Wednesday, February 24, 2010


Vertigo - Alfred Hitchcock (1958)

In doing some reading for another class, Roger Haight's Jesus: Symbol of God, I have run into some philosophy that gives more nuance to my introduction to this course. In my introduction, I mentioned the conversation that a person has with a piece of art when that person encounters the art. I tried to draw out in my rudimentary language how this encounter and ensuing conversation occur. However, many great thinkers have already done this. One field of philosophy that can enrich my original thoughts is that of hermeneutics.

It is key to note first of all that Haight sees hermeneutics as an integral human activity: “To be human is to interpret.”1 Similarly, to be human is to seek out learning, which I would take to occur in the process of interpretation. Haight proposes forming Christological knowledge through an open-minded, relational, epistemological approach that is informed by the hermeneutical theories of Hans-Georg Gadamer and Paul Ricoeur. These theories will also be helpful for understanding the process of learning in this study of sci-fi film and theology.

Drawing on Gadamer’s seminal work Truth and Method, Haight says that for Gadamer, “Foreknowledge and questioning on the one hand, and fusion of horizons and application on the other, enter into the structure of all knowing: knowing is interpreting, out of a tradition and into a present-day situation.”2 Of importance are the text, the interpreter, and their contexts or horizons which are fused and applied in the interpretive event. Haight then references Ricoeur’s Hermeneutics and Human Sciences for the idea that texts bring a surplus of meaning to the interpretive event: “By an indigenous surplus of meaning, a text acquires new meanings in new situations, meanings which are also intrinsic to the original.”3 In the process a relationship forms between the text and the interpreter.

However, this relationship does not develop in an isolated bubble. Rather, it forms in a matrix of interconnected webs of relationships, past and present. This happens first in the personal experience of the interpreter, as the relational horizons (past and present) of the interpreter and text come together. Then, when meaning is concretized in language (or perhaps in images) and shared, it is released from the confines of its past meaning and new possibilities open up as it reaches more people and the web of relationships expands. Thus, Haight is led to say, “Surely the theory of communication, interpretation, and understanding that is outlined here presupposes a common anthropology that serves as the bond that links human beings and texts across time and cultures.”4 Implicit in this celebration of the relationality of hermeneutics is a celebration of the Other: both the Other of the text and the Other(s) represented in the web of relationships surrounding the interpretive event. Learning is enriched by a multitude of perspectives. As such, I hope to have interdisciplinarity and conversation drive my learning.

1Roger Haight, Jesus: Symbol of God (Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999), p. 41.
2Ibid., p. 35.
4Ibid., p. 43.

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