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5 In What Sense Is This Approach a Philosophical One?

5.1 Uncertainty, Ambivalence, Possibility

In the preceding pages I have spoken of economy as an interand trans-medial territory, but also as an intertwining of interpreted and interpretative practices. The main philosophical movement focusing on interpretation is called “hermeneutics”. The complexity of interand trans-media relations can be understood through a hermeneutic approach (See chapter “A Hermeneutic Approach to the Knowledge Economy” by Cusinato), if the notion of “hermeneutics” is understood in a large sense—no less broadly than the term “medium” is to be understood, when compared to the narrower sense strictly derived from McLuhan.

The broader sense in which I propose to use this kind of “hermeneutics” makes it possible to avoid some of the criticism levelled against certain problematic aspects of the theories known by that name. For instance, certain works by Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur overemphasize (verbal) language.[1] Against this overemphasis I might recall that there are modes of “tacit”, non-explicit knowledge (Gallo, 2013; Nonaka, 1991). Crafts, non-verbal arts, also mostly operate through this kind of tacit, non-explicit knowledge. Media such as money, weapons, the press, phone, radio, TV and Internet, or roads and cities, or musical instruments, food and clothing, work “tacitly”, that is: their messages have effects on our perception and organization of time, space, sense perception and relations thanks to the specific features of their material connections. The fact that we can (and often must) talk about this, means that we—as humans—live in verbal world contexts, but it does not mean that acts of awareness always arise in a verbal manner and thanks to a verbal explication or elaboration. For example, to see or hear something as something in a drawing, a sound, or a piece of music is a form of “understanding” (Verstehen) or “interpretation” (Deutung) [2] 31–44), as well as the terms sehen, ho€ren, deuten and verstehen used by Wittgenstein in the Philosophische Untersuchungen (see Wittgenstein (1984[1949–1950], part I}} 522-35, part II, XI). See also Goldoni (2007)) as a background for my observations. See also Cometti (2010); Rorty (1991)}} and it is a precondition for possible, but not necessary, elaboration, e.g. through further drawings or sounds and not necessarily by means of a verbally explicit interpretation. Do I prefer a certain kind of music? This preference is a step towards what may become a more conscious choice, although this choice does not necessarily need to be verbally argued. It is also possible that I become aware of the fact that it depends on some listening I have made in the past, even without having to assign verbal language a decisive function in relation to either my preference or my awareness: a remembrance of that music while I am listening/playing this one is enough. And so on. Uses and preferences that are not made entirely consciously can be understood (verstanden) and even interpreted (gedeutet) and worked out by non-verbal acts of awareness. In this sense, it is necessary to integrate hermeneutics with an enlarged theory about “media” and their messages, which “trace”[3] memories, repetitions, the possibility of analogies, transgressions, and inventions. They form the “habits”, the force-fields, the interand trans-media territories; they establish perceptions, ways of imagining things, desires, understandings, conceptualizations, and “schematizations” of the “taste” of which Adorno speaks in Kultur Industrie (Adorno, 1998[1947], pp. 144–146), yet far beyond his analysis. They produce— by means of their messages and even without words—images and narratives in which and through which the contingent world is represented. For example, so-called “city branding” is a rhetorical practice the effectiveness of which depends not only on verbal narration, but especially on the convergence between an economic message and the power of visual communication: thus, seductive narrations arise.[4]

So, the real issue about “hermeneutics” is a certain overestimation of language on the part of some of its major exponents. If hermeneutics is understood in that sense, then it should be abandoned. But on the other hand, hermeneutics still has something to say about the finitude of existence and the degree of indeterminacy it possesses, as well as the fact that awareness always comes late. As language, thought, arts, crafts and all forms of tool-making or using the body give different “expressions” to life, it is impossible to draw a boundary, defined once and for all, between nature and culture and, more in general, between choices and habits (as a second nature). When I ask where the boundary is, the question arises too late: when language and thought and other media and practices are already at work. In an absolute sense, the question is unanswerable. In a relative sense, the question may be understood in a specific context and contingently, in order to gain awareness of some “genealogies”[5] and/or conditionings. For example, I am aware that I have two hands in those contexts in which I use them for catching, stroking, working, writing, swimming, playing, being at rest, feeling pain, or not being able to use them[6]; or I can recognize a conditioning, which has become a habit, at a time when I encounter a different way of living, with its complex and not exclusively verbal features. A theoretical consequence of this existential circumstance is that it is impossible to demonstrate that human actions are absolutely determined. Rather, one can experience that constraints are often not unambiguous, but are marked by shifts and areas of uncertainty. That is exactly what I meant when suggesting that “media” provide as much of a conditioning as conflicting tendencies and, thus, partly undetermined contexts, in which to play out different possibilities.

I think that we need to grasp the constraints as well the conflicts and the possibilities, in order to achieve the highest possible degree of contingent liberation. In hermeneutics, ethics is even more important than interpretation. Interpretation, for Heidegger and Gadamer, is functional to a change in our lives through a greater awareness and liberation (See Gadamer, 1986[1960], p. 118). Space, according Heidegger's later Zeit und Sein (1962) is to make space (Raum einra€umen, d. h. geben), to make space in the open (das Offene), to give a gift. In Die Ende der Philosophie und die Aufgabe des Denkens the truth becomes the open (das Offene), the free (das Freie), the Lichtung (Heidegger, 1969) in the sense of erleichtern: to lighten (See e.g. the conclusion of Heidegger & Fink, 1970). However, if my use of the word “hermeneutics” seems too generic or too extended, I could speak of “post-hermeneutics”, or even better—to avoid yet another “post”— forgo all labels: probably the best choice.

  • [1] See e.g. Derrida (1972, pp. 19–20), Goldoni (2003, pp. 71–96). Also: “In each hermeneutic discipline, interpretation is the hinge between linguistic and non-linguistic, between language and lived experience (of whatever kind)” (Ricoeur, 2004, p. 64) (quoted also by Cusinato in Chapter “A Hermeneutic Approach to the Knowledge Economy”)
  • [2] I draw upon the terms Verstehen, Deutung and Auslegung used by Heidegger in Sein und Zeit (1986[1927],
  • [3] They are “writings” in a sense near to the by Derridás notion of writing (Derrida, 1967)
  • [4] Urban space is recognized by organization theory as a subject and a source of “narration” and “discourse”. See e.g. Czarniawska and Solli (2001).
  • [5] Understood in M. Foucault's sense
  • [6] The way in which a physician, sports coach, family member or lover will understand and interpret my hands rests on other contextualized uses/observations.
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