Piotr Dehnel

In his Songs of , Martin Jay1 cites Jacques Derrida’s critical assessment of the fact that experience has always been referred to in terms of of presence, which he finds both in ’s experience of and in ’s utterances about experiencing the or a . Jay reflects also on the 1981 debate between Derrida and Hans- Georg Gadamer and stresses Derrida’s objections to the hermeneutical reliance on the dialogic experience. In this paper I would like to have a closer look at the aforementioned debate and shed some light on the question whether Gadamer’s hermeneutics can be grasped in the categories of the . Gadamer, the founding father of philosophical hermeneutics, and Derrida, the founding father of , met in April 1981 in the Goethe Institute in during the Text and Interpretation Symposium organized by Philippe Forget.2 Inaugurating the symposium with an eponymous paper, Gadamer discussed various elements of his own intellectual biography, which commenced with a of and methodologism of the prior epistemological theory and was decisively influenced by his encounter with ’s philosophical . Heidegger, namely, broke with ’s of understanding as a method of and made it into an existential, i.e. into a basic determinant of the human . For Heideggger, understanding is simply a certain mode of , and not a mode of . Such formulation enabled Gadamer to include the experience of and the experience of history into the sphere of hermeneutics, both types of experience culminating in the concept of historically effected (wirkunggeschichtliches Bewußtsein). Nevertheless, what Gadamer saw as his own contribution to the development of philosophical hermeneutics is the dialogic principle applied to the phenomenon of , including also the so-called language of metaphysics or the language of philosophy as such. For Gadamer, language is first of all the language of dialogue, in which words acquire their real and reveal their origins. The hermeneutical effort of understanding would then consist—most generally speaking—in restoring to the philosophical an ability to speak in ways that are rooted in the living language of conversation, that is, in changing writing into speech and texts into language. 42 PIOTR DEHNEL

Derrida asked Gadamer three fundamental questions. In the published version of the debate, the voice of Derrida was dubbed with a poignant title: Good to Power (Gute Wille zur Macht),3 which was not coincidental since the first question pertained specifically to “good will” and the duty of commitment to agreement in understanding. And so, Derrida asks whether appealing to “good will” as an unconditional axiom of any discussion does not simultaneously presume that “good will” remains a form of this very unconditionality, its absolute foundation and basis. In other words, does understanding really rely on will and should will be defined from the perspective espoused by Kant, who in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals wrote that “Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will?”4 Derrida perceives here a certain similarity with Heidegger’s description of the being of as will or as a that wills; he also suggests that such a way of speaking belongs to the past epoch of metaphysics. Derrida’s second question is concerned with . Namely, what should be done with “good will” in the context of psychoanalytical hermeneutics? Is it enough to extend the interpretive field of traditional hermeneutics and to include the discussed by Freud and his followers into it? According to Derrida, what is necessary here is rather a structural change of the context of meaning and a change of the very concept of context, owing to which interpretation of a text would approximate interpretation in the Nietzschean style. We should specify here that what Gadamer has in mind is the context of a living dialogue, the experience of an authentic conversation, the voice which—though soundless—can be picked up and followed in our interiority. It is exactly this context, this reliance on the speech of a living dialogue, which seems particularly problematic to Derrida. What is the context then and what does it mean to understand the context? Is it an understanding based on continuity or is it a discontinuous change of the contextual structure itself? Is interpretation of a text supposed to grasp its meaning in the way we grasp a thread in a conversation and continue it or does “understanding” of a text consist in deconstructing meanings comprised in it? “Understanding” must of necessity be written here in inverted commas since in the latter case one does not grasp an intended meaning but acts against it. The third and last question Derrida asks sums up the previous two and also concerns the axiomatics of “good will,” which according to Derrida is not the basis of a dialogue and, moreover, makes dialogue rather problematic. What is the meaning of the axiomatic condition of interpretive that Gadamer calls “understanding,” “understanding the other,” or “understanding one another?” We must always ask whether the prerequisite of understanding does not consist exactly in disruping the continuity and eliminating the mediation. At the end of his speech Derrida stated: