Tuesday, October 28, 2008

George Eliot on the Hermeneutical Circle

This quotation from George Eliot's Middlemarch sounds a lot like Schleiermacher's (1768-1834) concept of the "hermeneutical circle":
Lydgate talked persistently when they were in his work-room, putting arguments for and against the probability of certain biological views; but he had none of those definite things to say or to show which give the way-marks of a patient uninterrupted pursuit, such as he used himself to insist on, saying that 'there must be a systole and diastole in all inquiry,' and that 'a man's mind must be continually expanding and shrinking between the whole human horizon and the horizon of an object-glass' (Penguin Classics edition, 640).
I assumed at first that she got it from Schleiermacher himself. Since Eliot translated David Freidrich Strauss's Das Leben Jesu, and Strauss was influenced by Schleiermacher, it makes sense that she read Schleiermacher too. But I can't find any positive evidence that she did. However, we do know that Eliot read Spinoza, and if these two websites are correct it is Spinoza rather than Schleiermacher who first came up with the "hermeneutical circle."

Here's another dialogue that reminds me of romantic hermeneutics if not Schleiermacher in particular:
"I daresay not,' said Dorothea.... 'If you knew how it came about, it would not seem wonderful to you.'
'Can't you tell me?' said Celia, settling her arms cozily.
'No, dear, you would have to feel with me, else you would never know" (822).

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