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The Agon of Interpretations

The Agon of Interpretations: Towards a Critical Intercultural Hermeneutics

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 328
  • Book Info
    The Agon of Interpretations
    Book Description:

    Written by a team of leading international scholars,The Agon of Interpretationsexplores the challenges and possibilities of critical intercultural hermeneutics in a globalized world. Editor Ming Xie and writers from eight countries on five continents not only lay out the importance of critical hermeneutics to intercultural understanding but also probe the conditions under which a hermeneutics that is both intercultural and critical can be possible.

    The contributors examine and define critical intercultural hermeneutics as an emerging field from a wide variety of disciplinary perspectives, including phenomenology, critical theory, sociology, object-oriented ontology, and pragmatism. The essays combine philosophical argumentation with historical and intellectual inquiry. Together, the contributors toThe Agon of Interpretationsdemonstrate the value of critical intercultural hermeneutics for enabling intercultural communication, engagement, and understanding.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-9630-3
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature, Anthropology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-2)
  4. Introduction: Towards a Critical Intercultural Hermeneutics
    (pp. 3-20)

    In this introduction, as a first approximation, intercultural hermeneutics may be defined simply as the theory and practice of interpretation between cultures. As such, intercultural hermeneutics concerns the different modes of interpretation and understanding in and between different cultures. An example from my own experience may illustrate what I mean. Some years ago when I was teaching a graduate seminar on the translatability of cultures, one of the central issues I asked my students to ponder was the extent to which translation between languages and cultures presupposes interpretation and understanding, both of which in turn presuppose viewpoint and framework. “Suppose...

  5. Part One: Resources of Phenomenology and Hermeneutics

    • Chapter One The Intercultural Horizon of Contemporary Understanding
      (pp. 23-42)

      Hermeneutic understanding operates within a tradition, whereas phenomenological philosophy investigates the constitution of traditions and the collection of traditions that forms a culture. In this essay I seek to define the planetary event that motivates intercultural understanding. This event can be understood through a double horizon: the planetary character of scientific–technological civilization defines the context of the interaction of cultures, and the interaction of cultures defines the context for the planetary expansion of scientific–technological civilization. This is the motivating event for critique of traditions and of the collection of traditions that constitutes a culture. It is the experiential...

    • Chapter Two Do Gadamer and Ricoeur Have the Same Understanding of Hermeneutics?
      (pp. 43-64)

      It is one of the most vital tasks of hermeneutics to build bridges and foster dialogue between cultures. Important hermeneutical thinkers like Gadamer and Ricoeur rightfully stressed this in their writings. But what about the dialogue between Gadamer and Ricoeur themselves? There is little doubt that these two are the leading figures in contemporary hermeneutics. They knew of each other, of course: they met at the Castelli conferences in Rome in the early 1960s and regularly encountered each other in North America and Europe when they participated in the same conferences. But there was, unfortunately, little dialogue between them.¹ This...

    • Chapter Three The Commonality of the World and the Intercultural Element: Meaning, Culture, and Chora
      (pp. 65-82)

      Recent debates on “intercultural hermeneutics” – or, more broadly, “intercultural studies” – have been particularly heterogeneous. Generally the emphasis has been on an “intercultural hermeneutics” understood as an interaction between – or the exchanges made between – different cultures (or different cultural actors). Many approaches seem to reduce “intercultural hermeneutics” to some form of intercultural communication or dialogue understood as the intersubjective interactions between subjects of different cultures; here the enhancement of mutual understanding appears as the ultimate aim. An “intercultural hermeneutics,” however, also presumes a “hermeneutics of the intercultural.” A philosophy of “the intercultural” seeks to elucidate the intercultural...

    • Chapter Four Comparing the Incomparable: Crossing Intercultural Borders
      (pp. 83-98)

      Over the past two centuries we have come to accept the existence of diverse languages, customs, and cultures; in doing so, however, we run the risk of going from one extreme to the other. Sometimes we emphasize foreignness to the point that life-worlds and culture-worlds close up like clams in their shells, sealing themselves into their own meanings and norms; other times we play down foreignness by allowing it to become blurred by an ethos of general humanity, by entrusting it to global regimes, or by offering it as a cultural good in the world market. The former tendency amounts...

    • Chapter Five World, Home, and Hermeneutic Phenomenology
      (pp. 99-120)

      I begin this essay with a reference to Mohandas Gandhi’s famous description of India as a house with open windows all around so that the winds of influence may flow in from wherever. But I add this strong caveat: the house itself must not be blown away by the forces of change. As Gandhi added sternly, even threateningly, he would not be left a beggar in his own house. Remarkable about Gandhi’s manifesto is its measured tone – it emerges from a purely ontological perspective, even while it addresses the turmoil of India’s immediate political situation. Gandhi’s exhortation – which...

  6. Part Two: Intercultural Complications and Problematics

    • Chapter Six Objects and Orientalism
      (pp. 123-139)

      This essay considers the possible vulnerability of object-oriented ontology (OOO) to charges of “Orientalism.” Although the charge has not yet been made by any serious author,¹ there are reasons why it ought to be answered in advance. Object-oriented thought defends the mystery and exoticism of objects, describing them in poetic language that sometimes makes use of Oriental-sounding metaphors. It defends a version of realism and essentialism that might seem dangerous, from fear of the condescending manner in which an unchanging essence has often been ascribed to vast stretches of the non-Western world. Another point to consider is that for some,...

    • Chapter Seven Understanding, Misunderstanding, and the Critical Function of Hermeneutics in Cross-Cultural Studies
      (pp. 140-155)

      A few years after the first appearance of the original German edition ofWahrheit und Methodein 1960, E.D. Hirsch publishedValidity in Interpretation, in which he launched a strong critique of Gadamer’s hermeneutics. Hirsch was concerned with the stability of meaning and the validity of interpretation, and he saw Gadamer as representing a dangerous tendency towards subjectivism, which tends to destabilize meaning and lead to the loss of certainty and all grounds for scholarly pursuit. “Validity requires a norm – a meaning that is stable and determinate no matter how broad its range of implication and application,” says Hirsch....

    • Chapter Eight Universal Values or Cultural Relativity: A Pointless Question
      (pp. 156-164)

      “Orientalists” and comparative philosophers are often confronted with the question whether cultures or traditions are essentially distinct, or whether, at some basic level, all human beings are the same. Do “the Chinese think differently,”¹ or is rationality universal? The political and ideological issues here are obvious, which makes the question not only an academic one but also morally charged. Providing the “wrong” answer can threaten one’s academic reputation and cause one’s audience to withdraw its sympathy. So, the question can be considered dangerous – as well as, to a certain extent, academically pointless. Given all this, I intend to question...

    • Chapter Nine Reconciling the Tension between Similarity and Difference in Critical Hermeneutics
      (pp. 165-184)

      Practising critical hermeneutics throws us into the tension between two requirements: first, to construe others as being like us; and second, to open ourselves to ways they may differ fundamentally from us and pose challenges to our cherished truths. In this essay I analyse these tensions and propose a way to reconcile them. I will argue that the embrace of difference is necessary if we are to interpret others as being like us. To plausibly interpret others as being like us, we need sufficient diversity within the “us.” Furthermore, I will argue that whom we decide to include in the...

  7. Part Three: Expanding Horizons:: Empathy, Dialogue, Critique, Wisdom

    • Chapter Ten Some Observations on the Prospects of Intercultural Hermeneutics in a Global Framework
      (pp. 187-209)

      This essay starts from three basic premises: (1) that hermeneutics, as it stands now, is a science or, rather, anartof interpretation proper to the Western mentality and that it needs to undergo substantial remapping and readjustment in an intercultural and global context; (2) that Critical Theory – understood as a Marxian type of thinking, instituted by Adorno and Horkheimer, and continued today, most notably by Habermas – may, again, be appropriate in a Western reference framework, but not in a global one; and (3) that because of (1) and (2), intercultural hermeneutics would lose rather than gain from...

    • Chapter Eleven Intercultural Understanding in Philosophical Hermeneutics
      (pp. 210-232)

      In the summer of 2009 I was on an express train from Changchun to Harbin, China. I had just delivered a lecture on Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics at Jilin University. My gracious hosts made sure I got on the correct train. After a while the snack cart was moving through the aisle. I decided to have some coffee. I asked for “coffee?” – literally, in English, since I do not speak a word of Chinese. Fortunately, “coffee?” was enough for intercultural communication. I was served a cup, a packet of instant coffee, a stirrer, sugar, and creamer. I was quite pleased,...

    • Chapter Twelve Making Sense of Critical Hermeneutics: Pragmatist Reflections
      (pp. 233-251)

      In recent years, many scholars have pointed to various convergences between philosophical hermeneutics and pragmatism – for example, between the thought of Hans-Georg Gadamer on the one hand and John Dewey and Stanley Fish on the other,² or between the work of Richard Rorty and so-called radical hermeneutics.³ Contemporary pragmatists such as Rorty and Richard Shusterman, in turn, have explicitly drawn from the work of Gadamer and Heidegger,⁴ with Rorty’s sympathy towards the hermeneutical tradition being further confirmed by his common publications with Gianni Vattimo.⁵ Yet the relation between the two movements is far from completely harmonious, as evidenced, for...

    • Chapter Thirteen Critical Interventions: Towards a Hermeneutical Rejoinder
      (pp. 252-274)

      One of the difficulties facing global, multicultural societies is how to negotiate judiciously the criteria that will guide us in determining what should command our recognition as participants in cultural and political communities. The dilemma lies in discerning how to pursue such a negotiation in a way that does not beg questions against the yet-to-be-included or against what is taken to have established its credentials for recognition. Central among the questions facing democratic and democratizing societies the world over is how to find principled ways to acknowledge the claims of the distinct cultural groups comprising them. Forging a language for...

    • Chapter Fourteen Empathy, Dialogue, Critique: How Should We Understand (Inter)Cultural Violence?
      (pp. 275-301)

      The question of how an adequate understanding of human agents is possible aims at the heart of the human and social sciences, especially if the agents express unfamiliar and seemingly bizarre beliefs, attitudes, or values. For a long time, it was taken for granted that the task of the skilled interpreter was to render the other “intelligible” by making his or her beliefs and practices look as “rational” as possible. Since making someone look rational must always mean making him or her look rationalto us, the rationality attribution seems to imply making the agent as familiar to us as...

  8. Afterword: Contesting the Real
    (pp. 302-308)

    In this afterword, I offer further reflections on the relations among the key terms in this book, especiallyagonandcritical, so as to bring them into sharper focus and more explicit articulation. The main objectives of a critical hermeneutics may be seen as threefold: (1) to question the central assumptions of hermeneutics, (2) to make explicit the conditions of interpretation and understanding, and (3) to articulate alternative possibilities of interpretation and understanding.

    Critical hermeneutics is not just epistemological but also ontological. Reality itself is fundamentally contingent and thus could be otherwise than it is. It is not just a...

  9. List of Contributors
    (pp. 309-310)
  10. Index
    (pp. 311-326)