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 Arts, Language and Hermeneutic Aesthetics” 

Interview with Paul Ricoeur 
Paul Ricoeur, Professor Emeritus, Paris X, and Nuveen Chair Professor Emeritus, University of Chicago.

(Conducted by Jean-Marie Brohm and Magali Uhl. September 20, 1996 in Paris)

Translation - R.D. Sweeney, Don Shula Professor Emeritus, John Carroll
University, Cleveland,  Ohio, USA.

 p 1 - p 2 - p 3 - p 4 - p 5 - p 6 - p 7 - p 8 - p 9 => Text  in    

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You have distinguished in your works a hermeneutic of archeology and a hermeneutic of teleology, a reductive hermeneutic  -- for example psychoanalysis -- oriented toward the regressive, the infantile, the archaic, and an amplifying hermeneutic -- for example, phenomenology -- attentive to the surplus of meaning and oriented towards a telos of signifying completeness,  to use your expression.  How do you situate this opposition in relation to a hermeneutic of the work of art?

I have not pursued that line, which relates to a debate with psychoanalysis.  I maintained, on the one hand, that the domain of psychoanalysis was hollowed out from underneath, from behind in some way, moving always toward the most primitive, the most archaic, the most savage, the most inchoative, and, on the other hand, that meaning is complete only when the figures of Spirit surpass each other by a sort of repetition oriented towards a something more.  I had taken the example of the Phenomenology of Spirit of Hegel because we have there the model of an understanding where the meaning of one figure is in the following figure.  The connection of one figure to the other appears contingent, but once the following figure has appeared, it becomes retroactively necessary.  It would appear inscribed in the preceding figure that the following will be such as it is.  This then permits certainly a playing out of a dialectic which I have called in the past the dialectic of suspicion and amplification, but I am not sure that it is universal.  I applied it to the most favorable case, that of the Oedipus Rex of Sophocles: its meaning does not reduce to the drama of sexuality, of incest and parricide; but it proceeds from the history of recognition: that is the tragedy of truth, therefore both of retrospection toward the origin, but also the march ahead towards enlightenment, towards catharsis, illumination (I think besides that it is necessary to translate catharsis by enlightenment as much as by purification in the medical or mystical sense of the word).  So, hermeneutic comprehension consists perhaps in this capacity, in the course of the history of understanding, to engender new meaning in favor of this movement of archeology towards teleology.  In its turn this movement would come to be surmounted in the transhistorical of the perennial, of perdurance.  Such would be the persistence of the work of art, capable each time of engendering the surpassing of archeology in teleology. 

Are you not then on the way to pointing out the mystery of creation and of arts as interpretation of the world? One has been able to inerpret the work of art in a reductionist manner as refraction, product, reflex, mimesis, etc., of what exists already, and so we have all the sociological or anthropological theories which lead the work of art back to the conditions of its production: the market, habit, the social field, the socio-cultural environment, impulses, even the air of the time or the style.  Thus the work of art would be the expression of what already exists.  There you have archeology.  It would seem that you are rather in the inverse position, that of teleology, where the work of art is an end, an ahead, a project to make happen in the sense understood by Ernst Bloch.

To return to Kant, it is striking to see that he was very severely at a loss to situate genius in relation to the beautiful and the sublime, because there always remains something of the retrospective in the judgment of taste, whereas the beautiful creates anew.  I am interested in this problem, either by way of  metaphor or else from narrative, within the theme of semantic innovation.  In both cases, the idea emerges of a new meaning which had not been there.  Thus metaphor is the capacity to produce a new meaning, at the flash-point where a semantic incompatibility founders in the confrontation of several levels of signification, to produce a new signification which exists only in the breaking up of the semantic fields.  In the case of narrative, I would risk saying that what I call the synthesis of the heterogeneous does not create any less novelty than metaphor, but this time in the composition, in the configuration of a narrated temporality, of a narrative temporality.  To join together multiple events, causalities, finalities and contingencies, is to produce a new meaning which is the plot Each plot is singular and  has exactly the status of the work of art according to Kant: the singularity capable of being shared. 

Would you go so far as to extend this metaphorical function of art to all the forms of art?  This is what you seem to be suggesting in saying that the work of art can have an effect comparable to that of metaphor: to integrate levels of meaning accumulated, retained and contained together. Can one extend the notion of metaphor beyond the trope? Beyond language properly so-called?

Beyond language but also beyond period figures.  What one can keep perhaps of the generalized metaphor, beyond language and the trope, is resemblance, but resemblance as a product of  metaphor.  Metaphor does not repeat a given resemblance, but by the fact that it produces meaning, it creates resemblance where there was none.  In sum, there is a generation of resemblance.  One of the very beautiful texts which I have commented on on another occasion, The Poetics of Aristotle, underscores this: to make metaphors well is to have an insight into resemblance. This insight into resemblance allows one to read resemblance where one did not see it. In sum it creates a resemblance which one can no longer not see.

 Next :  Do you admit the mimetic function of art?

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