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DIKTAT OR DIALOGUE? ON GADAMER'S CONCEPT OF THE ART WORK'S CLAIM by John Pizer How do we experience a work of art? Put another way, how does die work of art engage and address us? Hans-Georg Gadamer devoted much of his magnum opus, Truth and Method, to answering these questions, and he takes up the task again in a brief essay entided "Aesthetics and Hermeneutics" (1964). Earlier positions on the nature of hermeneutical reflection, the historical context of aesthetic interpretation and the linguistic character underlying the apprehension of all modes of art are reformulated here. At first glance, the essay appears to be more the summary of a previous epistemology than a venture into new terrain. There is, in fact, almost nothing in this work which seems to contradict Gadamer's previous view. Nevertheless, the closing lines of the essay give his concept of art a dimension not directly perceptible in Truth and Method. This is the notion that the work of art challenges us, on a personal level, to change the course of our existence: "The intimacy with which the work of art touches us is at the same time, in enigmatic fashion, a shattering and a demolition of the familiar. It is not only the 'This art thou!' disclosed in ajoyous and frightening shock; it also says to us: 'Thou must alter thy life'!" {PH, p. 104).1 Whereas Truth and Method focuses on the heightened reflexivity gained in a dialogue with an aesthetic object, Gadamer's citation of Rilke's admonition would appear to turn the dialogue into a command, or at least an unmediated personal challenge, issued by the work of art. 272 John Pizer273 This is not to say that Truth andMethod is free ofpowerful, even violent language in its description of aesthetic experience. In discussing the concept of "Erlebnis" as it came to be the dominant term in phenomenological investigations ofconsciousness, Gadamer represents aesthetic experience as paradigmatic of all experience. Like the hermeneutic circle, consciousness is grounded in the interplay of discrete, individual experience and the experience oflife as a whole. Life as a whole consists of unique, episodic experiences, and yet these experiences only acquire meaning in the context of life in its totality. As Joel Weinsheimer puts it: "An experience is something the meaning ofwhich accompanies one through life, determining that life and being determined by it."2 An exceptional experience is an adventure, which gives a disruptivejolt to the even flow of life. But it allows one to experience life in its richness, fullness, and totality even as it tears one from life's quotidian context. In this, the aesthetic experience has the character ofan adventure: "The work of art seems destined to become an aesthetic experience. This means the person experiencing it is wrenched at one blow from the context of his life while at the same time he is related back to the whole of his existence" {WM, p. 66).3 But while Gadamer's terminology here in describing the experience of art is as violent as that of "Aesthetics and Hermeneutics," he does not suggest in Truth and Method that the work of art issues a command or injunction. Rather, by reflecting on the essence of experience as the dialectic of "exile and reunion," 4 our dialogue with the art work enriches our ability to understand and find truth in life as a whole. Of course, even in Truth and Method Gadamer distinguishes clearly between the silent dialogue between art work and spectator, particularly between reader and text, and the colloquy of individuals engaged in conversation. Nevertheless, he makes it clear that in both cases an openended dialectic ofquestion and answer motivates the engagement. Does the notion that a work of art "shatters" the familiar and admonishes us to change our lives contradict the earlier, seemingly more democratic parameters established by Gadamer as defining the search for ontological truth, and, more narrowly, the attempt at legitimate interpretation ? The purpose of this paper will be to demonstrate that it does not. First ofall, we must note Gadamer's concept ofexperience {Erfahrung) in relationship to the text implies an openness to it rather than a detached , objective...


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