Literary Theory Topic – ‘The Hermeneutic Circle’

Hello Monarch Writers!

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– This Week: 10/14/2018 – Updates – & – On Literary Theory – ‘The Hermeneutic Circle’

As you may know, we have the Potluck Dinner meeting coming up quite soon on October 22nd. And I know a few people who wanted to weren’t able to attend the Monday Article Meeting on October 8th. We started a discussion of how we will approach Literary Theory, using the Michel Foucault article ‘What Is An Author?’ as a prompt to the discussion.  We’ll continue this discussion on the 22nd, bringing it home by talking about Why We Write and how that might fit in with or contrast with these ideas of the Authority of the writer, how much we see ourselves possessing the meaning of our work after it becomes published to the world, and with these academic discussions- that long tundraed plateau where any piece of writing can be endlessly dissected and put on ice for further study. I don’t know, call it ‘the shelf’.

How entrenched is the idea of an audience when we sit down at the keyboard? Is there always an audience in mind, whether we worry about some faceless force always waiting in the comment section to tear us down, or whether we have some dream of a Left Bank Books reading where people ask us enlightened questions and tell us their favorite parts of the book they just asked us to autograph? Or are we writing for some distant person on some desert island, composing notes letter by letter, each one like a bottle thrown into the sea?

I hope some of you have gotten a chance to look at the Yale ‘Introduction to Literary Theory’ Lectures on Youtube The first two are introductory and cover a broad range of things that should help when just approaching everything in the field. I just went over the third lecture, ‘Ways in and out of the Hermeneutic Circle’ – ‘Hermeneutics’ being the science of how we find meaning in a text. And the Hermeneutic Circle being the idea of, how can we come to a new piece of writing, without preconceptions and biases, and allow it to influence us. Being open to new things and being oneself at the same time. Or, rather, how can we come to a new piece of writing what with our preconceived notions and biases, and, not being open to anything new, ever be changed! That conundrum or paradox, Gadamer describes, and maps a way out of, with his ‘fusion of horizons’.

In that third lecture, Professor Fry discusses three figures who are worth further study if you want to look into them. I’ve provided some worthwhile youtube videos on each of them below. Here’s the Third lecture:

Yale Lectures – Introduction to Theory of Literature (ENGL 300) 

3. Ways In and Out of the Hermeneutic Circle

In this lecture, Professor Paul Fry examines acts of reading and interpretation by way of the theory of hermeneutics. The origins of hermeneutic thought are traced through Western literature. The mechanics of hermeneutics, including the idea of a hermeneutic circle, are explored in detail with reference to the works of Hans-George GadamerMartin Heidegger, and E. D. Hirsch. Particular attention is paid to the emergence of concepts of “historicism” and “historicality” and their relation to hermeneutic theory.

00:00 – Chapter 1. The History of Hermeneutics

10:32 – Chapter 2. The Hermeneutic Circle

20:37 – Chapter 3. On Prejudice

23:45 – Chapter 4. Historicism and “Historicality”

27:48 – Chapter 5. Gadamer’s Debt to Heidegger

33:21 – Chapter 6. Prejudice and Tradition

37:20 – Chapter 7. E. D. Hirsch


In this video he discusses:

Martin Heidegger: A very influential 20th Century German Philosopher, best known for his tome ‘Being and Time’.

Hans-George Gadamer: I didn’t know about him until this video, but he provides a way out of the circle, with his idea of ‘Fusion of Horizons’.

E.D. Hirsch: A proponent of the idea of objectivity and cultural literacy, who advocates for a core knowledge curriculum.

A Short Introduction to Martin Heidegger
Influential 20th Century Philosopher of Being


Hans-George Gadamer – An Overview by Jessica Frazier

Gadamer, the originator of the hermeneutic concept of the ‘fusion of horizons’ led an interesting life in interesting times and worked to keep an open mind when others were demanding scholars take sides and claim territory. Gadamer’s own beliefs of holding an open mind and still being able to remain true to oneself while not being closed off to new information is a miracle of hermeneutic ontology and a furthering of the systems of Heidegger, set down in his foundational work ‘Truth and Method’. Gadamer had some very interesting conversations with Derrida as well which Frazier describes, where, by asking Gadamer to take up the view point that all meaning was unfoundable on objective grounds, Derrida was in fact asking Gadamer to understand him, to consider his point of view and decide whether it was valid and worth being adopted. The kind of discussion of ideas we have regularly, though Derrida’s point of view was one of a kind of corruption of the system. A kind of virus, if accepted into the propositionality, which would infect the discourse ever after.


Dr. E. D. Hirsch live in Cambridge 2015

Speaking on the idea of a common core of knowledge needed in education of the young in order to form a literacy, a common vocabulary that allows us to communicate in society and thrive, and countering the idea that the student’s impulses should drive education naturally, but instead all education is an imposed acculturation and this does not counter the growth of an individual but works to give underprivileged individuals equal footing.


These ideas speak to how we make up our mind about meaning, how we form our minds, opinions, knowledge (if there is such a thing! – Certainly there was a lot of talk of skepticism in the first two lectures.), and how, or if, we can get on the same page together. It’s a lot to think about, and I hope you get something out of the materials here.

I’m going to plan to send out a Monarch Writers newsletter similar to this every week, going to aim for Wednesdays hereafter. Feel free to opt out and just keep track of meetings on, or just check the Monarch Writers WordPress Site, but I hope you’ll find it interesting and maybe give some comments toward the discussion on the Goodreads forum!

Good Hunting, Writers,

– Cypress Butane


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