Conferences can be exciting affairs. Such was the case with “Hamann and the Tradition,” held at Hunter College, New York, in 2009. This volume testifies to the high caliber of the proceedings, which brought together researchers in diverse disciplines—history, comparative and German literature, religious studies, theology, and philosophy—from Europe and the United States. Lisa Marie Anderson, conference organizer and editor of this volume, is the editor of Hegel on Hamann (Northwestern UP, 2008), which includes her translation of the monograph-size work by Hegel that appeared after the publication of the first edition of Hamann’s writings, edited by Friedrich Roth, in 1828.
Those who write about Hamann often begin by referring to his “obscurity” and to “hermeneutical challenges” (6), meaning not simply his rhetorical style but, rather, the difficulty of situating him in the history of ideas. The bibliography, ten pages listing only English-language publications, is evidence that Hamann is not obscure. In addition, the 2008 German-language biography of Hamann by Oswald Bayer, a contributor here, has recently appeared in English (William B. Eerdmans, 2012). To another contributor, Kenneth Haynes, we owe the translation of a selection of Hamann’s essays, Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language (Cambridge UP, 2007). The supposed obscurity, however, can be used for more ideological purposes. A presence in these pages is Magus of the North: J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (1994) by Isaiah Berlin. Berlin’s subtitle tells all, and this volume pushes back against such a view. [End Page 301]
The opening section, “Situating Hamann,” traces, first, Hamann’s historical positioning and his influence on Kant, Herder, Jacobi, Schelling, Hegel, and Kierkegaard (John Betz) and, second, Hamann’s reception in the nineteenth century (Kenneth Haynes). Betz addresses the theological basis of Hamann’s obscurity and the transmission of his “metacritical” ideas via Herder and Jacobi to the philosophic “mainstream” (14). Haynes shows how Hamann’s failure to fit into either a system or a narrative of the progress of reason and self-realization led to his marginalization in nineteenth-century histories of philosophy. The second section, “Hamann in Dialogue,” contains five essays. These concern Hamann’s counter-Enlightenment reading of Socrates (Kelly Dean Jolley) and how his ideas anticipated the thinking of others: Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, and Ferdinand Ebner (Gwen Griffith-Dickson), Kierkegaard (Stephen Cole Leach), and Nietzsche and Wittgenstein (Jonathan Gray). In a kind of via negativa, Manfred Kuehn focuses on the missing dialogue on ethics between Hamann and Kant.
In the third section, “Hamann’s Place in Literary History,” Hamann is considered in relation to works with which he is not normally associated. Lori Yamamoto looks at Hamann through the lens of the Enlightenment literary genre par excellence, the fable, while Christian Sinn links Hamann to the development of the historical novel and Romantic period drama (e.g., in Brentano). Kamaal Haque introduces Goethe into the proceedings, dealing not with the Sturm und Drang, but with the impact of Hamann’s writings (e.g., Aesthetica in nuce) on the West-Eastern Divan.
Saving the best for last, as it were, is the final section, “Hamann and Theology.” Beginning with the concept of “Genius” (in Socratic Memorabilia), Oswald Bayer traces the notion of authorship in Hamann, both of God, the author of the world, and of humans, who are authors in God’s image. Johannes von Lüpke, defending Hamann’s Metacritique of the Purism of Reason against charges of enthusiasm, discusses Hamann’s unmasking of the God of Reason—“the embodiment of all cogitable perfection”—as a phantasm that leads to the idolatry of human reason (178). Katie Terezakis, proceeding from an analysis of the presumptions of the Metacritique, questions whether a Hamannian reading can sustain the assumptions of traditional, negative, or radical theology.
The above summaries are inadequate and may suggest that the essays can be discretely discussed. In truth, the material continually overlaps, shedding new light on key themes in Hamann’s writings: language, authorship, experience, reason, and our relation to others. These in turn are intimately linked in...