Monday, February 9, 2004

Monday February 9, 2004

Filed under: General — m759 @ 6:36 PM

Hermes and Folded Time

Yesterday’s entry on painter Ward Jackson and the philosopher Gadamer involved what is called hermeneutics, or the art of interpretation.  Gadamer was a leader in this field.  The following passage perhaps belabors the obvious, but it puts hermeneutics clearly in context.

From Daniel Chandler’s Semiotics for Beginners:

“The ‘tightness’ of semiotic codes themselves varies from the rule-bound closure of logical codes (such as computer codes) to the interpretative looseness of poetic codes. Pierre Guiraud notes that ‘signification is more or less codified,‘ and that some systems are so ‘open’ that they ‘scarcely merit the designation ‘code’ but are merely systems of “hermeneutic” interpretation’ (*Guiraud 1975, 24). Guiraud makes the distinction that a code is ‘a system of explicit social conventions’ whilst ‘a hermeneutics’ is ‘a system of implicit, latent and purely contingent signs,’ adding that ‘it is not that the latter are neither conventional nor social, but they are so in a looser, more obscure and often unconscious way’ (*ibid., 41). His claim that (formal) codes are ‘explicit’ seems untenable since few codes would be likely to be widely regarded as wholly explicit. He refers to two ‘levels of signification,’ but it may be more productive to refer to a descriptive spectrum based on relative explicitness, with technical codes veering towards one pole and interpretative practices veering towards the other. At one end of the spectrum are what Guiraud refers to as ‘explicit, socialized codes in which the meaning is a datum of the message as a result of a formal convention between participants’ (*ibid., 43-4). In such cases, he argues, ‘the code of a message is explicitly given by the sender’ (*ibid., 65). At the other end of the spectrum are ‘the individual and more or less implicit hermeneutics in which meaning is the result of an interpretation on the part of the receiver’ (*ibid., 43-4). Guiraud refers to interpretative practices as more ‘poetic,’ being ‘engendered by the receiver using a system or systems of implicit interpretation which, by virtue of usage, are more or less socialized and conventionalized’ (*ibid., 41). Later he adds that ‘a hermeneutics is a grid supplied by the receiver; a philosophical, aesthetic, or cultural grid which he applies to the text’ (*ibid., 65).”

* Pierre Guiraud, Semiology (trans. George Gross), London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1975

Related material:

From Michalinos Zembylas on Michel Serres:

“Serres’ use of Hermes is reminiscent of hermeneutics. The word derives from Hermes and implies that the idea of hermeneutics as a theory of interpretation (and consequently of communication) is necessary when there is a possibility for misunderstanding. Hermes translated the ‘word of Gods’; an interpreter translates the written text, and a teacher ‘translates’ the literature….  Understanding then is aided by the mediation of a hermeneut…. According to Gadamer (1975), the pleasure such understanding elicits is the joy of knowledge (which does not operate as an enchantment but as a kind of transformation). It is worth exploring this idea a bit more since there are interesting connections with Serres’ work.”

There is also an interesting connection with Guiraud’s work.  As quoted above, Guiraud wrote that

“…a hermeneutics is a grid supplied by the receiver; a philosophical, aesthetic, or cultural grid which he applies to the text.”

Serres describes Hermes as passing through “folded time.”  Precisely how time can be folded into a grid is the subject of my note The Grid of Time, which gives the context for the Serres phrase “folded time.”

For more on hermeneutics and Gadamer’s “joy of knowledge,” see Ian Lee in The Third Word War on “understanding the J.O.K.E.” (the Joy of Knowledge Encyclopedia).

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