Chapter 1. “Breathe in, hold, breathe out” – practicing a dark hermeneutic circle

Dark hermeneutics is about breathing or more precise it is about the gap between inhale and exhale, which can be short if you are running up the stairs getting to the top of a building or long if you trained and practiced your breathwork. Yes, even breathing can be work and so is interpretation. 

In saying that, one might be confused what a theory of interpretation of literature does have to do with breathing and work. The process of breathing, to inhale and exhale frames a little gap, the moment between those two actions. Dark hermeneutics is all about that gap between the inhale or essence and exhale or appearance of every object, especially literature. Yes, texts are objects in that case as well as breath.

And this is because the aesthetics of literature, especially as poetry, “tampers directly with causality”.1 Therefore, what is causality in terms of language and aesthetics? What is alluring about poetry as causality? And even more, what does “allure” mean, when texts are treated like objects? 

It is all about the possibility of illusion within language. A text which tells a story is not the story. The text pretends being the story. This does not mean that the text is lying. Everyone knows a text is not the real deal, but in knowing that, one also knows that a text is capable, that language is able to lie. This is one point one can realize that there is nothing else then language, that there is no possibility of a metalanguage or a metaworld.2 This is not what the postmodernist understood as “there is nothing outside of language”, isn’t it? But again, one might fell for the lie and again there is text. 

Dark Hermeneutics looks after such truth-telling lies and lying truths, such dialetheiae, within a simple connection in poetry between relations, causality and aesthetics: “the aesthetic dimension, the dimension of relations, is the causal dimension.”3 This is the preposition of Object-Oriented-Ontology. A poem is something that happened to language and language is something that happened to a voice and a voice is something that happened to throat… “floating somewhere between metaphor and metonymy, these entities do not illustrate a human world.”4 Furthermore, as Timothy Morton explains “OOO is realism without materialism”.5 And what else is realism without materialism? Poetry, exactly. This is a new causality. 

So, what the fuzz about breathing, causality and understanding poetry? For what is one key element of hermeneutics, understanding is not only a violent act, as deconstructivism has argued ever since, it is also imagined as a circle – a relation between subject and object, which is deepened by the practice of violently understanding the object. But this hermeneutic circle as understood in the common sense is subverted by the concept of breathing: The rhythm of “inhale, pause, exhale” constitutes a new circle of understanding, which leaves phases for each causality: the causality between the “essence” and the “appearance” of an object which has also the structure of the rhythm. The rift between “essence” and “appearance” constitutes the special understanding of objects (in OOO). An object’s essence is withdrawn for other objects as well as for itself, but the “appearance” forms a way of communication which comes always to late. In between those two phases a rift is to be experienced. Imaging a hermeneutic circle now which functions in the same way: not as a violent act of understanding and not only as a gesture of deconstruction, but as a hold, connecting and disconnecting rhythm. 

In this metaphor, which is much more or less a metaphor for it is how living things finds themselves in this world, causality becomes an aesthetic category, maybe the aesthetic category producing meaning within a flat ontology of non-human and human objects, of language, signs and all that is written.

  1. Timothy Morton: An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry, 216 []
  2. Timothy Morton: What Vegetables Are Saying About Themselves, 186 []
  3. Timothy Morton: An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry, 217 []
  4. Timothy Morton: An Object-Oriented Defense of Poetry, 218 []
  5. Ibid. []

By Martin Bartelmus

Martin Bartelmus is a Postdoctoral Scholar of German Literary, Media, and Cultural Theory at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf. He studied German Literature, Philosophy, Political and Social Studies at Julius Maximilians University Würzburg and received his PhD in Media and Cultural Studies as part of the DFG graduate program “Materiality and Production” from Heinrich Heine University. His PhD-Thesis is entitled Cultural Born Killer: Poetics of Killing around 1900. Before joining the department of German Literature at Heinrich Heine University for his current postdoctoral position, he worked as a curator for the Museum of Natural History of the Benrath Palace and Park Foundation and as a freelancer for the Julia Stoschek Collection. He is interested in Animal and Plant Studies, killing in literature and film, French theory, Object-Oriented Ontology, and literature without humans.

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