’Just Send Me Word’: the Promise of Dialogue
AbstractThis paper specifically concerns an aspect of the central place given to dialogue in Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics. Though understanding is presented as the unquestioned achievement of dialogue, there is scant attention to a prior question: ‘What draws us into dialogue in the first place?’ Gadamer’s treatment of dialogical understanding as an event tends to obscure the necessary pre-conditions of its emergence. He correctly assumes that texts, artworks, literature speaks directly to us, even disarm us by their address. Yet, what disposes us to listen? Even if we hear nothing in a dialogical claim, what impels us to listen again or more closely to what might be being said? The paper attempts to answer this question and throw light on this, an obscurer aspect of Gadamer’s thinking. We will argue in the vein of philosophical hermeneutics and seek an answer to the question its approach to dialogical understanding supposes but seems neither to ask nor answer. Our central argument is that within the perspective of philosophical hermeneutics, the importance of dialogical exchange lies not in what is transmitted between interlocutors but in the respective hermeneutic effects of that exchange. In dialogue there is no literal ex-change of ‘hermeneutic content’ between one speaker and another. We shall argue that it is not what is literally exchanged that matters but, rather, what participation in that exchange can unexpectedly bring about within the understanding of each speaker and often contrary to their willing and doing.