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  • The Agon of Interpretations: Towards a Critical Intercultural Hermeneutics ed. by Ming Xie
  • Vince Marotta
Ming Xie, ed. The Agon of Interpretations: Towards a Critical Intercultural Hermeneutics. University of Toronto Press. vii, 326. $65.00

The intercultural turn in the social sciences and humanities has focused on the social, political, and economic conditions required for genuine cross-cultural dialogue to occur. The discourse on interculturalism has been confined to policy responses with little analysis on the conceptual and philosophical issues underlying interpretation and understanding across cultures. This edited volume provides a rigorous intercultural account of such issues. It moves beyond the intracultural construction of meaning—the major concern of traditional hermeneutics—to a multi-faceted conception of critical intercultural hermeneutics that both reveals and transcends western/non-western binary thinking.

Drawing on various philosophical traditions and writers, the first part of the edited collection addresses the intercultural problematic. Ian Angus investigates the difference between the phenomenological and hermeneutic approaches to tradition and their role in formulating intercultural understanding. He articulates a non-universalistic philosophy that is grounded in both intercultural learning and intercultural critique. Such a philosophy maintains difference while overcoming foreignness. The difference between phenomenology and hermeneutics is blurred in Jean Grondin’s chapter on the affinities and differences between Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. Through this insightful and long-overdue comparison, Grondin perceptively re-examines the nature of the historical condition of knowledge and its relationship to relativism, nihilism, agency, language, and the constitution of being. Through a detailed and rigorous exploration of the work of the Czech phenomenologist Jan Patočka, Cornelius Castoriadis, Johann P. Arnason, and Plato, Suzi Adams formulates a “hermeneutics of the intercultural” that is trans-subjective rather than intersubjective. In Bermjard Waldenfels’s attempt to blur intercultural borders, he investigates the role of comparisons in intercultural understanding. To compare involves learning to see ourselves through foreign eyes, but this assumes, as Waldenfels points out, that the cultures we are comparing are distinct and fully formed. If cultures are instead entwined and bound to one another, then what is intercultural is already a part of the intracultural. Radhakrishnan re-examines the relationship between the intracultural and intercultural and reveals that power plays a more prominent role in intercultural hermeneutics. Drawing on Gandhi’s political and social ideas, he argues that the so-called openness of hermeneutics is circumscribed when cross-cultural encounters are immersed in epistemic violence.

Most of the chapters in Part Two attempt to overcome this epistemic violence. Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy reinterprets the exoticism, realism, and essentialism that are at the heart of the orientalist [End Page 500] discourse. Zhang Longxi’s essay questions the claims of subjectivism and relativism directed at Gadamer’s hermeneutics and argues that, for Gadamer, not all understandings and interpretations are equally valid. Longxi’s critical hermeneutic demonstrates the intercultural misconceptions and misunderstandings that are embedded in East-West cross-cultural studies where “the East” and “the West” are treated as fixed categories. Hans-Georg Moeller’s systems theory approach also critiques binary thinking by questioning the fundamentalism evident in both the universalist (western human rights discourse) and cultural relativist (Islamic self-assertion discourse) positions. David B. Wong’s critical inter-cultural hermeneutics contends that in order to understand others we need to interpret others as being like us but also different. Drawing on Chinese thought, Wong illustrates how we can locate a common world with common responses in which the Other is not treated as a passive object of interpretation.

Part Three begins with Mihai Spariosu’s exploration of the underlying principles and practices of a global intercultural hermeneutics. The role of a global intercultural hermeneutics is to become mindful of the complicated, interrelated, and hidden interconnections of our global reality and to be critical of the “critical thinking” underlying the western intellectual tradition. Lawrence K. Schmidt’s chapter investigates the role of legitimate and illegitimate prejudgments (prejudices) within Gadamer’s notion of tradition and maintains that, for Gadamer, the inherited prejudgments that constitute tradition are not always legitimate. Thus, the authority of tradition is not absolute but changes according to the role of distance and otherness in the interpretative...


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pp. 500-502
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