Tuesday, October 11, 2011

On Hamann

In his book Three Critics of the Enlightenment, Isaiah Berlin describes Hamann as

The most passionate, consistent, extreme and implacable enemy of the Enlightenment and, in particular, of all forms of rationalism of his time (he lived and died in the eighteenth century) was Johann Georg Hamann. His influence, direct and indirect, upon the romantic revolt against universalism and scientific method in any guise was considerable and perhaps crucial. (p. 255)

 I came across Hamann as I was reading Berlin's other book The Roots of Romanticism and Hamann struck me as an interesting character and I was amazed by the number of people he inspired such as Goethe, Schelling, Kant, Hegel, Humboldt. Berlin describes Hamann

He hated his century with an almost pathological hatred, and attacked what was most characteristic in it with an unparalleled sharpness and strength. He was the first writer in modern days to denounce the Enlightenment and all its works, and not merely this or that error or crime of the new culture, as for instance Rousseau, even at his most violent, does—for Rousseau shares more presuppositions with the Encyclopedists than he denies, and any case conceals his inconsistencies beneath a torrent of marvelous rhetoric. Hamann rose in revolt against the entire structure of science, reason, analysis—its virtues even more than its vices. He thought the basis of it altogether false and its conclusions a blasphemy against the nature of man and his creator…(p. 272)
There is no point outside the universe at which one can place oneself, from which the universe can be judged, condemned, justified, explained, proved. (p. 285)
 It is obvious that Hamann influenced Herder about universalism. I wonder if universal and particular can be reconciled somehow since I do not think only one of them is enough for understanding anything. Something to think about. (I remember Frederick Erickson's statement on this (from Qualitative Methods in Research on Teaching in Handbook of Research on Teaching (3rd ed.)
The task of the analyst is to uncover the different layers of universality and particularity that are confronted in the specific case at hand—what is broadly universal, what generalizes to other similar situations, what is unique to the given instance. (p. 130)
back to Hamann
Universalism is an idle craving, an attempt to reduce the rich variety of the universe to a bleak uniformity, which is itself a form of not facing reality, attempting to imprison it in some prefabricated favorite logical envelope—an insult to creation and a piece of foolish and unpardonable presumption on the part of those who try to do so. (p. 286)
Here comes a quote that made me think. I think my favorite part is the last part on communication and how people are mirrors of one another. That's a nice way to put it. This quote reminded me of I and non-I distinction in Fichte and the role of communication in Herder. But more on them later.
To be a man was to understand in some degree what one’s goal on earth was—this one understood only by understanding oneself, which one could do only in that human intercourse in which men were mirrors of one another, in which by understanding others—by communication—and by being understood by them. (p. 294)

Philosophy claims to be the explanation of life, but ‘life is action’. Not a static thing to be analyzed like a botanist’s specimen. An action cannot be described in the categories provided by the Cartesians, or even the Lockeans and Leibnizians, for all their talk of movement and change. The task of true philosophy is to explain life in all its contradictions, with all its peculiarities; not to smooth it out or substitute for it ‘castles in the air’—harmonious, tidy, beautiful, and false. (p. 301-302)

Wow, this description above is so similar to Nietzsche's  in On Truth and Lying in a Non-moral Sense as he describes how we fool ourselves. I will try to find that quote later. Back to Hamann now

Discoveries cannot inspire poetry as mythology has done. For this there must be a reason (p. 303)
And finally some quotes on language

Language is what we think with, not translate into: the meaning of the notion of ‘language’ is symbol-using. (p. 316)
There is no non-symbolic thought or knowledge (p. 319)
But the essence of symbolism is communication: communication between me and others or me and God, which is of essence of being human at all (p. 321)
Quite an interesting guy, don't you think?

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