Contemporary European Aesthetics
Thomas Was and Madiha Hamdi
September 14, 2010
Hermeneutics is the science and art of interpretation, named after the mythological Greek character Hermes. Hermes was Zeus’ messenger, the liaison. This in-between characteristic is the foundation for hermeneutics. He posed as a representation of the inter, the in between. This in between is not the subjective account, nor the objective. It is rather the place between the two. One must understand what is happening between the two sides in order to interpret it. The hermeneutic circle is the space where understanding is reached. Edmund Husserl declared that what is produced, or brought out of the hermeneutic circle is the meaning (German sinn). Sinn relates to the five senses, which is the sensualist interpretation of meaning. Aesthesis is Greek for meaning but like the German Sinn it relates to the senses as well and is the root of the word Aesthetics.
The hermeneutic circle brings out meaning by the circling of the circle, such as thinking (German: denken).
In the introductory paragraphs to the Origin of the Work of Art, Heidegger outlines the structure of the rest of the piece, thoughtfully dividing it up into 3 parts.
1. Thing and Work
2. Work and Truth
3. Truth and Art
He follows with an Epilogue and an addendum. We can see that the subsequent subject of each part becomes the antecedent of the following part. This brings the hermeneutic thought process around into a full circle. The Origin of the Work of Art was published in 1935, however the addendum was not published until about 1960. It was published originally in the Holzwege. Holzwege translates into something to the effect of a wood path leading to nowhere. A holzwege is a series of paths that loggers would create in the forest which served merely as the progression of their work and had no final destination. In 1956 Heidegger’s student Gadamer republished the Origin. He also later wrote a book titled “Truth and methods”.
The first part of the OWA is entitled Thing and Work. A thing is not an object nor a subject, but rather that which is outside the subject-object relationship. He examines the thingly character of the thing, or thingliness. All things possess this attribute. It questions the essence of the thing insofar as it’s existence as a thing. The painting possesses this trait of being a thing.
Next, he assesses the usefulness of a thing, which he calls equipmentality. The equipmentality of the shoes in Van Gogh’s “Shoes” is that they are worn to work in a field, or walk, or keep one’s feet warm. The equipmentality relates to what the purpose is that the thing serves. The equipmental quality of the equipment lies in its reliability. It is not until the piece of equipment has stopped serving its proper function that it is noticed. In the same way, the painting can have usefulness outside of being admired. It could be used as a serving tray as well. We then examine the thingliness of a thing in relation to the work. The word work has dual meaning. One sense of work is work which we go to or do in order to make money or accomplish something (arbeit). The other sense of work is werk, as in a work of art. When we examine the French word Hors D’oeuvres, we see that the etymology of it translates into “outside work”. They are a snack, served before the main course, outside the work. The word artworks translates to kunstwerker in German.
Next we examine the character of the painting as a work of art. We look upon technique, the formal traits of the shoes within the painting. Heidegger draws conclusions that they are peasant shoes, and that they belong to a female. He is then able to elaborate a story around these traits. After we have assessed these values of the painting itself, we are able to ask these values of the subject of the painting, the shoes. We can question the thingliness, equipmentality of the shoes in Van Gogh’s painting. They would not be reliable for the purpose of a person wearing them to keep their feet warm because, after all, they are shoes within a painting. Therefore, the pair of shoes are considered a thing but are removed from their equipmentality by their lack of reliability and usefulness. The painting is a thing, and the shoes within the painting are a thing as well. The descriptive story that Heidegger derives from assessing these traits about the shoes serves to disclose truth of the shoes. The painting is a interpretation of the shoes, an exposition of them. In his story, he provides a meaning, he gives an account of the truth of the artwork. What is disclosed in the interpretation of the hermeneutic circle, and the interpretation of the painting is the truth being set to work in the work of art.