ISSN 1393-614X Minerva - An Internet Journal of Philosophy Vol. 8 2004.
GADAMER’S LATE THINKING ON VERWEILEN
Sheila M. Ross
This essay presents Gadamer’s interest in temporality as his strategy for advancing the importance of hermeneutics as philosophy of experience, a strategy that I show becomes significantly more salient with the appearance of his 1992 essay, Wort und Bild. I show how temporal categories function to demarcate the ontological imbalance that is of such central concern in Gadamer’s philosophical project. The paper also considers some common misunderstandings of Gadamer that result from a failure to take full account of his experiential orientation, and thus prevent recognition of its radical potential. A full account must include a grasp of the exemplariness of art in his philosophy, and in this connection, the essay considers, not Gadamer’s ideal of lyric poetry, but the quite distinct exemplariness of narrative art. Though its temporal structure would seem particularly pertinent, it is not this feature, it turns out, that makes it particularly worthy of hermeneutical reflection.
I. Close to the Living World: Late Crystallizations
essay considers Gadamer’s attribution of a special temporality to
the experience of “tarrying” (Verweilen), a term that for
denotes the exemplary hermeneutical eventfulness of application.
frequently mentioned that the quality of time during tarrying is its
feature, and therefore this particular thread about time in Gadamer
appear to be rather fundamental. However, it is difficult to find any
substantial discussion of the overall significance of Gadamer’s
thinking about time. This content is typically passed over or at most
as puzzling or enigmatic, and this is perhaps surprising given that
is a such prominent Heideggerian theme, intractable or
Possibly, though, this thread in Gadamer is simply not very recognizable as an initiative at all, much less a Heideggerian one. One reason for this is the often tangential nature of this content, which, as I hope to show, is philosophically necessary. But also, this content, or subtext, may be passed over by readers of Gadamer simply because time is still a deeply naturalized, self-evident concept and is thus resistant or invisible to reflection, despite Heidegger’s efforts. If time in Gadamer were taken careful account of, however, the question of Gadamer’s domestication of Heidegger would perhaps be put in a new light, since what becomes the issue is precisely the sonority of philosophy. What Gadamer says about tarrying time is a way of ‘putting Heidegger’ that has a sonority outside the discourse of academic philosophy.2 This paper does not discuss the question of time in the context of Gadamer’s relation to Heidegger, then, but is instead oriented only to Gadamer’s preoccupation with the falling of philosophy on deaf ears, perhaps with its consequent fall altogether. I discusses the temporality of tarrying as part of his effort to not only make philosophy more hermeneutic but to make hermeneutic philosophy more concrete and oriented to experience, part of an effort to explain, finally, what is meant by such a task. For his reference to the distinctive “time-structure of tarrying” (“die Zeitstruktur des Verweilens,”), as he phrases it in his late essay on art, “Word and Picture: ‘So True, so full of being!’” (47), helps establish an orientation to concrete experience that is radical and polemical, but at the same time accessible and graspable. 3 Gadamer’s time-concept may therefore be critical to understanding the larger significance of the anomalous, autonomous character of the event of understanding so exemplary in his philosophy.
I will begin by indicating Gadamer’s concern with, so to speak, rescuing philosophy, if only hermeneutics, from the path of an abstract, “alienating verbosity,” as Paulo Freire once said of a certain kind of education. According to Jean Grondin (2003) in the epilogue to the English translation of his biography of Gadamer and at one of the last colloquiums Gadamer was able to attend (part of the festschrift at the University of Heidelberg to mark his 100th birthday), Gadamer listened to the various papers in his honor, papers by the likes of Gianni Vattimo and Richard Rorty, but felt “the presentations were perhaps not lebensweltlich (close to the living world) or not “phenomenological” enough, that is, not grounded in a genuine experience of the things themselves” (333). Grondin notes that Gadamer graciously blamed his own frailty for this assessment of the presentations, but whether Gadamer was astute, or whether he was not up to the task of understanding, the incident at least reveals an enduring preoccupation, perhaps even a last concern, with this question of grounding philosophy in the lived world.
A late preoccupation with philosophy’s phenomenological groundedness is more fully indicated in one of Gadamer’s last essays, a paper delivered in the Bamberger Hegelwochen in 1994, “From Word to Concept: The Task of Hermeneutics as Philosophy” (2002). 4 Because the particular thesis of this essay concerns this same question of the path of philosophy, its simplicity of style should similarly be considered carefully, perhaps as something crystallized rather than diminished. He begins by revising his description of the task of hermeneutics referred to in his title “to read ‘not only from word to concept but likewise from concept to word’” (1). His distinction between concept and word is that between the “strange and demanding” structures of conceptual language (1) that cannot speak to others, and language that does: “Without our bringing concepts to speak and without a common language, we will not be able to find those words that will reach other persons” (12). However, it soon becomes clear that his purpose is not to simply point out the problem of an impervious discourse that cannot speak to its public, or to suggest that the task for hermeneutics is to translate it into a language that can. Rather, this caution for philosophy from hermeneutics is connected to his account of a world out of balance, a phrase that Gadamer readers will recognize as his translation of what in his more academic register he calls an “ontological onesidedness”; he describes the malady of a world succumbing to Western scientistic knowing which esteems mastery and control. 5 Briefly sketching a divergence of forms of knowing as an historical development that began with Greek conceptual thinking, his point is how scientistic knowing burgeons at the expense of other, more experiential, but equally precise, forms of knowing. He says first of all that
There was a time when one was well aware that this kind of knowing was quite different from that of mathematics and logic. At that time, for example, one called the study of law “jurisprudence” – that is, a kind of intelligence or wisdom in judging. Law students were to develop in themselves a power of making distinctions, so that they could judge the right in a balanced, differentiated, and “objective” way. (3)
This distinct capacity of mind to “make distinctions” and “judge the right” is expanded to include other forms of experiential “precision”:
In the natural sciences one speaks of the “precision” of mathematizing. But is the precision attained by the application of mathematics to living situations ever as great as precision attained by the ear of the musician who in tuning his or her instrument finally reaches a point of satisfaction? Are there not quite different forms of precision, forms that do not consist in the application of rules or in the use of an apparatus, but rather in a gasp of what is right that goes far beyond this? I could go into endless examples to make plausible what I mean when I say that hermeneutics is not a doctrine of methods for the humanities and social sciences [Geisteswissenschaften] but rather a basic insight into what thinking and knowing mean for human beings in their practical life, even if one makes use of scientific methods. (4)
Gadamer contrasts the following of rules with the kind of measurement having to do with a “rightness” in this other sense of experiential application of judgment: In the example of musical harmony which the ear ‘knows,’ for example, Gadamer is attempting to “register a clear contrast to the ideal of scientific governance and control” by showing that in such instances, “we are dealing with a knowing [Wissen] that does not simply rule over and control objects” (6). 6 The theme of “balance” dominates this late essay, culminating in a wish that, ultimately, “a balance between both forms of knowledge is attainable” (8). This statement crystallizes a critical thread in Gadamer’s philosophical project.
As we know, Gadamer’s hermeneutics is oriented to such concrete events of recognition wherein we feel ourselves addressed by something; he is oriented to the fact that understanding is first of all an event. In the aforementioned essay his orientation to the auditory and oral dimensions of the word is an effort to designate language, too, as experience. Gadamer presents this hermeneutical correction of philosophy in the context of a real and urgent historical necessity to speak to one another (“We occupy a moment in history in which we must strenuously use the full powers of our reason, and not just keep doing science only”), a necessity which he suggests philosophy cannot address (12). So his point is that “speaking to one another” involves this kind of knowing or “power of reason,” that has become eclipsed by scientific forms of knowing. The language of philosophy, with its elaborate conceptual structures, is not critiqued here in terms of its imperviousness so much as how imperviousness denies the possibility of this experience. There is some suggestion that philosophy’s faith in logic, combined with a tendency to reify the concepts that logic extends, constitutes a way of knowing that rivals in naiveté a faith in the superiority of scientific knowing, which also takes no account of this experiential form of understanding. But Gadamer takes little interest here in elucidating the particular complicity of philosophy in Western civilization’s “neglect [of] the law of balance” between kinds of knowing (12). Instead, his overriding concern is simply with the possibility that we may be losing the capacity to have this experience of understanding and to know deeply what it is to understand something in this way when it is becoming more and more critical that we are able to do this. Hermeneutics, then, raises this possible loss as a problem for philosophy, and perhaps it is this problem that Gadamer did not see addressed in any of the papers written in his honour. In what follows, I wish to show that Gadamer’s designation and clarification of the temporality of tarrying may be regarded as a strategic response to this question of a gathering, collective hermeneutical weakening.
II A Matter of Time: Tarrying in Gadamer
A typically brief but nevertheless illuminating discussion of the characteristics of tarrying occurs in Gadamer’s conversation with Carsten Dutt in Gadamer in Conversation (2001). This is an apt place to begin because Dutt’s last question to Gadamer in this interview happens to point to this possibility of a cultural loss of hermeneutic acuity. Observing “the terrorism of a cultural industry” that has spawned frenetic communications media where “tarrying has found no place,” Dutt asks whether this confirms what Gadamer means by “an aesthetic culture that is withering away,” and whether “tarrying is now disappearing” (77). Speaking here only with reference to art and aesthetics, Gadamer’s response is somewhat more optimistic than in the global caution for philosophy discussed above. He states, “That is a possibility, but probably not. In any case one must not give up! I believe that the creative minds of our society are steering clear of this, or else will manage to free themselves of it in the future” (77). The difference in optimism indicates, I think, only a belief or hope that the realm of art has a special resistance to this ontological imbalance, due to the exemplary nature of art as a hermeneutical experience. Discussions of the temporality of tarrying always occur, of course, in the context of the work of art, in particular, poetry, because the experience of art is the exemplary illustration of the event of understanding, an event that, as is clear from Gadamer’s discussion about hermeneutics as philosophy, he believes needs to be more distinguishable.
In the conversation with Dutt, then, we find a fairly typical description of the encounter with the art work:
When a work of art truly takes hold of us, it is not an object that stands opposite us which we look at in hope of seeing through it to an intended conceptual meaning. Just the reverse. The work is an Ereignis – an event that “appropriates us” into itself. It jolts us, it knocks us over, and sets up a world of its own, into which we are drawn, as it were. (71)
The artwork’s exemplariness lies in its affective power to be of concern to us, to “take hold” of us, he is saying here, as opposed to our power to possess precisely “what it stands for,” as though to decide on it’s representational success in conforming to something pre-existing. The distinction here, incidentally, concerns the question of mimesis, between art as recognition and art as representation. Gadamer later adds, however, that this “world” into which we are drawn has a further specifically temporal character:
The temporal dimension that is bound up with art is, in fact, fundamental. In this tarrying the contrast with the merely pragmatic realms of understanding becomes clear. The Weile [the “while” in Verweilen, tarrying] has this very special temporal structure — a structure of being moved, which one nevertheless cannot describe merely as duration, because duration means only further movement in a single direction. This is not what is determinative in the experience of art. In it we tarry, we remain with the art structure [Kunstgebilde], which as a whole then becomes ever richer and more diverse. The volume increases infinitely – and for this reason we learn from the work of art how to tarry. (76-77) 7