Speaking Hermeneutically: Understanding in the Conduct of a Life

Speaking Hermeneutically: Understanding in the Conduct of a Life

Speaking Hermeneutically: Understanding in the Conduct of a Life

Speaking Hermeneutically: Understanding in the Conduct of a Life

Synopsis

A fruitful consideration of the interplay of hermeneutic theory and rhetorical practice in communication.

Excerpt

In Speaking Hermeneutically, John Arthos proposes to explore the relation of rhetoric and hermeneutics. in so doing, he emphasizes that the version of rhetoric that he examines here is that of the humanist tradition in the West. the version of hermeneutics he proposes, derived from Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, is a theoretically precise set of principles stressing finitude, prudence, process, and dialogue, keeping always in mind the “circular finitude” of discourse. Arthos rejects the view that rhetoric is confined to speaking, or production, and that hermeneutics is confined to listening, or reception. Instead, he claims, “hermeneutics is a theoretical orientation to a rhetorical practice.”

According to Arthos the human experience, the hermeneutic experience, is always circular, balanced between the particular and the general, both of which always inform each other in our existence. Our experience is selfconscious and self-reflexive, rendering us at once agent and witness, at large in time that stretches ahead and behind. in some sense conscious of or driven by our sense of fragmentation, we use language to patch together a sense of self and world.

Arthos works out the implications of what it is to understand the conduct of life hermeneutically in detailed theoretical reflections and in a series of case studies—Abraham Lincoln at Gettysburg; Anthony Trollope’s Dr. Wortle’s School; John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Vita Sua; John Jay Chapman at Coatesville, Pennsylvania; Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence; the Emancipation Proclamation; Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address and “House Divided” speech; and John Brown’s raid on the national armory at Harpers Ferry. the mix is grounded, reflective, engaging, and illuminating.

Thomas W. Benson

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