This volume brings together some of the leading scholars in philosophical hermeneutics, as well as a few outsiders. Many of the contributors agreed to participate in this collection on the basis of their admiration for the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer, certainly one of the key German philosophers of the twentieth century, whose work has influenced not only philosophy but also the study of literature, art, music, sacred and legal texts, and medicine. The occasion for this collection was Gadamer's centenary in 2000. However, from the beginning, this collection was not intended as a festschrift, despite natural associations some have made when hearing about the catalyst for its production, nor did I set out to be disrespectful of Gadamer.
Some anticipated a celebratory volume, with the accompanying festive atmosphere. Others feared something like a replay of what has taken place with Ezra Pound, E. M. Cioran, Paul de Man, Martin Heidegger, Maurice Blanchot, and others regarding those individuals' activities during the National Socialist period. This anxiety surfaced prior to Richard Wolin's “Untruth and Method: Nazism and the Complicities of Hans-Georg Gadamer,” a triumphant piece of oddness (as noted by, among others, Richard Palmer) that, in part, tries to translate Gadamer's own statements about his political life into shocking discoveries. This is not to say that res ipsa loquitur, or that Gadamer revealed all that might seem relevant about that matter. As a former student of Heidegger, Gadamer might have anticipated that the interrogation lamp on Heidegger would be directed eventually at Heidegger's family, friends, acquaintances, and students as well. We cannot distance ourselves in our study of Heidegger from the judgment that condemns Heidegger for his political action and inaction. Substitute “Gadamer” for every instance of “Heidegger” in that last sentence, and one begins to sense a problem with Wolin's position, one that wants to come to grips with an intellectual
The energies that Gadamerian insiders devote to anxieties about the possibility of a more thorough accounting of Gadamer's life during National Socialism are misplaced. As Geoff Waite put it in this volume, “neither Gadamer's acts of collaboration and opportunism nor their admission has proven ‘devastating’” (265). Perhaps those energies can be redirected toward what James Risser claims is Gadamer's (and repeatedly his followers') interest in putting claims and judgments “to the test in shared inquiry so that what is is raised up in partial aspect and placed ‘in the light of uncon-cealment’ [insLicht Unverborgenheit].”
Unlike Wolin, Waite addresses Gadamer's life and writings during the National Socialist period as matters that remain pertinent. Waite is not looking back from a superior ethical position but is asking, among other things, how he himself is called into question by the circumstances that Gadamer faced. “Waite stresses that he does not really know what he would have done in circumstances the same as faced by Gadamer in the Third Reich” (281). No such self-examination is to be found in Wolin's article.
At least equally important in considering “why we should care” about what went on with Gadamer in the Third Reich is linked to the complex relationship that philosophical hermeneutics has with the history of philosophy itself. While the information about Gadamer's “acts of collaboration and opportunism” has not been devastating, it has also not led to a reconsideration of the tradition that is philosophical hermeneutics, a tradition that ought to trouble those of us who study it. As Gerald Bruns explains, using the story of Oedipus as one of his examples, “the hermeneutical experience of what comes down to us from the past is structurally tragic rather than comic. It is an event that exposes us to our own blindness or the limits of our historicality and extracts from us an acknowledgment of our belong-ingness to something different, reversing what we had thought. It's just the sort of event that might drive us to put out our eyes.”
Gadamer's eyes, my own, and presumably yours are at stake. Working on
My aims for the book were numerous. It seemed important to attend to some of Gadamer's writings that have received little or no attention in either English or German. Also, I wanted to invite people to rethink some of Gadamer's work, especially texts like Truth and Method, the book published in 1960 that in at least one sense put Gadamer on the intellectual map. For a work like Truth and Method, a number of people know already what they think about it, or what they are supposed to think, and I wanted contributors to consider whether that work—or others—might warrant revisiting, an attention to repercussions.
In some cases, contributors set out on their own, journeying through territory I had not imagined, resulting in some edifying surprises. From my view, one that not everyone will share of course, the best result of this set of essays is its provocation. This collection will call on readers and scholars of Gadamer to acknowledge that more is at stake with Gadamer's work than might be immediately apparent, stakes and repercussions that bind contributors and readers, and that call for something other than defensiveness and/or dismissal, and something other than celebration.
1. See, for example, Paul Morrison, The Poetics of Fascism: Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, Paul de Man (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); Adam Gopnik, “The Get-Ready Man [on Cioran],” The New Yorker (June 19 and 26, 2000), 172-80; Tom Rockmore and Joseph Margolis, eds., The Heidegger Case: On Philosophy and Politics (Philadelphia, Penn.: Temple University Press, 1992); and Steven Ungar, Scandal and Aftereffect: Blanchot and France since 1930 (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995).
North American analytic philosophy has not been immune to similar scrutiny. See John McCumber's Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era (Evanston, 111.: Northwestern University Press, 2001). [BACK]
2. Richard Wolin, “Untruth and Method: Nazism and the Complicities of Hans-Georg Gadamer,” The New Republic (May 15, 2000): 36-45. See also the Internationale Zeitschrift fur Philosophic i (2001), which is entitled Schwerpunhtthema: Hermeneutih
3. Teresa Orozco, Platonische Gewalt: Gadamers politische Hermeneutik der NS-Zeit (Berlin: Argument Verlag, 1995). [BACK]
4. Stanley Rosen, “Man's Hope,” The Public Realm: Essays on Discursive Types in Political Philosophy, ed. Reiner Schiirmann (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989)-44 [BACK]
5. An unfortunately typical but concise example of the ways in which scholars of philosphical hermeneutics treat the issue can be found on the dust jacket of the English translation of Jean Grondin's Hans-Georg Gadamer: A Biography (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003): “[Gadamer] chose to remain in his native Germany in the 1930-5, neither supporting Hitler nor actively opposing him, but negotiating instead an unpolitical position that allowed him to continue his philosophical work.” The section of this collection called “Gadamer in Question” asks of such scholars of philosophical hermeneutics how they continue to negotiate an unpolitical position that allows them to continue their philosophical work. [BACK]
6. James Risser, Hermeneutics and the Voice of the Other: Re-Reading Gadamer's Philosophical Hermeneutics (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1997), 241. [BACK]
7. Georgie Warnke, “Pace Wolin,” International Zeitschrift fur Philosophie i (2001): 77. [BACK]
8. Gerald L. Bruns, Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992), 204. [BACK]
9. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Hermeneutische Entwiirfe. Vortrage und Aufsafe (Tubingen: MohrSiebeck, 2000), 134. [BACK]