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Critical Discussions Radical Hermeneutics: Repetition, Deconstruction, and the Hermeneutic Project, by John D. Caputo; ix & 319 pp. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987, $37.50 cloth, $17.50 paper. Discussed by Vincent B. Leitch One of the most striking effects of the rise of the new feminism and the eruption ofthe black aesthetic during the 1960s in America was the emergence of explicit ethico-political "contexts" for discussions and analyses of cultural artifacts and phenomena.1 During the decades following the sixties, questions concerning gender and race increasingly entered into intellectual examinations of novels, films, artworks, and vanguard movements. Often the very "discourses" scrutinized, especially those composed by women and blacks, constituted instances ofnonelitist popular, low, or mass culture. In the decades after the sixties, to generalize , the "politicization" of cultural analysis manifested itself in both the "objects" studied and the questions posed. It should come as no surprise that critical inquiry in the domain ofthe ethicopolitics ofculture entailed employingmodes ofinstitutional and ideological analysis, which derived not simply from long-standing leftist intellectual traditions but from new poststructuralist approaches. In looking critically at the case of posthermeneutics in America in the post-Vietnam era, I want ultimately to call into service certain perspectives indebted to poststructuralist cultural studies with which I have much sympathy.2 Neither the old philological hermeneutics of Schleiermacher and Dilthey nor the new phenomenological hermeneutics of Heidegger and Gadamer explicitly consider questions of gender, race, or cultural pol151 152Philosophy and Literature itics.3 There is perhaps nothing shocking in this historical configuration. In the postmodern era, however, it has fallen to the vanguard heirs of hermeneutical inquiry sometimes to solidify their tradition in a conserving manner and sometimes to extend it beyond classical hermeneutics toward a broadened cultural hermeneutics—an emergent posthermeneutics . The work of Hirsch typifies the conservative option. The linkage of Heideggerian hermeneutics and Foucaultian genealogy carried out in the late seventies and early eighties by the boundary 2 group provides one instance of the turn toward cultural hermeneutics.4 The publication in the late eighties of John Caputo's Radical Hermeneutics offers still another example of a posthermeneutics, an enterprise that entails explicitly "crossing" the poststructuralism of Derrida with/over the earlier existentialism and phenomenology of Kierkegaard, Husserl, and especially Heidegger.5 It is this posthermeneutical endeavor that I wish to explore because it constitutes arguably the most dramatic confrontation of hermeneutics not only with the practices of poststructuralism but with the ethico-political preoccupations of cultural studies. I shall demonstrate that Caputo's "radical hermeneutics" scraps the work of hermeneutics while saving its name in order to cope with both the challenges of poststructuralism and the politicization of culture. In the work of Heidegger and Gadamer the task of hermeneutics moves beyond simply constructing rules and guidelines for textual exegesis . The establishment of ontology as a basis for exegetical work renders hermeneutics something of a Lebensphilosophie. Understanding and interpretation occur in the midst of existence and its dreadful anxieties. Still, the focus of phenomenological hermeneutics is notjust on existence but on the construal of the meaning of discourse. Accordingly , such hermeneutics examines the interpretative circle, the nature of assertion, the forestructures of understanding, the role of prejudice in interpretation, the mechanisms for fusing historical horizons , and the skills of applicatio. In Radical Hermeneutics, however, John Caputo abandons the whole exegetical enterprise of hermeneutics, focusing instead on "deconstructivizing" existential ontology. Caputo has nothing new to add to philosophical ruminations on interpretative practices . Rather, he broadly grafts Derridean insights onto existential themes, giving us, as we shall see, a "deconstructive" existential theology, epistemology, politics, and ethics. The cause of hermeneutics, narrowly conceived, is not advanced here. Why does Caputo label his work "hermeneutics "? Because Caputo employs the poststructuralist tactics ofpaleonymics and Vincent B. Leitch153 of grafting, he holds onto the word "hermeneutics." In several essays, Derrida recommends that deconstructors seeking to offer new understandings or transformations oftraditional concepts and practices maintain their old names.6 For instance, écriture in Derridean terms designates writing or textuality in two senses: (1) writing signifies the standard instrumental transcription of speech onto a page and (2) it names the radical primordial production and recording of all differences, spaces, and traces...


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