Mimetic Reflections: A Study in Hermeneutics, Theology, and Ethics

Mimetic Reflections: A Study in Hermeneutics, Theology, and Ethics

Mimetic Reflections: A Study in Hermeneutics, Theology, and Ethics

Mimetic Reflections: A Study in Hermeneutics, Theology, and Ethics


¿Carefully documented, broadly informed and well written. Highly recommended.¿ -Choice This book argues that a basic problem in thinking about understanding, temporality, and selfhood is due to ¿imitative¿ modes of thought found in much traditional Western philosophy and theology. Given this, the book examines the complex role that ¿image¿ and ¿imitation¿ play in understanding and its world of meaning, the import of language and narrative for configuring human temporality, and the existence of self. The author¿s contention is that when critically understood, mimesis, with its roots in performative enactment, holds resources for reconsidering these basic dimensions of human life beyond imitative paradigms of thought.


The argument of this book is carried on at three interrelated levels. First, I contend that the problem of "mimesis" helps to unfold dimensions of hermeneutical reflection. In the exploring of it, the concerns and contributions of important theorists come to light. More specifically, I undertake a reading of the works of Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, and Søren Kierkegaard in two ways. First, I explore what I call the "mimetic strategies" of these thinkers relative to the classical and Enlightenment uses of imitation theory now under criticism. My claim is that any thinking beyond imitation requires undoing and reconstructing mimesis vis-à-vis the problems that imitation was used to conceptualize and address. These problems ranged from aesthetics to metaphysics, but they centered on understanding and language, truth claims, and the formation of the moral agent. Accordingly, I examine Gadamer's hermeneutic of understanding and language, Ricoeur's theory of narrative as a paradigmatic case of the mimetic power of language, and Kierkegaard's claims about human passion and existence relative to the imitatio Christi.

My concern in these chapters is to grasp the shape and texture of each position in relation to the problematic of mimesis. These readings are not extensive commentaries on the thinkers in question with respect to their dependency on and departure from other major figures, like Kant or Heidegger. That kind of scholarship is best left to works dedicated to an individual thinker. Yet I do argue that mimesis does open up a fruitful reading of the thinkers in question.

Second, the book attempts to reclaim the notion of mimesis as crucial for contemporary reflection. Of course, the very idea of critically reclaiming questions, problems, and ideas is suspect in much current philosophical and theological discourse, especially when such reclaiming is taken to mean repristinating past ideas and concepts. Thought cannot re-enact past modes of reflection untainted by its own historicity; ideas, concepts, and forms of discourse cannot simply be reduplicated in different historical contexts by different minds without some consequence for their meaning. A romantic return to the past is not possible for those like us who are mired in time and language.

Mindful of the historicity of understanding and the other that remains other, hermeneutical reflection seeks to understand that which is different. More to the point, it seeks to understand what is covered up, even what we think is . . .

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