Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language

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The notes for "Aesthetica in nuce" bring out a wealth of biblical references in the text that significantly enrich the meaning of Hamann's development of the idea of "nature as text," in which the Bible of course is the most important such text. To give just one example, Haynes tells us that Hamann's mention, near the end of the piece, of God's speaking to us through his Son, is a reference to Hebrews, the language of which seems to anticipate Hamann's view. The overall effect of this is to ensure that Hamann's ultimate goal in writing -- to engage with Enlightenment philosophy so as to preserve the authority of the Bible -- comes through to the reader on every page.

The writing of Hamann's most interesting for contemporary philosophers is probably his "Metacritique on the Purism of Reason," which is his critique of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. This small, dense text was written in , but published only in , after Hamann's death. It is probably the most difficult of Hamann's writings to translate, because here his many allusions to the Bible and to classical and modern literature are combined with numerous references to the peculiar idiom of the critical philosophy, as well as to the works of Berkeley and Hume.

Haynes has produced a remarkably readable translation of the "Metacritique" -- in comparison, that is, with the German original, which is itself hardly readable. Contrary to what might strike a reader on first acquaintance with the "Metacritique," Hamann does actually make a sort of argument in this text, albeit one that needs to be pieced together through interpretation of his many allusions to other texts.

The piece begins with Hume's approving reference to Berkeley's rejection of abstract ideas -- "one of the greatest and most valuable discoveries that has been made of late in the republic of letters. It is also significant philosophically as an indication of the standard to which Hamann intends to hold Kant's system, namely the standard of empirical particularity. Given Kant's own emphatic claim that concepts can have empirical reality only in relation to sensible intuition, Hamann's move can be defended as holding Kant to a standard he himself endorses. The heart of Hamann's argument against Kant is that the language used to enact Kant's critique cannot itself meet this standard.

Kant's reason therefore cannot be as "pure" as he imagines, but instead is dependent on "custom, belief, and habit. Also well represented and translated here are Hamann's various writings on the topic of the origin of language. This was a hotly debated subject in the 18th century, centering on the question of whether language was an invention of humans in their natural state or a gift from God.

Given the importance of language as a mark of the perceived divide between humans and animals, the importance of this debate clearly derived from the question of whether human thought, particularly rational thought, can be understood naturalistically, with the methods of the ever more important natural sciences, or whether instead reason stands apart from nature. In "The Last Will and Testament of the Knight of the Rose-Cross," Hamann characteristically rejects the terms of the debate: The natural is not to be opposed to the divine, nor to the human, and language is a tissue connecting them all.

Referring to the scene in Genesis where God bids Adam to name the animals, Hamann writes that in the beginning. All that man heard at the beginning, saw with his eyes, looked upon, and his hands handled, was a living word, for God was the word. With this word in his mouth and in his heart the origin of language was as natural, as close and easy, as a child's game.

This last passage is a particularly good example of Haynes' skill at rendering Hamann's opaque German into excellent English. Ultimately, this means that for Hamann proper hermeneutics rests on one thing: perceiving God revealed within the phenomenon, whether that be nature or history cf. Socratic Memorabilia and Aesthetica in Nuce for examples. Even the interpretation of ourselves is a revelation of God; a recognition of whose image solves all the most complicated knots and riddles of our nature N II, —; —5.

The topics examined so far all have their anthropological implications. The concepts of knowledge and language and their many facets also imply a particular anthropology: the diversity yet integration of the human being. For Hamann, the truest picture of humanity is of diversity in unity; a number of different, often contrasting aspects and features together composing the human person. Hamann consequently did not confine his attention to epistemology and reason when considering what human beings are, and passion, the thirst for vengeance, and sexual ecstasy form a part of his picture as well.

The theme of interdependence between human beings, which was emphasized in his epistemology, also has its roots in his understanding of what it is to be human. We are not self-sufficient; but for Hamann, even our lacks and failings have a positive thrust, this signifier of dependency making us all the more suited for the enjoyment of nature and one another.

If there is a fundamental key to his thinking on humanity, it is the idea that the human being is the image of God. This is admittedly more theological than philosophical, but is essential for understanding Hamann's philosophical anthropology. Hamann's treatment of this perennial theme is hardly conventional in the history of Christian thinking.

Writings on philosophy and language

While the experience of sinfulness and wickedness is a powerful theme, particularly in his earlier, post-conversion writing, the fundamental thrust of his thinking is the easy exchange between the human and the divine. Despite his reputation for being an irrationalist, reasoning too relates us to God; God, nature and reason are described as having the same relation as light, the eye and what we see, or as author, text and reader ZH 5, — One must also remember that Hamann confessed that he could not conceive of a Creative Spirit without genitalia; indeed, he was quite happy to assert that the genitals are the unique bond between creature and Creator.

So sexuality in divine-human relations has two aspects. First, as paradigm of creativity, it is the way in which our God-likeness can most strikingly be seen. Secondly, as the point of the most profound unity, it is the locus for our union both with another human being and with the divine. Provocatively, Hamann sees original sin and its rebellion as embodied not in sexuality, but in reason. Overweening reason is our attempt to be like God; meanwhile, prudery is the rejection of God's image, while trying to be like God in the wrong sense bodilessness.

See Essay of a Sibyl on Marriage and Konxompax.

Exploring philosophical, historical, and theological intersections

In the Sibyl's essay, the male version of grasping at equality with God cf. Instead, the encounter with the opposite sex should engender in the man an attitude of profound respect towards the woman's body, as the source of his own existence, from his mother. As the source of his own joy, lovemaking also is an acknowledgement of his own dependence, his lack of self-sufficiency and autonomy. But this dependence on another paradoxically is the Godlikeness of the Creator, the father, the one who humbles himself in self-giving a favourite Hamannian theme in his discussion of God.


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Meanwhile, the woman's temptation is to an artificial innocence; a secret envy of God's incorporeality and impassibility. The defence of one's virginity is another cryptic attempt at self-sufficiency. Hamann's works, including those unpublished in his lifetime, are reprinted in the collection edited by Josef Nadler:. Citations from this source, in conformity with common practice for Hamann references, are given above as: N II, All translations from Hamann's works and letters in the above article are from Gwen Griffith Dickson see below except for the translation from the letter to Kraus, which is cited in the translation by Garrett Green, in Schmidt, James ed.

What is Enlightenment? The International Hamann-Colloquium meets every few years. Collections of its papers are some of the most important contributions to Hamann scholarship:. Life 2. Writings 3. Metacritique 4. Relation 5. The Union of Opposites 6. Enlightenment 8. Language 9.

Knowledge Interpretation and Understanding Writings Hamann's writings are all short; he was not given to extensive treatises. Relation A second feature of Hamann's approach is a tendency which Goethe saw as holism.

Philosophy of language and mind

The Union of Opposites Hamann's tool for conceiving the interrelation of these dimensions of human life increasingly was the Principle of the Union of Opposites. Contradictions and apparent oppositions fill our experience: Yes, daily at home I have the experience that one must always contradict oneself from two viewpoints, [which] never can agree, and that it is impossible to change these viewpoints into the other without doing the greatest violence to them. Our knowledge is piecemeal — no dogmatist is in a position to feel this great truth, if he is to play his role and play it well; and through a vicious circle of pure reason skepsis itself becomes dogma ZH 5, — This is in the context of a discussion of Kant.

Nothing seems easier than the leap from one extreme to the other, and nothing so difficult as the union to a center. ZH 4, —17 6. ZH 7, —11 7. Language Language is one of Hamann's most abiding philosophical concerns. Rewriting the story of the Garden of Eden, he describes this paradise as: Every phenomenon of nature was a word,—the sign, symbol and pledge of a new, mysterious, inexpressible but all the more intimate union, participation and community of divine energies and ideas.

Everything the human being heard from the beginning, saw with its eyes, looked upon and touched with its hands was a living word; for God was the word. NIII, 21—30 This makes the origin of language as easy and natural as child's play. In a passage full of subtle allusions to Kantian passages and terms, he writes: Indeed, if a chief question does remain: how is the power to think possible?

Johann Georg Hamann

Not only the entire ability to think rests on language The relation of language to reason he certainly did not feel had solved, however, as he wrote to a friend: If only I was as eloquent as Demosthenes, I would have to do no more than repeat a single word three times. Reason is language—Logos; I gnaw on this marrowbone and will gnaw myself to death over it.

It is still always dark over these depths for me: I am still always awaiting an apocalyptic angel with a key to this abyss. ZH 5, —21 9. Knowledge For Hamann, knowledge is inseparable from self-knowledge, and self-knowledge inseparable from knowledge of the other. Humanity The topics examined so far all have their anthropological implications.

Bibliography Hamann's writings Hamann's works, including those unpublished in his lifetime, are reprinted in the collection edited by Josef Nadler: Hamann, Johann Georg. Vienna: Verlag Herder, — This was reprinted recently by Brockhaus in Wuppertal, Hamann's Letters Hamann, Johann Georg. Briefwechsel , edited by Walther Ziesemer and Arthur Henkel from volume 4 on, edited by Henkel alone. Citations from this source are given as: ZH 4 etc. Other selections Johann Georg Hamann. Schriften zur Sprache. Einleitung und Anmerkungen von Josef Simon.

Frankfurt a. Eine Auswahl aus seinen Schriften. Wuppertal: R. Brockhaus Verlag, Vom Magus im Norden und der Verwegenheit des Geistes. Berlin: Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung, Other editions and commentaries, in German Daphne. Mit einem Nachwort von Joseph Kohnen. Reihe A: Quellen, Bd. Johann Georg Hamann, Londoner Schriften. Beck, Aesthetica in nuce. Mit einem Kommentar hg. Stuttgart: Reclam Verlag, Kleeblatt Hellenistischer Briefe.

Text mit Wiedergabe des Erstdruckes, hg. Reihe A: Bd. Wild, Reiner. Reihe B: Untersuchungen, Bd. Bayer, Oswald und Christian Knudsen Hg. Johann Georg Hamanns Letztes Blatt. Text und Interpretation. V: Mysterienschriften. VII: Golgotha und Scheblimini. Bayer, Oswald. Vernunft ist Sprache. Hamanns Metakritik Kants. Stuttgart: Frommann-Holzboog, Manegold, Ingemarie. Johann Georg Hamanns Schrift Konxompax. Johann Georg Hamann's Relational Metacriticism. Berlin: de Gruyter, Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language.

Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, Hamann's Socratic Memorabilia. A Translation and a Commentary. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press, Hamann, — A Study in Christian Existence. With Selections from his Writings. London: Collins, Philosophy and Faith. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff. Anderson, Lisa Marie ed. Evanston, Ill. Bayer, Oswald, , A Contemporary in Dissent. Grand Rapids: Wm.


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  • Eerdmans Publishing Company. Beech, Timothy, , Hamann's prophetic mission. A genetic study of three late works against the Enlightenment. London: Maney Publ. Beetz, Manfred ed.

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    Religion und Gesellschaft. Berlin: De Gruyter. Beiser, Frederick C. German Philosophy from Kant to Fichte. Berlin, Isaiah, , The Magus of the North. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism. Edited by Henry Hardy. London: John Murray.

    Hamann: Writings on Philosophy and Language - Google Books

    Betz, John Renner, , Hamann before Postmodernity. Dissertation, Department of Theology, University of Virginia. Betz, John R. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Frankfurt am Main [u. The Cambridge Companion to German Idealism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Berlin: de Gruyter. Missoula: Scholars Press. German, Terence J. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kraus , in Lessing Yearbook Detroit: Wayne State University Press, pp. Translated by James H. Stam and Martin H. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.

    Princeton: Princeton Theological Seminary. Essays in honour of H. S Harris , v. Baur ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. O'Flaherty, James C. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins Press. Boston: Twayne Publishers. Essays on Hamann, Michaelis, Lessing, Nietzsche. Columbia: Camden House. American University Studies. Series I. Germanic Languages and Literatur. Volume Collections of its papers are some of the most important contributions to Hamann scholarship: Johann Georg Hamann , Acta des Internationalen Hamann-Colloquiums in Luneberg , ed. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, Marburg: N.

    Elwert Verlag: Marburg: Elwert Verlag, Reihe 1, Deutsche Sprache und Literatur, Bd. M: Peter Lang



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