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Linguistic Turn - Literary Aspects

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Linear expansivity to Macrocosm and microcosmLinguistic Turn - Literary Aspects, Textualism, Intellectual History, Bibliography

Literary Aspects

The linguistic turn was apparent in other connections, one the "new rhetoric" of the past generation, which draws attention to the habits and conventions of language, like Michel Foucault calling into question the control of speakers and writers over their own discourse. The arts of speaking and writing are both based on conscious imitation, but every literate person is moving in linguistic channels carved by predecessors, deposited in the memory, and repeated in different contexts. Particular languages produce semantic fields that make possible communication and dialogue; and linguistic usage—particular topoi, copulas, and word combinations—has its own inertial force that acquires meaning apart from the intentions of users. This is one reason for being wary of the "intentional fallacy" in interpreting texts.

One of the most impressive vistas opened up by the linguistic turn is the modern philosophy of hermeneutics in the form given by Gadamer, who, following Heidegger, extended the line of thought in the direction suggested not by Friedrich Nietzsche (as did Heidegger and Derrida) but rather by Wilhelm Dilthey. Rejecting revolutionary ruptures as a condition of understanding, Gadamer preserved belief in a kind of continuity making communication and "dialogue" possible not only between speakers but also over time. There are no absolute beginnings, no understanding without prejudice, without "forestructures of understanding" provided by language and the "life-world." Pursuing Friedrich Schleiermacher's old quest for "the I in the Thou," Gadamer accepts the horizon-structure of experience but doubles it to accommodate the contexts of the past as well as the inquiring present. Language is a continuum making interpretation possible, but it does not permit the sort of retrospective mind reading assumed by the "empathy" of Romantic hermeneutics. That meaning must always be constructed in the present is the hermeneutical condition of Gadamer's kind of historicism. To understand, in short, is always to understand differently.

An important offshoot of hermeneutics is reception theory, or reception history (Rezeptionsgeschichte), which follows Gadamer's line by shifting attention from writing to reading. In fact intellectual history is more concerned with the original intention of authors and meaning of their texts than with their "fortune" in later contexts. What Paul Ricoeur calls the "semantic autonomy" of texts is the condition of the interpretations and misinterpretations that accompany the reception of writings. For Ricoeur the poles of interpretation are the hermeneutics of tradition and the hermeneutics of suspicion, the first locating the position of Gadamer (and of Arthur Lovejoy), who seeks an experience of tradition, the second that of Foucault, who is devoted to the critique of ideology. For Gadamer "tradition" and continuity make possible the common ground of understanding and communication that, via ideas, connects present and past (the Western past); for Foucault they mean entrapment in or complicity with ideology and a denial of the ruptures between the successive epistemes that represent decipherable codes (critically fabricated Weltanschauungen) of culture and patterns of underlying power relations.

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