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Editor's page.

SOME may find the German proponent of philosophical hermeneutics an odd subject for a special issue of a scholarly journal which encourages a Christian perspective or, at the very least, is devoted to--as our title puts it--"essays on values in literature." But Gadamer's work, a staggering accomplishment, even for a philosopher who lived until he was 102 years old, everywhere bespeaks a concern for what he called the "normative" (read moral) claim that literary works can have. And more than that, he believes that any encounters with meaning are transformative. Referring to the effect that the work of art should have, one of his more famous essays ends, using the words of German poet Rainier Mafia Rilke (in his poem, "Archaic Torso of Apollo"): "You must change your life."

Gadamer's magnum opus, Truth and Method, evidences his familiarity not only with classical Greek philosophy (particularly Plato and his dialogues), but with the whole tradition of Christian exegesis, hermeneutics, and philosophical thinking, within which tradition of thinking Gadamer set his own philosophical hermeneutics. Moving easily through the thought of such figures as Augustine, Aquinas, or Nicholas of Cusa, he frequently surprises his reader. His insights evince a sympathy and understanding for the claims of traditions as various as Lutheranism, Pietism and Catholic orthodoxy. In fact, "sympathy" is an inadequate term. What we see in such instances is the famous "fusing of horizons," the stated goal of philosophical hermeneutics. So, if some critics claim that Gadamer had little or no concern for Christian tradition, that assertion is in need of careful qualification. Gadamer's entire career explicitly recognizes the "effective" operation of prior tradition, which includes the Judeo-Christian tradition of thought and interpretation. To take just a single example: in his discussion of language, Gadamer explicitly emphasizes the importance of the Incarnation as medieval Scholastics developed it from the prologue of St. John's Gospel. In one place Gadamer observes: "The uniqueness of the redemptive event introduces the essence of history into Western thought, brings the phenomenon of language out of its immersion in the ideality of meaning, and offers it to philosophical reflection" (Truth and Method 419).

In the final analysis, it is most fitting to honor Gadamer with a special issue of Renascence because of the special place literature holds in his thinking. From his appreciation of Rilke, Celan, and a host of major and lesser known authors in the German and other literary traditions, it is clear that his contribution to literary study will continue to grow. While this issue is a memorial to Gadamer's passing, the importance of Gadamer's thinking--as attested by these essays by both young and established scholars--will only continue to grow and enrich future dialogue with the classic texts and issues of the western tradition.

It is with a final, personal note that I conclude this brief tribute. I became familiar with Gadamer and his work through a faculty reading group that met almost weekly for better than four years during the early 1980s. Our group numbered faculty from English, philosophy, theology, communications, and--for one semester--psychology. Together, the four to six regular members read through all of Truth and Method and many of the essays in Philosophical Hermeneutics and Dialogue and Dialectic. We were also joined by a faithful graduate student who brought her own journalistic background to bear.

Reading and, in good Gadamerian fashion "applying," Gadamer's insights in the light of our own specialties, over time we formed a community of "hermeneutical" readers and friends. Not a little of it in that spirit of serious "play," which is also a hallmark of Gadamer's approach. Though we have all gone our separate ways, I think it is fair to say that none of us has forgotten the influence that those gatherings had on our thinking and ways of responding to the opportunities and challenges of discovering meaning in our encounters with the "otherness" of unfamiliar texts.

A special note of thanks. This issue of Renascence is funded, in part, by a grant from the Edward D. Simmons Religious Commitment Fund of Marquette University. Renascence has been a recipient of such grants in the past. We are once again honored to be chosen, and will endeavor to continue the journal's tradition of furthering the Jesuit Catholic mission of Marquette University as a scholarly journal of quality devoted to exploring the Judeo-Christian tradition in literature.
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Author:Block, Ed, Jr.
Publication:Renascence: Essays on Values in Literature
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jun 22, 2004
Words:727
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