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The Liminality of Hermes and the meaning of hermeneutics David Palmer

The Liminality of Hermes and the meaning of hermeneutics David Palmer

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Published by vota167
A search for the meaning of hermeneutics, the art of interpretation in human life, about Hermes, Heidegger, Gadamer etc.
A search for the meaning of hermeneutics, the art of interpretation in human life, about Hermes, Heidegger, Gadamer etc.

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Published by: vota167 on Oct 21, 2009
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The Liminality of Hermesand the Meaning of Hermeneutics byRichard E. Palmer MacMurray Collegehttp://www.mac.edu/faculty/richardpalmer/liminality.html
"By a playful thinking that is more persuasive than the rigor of science," Heidegger tells us,the Greek words for interpreting and interpretation—
--can be tracedback to the god Hermes.
However questionable the etymological connection between Hermesand
may be, hermeneutics, as the art of understanding and of textual exegesis,does stand under the sign of Hermes. Hermes is messenger who brings the word from Zeus(God); thus, the early modern use of the term hermeneutics was in relation to methods of interpreting holy scripture. An interpreter brought to mortals the message from God. Althoughthe usage was broadened in the eighteenth and nineteenth century to take in methods of understanding and explicating both sacred
secular texts from antiquity, the term"hermeneutics" continued to suggest an interpretation which discloses something hidden fromordinary understanding and mysterious. Ancient texts are, for moderns, doubly alien: they areancient and they are in
. Their interpreter, poring over a text in Hebrew,Greek, or Latin, cannot fail to convey the impression that he has access to a body of knowledge from elsewhere, is a bridge to somewhere else, he is a mediator between amysterious other world and the clean, well-lighted intelligible world in which we live andmove and 'have our being.Hermes is just such a mediator. He is the messenger between Zeus and mortals, also betweenZeus and the underworld and between the underworld and mortals. Hermes crosses theseontological thresholds with ease. A notorious thief, according to legend, he crosses thethreshold of legality without a qualm. "Marshal of dreams," he mediates between waking anddreaming, day and night. Wearer of a cap of invisibility, he can become invisible or visible atwill. Master of night-tricks, he can cover himself with night. Master of sleep, he can wake thesleeping or put the waking to sleep. Liminality or marginality is his very essence."Liminality" is a term given currency in twentieth century anthropology by Victor Turner of the University of Chicago.
in Latin means threshold, and anthropologists like Turnerhave become interested in a certain state experienced by persons as they pass over thethreshold from one stage of life to another. For instance, Turner notes that the rite of passageat puberty has three phases: separation from one's status as child in a household, then a
stage, and finally reintegration into society as a full and independent member withrights and responsibilities that the initiate did not have before. During the liminal stage, thebetween stage, one's status becomes ambiguous; one is "neither here nor there," one is"betwixt and between all fixed points of classification,"
and thus the form and rules of bothhis earlier state and his state-to-come are suspended. For the moment, one is an outsider; oneis on the margins, in an indeterminate state. Turner is fascinated by this marginality, this zone
of indeterminacy. He argues that it is from the standpoint of this marginal zone that the greatartists, writers, and social critics have been able to look past the social forms in order to seesociety from the outside and to bring in a message from beyond it.This marginality is the realm of Hermes. In his recent book, The Meaning of Aphrodite, PaulFriedrich remarks (in a brilliant appendix) on the multiple liminality of Hermes and his linkswith Aphrodite.
He notes that1.
Hermes moves by night, the time of love, dreams, and theft;2.
he is the master of cunning and deceit, the marginality of illusions and tricks;3.
he has magical powers, the margin between the natural and the supernatural;4.
he is the patron of all occupations that occupy margins or involve mediation:traders, thieves, shepherds, and heralds;5.
his mobility makes him a creature betwixt and between;6.
his marginality is indicated by the location of his phallic herms not justanywhere but on roads, at crossroads, and in groves;7.
even his eroticism is not oriented to fertility or maintaining the family but isbasically Aphroditic--stealthy, sly, and amoral, a love gained by theft withoutmoral concern for consequences; and finally8.
Hermes is a guide across boundaries, including the boundary between earthand Hades, that is, life and death.
 Truly, one may say that Hermes is the Greeks' "god of the gaps," although not in thesense in which this phrase is used by Bonhoeffer (to refer to a religious attitude thatdoes not turn to God except to fill in the empty spots and question marks oneencounters in life).
Rather, he is one who seems to inhabit an in-between realm, whatCarlos Castaneda referred to as the "crack between the worlds."
The meaning of hermeneutics, then, is closely tied to the character of Hermes. Wemay see some further implications and dimensions of this fact by considering briefly(1) Heidegger's discussion of Hermes and hermeneutics in his famous conversationwith a Japanese on the topic of language in
On the Way to Language
, and (.2) WalterF. Otto's famous chapter on Hermes in his
The Homeric Gods
.For Heidegger, it is significant that Hermes is the messenger of the gods and not justother humans; for the message brought by Hermes is not just any message but "fatefultidings" (
 Botschaft des Geschickes).
Interpretation in its highest form, then, is tobe able to understand these fateful tidings, indeed the fatefulness of the tidings. Tointerpret is first to listen and then to become a messenger of the gods oneself, just asthe poets do, according to Plato's
Indeed, part of the destiny of man is preciselyto stand in a hermeneutical relation to one's being here and now and to one's heritage.
Human beings, insofar as they are truly human beings, says Heidegger, "are used forhearing the message . . . they are to listen and belong to it as
human beings
"From the source of the event of appearing something comes toward man that holdsthe two-fold of presence and present beings,"
says Heidegger. .The human beingstands in this gap, this zone of disclosure. One does not so much act as respond, doesnot so much speak as listen, does not so much interpret as understand the thing that isunveiled. The primary movement here is understanding as an emergence of being. Thehuman being becomes Hermes, the message-bearer, only because one has first andforemost opened oneself to a process of unconcealment: "The human being is themessage-bearer of the message which the two-fold's unconcealment utters to it."
What is interesting and important about this description of interpretation is that it goesbehind technique-oriented conceptions to a moment more primordial, a moment beforeour present thought-forms, in order to grasp something essential. Such interpretationenters into a loving and fundamental dialogue with the greatest efforts of the past tograsp the meaning of being. This primordial listening is hermeneutical in yet anothersense: it is a listening to
The "message" one must interpret is really the doctrinesand thinking of one's forbears as embodied in great texts. To exist hermeneutically asa human being is to exist intertextually. It is to participate in the endless chain of interpretation that makes up the history of apprehending being. Says Heidegger, oneenters into dialogue with the doctrines of past thinkers, which were "in turn learned bylistening to the great thinkers' thinking."
One participates in the endless chain of listening that constitutes essential thinking. "Each human being is in each instance indialogue with its forbears and perhaps even more and in a more hidden manner withthose who will come after it."
Again, this suggests the Hermes-related trait of bringing forth a hidden meaning. Heidegger would have the interpreter pore over thetext with the philologist's love of words: "Each word in each case is given its full--most often hidden--weight."
We can also understand Heidegger's choice of the term hermeneutics over suchalternatives as interpretation when we remember that implicit in the Heideggerianproject is the effort to regain a grasp of being that has been lost in modern times andindeed since the time of Plato and Aristotle. One seeks the "hidden weight" of ancientwords precisely in order to go
what is self-evident in modern thinking. Thisspecial and intense listening Heidegger calls for is necessary in order to break awayfrom the confines of the modern world view. Hermeneutics, it will be remembered, isthe discipline concerned with deciphering utterances from other times, places, andlanguages--
without imposing one's own categories on them
(the hermeneuticproblem). It is significant that Heidegger attempts to sharpen his reflection by aconversation with a person from a radically alien world--a Japanese. The atmosphereof the conversation is an effort to understand the most difficult and ineffableconceptions--beauty, utterance, language. A Japanese tentativeness and delicacypervades the dialogue, and one can understand Heidegger's fascination with a peoplewhose art strives for the letting-be of what is.But the use of a Japanese dialogical partner is not the only indication of Heidegger'seffort to transcend the westernized, modern world view. Heidegger explicitly states

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