Incomprehensibility. Investigating Obscuritas in Ancient Rhetoric and Modern Literature and Philosophy (1870–1970)
In ancient rhetoric, the category of ‘asapheia’ or ‘obscuritas’—darkness or incomprehensibility of speech—indicates a point in a rhetorical system that invites fundamental questions about the conditions necessary for interpreting speech and even the very possibility of understanding. In Nietzsche’s early lectures on rhetoric, he seeks out this space, where understanding speech becomes problematic. The lectures thus provide insight into the rhetorical prehistory of Nietzsche’s later theoretical writings on interpretation, which became crucial for opening up the horizon of hermeneutics in the 20th century.
The research project pursued this trajectory and examined, first, the discourse on incomprehensibility with special attention to founding moments in rhetorical thought (in ancient rhetoric and in Nietzsche’s writings), second, hermeneutics and its critics (in the writings of Heidegger and Adorno), and finally, ideas and reflections about the question of darkness/obscurity from the realm of literature (in the writings of Kafka and Celan). Incomprehensibility, whether in the late works of Nietzsche, Heidegger’s hermeneutics, or Adorno’s Aesthetic Theory, does not simply refer to a quality of a given (literary or philosophical) text. Instead, it involves a fundamental methodological reflection that calls into question the relationship between subject and object, that is to say, an interpreter’s relationship to a text, including the interpreter’s own sense of self. The thrust of the argument, therefore, is not so much directed towards establishing (once again) incomprehensibility as a basic component of literary modernity based on a specific collection of texts, as in Hugo Friedrich’s classic study The Structure of Modern Poetry and other works by more recent scholars (to be sure, when confronted with Celan’s poetry, these approaches prove to be in need of revision). Rather, the project revealed the driving forces behind definitions of incomprehensibility as found in texts on rhetoric from antiquity and in philosophical and literary texts from modern times. The critique of interpretation undertaken here thus addresses issues ranging from rhetorical, hermeneutic, and aesthetic perspectives.
- “Zu Begriff und Verfahren des Kommentars bei Nietzsche und Adorno,” in: Martin Endres, Axel Pichler, Claus Zittel (eds.): Text/Kritik: Nietzsche und Adorno. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter 2017, 273–297
- “Treue Schrift. Überlegungen zu Hölderlins Entwurf Die Titanen,” in: Hölderlin-Jahrbuch 40 (2016–2017), 97–114
Felix Christen: Friedrich Hölderlin's Poem "Die Titanen"
Bad Homburg v. d. H.
Felix Christen: Verstehen und Nicht-Verstehen. Zur Frage nach der Unverständlichkeit in Rhetorik, Literatur und Philosophie
Universität Stuttgart, Keplerstraße 17, 70174 Stuttgart, Raum 17.11.
Felix Christen: ›Interpretation‹ und ›Commentar‹. Zwei philologische Begriffe in Nietzsches Philosophie
Harvard University (USA)
Felix Christen: Manuscript and Meaning: The Hermeneutics of Materiality in Manuscript Editions