heidegger seem lucid, but it usually evokes something interesting, and sometimes it gets back to earth. And it certainly owes nothing to what he calls "the hell of dualism." But I'll Nth Merleau-Ponty as the one to master first.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:24 PM on January 26, 2011

I don't know if this helps, but Gadamer once held a talk about pain and structural parallels to hermeneutics on a medschool symposium. There's a transcription available in German.
posted by quoquo at 6:42 PM on March 31, 2011

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