Exordio: Towards a Hermeneutics of Liberation

Understanding Liberatory Thought Out of the Movement of Effected Historical Consciousness in Hans-Georg Gadamer

In: Research in Phenomenology
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  • 1 University of Oregon


Liberatory thought in Latin American philosophy leads to the question of the reinterpretation of historical time consciousness. In the following pages I first introduce the challenge as articulated out of Latin American thought, particularly with reference to Enrique Dussel and Aníbal Quijano, and then I develop a reinterpretation of historical time consciousness in its happening as understood through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s discussion of effected historical consciousness (Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) in Truth and Method. As already marked by this trajectory, this essay is not comparative, but, through a dialogue with these thinkers, seeks to rethink the temporalizing-historical movement that is historical consciousness as a possible path to engaging in and understanding liberatory philosophy.


Liberatory thought in Latin American philosophy leads to the question of the reinterpretation of historical time consciousness. In the following pages I first introduce the challenge as articulated out of Latin American thought, particularly with reference to Enrique Dussel and Aníbal Quijano, and then I develop a reinterpretation of historical time consciousness in its happening as understood through Hans-Georg Gadamer’s discussion of effected historical consciousness (Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) in Truth and Method. As already marked by this trajectory, this essay is not comparative, but, through a dialogue with these thinkers, seeks to rethink the temporalizing-historical movement that is historical consciousness as a possible path to engaging in and understanding liberatory philosophy.

Mon enfant, ma soeur,
Songe à la douceur
D’aller là-bas vivre ensemble!

Or is this a romantic refraction, a kind of Robinson Crusoe dream of historical enlightenment, the fiction of an unattainable island, as artificial as Crusoe himself—i.e., as the alleged primacy of the solus ipse?

Gadamer, Truth and Method

I The Challenge of Liberation in Philosophy of Liberation

In Philosophy of Liberation, written between 1975–1977, the Argentinean-Mexican philosopher Enrique Dussel concludes:

It appears possible to philosophize in the periphery … only if the discourse of the philosophy of the center is not imitated, only if another discourse is discovered. To be different, this discourse must have another point of departure, must think other themes, must come to distinctive conclusions by a different method.2

This conclusion refers to a specific situation, namely, to a thinking from the colonized, exploited, excluded, and ignored peoples and lives that in their most often silent existence, knowledges, and ways of being remain peripheral to the central economic, social-political, military, cultural, and epistemic centers of power. Dussel’s analysis and attentiveness to the concrete situation puts philosophy in the context of material Historical dialectic and its geopolitical location or situation within world-systems of power. In the tradition of the philosophy of liberation the material-Historical dialectical analysis and critique of philosophy is a path to the ultimate task of the liberation and affirmation of distinct ways of living, their distinct knowledge, and epistemic delimitations and projections. The analysis is based on the recognition of two realms or horizons constituted about a power differential that repeats the violence of the conqueror/conquered dynamic, the centers of power and their periphery. These realms overlap through a relation of dependency and exploitation, as the center employs peripheral nature and lives and some of its knowledge as source of raw materials/information and brute labor, necessary for the production and accumulation of capital. This appropriative exclusion answers to an infinite expansion and accumulation of power, which figures a single line of progress along a single History of humanity, a single Historical line of human development that conceives of westernized/ing historical consciousness and the modern ego cogito as the highest points of humanity. I refer to this sense of History by marking it with a capital H, and also at times by using the term Historiography, which indicates written history (as opposed to the many oral and non-written ways of knowledge) and the significance of rationalist pragmatist mercantilism as ultimately the only forms of human meaning and progress. Indeed, Historiography marks and always refers to a rationalism that keeps its expanding course, often justified by being self-critical, and by being defined by such self-reflection, with its language and conceptuality. I should add that along with this self-critical deployment of rationalism appears also its “other,” a genitive other, a horizon of alterity fitting to the epistemic expectations of rationalist pragmatist self-criticism, rationalism’s negativity, a negativity that secures the progress of rationalism through the erasure of distinctness. In contrast to identities determined by such progress, to paraphrase the citation above, liberation requires distinct discourses that do not imitate or follow the traditional language, concepts and structures of reasoning and knowledge of the capitalist hegemonic centers of power in their many ever self-inventing reformulations. In order to find such paths, one must begin from other situations, that is, from one’s concrete situation. This stands in contrast to imitating westernizing mercantile concerns and their infinite production of values: some of them values that define such central concepts for philosophy as “nature,” “culture,” “tradition,” and “knowledge,” and that sustain the epistemological delimitations of knowledge as well as what is taken to be worthy of study and potentially valuable. Taking Dussel’s statement in Philosophy of Liberation, that philosophy of liberation does not ponder itself but the non-philosophical and concrete existence, one may take a step further and turn to distinct experiences, happenings from which new ways of thinking and being may disclose. With this turn to the concrete living of the “distinct” excluded philosophical thought finds itself situated in its concrete historical-temporal context, and it is from this that liberatory thought may come up with its own distinct concerns. That is, not adding to already operative concepts and language, or appearing as the genitive other of westernizing mercantile productive knowledge and its History/Historiography, but in affirming what is not other but distinct, a kind of knowledge that does not replicate or fit westernized identity, its logical and epistemic orderings, production, and line of progress. Here the term distinct marks a radical departure from the idea of a difference to or of the center, the latter a genitive difference of dependence (the other of the center). The distinct does not require a self-same identity to be, it is not a matter of a dialectic of identity, and the single progress of rationalist Historiography. To say it in a short way: thinking must begin with and from its specific historical-temporalizing movement or temporal-historical consciousness. But this means that liberation will depend precisely on how one understands in a transformative way historical consciousness: specifically, not in terms of the single progress of westernizing Historiography, and this means not in terms of History and its dialectic progress but out of the distinct experiences or happenings of people’s concrete living. With this turn I must underscore that a difficulty central to the philosophy of liberation as well as decolonial thought opens up: to what extent are liberatory movements already situated by their dependence on Historical dialectic, Historiography, rationalism, and the idea of progress?3

b Coloniality of Time, or the Trouble with History’s Timeline

As the Peruvian thinker Aníbal Quijano points out in his work on the coloniality of power and knowledge, together with the primacy of westernized thought appears a specific sense of temporality and history: that which I have called elsewhere “the coloniality of time.” I should add that throughout this discussion I indicate this specific sense of history and temporality that accompanies the coloniality of power with the terms History and Historiography.4 Briefly, as a result of the coloniality of power the western/ized mind takes itself as the highest form of humanity. This happens as the western/ized mind interprets its position of power in light of the differences it establishes through the colonizing of América, that is, in terms of its superiority with respect to economic class, race, and gender. These hierarchies not only repeat and perpetuate the creation of racial and gender differences, the differential of power that follows the violent hierarchy between the colonizer and the subjugated, but the present becomes a function of calculative utilitarian rationalism. The present belongs to westernizing reason.

Furthermore because of its advanced position, to it, as its burden, also belongs the future. It is only that kind of rationalist subjective pragmatism that is taken to have any potential with regards to the future. At the same time, the past becomes valuable only in terms of what may be used for the sake of the progress of capitalism’s existence. This also means that all non-western cultures, ways of being, and knowledge find themselves in their larger sense relegated to a mostly useless, meaningless, and often exoticized past. In other terms, History belongs to westernized consciousness, and this consciousness identifies itself as the most advanced placed within a single History of humanity. The task of humanity and its natural situation becomes then, the progress of universal westernizing History. Meanwhile, a second line of temporality appears, the time of the excluded ways of living, finding meaning, and the sensibilities that also form part of those distinct ways of understanding and existential dispositions. This timeline is always lagging behind History, supposedly with a destiny not their own as these subjugated knowledges and lives can only have meaning in infinitely trying to catch up to an infinitely distancing present. The time lag may be clearly seen in its epistemic implications when one considers some of the dichotomous thinking that situates modernity under westernized rationalism: “Eastern—Western, primitive—civilized, magic-mythic—scientific, irrational—rational, and traditional—modern.” 5 Who does not thing today in terms of at least some of these opposite values? Given that the sense of History and time we are discussing pervades the way we understand the human and existence today, one can see that coloniality of power operates here not only at the level of things, ideals, values, and institutions, but at the level of temporality. Indeed, the issue of liberation becomes how one engages historical consciousness and not some aspect of reality or ideas. This is because the exclusion, oppression, and exploitation at the single temporal level are not only rational and conscious, but the single time line of progress underlies the directionality and orientation of the very configuration of desires and archetypes, in their temporalizing unified/ying character. The coloniality of time refers us to the way this sense of Historical time sets up the very dispositions one has towards the world, and therefore in the recognition and configuration of identities, agency, ideals, values, critique, ideologies, and institutions. To say it yet in another way: All attempts at liberatory thought situated through the idea of this single History (and its genitive “other” or negativity) and progress in the name of rationalist pragmatism and or dialectic ends ultimately return to the same temporal capitalist racist sexualizing time disposition from which they wish to depart. All experience bends to the momentum of progress, a subconscious driven prejudice held as a natural intuition at the end that situates the very sense of Historiography and its time consciousness.

Before moving on I should at least touch on the sense of continuity that sustains this dialectic universal Historical progress. This will allow us to see more clearly the radicality of Gadamer’s sense of Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein, effected historical consciousness. History presupposes change, but when something changes it is transformed into something “other” in a continuous, homogeneous, and complete manner. This means that the change follows from what precedes without interruption. Moreover, the change is total, progress means that the whole changes and in a complete way. This means that that which changes, the very transformation, leaves the historical line intact, since something analogous takes its place, something equivalent that fulfills the prior requirements for sense, meaning, function, and production.6 Thus, in this internal, logical and epistemic sense, the system continues as change occurs.7 Indeed, coloniality of time spreads to nature, such that it is this idea of equivalent/analogous continuous change that underlies the idea of natural-historical evolution.

The question of liberation must be raised in light of the need for a fundamental challenge to philosophical understanding grounded on History, progress, and an internal unchanging onto-epistemic continuity. But given the reliance of liberatory thought on History, rationalist pragmatism, and the dichotomous vision of existence, these issues in History are challenges both for Westernizing thought as well as in terms of any liberatory project including Philosophy of Liberation. That is, in the sense that at the label of such naturalized historical time consciousness Historiography forecloses the very opening towards liberation in any determination of consciousness. In order to pursue distinct liberatory dimensions of thought beyond the coloniality of time, in the following pages I engage with Hans-Georg Gadamer’s writing on effected historical consciousness (Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein) in Truth and Method.

II Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein: Rethinking Historical Consciousness in its Effected Character

In the section titled “The Principle of History of Effect (Wirkungsgeschichte),” in Truth and Method, Gadamer focuses on rethinking historical consciousness, not as mere historical fact but in its “effectedness,” that is, in order to show that “Understanding is, essentially, a historical effected event.8 Considering some of the passages in the section offers a good introduction to the resonance between the liberatory task introduced by our previous discussion of Dussel’s work and hermeneutics: I am particularly interested in the re-articulation of historical consciousness away from the coloniality of time and the concept of History capital H.

To speak of hermeneutics is to enter into a thinking that is always concerned with living thought or understanding, and with the way understanding comes to pass in a fecund movement (tradition, Überlieferung). It is the fecundity of the living movement that makes hermeneutics ethical, that is, not the moral principles of God or a transcendental imperative a priori, but the living dimension of interpretative thinking. Here living does not refer merely to a kind of dialectic-material-Historical or Historiographical situation or to biological production and development. Philosophical hermeneutics recognizes that the historical consciousness that may be said to situate ideas and concepts does not occur as the result of history or as a concept prior to experience or over against it. Historical consciousness occurs as a concrete dynamic originary movement, through a thinking in passing, that is called tradition. This becomes clear in that as Gadamer shows, Wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewußtsein indicates a double motion. On the one hand, consciousness is always itself, as it is situated by its historical awareness, understanding is always situated historically. But, on the other hand, such historical situatedness is not merely a matter of facts and events of History. Rather, consciousness is itself always affected by historical movement in its happening, hence the issue is geschichtlich, the happening of consciousness, and not historical fact alone. Effected historical consciousness knows itself in the movement of configuration with and in which it arises, and not as the operation of an objective subject at a distance from experience and facts. This means that if one thinks one’s situation only in terms of and from a self-understanding that finds itself Historically or Historiographically and materially situated, situated by past facts and events, one misses the very movement of becoming that is effected historical consciousness, as consciousness in its event performs the movement, transformation, and arising of meanings in which tradition goes on and the present finds meaning, sense. In other words, in Gadamer one finds one’s thought exposed in and with the movement of the arising to meanings that underlies and constitutes consciousness, understanding, and experience. Thus, as Gadamer himself points out, tradition is not something past-preserved, but it is the temporalizing-spacing movement in which meanings arise and transform in their happening. This occurs through the simultaneous transformation of the present by the past and vice versa, but always in the context of living. This is why text and present are always the sites of tension in which the transformation or tradition occurs. “Every encounter with tradition that takes place within historical consciousness involves the experience of the tension between the text and the present. The hermeneutic task consists in not covering up this tension by attempting a naive assimilation of the two but in consciously bringing it out.”9 One could say that it is the task of hermeneutics to stay with and think in the living tension of the arising of meanings.

Moreover, it is not the case that one lives within an historical horizon or identity and then must move from it in order to enter another, outside one’s situation, be it the past or another present horizon. Rather, one’s situation in the movement of interpretative living is always an event of being-in-relation, and the relation refers to being in between horizons, to the overlapping, encroachments, infusing, and fragile porosities and fusing of edges, and the permeability of horizons.10 This is why one may “travel,” to use Maria Lugones’s term, between worlds and identities as one moves through existing/living.11 It is the fecund overlapping asymmetrical movement of horizons that is the site and originary event of interpretation. “The historical movement in human life consists in the fact that it is never absolutely bound to any one standpoint, and hence can never have a truly closed horizon. The horizon is, rather, something into which we move and that moves with us. Horizons change for a person who is moving. Thus, the horizon of the past, out of which all-human life lives and which exists in the form of tradition, is always in motion. The surrounding horizon is not set in motion by historical consciousness. But in it this motion becomes aware of itself.”12 Historical consciousness is a pluriversal eventuation or happening (Vorgang), not organized by one single horizon, lineal Historical development or in this sense by dialectical progress. And again, “There is no more an isolated horizon of the present in itself than there are historical horizons which have to be acquired. Rather, understanding is always the eventing-fusion [der Vorgang der Verschmeltzung] of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves.”13

With Gadamer hermeneutics is dialectical but the dialectical movement is neither about being sublated into a higher knowledge (aufgehoben) nor is it about the work of negativity under the progress of a concept. Also, understanding as the fusion of horizons does not correspond to already given horizons that must be transgressed in order to make bridges and connections. To be is to be historical (geschichtlich), and historical being is the evidence of a movement that underlies what is traditionally taken as History and its corresponding Historical consciousness, and such movement is the transformative originary arising and collapsing in the blending of horizons. Thus, philosophical hermeneutics arises and is sustained in remaining with, under-standing, standing-with the living events or happenings of the blending of horizons through which appear meaning and context. To say it in other way, the idea shines forth in the happening (geschehen) of the blending of horizons that is understanding, the latter possible as one remains with the movement of the fusion of horizons.

Gadamer writes about understanding:

[It] is not a method which the enquiring consciousness applies to an object it chooses and so turns it into objective knowledge; rather being situated within an event of tradition, a process of handing down, is a prior condition of understanding. Understanding proves to be an event, and the task of hermeneutics, seen philosophically, consists in asking what kind of understanding, what kind of science it is, that is itself advanced by historical change.14

In other words, perhaps the question for hermeneutics is what kind of thinking or understanding arises in the passing of history in its concrete configurations. But this dynamic movement figures a blending of horizons. Again, not in the sense of having to move from one horizon to another but because one’s consciousness is always already configured in and with a blending of horizons. Historical consciousness is a movement and understanding that arises in the articulate happening of that movement.

To say it in terms of the fusing of horizons (Horizonverschmeltzung), understanding occurs at the edge of meanings in the movement of their configurations, as it arises through and as the fusion of horizons. Gadamer writes:

In the process of understanding, a real fusing of horizons occurs [Im vollzug des Verstehens geschiet eine wirklichen Horizontverschmeltzung]— which means that as the historical horizon is projected, it is simultaneously superseded … To bring about this fusion in a regulated way is the task of what we called historically effected consciousness … it is in fact, the central problem of hermeneutics.15

The movement of fusing or blending of horizons enacts a temporalizing spacing dynamic that opens forth and sustains meanings, a movement that is always concrete, living. This is the breath-turn in thought, “language even when there is no language,” as Gadamer points out in his reading of Paul Celan in Who am I Who are You.16 And this breath-turn, this turn in thinking in its temporalizing dynamic never remains with the immediate presence alone. Rather, as is the case with historical consciousness, every arising of meaning is already played out in a present-present, a present-past, and a present-future (I am referring here to the analysis of time consciousness of the Venezuelan philosopher and student of Heidegger’s Ernesto Mayz Vallenilla).17 This is not an instance made up of three parts but, just as in the case of Heidegger’s sense of Dasein disclosure in being-in-the-world occurs as a unity and must be thought out of that unity in distinctness, in the case of Gadamer these three moments belong together and articulate, in their differentiation, the hermeneutical disclosure of existence. This structure of temporalizing dynamics has at least two immediate implications for hermeneutical thought. One, the thought performs a rupture in any unilineal conception of history, since every word belongs to a past that receives us and a future that sustains the past in its ungraspable and yet coming futurity. Such is the present-eventing-horizon. And this means that one cannot begin by situating one’s consciousness in a single and homogeneous Historically or Historiographical material determined present. Historical consciousness in its movement is always already beyond any single Historical material determination. Historical material reality is always already superseded by a hermeneutical rupture or turn intrinsic to historical consciousness. To say this in yet another terms, historical consciousness does not follow into the smooth continuity of History.18 As we saw above, History requires continuity in the sense of changes in which the epistemic expectations remain the same, in terms of sense, meaning, structure, and production. However, with the temporalizing movement of historical effected consciousness the change is a change from the encounter, interruption, and fusing of distinctness onto determinations in distinctness, which cannot be held to the repetition of sense, meaning, structure, and production. This is why Gadamer speaks in Truth and Method of hermeneutics as a constant task of engaging the things in themselves, that is engaging concrete circumstance in its hermeneutical or historical concrete givenness.19

As I indicated above, for Dussel, the question of liberation also arises from specific Historical circumstances that create a binomial system of violence and hierarchies between the center of power and its periphery. In my reading of Gadamer’s sense of effected historical consciousness, it is possible to begin to understand this historical circumstance in a much broader manner than as the result of a History and its violence and oppression alone. While these are certainly aspects of past and present for a world constituted under the coloniality of time/History/Historiography and its configurations of consciousness, as is the case with so many peoples and persons peripheral to the westernized/ing hegemonies in their various Historical permutations, with the hermeneutical turn much more becomes apparent. The dynamic sense of realities configured in the happenings of blending of horizons opens and shatters the appearance of homogeneous horizons, and of a single uninterrupted Historical progress, such as the ones imagined by westernized consciousness, a consciousness now exposed to a radical distinctness, as the blending of horizons points to African, Semitic, and Asian lineages within modernity. In other words, from a hermeneutical perspective the issue is not to bridge between two isolated horizons, center-periphery, but rather, to attend to and remain with the concrete engagements in which meanings arise from a pluri-horizonal transformative movement of distinct encounters and infusing. Moreover, the idea of a single history and its dialectic of spirit collapses if one considers that historical consciousness does not belong to a single horizon or development of understanding but to understandings configured out of multiplicities of narratives, lineages, histories, and memorial and bodily experiences of pluriversal communities and singular ways of being. In spite of the continuous attempts of rationalist positivistic mercantile thought, there is no unifying form, sense, structure that will hold these concrete articulations of existing under one homogeneous continuous or even fuzzy epistemic system of logic, particularly if one considers that for Gadamer, as is the case for Heidegger, listening, hearing, and silence are elemental to understanding, interpretation, speaking, and language. And these (silence and hearing, listening) in their concrete modal happening do not belong primarily to argumentation, the logic of signification, or positive statements.20

At the same time, the imagined division between center and periphery that situates the thought of Philosophy of Liberation no longer works to engage the historical situation in its dynamic transformative movement. In this aspect, the hermeneutical turn towards a dynamic historical consciousness becomes a decolonial turn, as a single proper History/Historiography cannot be held as the context of any hermeneutically understood ideas. Ideas shine in the blending of horizons, to be held in the breath-turn, to be understood, felt, lived in their passing, in living thought. Clearly, Gadamer’s sense of effected historical consciousness transforms the issue of liberation from a binomial thinking between center and periphery to the question of the very living movement that is understanding in its concrete and distinct pluri-horizonal openings and happenings in the blending of horizons. To say it in another way, the issue is how to remain attentively with the movement of the arising of horizons in their passages as they overlap, arise, and collapse in ways that give rise to edges, distinctions, and with them, meanings … meanings balanced in the irreducibility of distinctness that are concrete meanings … meanings also held forth out of fecund absences, losses, and silences elemental in historical consciousness, in which even a certain meaninglessness plays out in sense and meaning.

In this section I have sought to introduce a liberatory dimension of hermeneutical philosophy that is always missed when one begins to read Gadamer from a westernizing perspective alone, that is as one imagines an hegemonic auto-sufficient almost impermeable Historical consciousness and discourse called the West, and places against it its genitive other or negativity (natural, cultural, material, today the “machines”). In such static vision of history, historical consciousness, and of geopolitics and economics, one misses the radical subtlety of Gadamer’s sense of understanding in effected historical consciousness as always already temporalizing, decentering, opening, and hence always transformative, all these the elements that constitute tradition. In tradition one finds liberatory possibilities that seem impossible through the traditional Historical and Historiographical sense of it. Indeed, what is most remarkable is that in hermeneutics one finds liberatory aspects that unsettle even the philosophy of liberation’s Historical materialist dialectic thinking and its binomial conception of reality, strategies that while exposing the reign of violence, racism, gender oppression, and labor exploitation throughout the globe past and present, show themselves limited in the radicalization of thinking beyond westernized History and logic: “Limited” that is, as they frame the question of liberatory thought in light of a static notion of historical consciousness that interprets it in terms of the materialist conceptual apparatus developed by capitalist rationalist utilitarian modern thought.21 As we will see in what follows, if effected historical consciousness does open a path for us beyond the coloniality of time, it does so through concrete living experience. In the next sections I will develop a sense of concrete living-interpretation, in order to take further the insight about dynamic historical consciousness one finds in this reading of Gadamer.

III Concrete Liberatory Hermeneutical Understanding

a Concrete Experience and Understanding

In his discussion of “The Concept of Experience and the Essence of the Hermeneutical Experience,” (Der Begriff der Erfahrung und das Wesen der hermeneutischen Erfahrung) Gadamer begins by saying that what we have to keep in mind in analyzing historically effected consciousness is that “it has the structure of experience (Erfahrung).”22 The difficulty is that under rationalist utilitarian scientism experience becomes a repeatable occurrence, a replay of the same, which not only repeats itself but must do so in a manner that is verifiable. So that experience is only valuable and has sense if it is confirmed. But the issue is not science, rather the release of experience from its delimitation under a pragmatic rationalism that reduces it all to the possibility of things and the empirical judgment that they allow and that remains the only acceptable understanding as foundation for scientific knowledge. Gadamer returns to historically effected consciousness in his understanding of experience a few paragraphs later and writes: “experience is experience of human finitude. The truly experienced person is one who has taken this to heart, who knows that he is master neither of time nor of the future.”23 Then, he follows these liberatory words, words that set him in departure from the very orientation of the coloniality of time, and the pretention of domination through rationalist utilitarian progress, by making clear that experience is not a matter of things and calculation but rather it occurs in and with historically effected consciousness:

To acknowledge what is does not just mean to recognize what is at this moment, but to have insight into the limited degree to which the future is still open to expectation and planning or, even more fundamentally, to have the insight that all the expectation and planning of finite beings is finite and limited. Genuine experience is experience of one’s own historicity. [Eigentliche Erfahrung ist somit Erfahrung der eigenen Geschichtlichkeit]24

That is to say: Experience is not the fact of the experience of a rational subjective transcendental consciousness, of its perception, calculation and of the things it finds viable, verifiable. Rather Erfahrung eventuates in the concrete undergoing of the encountering and infusing of horizons.

A more direct manner of saying this may be by turning to another aspect of the issue of the way experience is reduced to utilitarian immediacy. In terms of philosophical hermeneutics, a differentiation must be made between Erlebnis, or experience in the sense of an adventure, or distraction, a being enchanted and taken into the modality of thinking and being in the world absorbed with things; this contrasted with Erfahrung, i.e., the transformative experience Gadamer identifies with one’s encounter with works of art and poetry. The experience of the work of art transforms one’s consciousness, one’s living happens in a gerundive movement of augmentation, intensification, with the motion of a quickening, a living-dying through which meanings arise in their originary or effected historical givingness. I should point out that by givingness I mean the disclosure that is historical consciousness in its dynamic eventing, a disclosure never situated a priori by a rational subject’s calculation, will, or psychological tendencies. Givingness refers us, aims to echo the happening of understanding-interpretation in its worldly living dying distinctness and concreteness. With this differentiation one moves beyond a thinking dominated by projection as production and consumption of the same by the same. Moreover, the transformative sense of experience refers us to the living experience of understanding.

In order to engage the sense of concrete-understanding in the movement of the fusing of horizons one may think here of Plato’s sense of the beautiful as understood by Gadamer. The beautiful is neither in a thing nor an abstract idea, the beautiful holds in a shining that remains with and plays out the tension in the encountering-unfolding between the world of the senses and the world of ideas.25 In other words, the beautiful is the concrete shining in which things and ideas are experienced in the givingness of understanding. This sense of understanding situates us in the movement of living, not as a matter of material historical facts or as a representation of ontological ideas already given in some other realm of consciousness and independent from experience. Understanding occurs in and with the shinning that is living. This is clear in Gadamer’s discussion, as he turn to Plato’s Phaedrus, and points out that “The idea of the beautiful is truly present,” (wahrhaft anwesend)26 “whole and undivided in what is beautiful.” But I want to emphasize “truly present.” In the happening of beauty, beauty is still there (Sie ist doch in Sichtwaren da.) Not in the sense of beauty being determined by the thing appearing as a thing, not in the sense of things giving origin to sense either in terms of the senses or of ideas. Rather, beauty, again, as Gadamer says, “Beauty is not simply symmetry but appearance itself.”27 This does not dismiss experience but invites us to think with its movement, with the movement of appearing, the shining (scheinen) through which that which is happens. This is a way of experiencing and understanding things in their eventing or happening appearing, a way broader than empiricism, rationalism, and scientism. The turn is to a thinking that does not separate mind and body. This is a path of thinking concrete and physical: Gadamer remains with the coming into being of the phenomena and does so by focusing on the physical phenomena of beauty as light, or more precisely the lighting (gerundive, active) movement of understanding, in disclosure or aletheia. It is in the disclosing movement that beauty may be understood, and its dynamic or modality is light. “Beauty has the mode of being of light.”28

Gadamer writes, “Light is not only the brightness of that on which it shines, by making something else visible it is visible itself, and it is not visible in any other way than by making something else visible.”29 The beautiful is the shining in/with the appearing, and in that appearing things come to pass. Furthermore, the sense of the beautiful as shining in the becoming of things also spreads to ideas. “But the beautiful is not limited to the sphere of the visible.”30 In Gadamer’s words, the beautiful is “the mode of appearing of the good in general. The light in which not only the realm of the visible but also that of the intelligible is articulated.”31 To speak of the beautiful is to speak of the movement of appearing and not of an image of a concept or idea. The appearing is not the thing or fact, but it is also not nothing or an abstraction, the appearing comes to pass in the movement of shining, and in light of this occurs understanding. Moreover, the point is that light is not nothing, but elemental in the configuration of consciousness and experience. Light is a physical, disclosive movement. Concrete in the literal seminal sense of growing-with, of augmentation of being in a gerundive sense of arising in coming to pass towards birthing, a cycle that does not respond to historical materialism, nor to dialectical thinking, and yet is in its concrete physical happening.

To put this physical aspect of understanding together with the discussion of historical consciousness, in Gadamer one finds a sense of understanding that expands this term to the movement of appearing in its concrete physicality and living movement. This does not only place scientism and rationalism within a much broader, deeper, and complex time-space of understanding, but the sense of understanding leads to experience configured out of pre-rational dimensions of understanding, affectivity, emotion, memorial dimensions, physicality, as fundamental in philosophical knowledge. Hermeneutics is then the art of remaining with the broader disclosive movement through which one finds under-standing. And this is also the case for the very idea of history, which is now situated with a movement that underlies but is not determined by historical material facts, and their logic and dialectical progress alone. Indeed, light makes visible not only things, but it is at play in the effected historical consciousness: This occurs as the phenomena revealed in light also brings fecund darkness, as in the experience of the light human finitude becomes evident. Thus far the very sense of experience has been brought back to the temporalizing-spacing movement of concrete disclosure in the movement of effected historical consciousness.

b Light, of Understanding Beyond the Ontological Difference between Being and Beings

Shining relates us to light, beauty to the appearing of that which appears with light. But this discussion of shining and appearing through light leads us not to things, matter, facts, entities, quantification, or production. The very movement of understanding as well as the arising of consciousness occur in, with, and, as light. In this sense Gadamer’s thought moves through reflection, and not according to argumentative logic or factual empirical deduction. The radiance or shining of the beautiful and intelligibility have at least two basic aspects in common. One, the appearance of the beautiful and understanding are both events. The second aspect is that the experience of traditional meaning is always played out in experiences that are themselves in play in and with the movement or shining of the light. In other words, the issue of understanding is not things or their essence, but the movement or shining, the eventuation in which meanings arise concretely in coming to pass. This is why Gadamer says a few paragraphs later that “Understanding … does not consist in a technical virtuosity of ‘understanding’ everything written. Rather. It is a genuine experience (Erfahrung)—i.e., an encounter with something that asserts itself as truth.”32 Here, clearly truth does not refer to things or the logical rationality that accompanies and justifies them and the ways of being-in-the-world that sustain such empirical and rationalist senses of existing. Indeed, as is the case with beauty, truth is not something “shed on a form from without.”33 Truth is the shining as such. And this is an eventing without essentialism or pragmatic factual-historical foundation. Gadamer writes, “With regard to beauty, the beautiful must always be understood ontologically as an ‘image.’ It makes no difference if it is ‘itself’ or a copy appears … the metaphysical distinction of the beautiful was that it closed the gap between the idea and the appearance.”34 This is not the abandonment of reality or of truth in a search toward or from theoretical or transcendental meta-meanings. The idea that closes the gap between idea and appearance is a concrete happening. And it is because of its dynamic movement, or the enacting of the arising of meanings in the fusing of horizons, that image will fit the experience of understanding, or standing-with the shining, that is, standing beyond the pragmatic differentiation between originals, facts, ideas, and their representation as understanding.

c Word of Mouth

Gadamer writes, in the section on “Language as the Medium of Hermeneutical Experience,” “the light that causes everything to emerge in such way that it is evident and comprehensible in itself is the light of the word.”35 This does not mean that we are the ones who have a logos that may control and create all things and senses of existing. The word is not a tool or a means of conquering. Things, ideas, dreams, their sense arises through the light of the word, as they become evident (einlauchtend). Gadamer is clear that “what is said, what is really said does not belong to the speaker but to what is spoken.”36 The point is not only that meaning does not belong to a transcendental consciousness, but also that the meaning arises in the play of distinctness that opens with the happening of words. This is why Gadamer closes his book saying that “language is the single word, whose circularity opens for us the infinity of discourse, of speaking with one another, of the freedom of ‘expressing oneself’ and of ‘letting oneself be expressed.’”37

In his discussion of “The Universal Aspect of Hermeneutics,” Gadamer recalls Augustine’s interpretation of Genesis, where “the multiplicity of what is thought proceeds only from the unity of the word.”38 Not language in the abstract or in general, but the living word in its resonance in language, the act of the utterance/ing performed (as a pure speech act, and not as a representation) provides the sense of unity in which one finds the distinctness and pluri-horizonal movement of understanding. Again, one must be careful here, since the point is not that the word provides a unity from which all may be interpreted, categorized, ordered, and put through the rule of rational judgment and logic. In the share immediacy of the shining or movement of consciousness, in the playing out in and with the blending of horizons, one is held in the temporalizing spacing with the distinct, and in that tension or in-between, unity prevails in a time beyond historical materialism. Word uttering holds us suspended in distinctness, at the limit of facts, world, rationalism, and dialectical progressive logic. And yet, the fundamental thing, Gadamer remarks, is that something occurs (Etwas geschieht).”39 Let me take a moment more here to engage this thought of the happening of words.

Gadamer writes: “there is another dialectic of the word, which accords to every word an inner dimension of multiplication: every word breaks forth as if from a center and is related to a whole, through which alone it is a word. Every word causes the whole of the language to which it belongs to resonate and the whole world view that underlies it to appear. Thus, every word as the event of the moment carries with it the unsaid, to which it is related by responding and summoning.”40 If we turn back to the understanding as the site of the fusing or blending of horizons, it is not difficult to see that the word holds us to this transformative and radical movement, in which meanings and identities arise. This understanding is an experience because it occurs concretely and physically, that is, in uttering words physically-mindfully, with the present-past and present-future. The word holds the simultaneity of times together, in a unity of distinctness, thus holding with the blending of horizons that is effected historical consciousness, and thus making possible understanding. One may think of the beautiful and telling words of Dante when he tells us that only in looking through the three rings of his poem, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradiso, is it possible to understand the Divine Comedy. Three rings that are forever held in the fecund ambiguity of a fourth, “Limbo,” the place of those before Christ, of pagans, philosophers and thinkers. The uttered word holds worlds, horizons together, not as a tool but as experience, and never in a totalizing grasping of living. Understanding is no virtuosity because is not a matter of tools and results. Rather, the issue is to be with unity in distinctness, to undergo and go under, in the very passing of meanings performed with words that like light may reveal or conceal and in this last sense leave to oblivion the very possibility of understanding in and with distinctness.

IV Beyond Historiography’s Redemption, Liberatory Words

In terms of our discussion, philosophical thought in the sense of a liberatory hermeneutics seeks to remain with the unity in distinctiveness figured in and with the gathering, encroachments, interpolations and interpellations in the transformative movement of the arising of meanings in light of effected historical consciousness. This occurs in the uttering of words. And yet, one must wonder about the movement of such words. How are we to think words that hold us not to a meaning elsewhere nor to our own subjective judgment but to the event of its denunciation in the enunciation?

If the uttering of words holds one to the distinct movements in and with the encounter and fusing of horizons, such words cannot have a meaning in the speaker, in immediate things, or in any single consciousness or tradition. The hermeneutical liberatory word holds with and to the movement of consciousness in becoming in and with the distinct simultaneity, overlapping, and trans-forming passages of distinct simultaneous infusing horizons. The word performs and holds in such overture, and this is why it is communication, because it already gathers communities of distinctness. The issue for such enunciation is not a purity of an appeal or meaning but precisely an ambiguity that permits the encounters to occur. But again, it is also not the perfection of a word that may direct and order all that is: we are not speaking of the universal articulation of all ways of being into a single unity. Rather, in the pluri-horizonal movement the uttering is first of all a listening.

Listening is the originary meaning of uttering words in terms of hermeneutical liberation. This is not because words depend on what we decide, or on our good will. To utter, as the word indicates, is to be invested, to give currency, to give oneself. In uttering a word, one is played out, resituated, given with that which is not one’s own, that which is not under one’s control, comprehension, domination, or law. Indeed, if law is written, its very possibility is in the uttering of a word that is always held on to the gathering distinctness that is communication. The genius of words is the unity of distinctness, communication. Moreover, the meaning of language is only gained in such turn; words bring life to language in a liberatory turn that at the same time performs one’s chance of meaning. The life of language is in the interpretation and appropriation of the text that is never myself, nor entirely an-other, and to use Gadamer’s words, “To interpret means precisely to bring one’s own preconceptions into play so that the text’s meaning can really be made to speak to us …”41 Only in being put into play in distinctness does the living utterance occur. Gadamer goes on in the next paragraph: “The text is made to speak through interpretation. But no text and no book speaks if it does not speak a language that reaches the other.”42 This being-in-common, this gathering in distinctness is what Levinas, Dussel, Fanon attempt to execute over and over again. But, in each case and in distinct ways, they each have been trumped by a language already deployed, a language of History, a pragmatic language of things, subjectivity, otherness, terms of consumption and production under the task of identity, of “being” this or that, and always already framed by the concepts situated under such single horizon as History, rationalism, language, facts, accounting, and tools; in terms of a past that can only be “past” for the present no matter how definitive in the configurations of effective historical consciousness, a weak claim to the future if an originary force at all, and a future that is always already in terms of the coloniality of power a question of “right/white now.” As Gadamer’s work indicates, history in the sense of effected historical consciousness is a question of movement in distinctness—meanings and sense arise in the performative utterance of that movement, in the investment, in the literal under-standing, in coming to stand with and in the fusing of horizons that happens in the breath-turn. The binomial separation between center and periphery, the racist separation between western and non-western, the sexist separation of sexualized bodies between men and women, all of these repeat a single law of exclusionary thinking that by definition cannot overcome the break of consciousness and community as it continues to resituate them in the one pragmatically factual History. Such single History of facts and identities is always the telling of the same, no turn, no breath-turn comes to pass but mere desperate panting, breathless going about, turning in the close horizon Gadamer identifies in Truth and Method with Robinson Crusoe’s literal isolation. Moreover, here I am not appealing for a comprehensive universal community, but I have tried to show that Gadamer’s sense of effected hermeneutical consciousness, and the performative dimension of the living word make possible to find meaning and sense in the very abyssal ground of passing temporalizing-spacing movements that have always already situated us beyond our meaning, but also in always already placing us on the way to meaning, in the arising of originary meaning found in taking the risk of uttering words, of taking an articulate breath-turn in which we community and persons (nos-otros) may be found. Perhaps beginning and setting off on that journey Baudelaire could only imagine in reverie, as he sensed with words the contour of liberation at the edge of dreams and worlds.


Charles Baudelaire, L’Invitation au Voyage (from Flowers of Evil (1854), ed. Pamela Prince and Jane Handle, trans. Richard Wilbur (Italy: Bulfinch Press, 1997).


Enrique Dussel, Philosophy of Liberation, trans. Aquilina Martinez and Christine Morkovsky (Eugene, Oregon: Wipf & Stock, 1985). Available online from Servicio CLACSO, Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales, 1996/2002. From here on I refer to the work as PL, first indicating the English translation’s page number, then the Spanish. PL, 173; 200.


My direct engagement with Dussel and Quijano’s thought may be found in Latin American Philosophy from Identity to Radical Exteriority, (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2014), chapters 3–6.


Ibid., chapters 5–7.


Aníbal Quijano, “Coloniality of Power, Eurocentrism and Latin America.” Nepantla: Views from South 1.3 (2000): 533–580.


Ibid., 552–554.


In “White Mythology,” Jacques Derrida manages to articulate the sense of analogy that I would say holds together this conception of history, an ontological understanding of all that is, and an underlying theological sovereignty that holds all together through the idea of one single universal continuous existence. Derrida, Jacques, “White Mythology,” in Margins of Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1982), 209–271.


Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall (London: Continuum, 2006). From here on TM followed by page number. TM, 299. German quotes from Hans-Georg Gadamer, Wahrheit und Methode, Gesammelte Werke 1. (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1990). From here on WM, followed by the page number.


TM, 305.


“De facto contemporaneity (Gleichzeitlichkeit) becomes simultaneity (Simultaneität) in principle when one is fundamentally prepared to resist denigrating any taste that differs from one’s own “good” taste.” TM, 75.

Here in this sentence I refer to the language of fusing and imporing developed by Charles Scott and Nancy Tuana in their forthcoming book Beyond Philosophy, as well as to the work on the phenomenology of space and edges of Edward Casey.


María Lugones, Pilgrimages/Peregrinajes: Theorizing Coalition Against Multiple Oppressions (Feminist Constructions) (New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2003).


TM, 303.


Vielmehr ist Verstehen immer der Vorgang der Verschmeltzung als solcher vermeintlich für sich seiender Horizonte. WM, 311; TM, 305.


TM, 308.


Ibid., 306.


Hans-George Gadamer, Wer bin Ich und wer bist Du? (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1973), 411–12. Who Am I and Who Are You? Trans. Heinemann and Krajevwski (Albany: SUNY Press, 1997), 105.


El problema de América: Apuntes para una filosofía americana (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1957). El problema de América (Caracas: Universidad Central de Venezuela, 1959, 1969) (Caracas: Equinoccio [Universidad Simón Bolívar], 1992).


This is an issue that takes us back to the question of representation and presence, since hermeneutically speaking the word occurs not as a totalizing event of vision, and historical consciousness plays out the intelligible and present inseparably from the indeterminate. As Auguste Blanqui already points out in 1871 in L’Eternité par les astres, it is in such indeterminate delimitations that humanity touches infinite cosmological insight through and in the unsayable. Blanqui, Auguste, L’Eternité par les astres, (Paris: Les impressions nouvelles, 2002.)


TM, 270–271.


It is worth underscoring that Gadamer’s elevation of the historicity of understanding to a hermeneutic principle (Erhebung der Geschichtlichkeit des Verstehens zum hermeneutischen Prinzip) occurs on the basis of a quote from Heidegger’s Being and Time, a quote taken precisely from the section on “Understanding and Interpretation,” in Part I, chapter five, on Dasein’s disclosive originary movement in Being-In as Such. Heidegger, Being and Time (Albany: SUNY Press, 2010), 148. Quoted in TM, 269.


This is in part why Gadamer himself is concerned with not giving the impression of following on the steps of German idealism and its accompanying romanticism. The latter is a misrepresentation of living thought and of the concrete dynamic sense of being as living interpretation.


TM, 341.


Ibid., 351.




Ibid., 476.


Ibid., 485.


Ibid., 477.










Ibid., 483.


Ibid., 481.




Ibid., 478.


Ibid., 483.


Ibid., 553.


Ibid., 478.


Ibid., 457.


Ibid., 454.


Ibid., 398.



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