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Review: "Der Unterschied Liegt in Der Differenz": On Hermeneutics, Deconstruction, and

Their Compatibility
Author(s): Gerd Gemünden
Review by: Gerd Gemünden
Source: New German Critique, No. 48 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 176-192
Published by: Duke University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/488238
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"Der Unterschied Liegt In Der Differenz":

On Hermeneutics, Deconstruction, And Their

Gerd Gemtinden

Review of Manfred Frank's What is Neostructuralism?'

... and yet it is always one's own individuality that hinders one
from understanding the individualities of others in their entire
Goethe, Letter to Knebel, 3 January 1807

The attraction of reconciliation is the elective breeding-ground of

false models.
Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading

A dialogue is a chain or wreath of fragments ...

Friedrich Schlegel, "Atheniumsfragmente"

Im Westen nichts Neues, all quiet on the western front: for a number of
years, this has been the situation in West German literary criticism. After

1. The present essay was written in 1986. Since then, several works have appeared
that treat the West German reception of French post-structuralism. See Hans Ulrich
Gumbrecht and K. Ludwig Pfeiffer, eds., Stil: Geschichten und Funktionen eines literatur-
wissenschaftlichen Diskurselementes (Frankfurt: Sulhrkamp, 1986); Aildrieas Huyssen alnd
Klaus R. Scherpe, eds., Postmoderne: Zeichen eines kulturellen Wandels (Reinbeck: Rowohlt,
1986); Manfred Frank, Die Grenzen der Verstdndigung: Ein Geistergesprdich zwischen Lyotard
und Habermas (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988); Manfred Frank, Gerard Raulet and Willem
van Rejen, eds., Die Frage nach dem Subjekt (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988); Jochen
Hdrisch, Die Wut des Verstehens: Zur Kritik der Hermeneutik (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1988);


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177 On Hemeneutics and Deconstruction

the energetic debates of the seventies between neo-positivism and criti-

cal theory, between critical theory and hermeneutics, and between her-
meneutics and "Wissenschaftstheorie"; and after the so-called "Meth-
odendiskussion" in the Geisteswissenschaften, a conspicuous calm has
settled in a country known for its eagerness to battle on theoretical
grounds. This calmness derives at least in part from the exhaustion the
above-mentioned controversies produced, as well as from a general
political and theoretical abstinence in current academic discourse. But
it also has to do - and this will be my point of departure - with the
reluctance of West German theorists to acknowledge what happens be-
yond the borders of West Germany, particularly in France.2
The deconstructive wave that moved across the Atlantic to wash over
criticism in the United States ebbed when attempting to cross the
Rhine. The works of Jacques Derrida, Jacques Lacan, Julia Kristeva,
and Gilles Deleuze have had little impact on West German criticism -
despite the fact that their writings draw mainly on German sources
(Nietzsche, Freud, Heidegger). In What is Neostructuralism? [Was ist Neo-
strukturalismus?], Manfred Frank attempts to examine the (historical)
reason for this lack of theoretical exchange between France and Germa-
ny. Frank seeks to reconstruct a shared theoretical interest between Ger-
many and France by tracing common points of departure, and to initi-
ate a dialogue with some of the most important French deconstructive
theorists by lucidly and provocatively reading their work.
Frank's more than six hundred pages of well-informed critical 6xpli-
cation de texte provide a sometimes surprising, sometimes stubborn, but
always straightforward and intelligent reading of texts that Germans
have all too often neglected. Originally given as a series of lectures to
his students in Diisseldorf and Geneva (one might wonder why Frank
considers his students more competent and willing than his colleagues
to struggle with complicated and "odd" texts), the true addressees of
What is Neostructuralism? are the French theorists with whom Frank
wants to establish a dialogue. Frank's central concern, he informs us, is
the following:

Jiurgen Fohrmann and Harro Muiller, Diskurstheorien und Literaturwissenschaft (Frankfurt:

Suhrkamp, 1988); Peter Kemper, ed., "Postmoderne" oder Der Kampf um die Zukunfi
(Frankfurt: Fischer, 1988).
2. The same criticism might of course apply to France, but it will not be my con-
cern here to discuss the French reception of German thinkers such as Adorno,
Habermas, or Gadamer.

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178 Gerd Gemiinden

How can we do justice to the fundamental fact that sense [Sinn],

meaning, and intention - the semantic foundations of any con-
sciousness - can only form in a social, cultural, and economic or-
der (in a structure)? At the same time how can we save the funda-
mental thought of modern humanism, which ties the dignity of
human beings to the use of their freedom and which does not tol-
erate giving moral support to the actual threat to human subjectiv-
ity by totalitarian systems of rules and social codes?3

This statement measures the scope and the burden of Frank's enter-
prise. Not only the direction of Frank's inquiry but also a good deal of
his ideological baggage are revealed, and it is precisely this baggage
that makes Frank's investigation interesting and problematic.
Whether Frank successfully establishes the desired dialogue with
French theory, given the compass and the burden of his concerns, will
be my focus in this essay. To anticipate my line of argument, let me
first sketch what I find most important in Frank's reading of French
theory. Frank is strongest when he criticizes deconstruction while re-
maining aware of the motivation for his critique. He becomes less con-
vincing when he attempts to incorporate deconstruction into his argu-
ment. In other words, he is most persuasive while combating, most de-
luded when trying to reconcile.
Frank starts out by historicizing the issues. To understand why there
is so little exchange between neostructuralism and hermeneutics,
Frank claims that one must look to the origin of these "theories."4 Sur-
prisingly, neostructuralism is not as radically new and innocent of pre-
suppositions as is sometimes believed by its acolytes, finding its roots

3. Manfred Frank, Was ist Neostrukturalismus? (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1984) 12.

Quotes from this source will appear hereafter in parenthesis in the text. The transla-
tions of this work are my own.
4. Frank's definitions of structuralism, neostructuralism, and hermeneutics are
rather problematic since his goal is to show the inadequacy and insufficiency of these
terms. Roughly speaking, in Das individuelle Allgemeine he contains under the rubric
"hermeneutics" the early Heidegger, Gadamer, Ricoeur, and Habermas; under the ru-
bric "structuralism" we find Barthes, Todorov, LUvi-Strauss, Saussure, but also Lacan,
Kristeva, and Derrida. In Das Sagbare und das Unsagbare he analyzes the hidden herme-
neutical assumptions in Sartre, Lacan, and Derrida, giving the book the polemical sub-
title: Studien zur neuesten franz6sischen Hermeneutik und Texttheorie. In Was ist Neostrukturalis-
mus? he thematizes the relation between structuralism and neostructuralism, defining
neo-structuralism as a philosophical radicalization of structuralism. Frank thus rejects
the notion of a simple temporal sequence which the term "post-structuralism" sug-
gests. Since Frank's argument does not rest on a clear definition of these terms, I also
will not attempt to properly define them once and for all.

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 179

in the same epoch as modern hermeneutics: the age of Romanticism.

Frank contends that we see the first manifestation of structuralist analy-
sis in the work of the German philosopher and theologian F.D.E.
Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher is usually taken to be the founder of
the hermeneutical tradition - and this is what makes Frank's thesis so
provocative. Unfortunately, Schleiermacher's reception through Dil-
they and Gadamer deprived his work of its structural impetus and re-
duced it to the "romantic" hermeneutics of empathy [Einfiihlungsher-
meneutik], which then could be easily criticized as ahistorical and irra-
tional. What is needed, Frank asserts, is a revision of the image of
Schleiermacher with which modern hermeneutics confronts us, in or-
der to rediscover his structuralist impetus.
But Frank's interest goes beyond this merely historical argumenta-
tion. What really matters to him is to prove, with and within the work
of Schleiermacher, that the division between structuralist analysis and
hermeneutical interpretation is an abstraction that cannot be sustained
- that the split is a post-romantic phenomenon which does not exist
in Schleiermacher's writing. In his interpretation of Schleiermacher,
Frank claims that structuralism and hermeneutics result from an un-
balanced radicalization of the disciplines of textual inquiry. While
Schleiermacher distinguished between the grammatical and the psy-
chological/technical interpretation, he nevertheless thought them to be
dialectically mediated, indivisibly depending on and illuminating each
other. This distinction - though in a very different mode - might be
familiar to readers of Paul de Man; whether this compatibility is possi-
ble is exactly what deconstruction calls into question. Let us take a
careful look at Frank's argument before we confront it with a possible
deconstructive critique.


Frank elaborated his literary and philosophical credo in his earlier

book The Individual General: Text Structuration and Text Interpretation after
Schleiermacher [Das individuelle Allgemeine: Textstrukturierung und Textinter-
pretation nach Schleiermacher]. Frank's program is implicitly expressed in
the title of his book. He is concerned with two philological methods:
text structuration (analyzing the way the text is structured and deter-
mining the concatenation of signs that allow for the production of

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180 Gerd Gemiinden

meaning), and text interpretation (the question of the sense [Sinn] of a

text). The "nach Schleiermacher" must be understood to denote "af-
ter" as well as "according to," suggesting that we who are confronted
with the competing methods of structuralism and hermeneutics might
resolve this dilemma by returning to Schleiermacher. Schleiermacher,
who introduced the terms structure and understanding as they are cur-
rently understood in critical discourse, views language as an individual
general [individuelles Allgemeines]. The general of language is its deter-
minable historical-cultural grammar.5 The individual of language is
the specific utterance that carries an individual Sinn.6 The Sinn of an ut-
terance is produced through the effort of individuality, which allows
the general to constitute itself in the first place by allowing it to be con-
stituted in an individual (in-such-and-no-other) way.
In its concern to locate the hidden Sinn behind the signs, hermeneu-
tics overlooks the fact that the signified cannot be abstracted from its
expression. Structuralism points to the fact that every Sinn is necessari-
ly tied to semiotic structure, but fails to account for the synthesizing act
individuality performs within this structure:

One senses a secret interaction between the individuality of Sinn

(which outside of structure would decay into a mere conjuration
of a signified) and the universality of the signifying order (which,
without being scanned, negated, or articulated would not consti-
tute any order in the first place).7

Frank's targets become clear: on the one hand he is attacking a concept

of language in which "the language speaks" ["die Sprache spricht"] - a
notion held by the late Heidegger as well as, according to Frank, by
Derrida. Frank claims that this radicalization of the grammatical aspect
does away with the speaking subject as the producer of Sinn. But he also
criticizes the idea of the speaking subject as an autonomous producer

5. By grammar Schleiermacher understands not only a morphological/syntactical/se-

mantic system which governs a certain use of language, but also a certain schematism in
which a language community [Sprachgemeinschafi] defines a certain world-view.
6. According to Schleiermacher, Sinn is the process of the production of meaning as
such, whereas meaning is the communicable product of a process of understanding. The
resemblance to Saussure's concept of langue and parole is no accident; Frank sees Schleier-
macher as a precursor to Saussure and thinks it very possible that Saussure received
some of his insights through the Schleiermacher disciples Steinthal and Boeckh.
7. Manfred Frank, Das individuelle Allgemeine: Textstrukturierung und Textinterpretation nach
Schleiermacher (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977) 10; (emphasis added). The translations of this
work are my own.

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 181

and receiver of meaning. Against this autonomy Frank argues - as

would Derrida - that meaning can only exist within a differentiating
system of signifiers and that the speaking subject must always submit
to the existing system.
What, then, is this individuality and its "secret interaction"? What
are its functions and possibilities? As the above makes clear, for Frank
individuality is not subjectivity. Subjectivity is always something general
(in Schleiermacher's sense) that cannot be opposed to systematicity. In
contrast, individuality is never a smaller element of a bigger unit, never
a special case of a general rule. "The individual ... can not be concep-
tualized and it refuses any kind of definition."8 The individual as Frank
understands it is therefore greatly at odds with both a classical defini-
tion that sees it as a unit existing in itself, and with Leibniz's view, in
which the individual and the universal bear in principle the same char-
acteristics. Just the contrary is true for Schleiermacher: the individual is
"no place of abundance, no undecaying nucleus of selfhood and -
most important - no concept which could be arrived at through a
process of derivation from an ideal of reason."9
Philosophically speaking, for Frank the individual is the condition of
possibility of every utterance. The Sinn depends on the law of differentiation,
but that does not mean that Sinn exists only through differentiation. Individuality
synthesizes from the (only virtually) existing structure, but at the same
time remains ungraspable itself. It is only out of the untranslatable
"nothing" that the positive can arise. Individuality is therefore truly
unshareable; it is indivisible and incommunicable. While it uses the
virtuality of the structure, it expresses it in an individual and unique
way, creating a Sinn that cannot be deduced from the structure. No rule
can be applied to grasp the individual; what we catch with the net of
method is only the general. The individual can only, as Schleiermacher
claims, be divined; it can only be determined by guessing (Frank's term
is erraten), not by empathizing. (The translation of "divination" as "em-
pathy" was exactly what doomed hermeneutics to misread Schleier-
macher.) Hence, for Frank interpretation is not a method but an art, a
Kunst der Auslegung [art of explication]. Its task is "to get a hold of the
general [das Allgemeine] of the symbolic order passed on by tradition, at
the very moment when an individual changes it in a particular way and

8. Manfred Frank, Das Sagbare und das Unsagbare: Studien zur neuesten franzdsischen
Hermeneutik und Texttheorie (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1980) 191. The translations of this
work are my own.
9. Frank, Das Sagbare 195.

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182 Gerd Gemiinden

returns [riick-entiiussert] it to the language community."'0 The art of in-

terpretation does not, of course, carry within itself a measuring stick to
ensure its correct employment. Divination does not possess a lan-
guage-transcendent criterion to check whether it functions correctly.
But this does not, Frank argues, make interpretation an undecidable
affair (as, for instance, Derrida argues in La Dissemination). We will re-
turn to the problem of interpretation and examine how exactly the un-
derstanding of individuality is to be resolved.


Frank claims that the concept of individuality can help us not only to
overcome the conflict of interpretation between hermeneutics and de-
construction but also to answer the question he poses in the title of his
book: "What is neostructuralism?" Frank arranges his lectures accord-
ing to neostructuralism's explanations of history, meaning, and the
role of the subject. But these are in fact only variants of the general
question of the subject which stands, Frank argues, at the center of the
neostructuralist argument and therefore at the center of his own.
Frank's notion of the subject can perhaps best be understood by dis-
criminating between individuality and diffirance.
Although we are interested in establishing the difference between in-
dividuality and differance, we must first consider their common ground.
In his programmatic essay "Diffirance," Derrida writes: "Diffirance (is)
the detour through which I must pass in order to speak." Like Frank's
"individuality," differance has no essence: "it (is) that which not only
could never be appropriated in the as such of its name or its appearing,
but also that which threatens the authority of the as such in general.""
While individuality and diffirance are not concepts, identities, or even
words, it is only through them that Sinn can arise. But the different way
in which Sinn arises distinguishes Derrida's diffirance from Frank's indi-
viduality. Whereas the Sinn arising out of diffirance leaves no mark of its
operation, the Sinn based on individuality carries the traces of the indi-
vidual that - as a kind of maeutic - helped it into existence. Differance
has no origin whatsoever, no subject at all, a "neither simply active nor

10. Frank, Das individuelle Allgemneine 386.

11. Jacques Derrida, Margins of Philosophy, trans. Alan Bass (Chicago: U of Chicago
P) 25.

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 183

passive" underlying force that moves it; individuality, on the other

hand, comes from a speaking subject (without being the speaking sub-
ject!). Where Frank sees the individual as the ground for diffirance,
Derrida perceives diffirance as the condition of self-consciousness.
Derrida criticizes the notion of the subject as the author of meaning,
employing the above discussed diffirance:

Just as the category of the subject cannot be, and never has been,
thought without the reference to presence as hypokeimenon or ousia,
etc., so the subject as consciousness has never manifested itself ex-
cept as self-presence.'2

The consequence Derrida draws from this analysis is that the subject is
inscribed in and subject to language, and is able to speak only in as far
as it conforms to language. Derrida's notion of the passive conformity
of a paralyzed subject leaves the creation and transgression of meaning
to the play of the signifier - a threatening vision for Frank. Frank's ob-
jections to Derrida are motivated by a humanistic concern with de-
fending the subject against attempts to explain it away through linguis-
tics. His arguments, however, are fueled by more than what might ap-
pear to be a purely moralistic impetus; they therefore require careful
reading and elaboration.
Frank's starting point for the discussion of the subject is the question
of how self-consciousness is to be explained. Analyzing Hegel, and Der-
rida's critique of Hegel,3 Frank contends that both understand self-con-
sciousness in terms of reflection: Hegel within the framework of
sublation [Auflzbung], Derrida via diffrance ("transcendantale serait la Dif-
firence"'4). Although Derrida's diffirance presents a forceful critique of
transcendental philosophy, leading to non-identity, non-presence, non-
origin, and the impossibility of iterating the same meaning, it neverthe-
less operates - ex negativo - with a model of reflection. Derrida per-
ceives self-consciousness as a self-presence [prisence-a-soi], and of course
has little trouble deconstructing this concept. But Frank points out that if
Derrida sees self-consciousness as reflection's attempt to obtain identity
and maintain its origin (an attempt that is frustrated because instead of

12. Derrida, Margins of Philosophy 16.

13. See especially lectures 17 and 18, where Frank analyzes Hegel's notion of "au-
tonomous negation."
14. Frank takes this quote from Derrida's "Origin of Geometry" (Was ist Neostruk-
turalismus? 327). Derrida later changed Diffrence to diffrance.

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184 Gerd Gemiinden

the presence-a-soi there is a diffrance), then a number of problems arise.

The first is that self-consciousness must derive from pure difference:

It may well be that one has to describe the "structurality of struc-

ture" as a play of differences without center. But the mere refer-
ence between two marks could never produce their identity [Selbig-
keit] and much less lead to a consciousness of this identity. Nothing
tells a "marque" opposing another "marque" that it be the same
one. Now it seems that Derrida is not at all suggesting this, since
he is excluding any possibility of identification and even more so
any knowing identification in the structural field. But in this case
there would be nothing in the self that would change and that
would be familiar as change. Pure change [eine reine Verdnderung]
cannot be thought - lacking a criterion it would be indistinguish-
able from a pure non-change [Un-verdnderung] (334).

The problems Derrida faces here are inherent to the model of reflec-
tion, even if, as in Derrida's case, reflection is perceived ex negativo.
Frank's objection to Derrida resembles Schelling's objection to
Hegel. To explain self-consciousness as the result of reflection is falla-
cious, for there exists no criterion by which to judge whether the re-
lated elements are truly identical, or (in Derrida's case) non-identical.
In agreement with Schelling, Frank concludes that consciousness is not
founded on reflection, but on being - what Schelling called "tran-
scendental being" ["transzendentales Sein"]. This notion of being
does not imply a simple retreat to a naive, pre-semiotic self-conscious-
ness. Rather, it means here, as it did for Schleiermacher, that self-con-
sciousness is determined as a "sign of non-presence and of difference"
["marque non-presente et differentielle"].

The decisive difference between Schleiermacher's and Derrida's

explanation of consciousness is that the latter is forced - surely
against his better judgement - to finally sacrifice this phenome-
non, whereas the former is able to mediate the concept of our fa-
miliarity-with-ourselves with the concept of the dependency of the
self on the structure of language (359).

Differentiality, Frank argues (interpreting Schleiermacher), is a nec-

essary, though not sufficient condition for consciousness. It is true that
consciousness depends on structure, but this dependency is ideal, not
real. The true dependency is dependency on being (a thought we find,
of course, in Marx as well as Gadamer).

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 185

Only as the subject of perception is ... consciousness dependant on

structure. It simply cannot become concrete without reference to a
system of relations between marks surrounding it; but these rela-
tions do not simply produce consciousness, they only serve its ide-
ational self-determination. ... Cultures determine subjects in the
form of motivation: they provide the subjects with a system of al-
ready interpreted signs, but they never fully determine in which
way the subject will use (i.e. interpret and/or re-interpret) these
signs. In other words: the subject is passive and dependent only to
the degree that it cannot choose by which already interpreted sys-
tem of marks it is to achieve its social and cultural identification.
Yet it is free to that degree that it inscribes into the given signs --
which are in fact nothing more than an ensemble of promptings
for our interpretation - a Sinn in the first place and allows them
to be expressed (361ff).

The non-identity of the subject forces it to interpret its being, and it is

only through interpretation that a sign-system reveals its meaning. The
meaning does not arise only on the premise of the law of differentiality;
the self is not "produced" by the system, and the self-consciousness
does not disappear in the gap of diffirance. The categories of identity
and difference only work once the subject is forced to leave itself, once
it enters an ec-stasy trying to decipher the world in order to supple-
ment its inherent lack.


Concluding a detailed examination of the terms that support Frank's

precarious balancing-act between neostructuralism and hermeneutics,
we need to establish some critical distance in order to see where Frank's
argument is leading. Since we have referred to Frank's balancing-act
and to the unbalanced radicalization of hermeneutics and deconstruc-
tion, we need to ask whether our problem can really be understood in
terms of balancing - of weighing hermeneutics against deconstruction
on two sides of the same scale. Is it really possible to mediate between
grammatical and technical interpretation (to use Schleiermacher's
terms), or between deconstruction and hermeneutics?
Paul de Man calls into question any compatibility between the two: his
introduction to Hans Robert Jauss's Toward an Aesthetic of Reception dis-
cusses Jauss's attempt to link hermeneutics and poetics, an undertaking

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186 Gerd Gemiinden

which in many ways resembles that of Frank's. Jauss wants to show

how the reception of a literary work and the study of (its) semiotics can
and must be combined to reach the most comprehensive understan-
ding of a text. De Man argues that this outcome might be fruitful, but
that it is possible only through a limitation of the "linguistic factors"
which might threaten such a synthesis. These linguistic factors are, for
instance, the '"play' of the signifier, semantic effects produced on the
level of the letter rather than of the word or the sentence and which
therefore escape from the network of hermeneutic questions and an-
swers"'5 or, as in Allegories of Reading, the tropes and figures which fall
under the category of "rhetoric." These too undermine and question
any proper relationship between language and thought. De Man ar-
gues thatJauss's problem - and we may also apply this to Frank - is
the overwhelmingly mimetic character of his concept: "The perception
of the literary dimensions of language is largely obscured if one sub-
mits uncritically to the authority of reference."16 In Frank as in Jauss
we find no account of the "linguistic factors" or "literary dimensions"
of language. Frank subsumes rhetoric - understood as the study of
tropes and figures - under the grammatical aspect of language.'7 De
Man characterizes this as standard structuralism: grammar is closely
linked to logic and thus capable of extra-linguistic generalizations.
"Grammar stands in the service of logic which, in turn, allows for the
passage to the knowledge of the world."'8 Tropes are restricted and de-
fined so that they can be completely understood in grammatical terms,
overlooking the fact that tropes do not have a referential, extra-linguis-
tic nature but "pertain primordially to language."'9
For de Man, rhetoric corrupts or at least problematizes any attempt
to define or limit grammar. The "rhetorization" of grammar dispenses
with certainty and determinacy; it renders us incapable of choosing be-
tween different modes of reading. However, this does not mean that
hermeneutics must be given up altogether, as it is what allows us to
achieve insight into the dimensions of the force of rhetoric in the first
place. De Man concludes his introduction to Jauss:

15. Paul de Man, Introduction, Toward an Aesthetic of Reception, Hans Robert Jauss,
trans. Timothy Bahti (Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1982) xix.
16. Paul de Man, Allegories of Reading (New Haven: Yale UP, 1979) 5.
17. Rhetoric understood as the eloquence of persuasion is categorized under the
technical/psychological part of interpretation; de Man's critique of the reduction of
rhetoric is therefore equally valid here as well.
18. Paul de Man, "Resistance to Theory," Yale French Studies 63 (1982): 15.
19. De Man, "Resistance" 15.

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 187

We could not have reached this understanding [of the literary di-
mension of language] without the assistance of Jauss's reading.
His work confronts us with the enigma of the relationship be-
tween the aesthetic and the poetic and, by doing so, it demon-
strates the rigor of its theoretical questioning.20

Yet, Jauss's achievement conceals the price he pays to achieve it, blind-
ing him to what he represses.

If we look at Frank's position within the hermeneutics camp, we re-

alize that he has distanced himself quite a bit from Gadamer, his
teacher. Not only does Frank accuse Gadamer of incorrectly portray-
ing Schleiermacher's hermeneutics in Truth and Method, but Gadamer
himself becomes the target of Frank's criticism of the concept of reflec-
tion. Frank claims that more than reflection is required, that we always
require a criterion which allows us to say whether a successful or un-
successful reflection is taking place, whether an identity or nonidentity
is established, whether something is or is not recognized as a particular
something. This criterion must reside outside of the scheme of reflec-
tion, it must be pre-reflective.
Within the hermeneutical circle, Frank's subject enjoys a certain au-
tonomy: the movement of understanding goes from the subject to the
object and back until understanding is reached - even though this un-
derstanding is never complete. The subject is forced to enter the circle, be-
cause it has a "perpetual lack of being" ["unendlichen Mangel an Sein"]
(Schelling), but it nevertheless enters. This implies that there is a moment
when the subject is in fact outside the circle. The story Gadamer tells us
is quite different: the subject does not enter the circle because it is al-
ready in it. Subject and object are in the same event of tradition [iber-
lieferungsgeschehen] and the anticipation of meaning (Schleiermacher's
motivated hypothesis) is determined by this process of handing down:
"The anticipation of meaning that governs our understanding of a text
is not an act of subjectivity, but proceeds from the communality that
binds to the tradition."21 Eventually, Gadamer completely dethrones

20. De Man, Introduction to Jauss xxv.

21. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Garrett Barden and John

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188 Gerd Gemiinden

the subject and makes tradition the subject of history. The individual
subject is replaced by the subject matter [die Sache]. For Frank, subjec-
tivity always contains individuality and is therefore never exclusively
determined by tradition (or the structure) - in fact, individuality is de-
fined as that which escapes the communality [Gemeinsamkeit].
Gadamer poses a philosophical question: "How is understanding
possible?"22 In the process of understanding, Gadamer claims, there is
a fusion of two horizons [Horizontverschmelzung], but upon a closer look
we realize - as Gadamer admits - that there is "in fact, a single hori-
zon that embraces everything contained in historical consciousness"
and that "[u]nderstanding, rather, is the fusion of these horizons
which only seem to exist by themselves."23 Understanding of the other
is always an understanding of the self, a re-cognition, a coming home.
The result, Frank comments, is that the "essence of the Other as Other
is not being accounted for."24
Against this monologic position, which he detected mutatis mutandis
in Derrida, Frank sees the need to strengthen the subject in order to let
a real dialogue take place. He reformulates Gadamer's question, ask-
ing: "Why is interpretation necessary and what results can it bring us?"
To answer the first part of the question: interpretation is necessary be-
cause the subject is not an identity in itself. It has a "perpetual lack of
being" or "manque-au-signifiant" (Derrida) which forces it onto the
never-ending road of interpretation. This lack must be supplemented
by a signifier, which, in turn, is always unstable and must be supple-
mented repeatedly. But the only way for the subject to obtain any
meaning is to give itself over to this unstable signifier.
In answer to the second part of the question: the results interpreta-
tion produces seem problematic. By virtue of projective interpretation
we are able to understand our being - although only hypothetically.
The ideal result of interpretation would be to capture the Sinn prod-
uced by the individual subject at the very moment it is converted into
the conforming system of language. Frank refers to this operation of
understanding as divination, which attempts to grasp the individuality

Cumming (New York: Crossroad) 261. I have modified the translation where it seemed
22. Gadamer, Truth and Method xviii. In asking this question, Gadamer tries to avoid
what he accuses Schleiermacher of doing, namely, of establishing a Kunstlehre des Ver-
stehens: a system of rules that functions as a methodological guideline for interpretation.
23. Gadamer, Truth and Method 271, 273.
24. Frank, Das individuelle Allgemeine 33.

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On Hermneneutics and Deconstruction 189

that transcends grammar. It can do this only by guessing or inventing;

the violation of the rule cannot be explained by yet another rule. It is
therefore, Frank claims, a motivated hypothesis: motivated, because
understanding must be intended and wanted (understanding does not
just come by itself); and a hypothesis, because there is no criterion to
decide whether the achieved understanding is correct. The individual
interpreter does not determine the truth of an interpretation; he/she
can only offer the interpretation to a community of interpreters who
then commonly decide upon its truth.25 Hence, truth becomes a his-
torical and empirical matter.
But there remains, I think, a significant problem with Frank's (and
Schleiermacher's) truth claim. How can we get hold of individuality
and, supposing that we do get hold of it, how do we know that this is in-
dividuality? How can we recognize the completely new or other? And
how do we prevent divination from deteriorating into irrationality?
How can Frank's attempt to grasp an unshareable individuality through
hermeneutics be sustained? It seems to me that the concept of individ-
uality has much evidence in its favor, especially if we compare its advan-
tages to some of the disadvantages of deconstruction and hermeneutics,
but it eventually deprives hermeneutics of the ability to understand the
speaking subject. It is correct to point to the unsayable at the bottom of
every sayable - yet it nevertheless remains unsayable. The individual is
and remains ineffable.
Indeed, Frank concedes that it is not possible to understand an indi-
vidual utterance through an individual reader; understanding depends
on the agreement of other subjects who share the same opinion. Since
there is no meta-consensus, no truth-criterion outside of consensus,
the question whether the established consensus is true can only be re-
solved by yet another consensus.
If we return to the central problem of the confrontation of herme-
neutics and deconstruction, we realize that Frank's notion of dialogue

25. This notion is in fact very close to Jiirgei Habermas's concept of a consensus-
theory of truth. See also Habermas's discussion of Derrida in Der philosophische Diskurs
der Moderne (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1985). Habermas's critique of Derrida is also, like
Frank's, based on the assumption that Derrida cannot escape the paradigm of reflec-
tion and subjectivism. One might see Habermas's book as the first productive out-
come of Frank's continuous effort to initiate a dialogue between French and German
theory - an effort that dates back at least as far as Frank's 1976 article "Eine funda-
mental-semiologische Herausforderung der abendlaindischen Wissenschaft: Jacques
Derrida," Philosophische Rundschau 23 (1976): 1-16.

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190 Gerd Gemiinden

is directly related to his belief in the consensus theory. Only what is

brought into the discussion by an individual can be true, yet it is only
true if commonly agreed on by the interpreting community. "There is
no place above discourse from where the semantic identity could be
verified: both dialogue partners constantlyproject the unity of meaning
of that about which they believe to have agreed on; yet they do so with
the assurance of being successful" (emphasis added).26 Understanding
language as an individual general finds its equivalent in the concept of
truth: there is no singular, complete understanding of the Other, but
only the infinite process of approaching an understanding (which is al-
ways subject to revision) by means of divination.


This brings us to the question of how hermeneutics and deconstruc-

tion relate to the notion of dialogue. A notion of dialogue lies at the
heart of all hermeneutic thought - whether as Gadamer's fusion of
horizons, Habermas's discourse free of power constraints, or Frank's
credo: "To enter [a] dialogue means: to a priori presuppose a possible
consensus of temporarily opposing positions."27 As Frank states in
What is Neostructuralism?:

The actual addressees [of these lectures] are the French philoso-
phers who may like to hear how their thoughts are being received
through the estranging (and sometimes rather critical) perspective
of contemporary hermeneutics; contemporary hermeneutics in
turn might be interested in reexamining those issues that cannot
withstand French criticism. (8)

Dialogue is defined as a give and take, as a communal effort towards one

goal: better knowledge, the enlightened philosopher, the truth. But all
these goals are truly hermeneutcal goals, raising the question of whether
deconstruction can align itself with this type of thinking and still main-
tain its own interests. Does not Frank's question "What is neostruc-
turalism?" look for an answer which would only calm hermeneutic

26. Frank, "Die Grenzen der Beherrschbarkeit der Sprache: Das Gesprich als Ort
der Differenz von Neostrukturalismus und Hermeneutik," Text und Interpretation, ed.
Philippe Forget (Munich: Fink, 1984) 197.
27. Frank, Das individuelle Allgemeine 126.

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On Hermeneutics and Deconstruction 191

worries? And doesn't the shape of this question make it impossible for
deconstruction to reply? For deconstruction's questions reveal different
concerns: What is repressed when understanding takes place? What hap-
pens to those factors that challenge understanding? To make this point
clearer, let us return to de Man.
The problem of language arises in quite a different setting for de
Man than it does for Frank. Frank is concerned with the relation of the
individual subject and language; he is out to show that it always takes a
subject to make language speak, that language itself cannot speak. In so
arguing, Frank exaggerates the grammatical aspect of language. De
Man's argument in Allegories of Reading is not similarly concerned with
the referential character of language. Referentiality is an important as-
pect of language for de Man, but it obscures the fact that there are lin-
guistic factors that do not work on the level of referentiality. These fac-
tors disrupt the all-too-handy equation of grammar and logic, of lan-
guage and world. They pertain only to language - an insight we can-
not gain if we stay exclusively within the referential frame of mind.
Thus Frank, like Gadamer before him,28 ultimately remains within the
logocentrism he tries to overcome.
This points to a deep incommensurability between the hermeneutic
and deconstructive paradigms. The interest hermeneutics has in de-
construction (how could it be otherwise) is to understand it. The inter-
est deconstruction has in hermeneutics is to deconstruct it. Under
these premises it seems difficult, if not impossible, for them to engage
in a fruitful discussion.29 Hermeneutics can be deconstructed and de-
construction can be understood. But how is one to establish a connec-
tion between the two? In a lucid article, Gerald L. Bruns argues that

dialogue with deconstruction ... is imaginable only in a certain

manner of speaking, with deconstruction not being quite what it is
- not quite a logical skepticism, for example, but instead a cri-
tique, or perhaps only a technique of something.30

28. "All writing is, as we have said, a kind of alienated speech, and its signs need to
be transformed back into speech and meaning. Because the meaning has undergone a
kind of self-alienation through being written down, this transformation back is the real
hermeneutical task" (Truth and Method, 354ff).
29. The (failed) debate between Gadamer and Derrida shows exactly this circular
structure of argumentation. This debate is documented in Philippe Forget, ed., Text
und Interpretation: Deutsch-franz6sische Debatte mit Beitriigen von J. Derrida, Ph. Forget, M.
Frank, H.-G. Gadamer, J. Greische und F Laruelle (Munich: Fink, 1984).
30. Gerald L. Bruns, "Structuralism, Deconstruction, and Hermeneutics,"

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192 Gerd Gemiinden

This is the move Frank makes. He understands deconstruction as a cri-

tique of the concept of the subject and he does not go along with it. In
his lectures he attacks this critique of the subject very eloquently. The
problem, however, is that he takes - and certainly has to take - de-
construction for something else. This is not to debunk altogether
Frank's reading. Rather, it opens up a number of important questions
which hermeneutics would do well to explore. But there remain con-
siderable doubts whether deconstruction will be able to recognize it-
self "in the estranging perspective of contemporary hermeneutics."(8)

Diacritics 14.1 (1984): 14.


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