Gadamer and the Transmission of History

Gadamer and the Transmission of History

Gadamer and the Transmission of History

Gadamer and the Transmission of History

Synopsis

Observing that humans often deal with the past in problematic ways, Jerome Veith looks to philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer and his hermeneutics to clarify these conceptions of history and to present ways to come to terms with them. Veith fully engages Truth and Method as well as Gadamer's entire work and relationships with other German philosophers, especially Kant, Hegel, and Heidegger in this endeavor. Veith considers questions about language, ethics, cosmopolitanism, patriotism, self-identity, and the status of the humanities in the academy in this very readable application of Gadamer's philosophical practice.

Excerpt

The past is finished, so much is clear. yet it is difficult to determine exactly what kind of finality it possesses. Certainly it cannot be changed or undone. It stands, remains, and retains significance. Were it the case that this significance remained univocal or stable, one could not speak of multiple interpretations of the past; one could extrapolate from the facts only a bare and unchanging meaning that the past possesses. Yet somehow, while being utterly complete, the past continues to be reactivated in different ways.

In a talk delivered in Boston in 2009, the German jurist and writer Bernhard Schlink discussed several ways in which the heritage of World War II has been received domestically by the various generations since its occurrence: first came an initial resistance against investigating the war’s atrocities; then there was a thorough confrontation between younger and older generations; and now more recent generations react with apathy, ennui, even resentment toward remembrance of the war. They have grown weary of a standardized moralistic narrative, of visiting yet another memorial or museum, of being burdened with events that, to them, seem long past.

This latter stance, though perhaps not consciously, is a clear response to the fixed message with which remembrance has been imbued over six decades. By sweepingly dismissing this message, some attempt to liberate themselves from the responsibility and perceived burden of remembering the one sanctioned account. Yet Schlink contends that, while the past indeed cannot be mastered and given a finalized, univocal meaning . . .

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