SPRING SEMESTER 2011 | Mondays  7:00-10:00 p.m. | Solzberg Library: Harriman 218

Office Hours: Weds 2-3:30 and by appointment | Harriman 203

Office Telephone: 632-7592 |  E-mail:

Hugh J. Silverman (Professor of Philosophy, and Comparative Literary & Cultural Studies)

Hermeneutics is the theory or art of interpretation, interpretations of texts, actions, events, and social conditions. In this seminar, we will focus on how the interpretation of works, texts, and actions is transformed into a cultural hermeneutics that addresses the meaning and understanding (Verstehen) of social relations and cultural effects in both contemporary and historical contexts.  By culture, we mean how the arts, philosophies, textualities of a given situation lend themselves to an inquiry that will interpret the meaning of that situation for broader understanding, communication, and significance.  Cultural meaning arises when an enigma is presented for interpretation.  We shall begin with a brief overview of the history of hermeneutics (Schleiermacher, Dilthey, and Heidegger), and then focus in on the work of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur, the two major figures in the European hermeneutic tradition.  Rene Girard provides an alternate interpretation of cultural practice in terms of sacrifice and the social “scapegoat” (Violence and the Sacred), and Michel Foucault elaborates a hermeneutics of the subject through an archaeological reading of the will to say the truth.  This care for the self (and others) is reformulated in the constitution of the stranger/foreigner in social and psychoanalytic terms (Kristeva) and the deconstruction of the stranger in the host/guest hospitality relation (Derrida).  We will conclude with a consideration of how “bare life” is articulated in the “state of exception” by “sovereign power” (Agamben). 


Designed for philosophers, art historians, cultural and literary theorists, and others concerned with how to understand the meaning of selfhood, social marginalities, forms of alienation, exclusion, and hospitality, as well as the means to elaborate a politics of difference, this interdisciplinary seminar (focusing on major figures in the hermeneutic tradition and its aftermath) will provide challenging and insightful approaches to philosophical and cultural understanding.


Each student is to write two papers (about 8-10 pages in length).  The first paper should relate to the writings of Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Girard indicating the special features of their hermeneutics of culture and how at least two of these different theories can be applied to a specific social-political-aesthetic-critical situation, a literary text, an artwork, a musical piece, or some other cultural event; the second paper should take up the same event or text and demonstrate how  the writings of at least two of the following would interpret the event differently from the positions you discussed in your first paper:, Foucault, Kristeva, Derrida, and Agamben   The papers should focus on the meaning of culture and its interpretations for contemporary politics, art, or society by demonstrating how different views reformulate what is in question.


Papers are due on March 14th  and  April 25th  respectively.


In addition, each member of the seminar will prepare a protocol for one of the seminar sessions (depending on the number of seminar participants).  The person responsible for a particular week will write up an account of what transpired in class the previous week and will make a copy available to each of the members of the seminar prior to the beginning of class. The protocol for a particular week will be discussed at the outset of the seminar.  This will give everyone an opportunity to review what transpired in the previous session and to raise any lingering issues or topics that were not sufficiently treated when first presented. It will also be a lasting document for the seminar participants. Following the seminar discussion of the protocol, the student is asked to send a polished and corrected version ready for posting on the web.








DATE                     TOPIC                                                    READING                                                             PROTOCOL   


Jan 31                     Introduction to Cultural Hermeneutics:

                                Schleiermacher, Nietzsche, Dilthey,  Heidegger


Feb 7                      Hans-Georg Gadamer:        The Gadamer Reader , Part I

                                (1900-2002)                                         Philosophical Hermeneutics (1971-75)

                                                                                                + Autobiographical Reflections (1997)


Feb 14                    Hans-Georg Gadamer:        The Gadamer Reader, Part II

                                Hermeneutics, Art, and Poetry (1971-75)


Feb 21                    Paul Ricoeur:                       From Text to Action (1986), Part I

                                (1913-2005)                                         For a Hermeneutical Phenomenology (1971-75)

                                                                                                + On Interpretation (1983)


Feb 28                    Paul Ricoeur:                        From Text to Action Part II

                                                                                                Hermeneutics of Texts to Hermeneutics of Action



Mar 7                     René Girard:                         Violence and the Sacred (1972)

                                (1923- )                                                 Sacrifice / Ritual / Mimetic Desire


Mar 14                   Michel Foucault:                                 Hermeneutics of the Subject (1981-82), Feb 3-24

                                (1926-84 )                                            Taking Care of Oneself / Care for Others

                                                                                                + Course Summary & Context (pp. 491-550)

{first paper due}

Mar 21                   Michel Foucault:                                 Hermeneutics of the Subject             (1981-82), Mar 10 +

The Will to Say the Truth / Speaking Freely (parrhesia)


Mar 28                   Julia  Kristeva:                    Strangers to Ourselves (1988)

                                (1944- )                                


Apr 4                      Julia  Kristeva:                     Strangers to Ourselves (1988)

                                (1944- )


Apr 11                    Jacques Derrida: Of Hospitality      (1997)



Apr 18                    SPRING RECESS


Apr 25                    Jacques Derrida: Of Hospitality      (1997)


{second paper due}


May 2                     Giorgio Agamben:              Homo Sacer (1995)

                                (1942- )                 Bare Life / State of Exception / Sovereign Power


May 9                     Giorgio Agamben:              Homo Sacer          (1995)                  








Gadamer:               The Gadamer Reader, ed. Richard Palmer                     (Northwestern)

Ricoeur:                 From Text to Action                                                           (Northwestern)

Girard:                   Violence and the Sacred                                                    (Johns Hopkins)

Foucault:               Hermeneutics of the Subject                                             (Palgrave/Picador)

Kristeva:                Strangers to Ourselves                                                       (Columbia)

Derrida:                 Of Hospitality                                                                      (Stanford)

Agamben:              Homo Sacer                                                                          (Stanford)



Barthes:                 Sade/Fourier/Loyola                                                         (Hill and Wang)

Silverman             Textualities: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction         (Routledge)

Ferraris History of Hermeneutics                                                                   (Humanity Books)

Palmer   Hermeneutics                                                                                       (Northwestern)

Mueller-Vollmer Hermeneutics Reader                                                         (Blackwell)

Silverman (ed)     Gadamer and Hermeneutics                                             (Routledge)

Silverman (ed)     Derrida and Deconstruction                                             (Routledge)

Silverman (ed)     Cultural Semiosis                                                                (Routledge)










Americans with Disabilities Act:                                                                               

If you have a physical, psychological, medical or learning disability that may impact your course work, please contact Disability Support Services, ECC (Educational Communications Center) Building, room128, (631) 632-6748. They will determine with you what accommodations, if any, are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation is confidential.


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