Prof. Hugh J. Silverman

WEDNESDAYS 7:00-10:00 p.m. HARRIMAN 214

Office: Harriman Hall 203

Office Hours: Wednesdays 4:00-5:30 p.m. and by app=t

Office Telephone: 632-7592



How do you interpret the meaning of historical events? or the meaning of a literary, legal, or political statement? or even the meaning of the Being of beings? How do you enter into dialogue with someone who holds a position radically different from yours? How do you interpret the meaning of that other person's views? These issues are the matter of hermeneutics -- the theory of interpretation.


Alternatively, how do you read what has been written about a historical event, the signs that shape everyday language, the value of hospitality, friendship, or forgiveness, the identity of a "rogue state," the texts that we rely upon for our intellectual, literary, artistic, institutional, social, and political "security" and "sense of well-being?" What does a statement about "writing" and a "written text" say about the world outside of that statement? What lies inside the frame of what is determinate, decidable, decisive? Deconstruction as a strategy for reading -- reading texts, reading institutions, reading films and paintings, reading political events, reading philosophy -- is concerned with textualities and the differences that mark out what is in question in each of these events.


Hermeneutics and deconstruction are two of the most significant pillars of continental philosophy today. This course is an exploration of the major theories, assumptions, methods, and strategies of hermeneutics (arising out of transcendental and existential phenomenology) and deconstruction (responding to phenomenology, structuralism and hermeneutics). Our task will be to understand how interpretation (hermeneutics) and reading textualities (deconstruction) function as theoretical practices.  We will explore how both hermeneutics and deconstruction contribute to the articulation of postmodern thought and how they have had such a significant impact on cultural- aesthetic- literary- filmic theory and criticism, as well as on text theory, social theory, and the understanding and reading of philosophical histories.


In presenting and evaluating hermeneutics and deconstruction as philosophical practices, we will focus on the work of Martin Heidegger (hermeneutics) and Jacques Derrida (deconstruction). Readings will include selections from (1) Heidegger's earliest writings (1920s) on time, being, and history, essays on the work of art and the nature of poetry (1930s), on worldviews and the ontological difference (1940s), on language (1950s), and on "Time and Being," and the task of Thinking (1960s); and (2) Derrida's earliest writings on grammatology (1960s), on language, writing, differance, and the margins of philosophy (1970s), on the politics of restitution, truth, painting and the work of art (1980s), on responsibility, forgiveness, and cosmopolitanism (1990s and post-2001). Special attention will be given to Heidegger and Derrida writing about their respective philosophical enterprises and to essays in which Derrida reads Heidegger.




Each student is to write three short papers (about 5-7 pages in length).  The first paper should relate to the issues and concerns of Heideggerian hermeneutics; the second should focus on responses to hermeneutics by deconstruction; and the third should focus on some issue or aspect of Derridean deconstruction.


The three papers should be interrelated.  The first paper should demonstrate Heideggerian hermeneutics by interpreting a painting, poem, novel, play, film, building, photograph, or the like from a Heideggerian point of view.  The second should focus on later hermeneutics using the same work or text, and third should show how Derridean deconstruction differs from hermeneutics by appealing to the same work/text.  Alternatively, the same thematic, such as the nature of being, the function of language, the nature of art, poetry, work, or text, or the status of interpretation or a textual reading, could be followed through the three types of philosophizing.


Papers are due on Oct 13, Nov. 3, Dec. 1.


In addition, each member of the class is to prepare a protocol for at least one of the seminar sessions.  The person responsible for a particular week will write up an account of what transpired in class the previous week and will make a printed copy available to each of the members of the class at the very beginning of class. The protocol for a particular week will be discussed at the outset of the class.   This will give all members of the class an opportunity to review what transpired in the previous session and to raise any lingering issues or topics that were not sufficiently treated when first presented.  Protocols are due no later than two hours prior to the beginning of class.


Attendance in the seminar is an integral part of the evaluation of each students work in the course.


Because class meets only once a week, each seminar is equivalent to three classes. 

Each paper is worth 25% of the grade.  The final 25% includes the protocol and the quality of class participation.



Martin Heidegger

Supplements: From the Earliest Essays to Being and Time and Beyond (SUNY Press)

Elucidations of Hölderlin's Poetry  (Humanity Books)

Poetry, Language, Thought  (Harper & Row)

On Time and Being  (Harper & Row)


Jacques Derrida

Of Grammatology (Johns Hopkins University Press)

Margins of Philosophy  (University of Chicago Press)

The Truth in Painting  (University of Chicago Press)

Aporias  (Stanford University Press)

On Cosmopolitanism and Forgiveness (Routledge)

Jacques Derrida/ Geoffrey Bennington (University of Chicago Press)


Supplementary readings by Hugh J. Silverman

Textualities: Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction (Routledge)

Inscriptions: After Phenomenology and Structuralism (Northwestern)

Derrida and Deconstruction (ed) (Routledge)

Gadamer and Hermeneutics (ed)  (Routledge)


Course Schedule


Course Protocols  


Junior or Senior standing; at least two courses in Philosophy, Humanities, Comparative Literature, English, Languages, Art, or Music.