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.