• The Art of Interpretation as Interpretation towards Art

    MICHAEL BOEHLER (see profile)
    Criticism, interpretation, etc., Hermeneutics
    Item Type:
    Conference paper
    Conf. Title:
    “Bewundert viel und viel gescholten. Der Germanist Emil Staiger (1908-1987). Internationales Forschungskolloquium und Ausstellung zu Staigers 100. Geburtstag vom 5. bis 9. Februar 2008 in Zürich (Memorial Conference on the occasion of Emil Staiger’s 100th Birthday 2008)
    Conf. Org.:
    Zentralbibliothek Zürich
    Conf. Loc.:
    Zentralbibliothek Zürich
    Conf. Date:
    February 5th - 9th, 2008
    interpretation, Hermeneutics and Literature, eduard mörike, Peter Sloterdijk, Roman Jakobson, fuzzy logic, Emil Staiger, Martin Heidegger, cognitive metaphor theory, metonymy
    Permanent URL:
    Critical analysis of Emil Staiger's essay "The Art of Interpretation" (1955), seen here as a performative staging of the act of hermeneutical understanding by a "Virtuose der Auslegung" (Virtuoso of exegesis) in Wilhelm Dilthey's sense in his "Die Entstehung der Hermeneutik" (The Rise of Hermeneutics, 1900). By this approach, a closer look reveals a cognitive dissonance between what Staiger says at the programmatic level and what he actually does at the performative step-by-step-level. Thus, his famous grounding of interpretation in intuition and feeling can be shown as being based on probability judgments (E. D. Hirsch) in an approximation process of "fuzzy logics" (Bart Kosko) within a spectrum of sound – if habitualized – knowledge. In its second part, the paper pursues the question of how and why it seems to Staiger and (practically) all the other interpreters unambiguously clear, that the poem is about art and beauty, whereas in several empirical surveys with college freshmen assigned to spontaneously interpret the poem almost all of them opted for a poem on bygone love or both – love and art. The disaccord between the two readings can be explained in terms of Jakobson's and Freud's/Lacan's theories of figurative substitution and transposition, i.e. the dichotomy between a metaphoric vs. metonymic reading. It then becomes obvious that the Staigerean interpretation of the lamp under the “sign” of art and beauty takes the metaphorical course alone, which allows the “condensation” of the artwork itself and beauty in general to shine forth in the lamp. By contrast, the poem opens up its love motifs to the freshmen readers when they interpret the lamp metonymically as a co-present “witness” to erotic events, i.e. as the result of a semiotic “displacement” connected with internal or external censorship (the “Doric precensorship” in terms of Peter Sloterdijk), whose taboo must itself first be breached in the interpretation.
    Published as:
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    Last Updated:
    3 months ago
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