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Hermeneutics 101

Hermeneutics and Translation
Lecture I
4th year students (undergraduate program)
Date: September 2, 2022
Hryhoriy Kochur
“Переклад – це грандіозний процес,
що ніколи не доходить до краю.
[…] Звичайно, переклад тим і
відрізняється від оригіналу, що
оригінал – один, він існує в
остаточній і незмінній формі, а
єдино можливого перекладу не
буває, як не буває, скажімо,
єдиного виконання музичного
твору: кожен виконавець надає
своїй інтерпретації власних
відтінків, своєрідних рис. Так,
власне, і наявність дуже доброго,
бездоганного, здавалося б,
перекладу не буває межею, що
спиняє інших…”
Г. Кочур (1966)
• derived from the Greek
word ἑρμηνεύω (hermeneuō, "translate,
interpret"), from ἑρμηνεύς
(hermeneus, "translator, interpreter")
• Places its origins with HERMES, the
mythological Greek god who was “the
messenger of gods” and had to master the
language of the gods, understand and
interpret what these immortal beings have
in mind, and translate and articulate their
intention to the mortal beings
• Hermeneutics was initially applied to the
interpretation, or exegesis, of Scriptures
(A divine message must be received with
implicit uncertainty regarding its truth)
• In its barest sense, hermeneutics can be understood
as a theory, methodology and praxis of text
• As this working definition suggests, hermeneutics
has three different layers of meanings and concerns
1) theory, which is concerned about the
epistemological validity and possibility of
2) methodology, which is concerned about the
formulation of reliable systems of interpretation;
3) praxis, which is concerned about the actual
process of interpreting specific texts.
• 1) romanticist hermeneutics, 2) phenomenological
hermeneutics, 3) dialectical hermeneutics, 4) critical
hermeneutics, and 5) post-structural hermeneutics.
• Such categorization of the diverse hermeneutic systems
into just five groups is specified by the variations of the
structural components of interpretation itself, of which
there are three:
1) the interpreter, or the subject;
2) the thing being interpreted, or the object, which is
either a text or a text analogue;
3) the goal of the interpretive act, which is either truth or
Friedrich Daniel Ernst Schleiermacher
• Universal hermeneutics; Lecture Ueber die
verschiedenen Methoden des Uebersetzens (1813)
• Article Genealogies of Translation Theory:
Schleiermacher by Lawrence Venuti (1991)
• For Schleiermacher, "the genuine translator" is a
writer "who wants to bring those two completely
separated persons, his author and his reader, truly
together, and who would like to bring the latter to
an understanding and enjoyment of the former as
correct and complete as possible without inviting
him to leave the sphere of his mother tongue.“
• A. Berman calls attention to the hermeneutical
paradigm introduced here, the emphasis on
translation as the object of textual interpretation
that enables intersubjective understanding
One's understanding of the text as a whole is established by reference
to the individual parts; one's understanding of each individual part by
reference to the whole. Neither the whole text nor any individual part
can be understood without reference to one another – it is a circle.
Schleiermacher‘s translation concept
• Schleiermacher in fact finds only two methods of
effecting the target language reader's
understanding of the source-language "author":
"Either the translator leaves the author in peace, as
much as possible, and moves the reader towards
him (PARAPHRASE); or he leaves the reader in
peace, as much as possible, and moves the
author towards him“ (IMITATION)
• Schleiermacher privileges the first method!
• Schleiermacher intended that the goal of
[romanticist] hermeneutics is to capture the
original authorial intent
Grammatical vs psychological
He distinguishes two types of understanding that
form the basis of his hermeneutics.
(1) grammatical: Human beings learn language and
come to understand the meaning of words.
(2) psychological: Schleiermacher used a divinatory
(дівінаційний, інтуїтивний) method in which
one individual is able to get inside the
perspective of another individual based upon
the common elements of humanity shared by all
Wilhelm Dilthey
• deeply influenced by Schleiermacher but rejects
his reliance on intuition and feeling as the mean
to access the inner aspects of life and proposes
historicality of human life instead.
• Human beings live in temporal space and create
expressions of their lived experiences. Dilthey
understood man as a historical being.
• History is not described in terms of an object of
the past, but “a series of world views”.
• Dilthey wants to emphasize the “intrinsic
temporality of all understanding,” that man’s
understanding is dependent on past worldviews,
interpretations, and a shared world.
Romanticist Hermeneutics
Martin Heidegger (1889-1976)
His major work “Being and Time” (1927):
“The Anaximander Fragment” – Early
Greek Thinking: raises the question
whether the fragment can speak to us
after all these years?... by being in tune
with the language, a ”bond” which is
”broader and stronger, but far less
Thus, man is the subject of language and
disappears in it.
Die Sage: Language is the house of Being;
true language – Dasein (тут-буття) –
Das Gerede: everyday speech
Translation as thought recomposition
• For Heidegger, because of the relation between
thinking and translating, and the relation of both to
language, it is not a thinker's words, but rather the
translator's thought, that is translated when he
attempts to render a text in his own native
• The resulting text is a recomposition of the original
text, not the exchange of words between the
vocabularies of two natural languages.
• Translation is viewed as an action, an operation of
thought, a translation of our selves into the thought
of the other language, and not a linguistic, scientific
transfer from sth into the present
Heidegger’s hermeneutic circle
The ‘hermeneutic circle’ that had been a central idea in previous
hermeneutic thinking, and that had been viewed in terms of the
interpretative interdependence between the parts of that structure
and the whole, was transformed by Heidegger,
so that it was now seen as expressing the way in which all
understanding was ‘always already’ given over to that which is to
be understood (to ‘the things themselves’—‘die Sachen selbst’).
Thus, to take a simple example, if we wish to understand some
particular artwork, we already need to have some prior
understanding of that work (even if only as a set of paint marks on
canvas), otherwise it cannot even be seen as something to be
To put the point more generally, and in more basic ontological terms,
if we are to understand anything at all, we must already find
ourselves ‘in’ the world ‘along with’ that which is to be
Phenomenological Hermeneutics
The goal of phenomenological hermeneutics is to capture to truth of the text as it is.
Hans-Georg Gadamer
his magnum opus Truth and Method (1975)
• Hermeneutics is not a process in which an
interpreter finds a particular meaning, but “a
philosophical effort to account for understanding
as an ontological—the ontological—process of
man.” It is an attempt "to clarify the conditions in
which understanding takes place" (Gadamer 1975:
• Among these conditions are, crucially, prejudices
and fore-meanings in the mind of the interpreter.
Gadamer: “principle of effective-history”
• Understanding is always interpretation, and it means to use
one's own preconceptions so that the meaning of the
object can really be made to speak to us.
• Understanding is thus not a merely reproductive but a very
productive process.
• The prejudices and fore-meanings in the mind of the
interpreter which make understanding possible, are not at
the free disposal of the interpreter, but linked to a 'horizon'
and an 'effective history' (Wirkungsgeschichte).
"Understanding is not to be thought of so much as an action
of one's subjectivity, but as the placing of oneself within a
process of tradition, in which past and present are
constantly fused." (Gadamer 1975: 258)
• develop a 'historical' self-awareness – "historicallyeffected" consciousness; 'principle of effective-history'
(1975: 267)
… temporal distance is not something that must be
overcome. This was, rather, the naive assumption
of historicism, namely that we must set ourselves
within the spirit of the age, and think with its
ideas and its thoughts, not with our own, and
thus advance towards historical objectivity. In
fact the important thing is to recognise the
distance in time as a positive and productive
possibility of understanding. It is not a yawning
abyss, but is filled with the continuity of custom
and tradition, in the light of which all that is
handed down presents itself to us."
(Gadamer 1975: 264f.)
На мій погляд, кожне нове
покоління повинно мати свій
переклад Вільяма Шекспіра, —
вважає Іван Малкович. Адже на
кожні два-три покоління
з'являються нові мовні шари.
Власне Шекспір тому й
залишається геніальним, що він
завжди сучасний — для
кожного часу. І щоб передати
особливу актуальність
Шекспіра, переклад мусить
бути співзвучним з нашим
часом. Важливо об'ємно
передати його мовне багатство
— від ризикованих
піверотичних жартів до
найвищої прекрасної патетики.
Іван Малкович
Gadamer: fusion of horizons
• Both the text and the interpreter find themselves within a particular
historical tradition, or “horizon.”
The horizon: an essential part of the 'hermeneutical situation' which
limits our possibility of hermeneutical vision, or understanding. It
includes everything that can be seen from a particular vantage point,
and nothing more.
• “When reading a text it is understood not simply by making sense of
the words on the page but by permitting the horizon of the text to
fuse with the horizon of the reader in a way that the reader is
effected by the text”
• “Understanding is always the fusion of horizons”
• Gadamer does not argue that for historical understanding, ultimately,
we need to place ourselves into the different horizon of a particular
historical situation, because this would be an impossible and absurd
task. We can neither leave our own horizon, nor would it be
desirable, as the effective-history of a continuing tradition depends
on constantly new assimilations and interpretations .
horizon of language
• Linguisticality is the idea that humanity is limited
within the horizon of language. Language sits at
the core of Gadamer’s hermeneutic.
• Human beings cannot understand the world
without the use of language, and yet, language
itself is limited.
• One must always think in a language, even if one
does not always have to think in the same
language. Hermeneutics cannot evade claiming
universality because language as linguisticality—
Sprachlichkeit—constitutes a human capacity
inseparably linked with rationality as such.
exemplifying 
• An anecdote told by Steven Kemper (1991: 136)
may exemplify what Gadamer means:
"..restoring sacred places created a 'fusion of
horizons' in quite a literal sense. I began to think
about this fusion after visiting a relic mound with a
Sinhala friend. When I asked him whether the
place was ancient, he said 'Yes, it was restored just
last year'.“
• “Tristan and Isolde” in the Ukrainian interpretation
by V. Koptilov
Трістан та Ізольда:
"Поставивши собі завдання відтворити українською
мовою найдавніші давньофранцузькі поетичні
варіанти легенди, сучасний перекладач натрапляє
на серйозні труднощі. По-перше, всі тексти
фрагментарні, по-друге, вони різностильні. Отже,
перекладач має вибирати між близьким до тексту
першотвору відображенням уривків назавжди
втраченого поетичного цілого (але такий переклад
може придатися хіба що фахівцям із зарубіжної
літератури) і реконструкцією змісту й стилю цього
поетичного цілого, що може зацікавити вже не
лише фахівців, а, сказати б, і звичайних читачів.
Саме другий шлях і обрав автор цих рядків“
В. Коптілов
Dialectal hermeneutics: not interested in
capturing a single and unified meaning,
but instead in an existential meaning, the meaning of
the here and now.
Umberto Eco: on interpretation
• Eco founded and developed one of the most
important approaches in contemporary
semiotics, usually referred to as
interpretative semiotics.
• One of the main books in which he elaborates his
theory are The Role of the Reader (1979), Semiotics and
Philosophy of Language (1984), The Limits of
Interpretation (1990).
• Interpretation and Overinterpretation concept
is based on the 1990 Tanner Lectures delivered at
Clare Hall, Cambridge.
Three dimensions of intention
• In the course of his three lectures, Eco expounds
on his contention that between the
- intention of the author (very difficult to find out and
frequently irrelevant for the interpretation of a text) ---- intention of the interpreter who (to quote Richard
Rorty) simply “beats the text into a shape which will
serve for his purpose”
there is a third possibility. There is an intention of the text.
• The leading strands of contemporary critical thought
“…appear to license the reader to produce a limitless,
uncheckable flow of ‘readings.’”
• What provides a limit, says Eco, is neither the author
nor the interpreter, but the text itself.
Eco’s overinterpretation:
model reader and empirical author
• If the number of possible meanings is endless, and endlessly
acceptable (Eco’s definition of “overinterpretation”), the notion of
communal norms on which to base reasonable interpretations and
reject absurd interpretations collapses. For the modern reader,
says Eco, every line of text is under suspicion; “the glory of the
reader is to discover that texts can say everything, except what
their author wanted them to mean.…”
• Eco argues that overinterpretation of a text can be recognized
even if one does not believe there is only one correct
understanding of that text.
• The intent of a given text, he says, is to produce what he calls the
“model reader.” This model reader takes the appropriate cues
from the text so that, even if multiple interpretations are
produced, certain overinterpretations are discarded as
preposterous. Just how the text and reader are related involves
reference to the so-called “hermeneutic circle”.
Paul Ricouer (1913-2005):
On Translation (2004)
• Translation has been a central feature of his
philosophy, though it was not until his later years
that he made it an explicit theme of his work.
• In On Translation (French, 2004; English 2006) he
outlines two paradigms:
(1) the linguistic paradigm, i.e. how words relate to
meanings within the language and between the
languages (double duty)
(2) the ontological paradigm, i.e. how translation
occurs between one human self and the
(- translating oneself to the Other; - partiality;
- translator as a middleman “working through”
two masters; - crucial openness to the other)
• A good translation is when one language
discovers itself in and as another!
Translation as a hermeneutic model
• His essay “The Paradigm of Translation”:
→ translation as a model of hermeneutics
Translation entails an exposure to strangeness. We are dealing with
both an alterity residing outside the home language and alterity
residing within it.
• “It is always possible to say the same thing in a different way. Now,
to say sth in other terms is exactly what a translator does from one
language to the other. The inputs at two ends, the two halves of
the problem clarify each other and present the richness of the
relationship with the Other”
• There is no self-understanding; We are an engaged self that
traverse the field of foreignness and return to ourselves again,
altered and enlarged, “othered” (J.Joyce).
• Discovery of the other within the depth of the self.
• Five ethical functions of translation: ethic of hospitality, ethic of
narrative flexibility, narrative plurality, transfiguring of the past,
Post-structural hermeneutics
George Steiner: “After Babel” (1975)
The hermeneutic motion, the act of
elicitation and appropriative transfer of
meaning, is fourfold.
(1) initiative trust, an investment of belief
(2) aggression as the second move of the
translator which is incursive and
extractive; an active intention of taking
sth away, i.e. the input text
(3) incorporation, the import with
appropriation and assimilation
(4) restitution, making the translation
balanced (of forces from SL-TL), and
integral; an ethical process.
Elements of a hermeneutical translation
competence include
• the readiness for self-critical reflection
• the openness for constant learning
• the ability to integrate new cognitive input
• the courage for linguistic creativity
• an empathetic identification with the message
(Stolze 2012: 30)
Conclusions …
• Hermeneutics as theory, methodology and praxis of
text interpretation (from exegesis to universality)
• Schleiermacher & Dilthey: authorial intent &
hermeneutic circle
• Heidegger: language as being; (tradition of
phenomenology from Husserl)
• Gadamer: horizon and effective-history principle
• Umberto Eco: intentions, overinterpretation, model
• George Steiner: hermeneutic motion
• Hermeneutical translation competence
• Victor Koptilov: phases of interpretation
Thank you for attention!