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170Philosophy and Literature HermeneuticsAncient andModern, by Gerald Bruns; xi & 318 pp. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992, $37.50. Literary theorists working in the field of hermeneutics tend to fall into one of two categories: hermeneutic theorists who search for methodologies to govern interpretation (Hirsch's Validity in Interpretation is the best-known work of this kind, but a more recent example is Eco's The Limits ofInterpretation); practitioners of phihsophical hermeneutics who, following Heidegger and Gadamer, explore the conditions and possibilities of understanding, generally avoiding specific methodological questions. As his preface makes clear, Gerald Bruns's Hermeneutics Ancient and Modern is a work of philosophical hermeneutics: "All I can say now is that my friends who read this book will not find a new angle on doing literary or cultural studies" (p. x). Bruns's book contains six chapters on ancient hermeneutics, six on modern hermeneutics, and introductory and concluding chapters. His history of hermeneutics provides the valuable service of characterizing the hermeneutic practices of philosophers, theologians, and writers not traditionally associated with the field (such as Socrates, Thucydides, and Wordsworth). He considers the writers of the canonical German tradition (Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Gadamer) only peripherally, generally drawing on their vocabularies to enrich his own descriptions rather than taking them as his prime subject matter. Although Bruns does not develop a linear argument, he plainly intends to demonstrate that, aldiough interpretive methodologies are indispensable, understanding always exceeds the bounds of a narrow search for the "validity" of a theorist like Hirsch. The range and play of Bruns's thought across the intellectual landscapes ofphilosophy and literature can be astounding, both in the sheer quantity of figures and works he considers and in his ability to forge and discern links between seemingly disparate texts and practices. In "Wordswordi at the Limits of Romantic Hermeneutics," for example, Bruns begins by characterizing Romantic hermeneutics as the desire "to enter into the self-experience of another, inhabiting the other as other" (p. 160). He offers interesting readings of the Prelude and "Tintern Abbey" in diis context, but the most interesting portions of the chapter are his reflections on the dark side of this Romantic hermeneutics. For if we conceive of understanding as a flight from one's self into another, we must acknowledge the terrifying possibility offinding that other so radically different as to transform or deform us in unexpected ways, or even to prevent a return to a coherent, sane self. He situates Poe's tale "The Purloined Letter" on the boundary of this dark side of Romantic hermeneutics, and then offers a striking reading of E. T. A. Hoffman's "The Sandman" as exemplifying the kind of deformations which can occur when hermeneutic flights from self go awry. While Bruns's range and play provide the most interesting and insightful aspects ofthis book, they also provide for some frustration and confusion. They Reviews171 lead him into two difficulties. At times the thread that connects the various thinkers under consideration gets lost, and the reader is left wandering after Bruns wherever his imagination takes him. More important, Bruns's desire to critique the narrowly conceived definition of hermeneutics as interpretive methodology produces a history of hermeneutics in which everyone sounds like Heidegger. His description of ancient Biblical commentator PhiloJudaeus, for example, reads exactly like his descriptions of Luther, Gadamer, or the interpreters of the Torah: "Philo's practice presupposes a hermeneutical situation in which text and interpreter are not sealed off from each other but are caught up in a complicated mutual appropriation" (p. 102). The title and structure of Bruns's book promise an elucidation of some distinction between ancient and modern hermeneutics; if such a distinction exists, it never clearly emerges from Bruns's wanderings. Despite these flaws, philosophers should appreciate Bruns's considerable depth in issues in contemporary philosophy, and literary theorists should benefit from his philosophically grounded reflections on a variety of works of literature and criticism. Northwestern UniversityJames M. Lang Originary Thinking: Elements of Generative Anthropology, by Eric Gans; 225 pp. Stanford: Stanford University Press, $32.50. This is an important book; it makes a simple and eminendy reasonable demand of academics, though one that is rarely met. Generative...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 170-171
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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