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March 09, 2005


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Charlie Bertsch

I really like the way you put this. I'm curious, too, how you would reconcile -- or not -- the approach to interpretation you delineate here and the sort that goes by the name of immanent critique. The latter is a concept that has long fascinated me, but which I never quite seem to have as firm a grip on as I would like.

For some reason, Gadamer has been striking me as an useful counterweight to other thinkers I like to think with. I haven't read him well enough to pin down the attraction, aside from the obvious appeal of self-reflexive hermeneutics, but hope to remedy that deficiency once I finish my book.


Thanks for that, Jodi. Though I would argue that Gadamer's notion of "linguisticality" pre-empts this kind of solidarity, unless it is a solidarity of wariness towards prefiguring the author before interpreting the text.

@Charlie: This is presumptous probably, but perhaps the attraction of Gadamer is the ontologisation of language (in a dynamic act of interpretation) arriving in something playfully (in a Wittgensteinian sense) achieved in the process, but nonetheless far from nihilistic, contingent or chaotic (Gadamer calls it "tradition")?

chris robinson

I think you are describing good scholarship, really. Reading an author's work with care begins with a sense of admiration: Probably admiration for the hard work of completing a book project. (Okay, I can't imagine reading something by Ann Coulter with admiration. Indeed, I can't imagine reading something by Ann Coulter.) The critical encounter emerges from this desire to be fair and open. Criticisms begin to collect in the margins. They sneak in: "Oh, that can't be right." At some point a balance may be tipped. Fairness and care continue, but what might have started as an innocent reading turns into a critical search for substantiation of an opposing thesis. I read Richard Rorty with admiration. I feel I learn a lot, but there is very little I come out agreeing with.

chris robinson

And, Jodi, I've been reading some of your stuff and the words "conventional and mediocrity" just don't spring to mind. "Inventive and first-rate" are far more apt.


Did you write this post after reading John Holbo's article on Zizek?


Thanks for the comments. I was traveling yesterday and didn't get a chance to respond. Anyway, to RMutt, yes, but not only that but some other current trashings and reductions of Z. To Chris, thanks for your kind words. And, I agree that my description seems like good scholarship. The thing is, so many other people look at scholarship differently. They might prefer attack more. Or maybe that like showing the weakness of the author. Like, Oh, Plato. How quaint. Poor guy doesn't know what a concept is so has to presuppose an ontological order of Forms. Or poor Aristotle, poor sap doesn't understand Plato at all. And, how conventional, please. So, all of this sort of thing really bothers me. And, as you said about Rorty a good German friend who is here with me in Texas right now was saying something similar about Agamben's new book--completely brilliant, really productive and useful to think with but wrong on the most important point.

Charlie and CWK--I'm not as up on Gadamer as I was before. But, I'm sure my little intuition comes from that as well as from my dissertation experience in Frankfurt. Actually, while there I wrote a paper that did the opposite, that treated mockingly some work by an interesting scholar. I now cringe to think that I wrote it. I'm glad it was never published but embarassed that I delivered it publicly. That's one of the reasons I admire you nuanced treatment of words and translation in Adorno. Even in the midst of critique, it's a sign of respect not just for the person (so, not in some hierarchical German way) but for thinking and the challenge of thought.

Actually, what I might be describing is immanent critque: working from within the terms of a system rather than from without. But, Paul and I wrote something a couple of years ago on Hardt and Negri where we came down on them on the issue of representation. It took me a long time to sign on to this because of the way it leaves their system. I agree with the point but still worry about whether it is legitimate to make in that context.

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