CCR 751: Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth Century America (Ch. 5, pp.139-157).

September 24, 2007


Johnson, Nan. “The Popularization of Nineteenth-Century Rhetoric: Elocution and the Private Learner.”  Oratorical Culture in Nineteenth Century America. (Ch. 5, pp.139-157).


During the nineteenth-century, the rhetorical “academic tradition” stressed the well-educated citizen, the “man” most often trained in religion, law, and politics.  Rhetoricians defined “rhetoric as the art that contribute the most toward the proper working of the political process, the disposition of justice, and the maintenance of the public welfare and social conscience” (139).  From the use of composition and well defined oratory skills, the appropriate cultural norms of democracy, correct citizenry, and progression of the nation were maintained.


By the mid-century enrollments at colleges and universities and other formal education settings had increased.  Yet, there was a larger populace of “self-learners,” which did not go unnoticed by rhetoricians and publishing companies.  They recognized that “self-learners” would not have the same educational access, background, and knowledge of students within formal institutional settings.  Therefore, the push to publish texts that simplified major rhetorical concepts and theoretical thoughts of elocution that one would receive in higher education were produced for a wider distribution to the general public.  “Popular rhetoric manuals covered a range of topics, including speech making, composition, letter writing, public readings, and elocutionary entertainment” (141).


The elocution movement and its push for more oratorical skills was the most influential rhetorical form which tended to go beyond the “traditional arena of public address.”  Oratorical skills were thought to improve the individual in intellectual thoughts and social refinements.  Unlike traditional public speaking, proper oratorical skills included not just modulations of the voice but included correct body gestures, timing, emotional appeals, and recitations of “masterpieces” or other items of social interests, to produce a passionate response from the audience.  This moved public address beyond the institutions of learning into public spheres of businesses, social gatherings, and parlors.


Elocution was deemed to aid professional and personal advancements.  “Popular elocutionists also stressed that systematic study of natural expression would eradicate speaking defects that interfered with communication and created negative impressions on others” (147).  It was in the best interest for all “good” citizens to improve communication skills to become/remain socially accepted, thereby, producing an environment of isolation for those who did not conform to “proper” social graces and speech.  “No one is qualified to hold a respectable rank in a well-bred society, who is unable to read in an interesting manner, the works of other” ([1827] 1830, 13-14).  Within the nineteenth-century cultural climate, “well-bred” carried with it associations with higher intellectual and moral virtue” (150).  Oratorical skills were so important that public speaking events and the performance of speakers and an outline of their views were often published and critiqued in local newspapers.


To address the needs of the “Private Learner,” elocution texts were published in three instructional forms:

  1. Cross-over manuals: used by both academic and private learners for more far-reaching concepts, such as philosophical issues, theories, comprehensive principles, and readings.  Still the manuals were less challenging that academic texts used in higher education.  Cross-over manuals were written to be understood and applied, yet they gave the private learners and students the same information without the use of a formal instructor.  Explanations of concepts were simplified.  These types of texts were published at the onset of public demand.
  2. Elocution Speakers: More simplified version of delivery techniques, instructions, and reading selections than cross-over manuals.  A further reduction of concepts with exercises and practice readings for better public execution.  Little or no focus on philosophy and theories.  The texts were produced for wider distribution and marketing campaigns.
  3. Elocution Reciters:  “Condensed” approach, with little or no instructions.  They were a collection of “practical” selections arranged for a given “occasion.”  If one wanted an address for Christmas, Easter, a business opening, social gatherings, picnic, etc., the reader could memorize the passage and present it at the function.  This more “practical” and “popular” usage texts marked the direct fall and decreased publication of “masterpiece selections.”  Reciters were performance based texts.  “Reciters were published in two forms, single volume anthologies (often reprinted) and in serials of monthly, quarterly, or annual issues” (155).

All three publication types imparted to the “average citizen”/learner the recommendations of “the study of elocution for its practical versatility and for insights into taste, the power of language, and the higher emotions that elocutionary and performance provides” (156).  Like the students of traditional learning sites, the private learners were expected to come away with communication skills that would set them apart and facilitate the correct social actions.



After reading this chapter, I noticed that there seems to be a direct correlation between the decline of philosophical, theoretical, and technical approaches of elocution (“more simplified”) and the publication and distribution increases of the different types of public address texts.  With each “watered-down” version of elocutionary approach texts, rhetorical instructions and masterpiece readings were sacrificed to meet the needs for widespread distribution for more “practical” and “popular” texts.  It stands to reason that wonderful examples of private and public communication skills found in Civil War letters and other nineteenth-century correspondence are silent or less evident at the turn of the twentieth-century.  Could this be a result of social needs versus marketing demands?  Is this another area/voice of social histories of “everyday” individuals that is lost?  Can language pattern changes and usage be considered social histories events?


Gail Stygall: Resisting Privilege: Basic Writing and Foucault’s Author Function

September 23, 2007


Stygall, Gail. “Resisting Privilege: Basic Writing and Foucault’s Author Function.”  CCC 45.3. Oct 1994.


Defining “Basic Writers” and “Basic Writing” are hard for professionals and laypeople in the field.  Whether it is “remedial,” “development,” “educational opportunity students,” or “basic”: requiring foundational or fundamental instruction in writing,” there is no one catch-all definition or term that signifies the Basic Writer and Basic Writing.

Gail Stygall contends that while professionals resist the “deficit theories of language” when considering enrollment trends in favor of the “temporary” enrollment “Wave Theory” (i.e. vets returning from war, economic advancement, displaced adults, etc.), the fact remains that basic writing courses are needed.  She argues the Michel Foucault’s “author function” will “organize the curriculum of English studies and define its proper object of study” (321).  Stygall suggests that basic writing facilitates the author function, regardless of the fact that literature may argue over the validity of the “author.”  She said, “If literature and its related author function remain opposed to non-literature, non-literary writers will always fall short or the English department’s highest value.  A master discourse that reveres one kind of authorship and dismisses all others is bound to affect those kinds of authorship counted among the “all others” category” (321).

Basic writing institutional practices and “inscribed” author function dominance work together, along with “educational discursive practices.”  “I mean by educational discursive practices are those activities and talk about education that we experience as natural, normal, inevitable, and unremarkable.  These are practices that we take for granted: one teacher for each classroom; the existence of classrooms and buildings . . .; grading and sorting students; separating students by age and grade level; dividing time into semesters and quarters; days into class periods; homework and all those other aspects of the daily life of education that we rarely question” (321-322).

Stygall offers two studies to demonstrate educational discursive practices:

Linda Brodkey studied correspondence between an Adult Basic Education class and a graduate class she was teaching, which “maintained asymmetrical power relations.”

Stygall studied correspondence in the form of comments and drafts between her graduate students (professional student teachers) and students enrolled in a basic writing course at Temple University (undergraduate students).

By presenting these studies, Stygall hoped to examine the processes of Foucault’s “author function,” as it relates to Basic Writing.

Stygall offers Foucault’s definition of an “author” in literary criticism:

The author provides the basis for explaining not only the presence of certain events in a work, but also their transformations, distortions, and diverse modifications (through his biography, the determination of his individual perspective, the analysis of his social position, and the revelation of his basic design).  The author is also the principle of a certain unity of writing—all differences having to be resolved, at least in part, by the principles of evolution, maturation, or influence.” 

The Foucault’s definition produces two versions of author function found in English departments:  1. Authors in the literary sense—Novelists.   2. Authors in the sense of discursive initiations—i.e. Marx, Freud, etc. (those whose work and schools of thought create discourse).

Foucault identifies four characteristics of the author function:

  1. “First, when writing or authorship became property and thus operant within the law of property, writing offered the possibility of transgression, especially in “the form of an imperative peculiar to literature” (324). [Applied to Basic Writing, Stygall suggests that “apprentice writers” should be judged as doing “pseudo-writing.”  But this is not the case.  Apprentice writers’ errors are judged more harshly than published authors whose errors are overlooked.  Students receive negative feedback from instructors more readily and like deficiencies are identified by placement exams.  Students’ errors are evaluated as “transgressions.”]
  2.  “Foucault’s second characteristic—the relative prominence a discourse gives authorship—places apprentice writers in an academic setting in which the author function has prominence. This prominence results in a principle of limitation operating for nonauthors.” [Applied to Basic Writing, Stygall implies that because students are labeled basic writers, there is no assumption of change or improvement.  When there is noted change in a student’s writing, the question of “plagiarism” arises.  Author function in traditional educational institutions limits basic writers.  Likewise, Stygall suggest that teachers within academics are under scrutiny to perform with set guidelines.  “Finding and keeping a “good job—that is, one on a tenure line—means publishing.  Tenure decisions often mean the application of the author function to scholarly writing” (324-325).] 
  3. “Third, the pairing of an author to a particular discourse is not a simple matching; it is rather the social construction of a “certain rational being” (324).  [The writers’ identity as writers is out of their control.  If a teacher/reader finds the writing “unclear” or “lacks logic,” the student may be labeled a “non-literate” or “non-logical” writer.  This places the teacher in a position as final arbitrator, giving or taking away value of student’s writing.]
  4. Finally, the author function allows readings that acknowledge several selves of the same author, framed by processes of “evolution, maturation, or influence” (324).  “Though some composition scholars have recently examined the notion of the “authentic self” or the unified voice in relation to ideology, the dominant approach has been to silence multivocality and to unify self-presentation in student’s texts.” . . . “These textual “qualities” also have value in maintaining the author function.  Valorizing [to assign value or merit to: validate] multivocality in works of literature has the effect of denying or banning its presences in works by non-authors: (325).

“Being declared a marginal writer as a first year college student is public and institutionally sanctioned.  Being declared marginal in a graduate English program—as a consequence of a declared interest in composition, an interest in the non-authors, as it were—is less public, less officially sanctioned, yet is just as powerful” (326).

Due to educational discursive practices, authority/teacher roles tend to remind basic writers of their deficit writing abilities, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Basic responders in the Stygall study self-identified as subjectively “poor writers” or “enrolled in basic writing as the natural order” and forced to serve out their repentance.  Still student recognized that they had less power when labeled basic writers.  Discursive practices lead to privileges which hold education up as a model for everyone, even though this is not the reality (327-332).

Author Function is reproduced with the training of composition professionals.  Graduate students, who teach basic writing, pattern the same author function principles that were imprinted upon them to their students, and they must do so if they want to keep their jobs in the institution/English department (335).  Still, Stygall noted some “slippage” or rebel teaching practices in her students that challenge discursive practices.

Stygall had hoped to use Foucault’s Author Function and identifies discursive practices to bring about change in Basic Writing.  She deems this goal unfulfilled.  She isolates changes that she will make to future research in this area, as well as offered recommendations,

The idea of authorship in English departments is constructed by the people who populate them.  We do not have to simply accept current practices, especially when those practices make it impossible for some student writers to escape the imposition of negative status.  By challenging the principles on which the author function rests, by exploring the lived experiences of our basic writing students, by agreeing to rethink our own positions, we can begin to resist the reinscription of power and collaboratively redefine the author (339). 

  1. Basic writing is not a temporary issue, so institutions should stop “creating temporary faculty positions.
  2. Recognizing One Group of Writers.  Composition faculty should not cause/support divisions between “regular” and “basic” writers.  By identifying one group of writers, there would be on need to assign only graduate students and part-time instructors to basic writers.  

Stygall summarizes,  “In examining the role of the author function in creating and regulating the positioning of basic writing in English departments, I hope to point us to the path of resistance, one in which we examine our representations of educational discursive practices” (340).

Carr, Carr, and Schultz: Archives of Instruction pp. 33-80

September 18, 2007

From the chapter “Reproducing Rhetorics” (pp. 33-80).  19th Century Rhetorics, Readers, and Composition books in the United States.


Early in the nineteenth-century (1800-1830), text on rhetorical theory and instruction were presented in U.S. editions of previously printed British editions.  The texts were not a clear reprinting of the British texts but were selective adaptations based upon the needs of local and regional geographical areas.  This was an attempt to meet the needs of education growth in a particular area.  There was no need for widespread publication of texts since school participation had not reached widespread importance.   No text at this time had a “national circulation,” but a number of British authors and their rhetorical contributions standout during this early time period.


Hugh Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres was the most noted forerunner of rhetorical instruction in the United States.  It was first that came close to a national circulation.  Still his text was not taken as a whole but was printed as selected editions and abridgements.  It was divided into five areas:  “the nature of taste ,” “consideration of language,” “style,” “eloquence” (“public speaking”), and “a critical examination of the most distinguishing species of composition” (34).  Blair presented his arguments in first person lectures and reflective narratives.  He also used teaching analogies related to the “primitive man” to make connection and present Latin, Greek, Russian, and Gaelic.  “Blair’s orientation allows him to understand language as a historical human creation subject to change” (35).  But unlike other authors of the time, he did not suppose a “divine origin of language” (36).


Others built upon Blair’s work, taking what they needed by way of extensions and rewrites.  Some author’s of interest are listed:  Eliphalet Pearson’s British Essays on Rhetoric was used at Harvard.  He rewrites Blair in Dr. Blair’s Essay on Rhetoric, dropping Blair’s first person lecture and reflections and includes “dogmatic rules and principles.”  George Campbell argued for a “pure and proper usage” of rhetoric.  “His principles codify and rationalize the linguistic grounds of national identity” (39).  He developed canons for implementation of usage.  Bendict Anderson called for “imagined community.”  Using “print-capitalism,” texts would facilitate social relationships, producing a national language and identity.  David Irving combines Blair and Campbell views.  Alexander Jamieson’s A Grammar of Rhetoric and Polite Literature was the first “rhetoric printed in the U.S. to number its sections” (43).


The first American authors of rhetoric were teachers of local institutions.  Prior to 1831, “Authorship and Modes of circulation” could be divided into three areas:

1.             Commemorative recognition: usually printed posthumously and only one edition.

2.            Compilation: catechistic nature; for local instruction use.

3.            Elocutionary:  (late 1820’s) was more personal projects and independent publications of authors.  Blending of rhetoric and elocution.


By 1831, catechistic text began to disappear.  Authors began to produce texts that presented rules, definitions, and writing exercises.  By mid-century commemorative and elocutionary instruction were widely published.  Compilation was still important in the U.S. because “some were still linked to local institutions and teachers and had only a limited circulation” (53).


1866-1900 saw a call for more “practical” textbooks.  Rhetorical texts now considered grade levels of its readers, reflecting “the paragraph as a unit of discourse,” and “scientific, philosophic, or historical descriptions” (62).  Users wanted instruction to address “principles with local or immediate occasions of writing.”  With this new focus, British Rhetorics began to decrease as new U.S. rhetorical publications increased.  Still British author Alexander Bain is of importance with the publication of English Composition and Rhetoric (1866).  “He organizes the second part of his book, “Kinds of Composition,” not by genres or occasions of writing by what will later become the “modes of discourse.”  He lists five “kinds”: description, narrative, exposition, persuasion, and poetry” (63).  These five modes are used in Composition course today.


By the end of the century, with the many transformations and publications of rhetorical texts, archives were needed to house the “historical” growth of the field.  “The earliest archives were official repositories or sites of institutional memory” (79).  Unlike today’s archives which tend to be more eclectic, the 19th century archive’s “texts are ordered, through practices of compilation, as a series of reproductions, redistributions, and critical appropriations and in some cases appear only as the tedious monotony of simple repetition.”  Because the field was constantly evolving, no “static” generalizations of textbook publications may be made from the viewing of 19th century archives.  Items were lost and/or not evaluated for future importance.  However, archives may hold items which may give a limited view of issues such as national identity, instructional transformations, and concerns of educational growth in the U.S.



The one question that keeps popping into my head:  Why is this historical account of textbook publications and the onset of archives important?  I think it is most important because we are able to trace the influence of British Rhetorical authors and their contribution to American Rhetorical authors,which relate not only a national rhetorical identity, but shows the growth and importance of academic learning in the United States and the need for archives.  Early inventors were able to piecewise their way through modes of discourse, wiriting instructions, and publication methods that may taken for granted today.  Readers today must realize that the field of Rhetoric was never “static” and went through great evolutions to arrive at the place we are at today.

Michel de Cereau’s Historiographical Operation

September 13, 2007


[This is roughly the first half of the document.] 


Michel de Certeau asserts that it is the historian’s job to make connection between ideas and places to arrive at understandings.  Places are systems of thoughts.  He said historical operations are a combination of “social place, scientific practices, and writing.”  He speaks of “the silent laws” that “organize the space produced as text.”  The recording of history does not happen by chance.  De Certeau points out that Michel Foucault “denies all reference” to the author and takes for granted theoretical place, where methods (laws) are formed. 


De Certeau shows the relationship between social places and knowledge.  It is the “depoliticization of intellectuals.”  Within social institutions, spaces are “reclassified.”  Social spaces, such as universities, are not removed but will become more isolated with like minded individuals away from general use, producing scientific places.  From this, further divisions within universities are created—its own schools, scientific language, and disciplines.  


He points out the same organization and division are represented in society and its “ideas,” which may produce an “overlapping” of ideas with different functions.  For example, “In this way a social change can be compared to a biological change in a human body: like the biological change, the social change forms a language which is proportioned to other types of language, such as verbal” (61-62).  Although there is overlapping, there is no cause and effect relationship between the different functions.  “Inversely, an ideological discourse is proportioned to a social order, just as every individual utterance is produced in relation to silent organizations of the body” (62).  Each part works independently of the other, following its own laws for the good of the whole.


“In history every “doctrine” which represses its relation to society must be regarded as abstract.  It denies the very matter with respect to which it is elaborated” (62).


When considering historical discourse, one must take into account the “centralized” and “stratified” institutions, and “the weak influence of Marxist theory” (62).  Jurgen Haberman argued for a “repoliticization” of human sciences and development of “critical theory.”


“What is a “valued work” in history?  It is a work recognized as such by peers, a work that can situated within an operative set, a work that represents some progress in respect to the current status of historical “objects” and methods, and one that, bound to the milieu in which it has been elaborated, in turn makes new research possible.  The historical book or article is together a result and symptom of the group which functions as a laboratory.  Akin to a car produced by a factory, the historical study is bound to the complex of a specific and collective fabrication more than it is the effect merely of a personal philosophy or the resurgence of past “reality.”  It is the product of a place”(64).


“Making History” is a practice (69).  At one time, any thing in connection with history that did not utilize only its spoken form was considered “auxiliary science” such as “epigraphy, papyrology, paleography, dimplomatics, codicology, etc.; today, musicology, “folklorism,” computer science, etc. “History would only being with the “noble speech” of interpretation” (69).  De Ceteau suggests that histories must change and reflect its society.  It should never be a reflection of “an unchanged institution.”


“A strange phenomenon in contemporary historiography must be observed.  The historian is no longer a person who shapes an empire.  He or she no longer envisages the paradise of a global history.  The historian comes to circulate around acquired rationalizations.  He or she works in the margins.  In this respect the historian becomes a prowler.  In a society gifted at generalization, endowed with powerful centralizing strategies, the historian moves in the direction of the frontiers of great regions already exploited.  He  or she “deviates” by going back to sorcery, madness, festival, popular literature, the forgotten world of the peasant, Occitania, etc., all these zones of silence” (79).


“A brief study of historical practice seems to allow three connected aspects to be specified:  the mutation of “meaning” or the “real” in the production of significant deviations; the position of a particular event as a limit of what can be thought; and the composition of a place which establishes with present time the ambivalent figuration of the past and future” (83).

Berlin Notes (p. 92 – conclusion)

September 12, 2007



The general education curriculum was used to counter the ills of the Depression and political threats from abroad just before WWII.  Led by Harvard, colleges began to offer “liberal studies and professional specialization to safeguard the American way of life.” 



General Semantics had the greatest impact on communication courses, in an attempt to “apply scientific empiricism to the study of language.”  It was used before WWII to “analysis propaganda of fascist states.”  This gave way to “organism-as-a-whole” principle.   A whole or partial stimulus can cause a whole response.  Language and words are abstract, yet have the ability to produces responses.  Language is limited and can never represent the whole thing.  General Semantics = the ladder of abstraction, consciousness of abstraction, and figures of speech.



2 WWII impacts on communication courses:

1. Enrollment increased due to veterans return.  Use of writing clinics.

2. the Army Specialized Training Personnel effort.  English course set up for recruit on college campuses that taught reading, writing, and speaking.  (95-96)



Most noted program was at the State University of Iowa.  This was followed by a push around the country in the development of communication skills courses the emphasized reading, writing, speaking, and listening with attention directed to students “differences and needs” (97-99). This focus was “language and effective communication” not literature or social science.  Diagnostic tests were given.



Communication course maintained reading, writing, and speaking but were influenced by psychological theory.  Graduate students called clinicians.  Writing classes were clinics.  Students who were non-writers were dealing with “blocked fears.”  Non-directive counseling.



In 1949, first conference. Chicago, Il.

The importance of freshman comp. was the main issue.  Addressed the need for professional identity.  With the creation of CCCC and the College Composition and Communcation, teacher of composition began to seek full membership in English departments (tenure, promotions, higher salaries, etc.)  This was not widely excepted until later.



In the 40’s and 50’s, Literature was later offer at subjects for composition courses.  Response to Cold War political climate.  Literacy education was offer also as a “political benefit.”  “Good citizens through literature.”



Structural linguistics brought “scientific insight of social habits” to writing classes.  Theorist disagreed on the many approaches.



60’s and 70’s—New Rhetoric

Emphasis on the writing process began.  Rhetoric answer the call of Barriss Mills (1953) for writing course based on writing processes (writing, revision, editing, etc.)  Yet the call continued to ending freshman composition courses which were financial drains on English departments.  They wanted high schools to teach the students before they enrolled in college.  Faculty could direct their attentions to other issues.  Agreement was reached to keep composition course and develop relations with high school teachers to better facilitate the writing needs of the students.  Writing prep courses developed for high school teachers.



There was a lack of Rhetorical professions to teach students of the major and graduates.  Wayne C. Booth asserted that English Departments were “neglecting their duty.”



The NCTE publication influenced rhetoric and writing at colleges.  Scholars pushed for a new rhetoric and should be the subject of writing courses. 



Steinmann defines 5 types of rhetorical research (132).



Major Rhetorical Approaches (139):





Rhetoric of Cognitive Psychology


Conclusion:  look toward the future.

CCR 691: Palmer. Chapter 3: Six Modern Definitions of Hermeneutics.

September 9, 2007

The following are “in roughly chronological order” (33).  Still, each one echoes the importance of hermeneutics.

  1. the theory of biblical exegesis
  2. general philological methodology
  3. the science of linguistic understanding
  4. the methodological foundation of Geisteswissenschaften
  5. phenomenology of existence and of existential understanding
  6. the system of interpretation, both recollective and iconoclastic, used by man to reach the meaning behind myths and symbols.

Hermeneutics as Theory of Biblical Exegesis:

Around 1654, the oldest record of the word “hermeneutics” was present in books regarding the proper biblical interpretation of scripture.  Publications provided a standard “system” for interpretation.  “understanding of the word “hermeneutics” refers to the principles of biblical interpretation” (34).  Exegesis is the actual scripture/text.  Hermeneutics is the interpretation of text (rules, methods, or theories).  Without correct hermeneutics, an individual is unable to “extract hidden meaning” from “obscure” biblical and “symbolic” nonbiblical materials, and will arrive at the wrong interpretations.

 Hermeneutics as Philological Methodology:

“There arose the historical-critical method in theology; both the “grammatical” and “historical” schools of biblical interpretation affirmed that the interpretive methods applying to Bible were precisely those for other books” (38).

“Since the accidental truths of history were viewed as inferior to the “truths of reason,” biblical interpretation held that scriptural truth was above time and above history; the Bible does not tell man anything true which he would not eventually have recognized through using his reason.  It was simply rational, moral truth revealed before its time.  The task of exegesis, the, was to go deeply into the text, using tools of natural reason, and to find those great moral truths intended by the New Testament writers but hidden within different historical terms” (39).


Hermeneutics as Science of Linguistic Understanding:


Schleiermacher’s hermeneutics as “science” or “art” understanding.  “It seeks to go beyond the concept of hermeneutics as an aggregate of rules and to make hermeneutics systematically coherent, a science which describes the conditions for understanding in all dialogue” (40).


The result was “general hermeneutics, whose principles can serve as the foundation for all kinds of text interpretation.  This concept of a general hermeneutics marks the beginning of the nondisciplinary “hermeneutics” . . . For the first time hermeneutics defines itself as the study of understanding itself” (40).


 Hermeneutics as the Methodological Foundation for the Geisteswissenschaften


Geisteswissenschaften: “all disciplines focused on understanding man’s art, actions, and writing.”


In the late 19th Century, Wilhelm Dilthey “asserted, an operation fundamentally distinct from the quantifying, scientific grasp of the natural world; for in this act of historical understanding, what is called into play is a personal knowledge of what being human means.  What was needed in the human sciences, he believed, was another “critique” of reason that would do for the historical understanding what Kant’s critique of pure reason had done for the natural sciences—a “critique of historical reason” (41).


Hermeneutics as the Phenomenology of Dasein and of Existential Understanding:


Walter Heidegger’s ontological dimensions of understanding.  “Hermeneutics in this context refers neither to the science or rules of text interpretation nor to a methodology for the Geisteswissenschaften but to his phenomenological explication of human existing itself. Heidegger’s analysis indicated that “understanding” and “interpretation” are foundational modes of man’s being” (42).


Hans-Georg Gadamer’s Wahrheit und Methode [Truth and Method] “traces the development of hermeneutics in detail from Schleiermacher through Dilthey and Heidegger, providing the first adequate historical account of hermeneutics that encompasses and reflects the standpoint of Heidegger’s revolutionary contributions” (42). 

“Being that can be understood is language. Hermeneutics is an encounter with Being through language” (42).


Gadamer “asserts the linguistic character of human reality itself, and hermeneutics is plunged into the fully philosophical questions of the relationship of language being, understanding, history, existence, and reality.  Hermeneutics is put to the center of the philosophical problems of today; it cannot escape the epistemological or the ontological questions when understanding itself is defined as an epistemological and ontological matter” (42-43).


Hermeneutics as a System of Interpretation: Recovery of Meaning vs. Iconoclasm:


Paul Ricoeur (43) returns to “textual exegesis” and its “theory of rules that govern an exegesis, that is to say, an interpretation of a particular text or collection of signs susceptible of being considered as a text.” [. . . ]  Ricoeur suggests that “Psychoanalysis, and in particular the interpretation of dreams, is very obviously a form of hermeneutics; the elements of the hermeneutical situation are all there: the dream is the text, a text filled with symbolic images, and the psychoanalyst uses an interpretive system to render an exegesis that brings to the surface the hidden meaning.”


Symbolic texts have more than one meaning, carrying both surface and depth understandings.  “Hermeneutics is the system by which the deeper significance is revealed beneath the manifest content” (44).


“Because of these two antithetical approaches to the interpretation os symbols today [Bultmann’s demythologizing and the three demystifiers: Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud], Ricoeur asserts, there can be no universal canons for exegesis but only separate and opposing theories concerning rules of interpretation” (44).

CCR 691: Palmer: Introduction to Hermeneutics

September 9, 2007

Purpose of the text:

“to delineate the matrix of consideration within which American literary theorists can meaningfully reopen the question of interpretation on a philosophical level prior to all considerations of application in techniques of literary analysis” (5).


The goal of the text is to put forth the question: What is interpretation, using phenomenological hermeneutics?  The introduction states that Western (England and America) literary theorists approach literary interpretation from the “framework of realism.”  This suggests that in so doing they are unable to arrive at a correct analysis because objectivity of the works will not allow the text to come alive.  From the realism framework, an individual’s perceptions are negated, and a “scientific” evaluation of the “object” is carried out.  “[L]iterary interpretation has fallen into the scientist’s way of thinking:  his down-to-business objectivity, his static conceptualizing, his lack of an historical sense, his love of analysis” (6).  This strict method of evaluation causes the work to be “dissected” as if a lab experiment.


“Science manipulates” American literary interpretation.  Literary works are not “objects” that may be manipulated and dissected.  Literary “works” are “human voices from the past which are brought to life” (7).  Texts are creations by man and are able to speak, not objects of analysis.  When scientific analysis is applied to the “work,” it is silenced.  Literary dialogue is the component that is missing from western evaluations.  Because interpretation requires more than just thinking, humans cannot make interpretations without language.  We must “hear” the work.  It is not enough to just see to understand, or the evaluation is faulty.  By applying phenomenological hermeneutics, the individual arrives at a greater understanding of the “work” and of him/herself.



What is interpretation?

What is the understanding of text?

What is the difference between a work and an object?

  Definitions/Background/Quotes of Interest:

Hermeneutics: “What is hermeneutics? Webster’s Third New International Dictionary says:  “the study of the methodological principles of interpretation and explaination; specif: the study of the general principles of biblical interpretation” (4).

“hermeneutic (without the s) in the context of theology” (4).


“This “deciphering” process, this “understanding” the meaning of works, is the focus of hermeneutics.  Hermeneutics is the study of understanding, especially the task of understanding texts” (8).

“Hermeneutics, when defined as the study of the understanding of the works of man, transcends linguistic forms of interpretation.  Its principles apply not only to works in written form but to any work of art. Since this is so, hermeneutics is fundamental to all the humanities—all those disciplines occupied with the interpretation of the works of man” (10).

Phenomenology:  The study of all possible appearances in human experience, during which considerations of objective reality and of purely subjective response are temporarily left out of the account. 1905. Edmund Husserl (1859-1938 German philosopher). American Heritage Dictionary. 2nd ed.