Conjuncted: Gadamer’s Dasein


There is a temporal continuity in Dasein. This is required for the revelation of a work of art through interpretation, both as understanding which already was, and as the way in which understanding was. Understanding is possible only in the temporal revision of one’s standpoint through the mutual relations of author and interpreter which allow the subject-matter to emerge. Here, the prejudices held by the interpreter play an important part in opening an horizon of possible questions.

Subsequent understanding that is superior to the original production, does depend on the conscious realization, historical or not, that places the interpreter on the same level as the author (as Schleiermacher pointed out). But even more, it denotes and depends upon an inseparable difference between the interpreter and the text and this precisely in the temporal field provided by historical distance.

It may be argued that the historian tries to curb this historical distance by getting beyond the temporal text in order to force it to yield information that it does not intend and of itself is unable to give. With regard to the particular text in application, this would seem to be the case. For example, what makes the true historian is an understanding of the significance of what he finds. Thus, the testimony of history is like that given before a court. In the German language, and based on this reason, the same word is used for both in general, Zeugnis (testimony; witness).

Referring to Gadamer’s position, we can see that it is in view of the historical distance that understanding must reconcile itself with itself and that one recognize oneself in the other being. The body of this argument becomes completely firm through the idea of historical Bildung, since, for example, to have a theoretical stance is, as such, already alienation; namely, dealing with something that is not immediate, but is other, belonging to memory and to thought. Moreover, theoretical Bildung leads beyond what man knows and experiences immediately. It consists in learning to affirm what is different from oneself and to find universal viewpoints from which one can grasp the thing as “the objective thing in its freedom,” without selfish interest. This indicates that an aesthetic discovery of a thing is conditioned primarily on assuming the thing where it is no longer, i.e., from a distance.

In this connection, we can extend critically Gadamer’s concept of the dynamism of distanciation from the object of understanding which is bounded by the frame of effective consciousness. This is based on the fact that in spite of the general contrast between belonging and alienating distance, the consciousness of effective history itself contains an element of distance. The history of effects, for Ricoeur, contains what occurs under the condition of historical distance. Whether this is either the nearness of the remote or efficacy at a distance, there is a paradox in otherness, a tension between proximity and distance which is essential to historical consciousness.

The possibility of effective historical consciousness is grounded in the possibility of any specific present understanding of being futural; in contrast, the first principle of hermeneutics is the Being of Dasein, which is historicity (Geschichtlichkeit) itself. In Gadamer’s view, Dasein’s temporality, which is the basis for its historicity, grounds the tradition. The last sections of Being and Time claimed to indicate that the embodiment of temporality can be found in Dasein’s historicality. As a result of this, the tradition is circularly grounded in Dasein’s temporality, while also surpassing its borders in order to be provided by a hermeneutical reference in distance.

We must study the root of this dilemma in so far as it is related to the sense of time. This is presupposed by historical consciousness, which in turn is preceded essentially by temporality. This inherent enigma in the hermeneutics of Dasein’s time led Heidegger to distinguish between authenticity and inauthenticity in our relation to time. The current concept of time can never totally fulfill the hermeneutical requirements. Ricoeur considered that time can be understood only if grasped within its limit, namely, eternity, but because eternity escapes the totalization and closure of any particular time, it remains inscrutable.

On the other hand, a text can be seen as temporal with regard to historical consciousness since it speaks only in the present. The text cannot be made present totally within an historical moment fully present-to-itself. It is in its a venir that the presence of the text transpires, which can be thematized as revenir (or) return.

Based on this aspect, each word is absolutely complete in itself, yet, because of its temporality, its meaning is realized only in its historical application. Nevertheless, historical interpretation can serve as a means to understand a given and present text even when, from another perspective, it sees the text simply as a source which is part of the totality of an historical tradition.

For Heidegger, the past character of time, i.e., the ‘pastness’ (passétité) belongs to a world which no longer exists, while a world is always world for a Dasein. It is clear that the past would remain closed off from any present were present Dasein not itself to be historical. Dasein, however, is in itself historical insofar as it is a possibility of interpreting. In being futural Dasein is its past, which comes back to it in the ‘how’. This is the ontological question of a thing in contrast to the question of the ‘what.’ The manner of its coming back is, among other processes, conscience. This makes clear why only the ‘how’ can be repeated. According to Ricoeur, history presents a past that has been as if it were present, as a function of poetic imagination. On the other hand, fictive narration imitates history in that it presents events as if they had happened, i.e., as if they occurred in the past. This intersection between history and fiction constitutes human time (le temps humain) whence an historical consciousness develops, where time can be understood as a singular totality.

Since the text can be viewed temporally, interpretation, as the work of art, is temporal and the best model for hermeneutical understanding is the one most adequate to the experience of time. Nevertheless, against Ricoeur, Gadamer found the identity of understanding not to be fixed in eternity. Instead, it is the continuity of our becoming-other in every response and in every application of pre-understanding that we have of ourselves in new and unpredictable situations. On this issue, it can be asked whether there is a way to reconcile Gadamer and Ricoeur on the issue of hermeneutical temporality.

The authentic source in the eternal return to Being can be discovered in Heidegger’s position: the eternal repetition of that which is known as that which is unknown, the familiar as the unfamiliar. The eternal return introduces difference which is disruptive to our conceptions of temporal movement. However, identity and difference must be destabilised in favor of the performance of a new concept of hermeneutics. In this a temporal event requires that one cross over to another hermeneutics of time that cannot be thought restricted only in temporalization since it is beyond when one begins. This concept is called by Heidegger the nearness of what lies after.

In addition, understanding is to be taken not as reconstruction, but as mediation in so far as it conveys the past into the present. Even when we grasp the past “in itself,” understanding remains essentially a mediation or translation of past meaning into the present situation. As Gadamer states, understanding itself is not to be thought of so much as an action of subjectivity, but rather as the entering into an event of transmission in which past and present are constantly mediated. This requires not detaching temporality from the ontological preconception of the present-at-hand, but trying to distinguish that from the simple horizon phenomenon of temporal consciousness. The event of hermeneutics never takes place if understanding is considered to be defined in the arena of the temporalization of time in the past in itself. 

Gadamer sees one of the most fundamental experiences of time as that of discontinuity or becoming-other. This stands in contrast to the “flowing” nature of time. According to Gadamer, there are at least three “epochal” experiences that introduce temporal discontinuity into our self-understanding: first, the experience of old age; second, the transition from one generation to another; and finally, the “absolute epoch” or the new age occasioned by the advent of Christianity, where history is understood in a new sense. 

The Greek understanding of history as deviation from the order of things was changed in medieval philosophy to accept that there is no recognizable order within history except temporality itself. (Nonetheless, the absolute epoch is not to be taken merely as similar to a Christian understanding of time, which would result in a technological conception of time in terms of which the future is unable to be planned or controlled.) The new in temporality comes to be as the old is recalled in dissolution. In recollection, the dissolution of the old becomes provocative, i.e., an opening of possibilities for the new. The dissolution of the old is not a non-temporal characteristic of temporalization.


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