Chapter 5. Subject-disoriented ontology

For hermeneutics the human male subject is the first actor to read, think and write. It is a complete and perfect loop of production and reception1. Therefore, dark hermeneutics as an object-oriented deconstructive technique of reading, thinking, and writing, as inhale, gap, exhale metaphorized, has to have a dis-oriented subject, or not a subject at all. The birth of the “German” subject, in contrast to the “French” subject, which was analyzed by Foucault, Derrida and others, is a product of the inauguration of an education system around 1800, which produces “humans” as well as “intellectuals” who can read, think and write about themselves and also understand and explain what they have written.2

Also, to read in silence becomes the master technique which leads to the paradigm of modern hermeneutics2. I will note analyze in detail the texts of Johann Adam Bergk, Christian Daniel Voß, Hegel, Fichte and Goethe, Novalis or other male protagonists of the 1800s who were philosophers, poets as well as “Staatsdiener”. First because those texts became real in the sense, that what those and other legislative texts about the educational system became inscribed in the modern society without making their traces visible. Secondly, because it is the postmodern approach to re-read those texts and follow their genealogy to understand the possibility conditions of subjects and hermeneutic themselves.3

I am also a product of the successors of the mentioned genealogy of education. From 1800 through the 19th century all that is written works on the project of teaching the teachers2. This means nothing else than producing subjects for hermeneutical processes. This is “autopoiesis” par excellence as Friedrich Kittler concluded4 and also an exclusion of women2. Hermeneutics’ subject is a white male human, a clerk produced by the philosophy of German Idealism. So, Foucault’s “humanities”, philosophy and philology (study of language and literature) produce via hermeneutics those subjects who would then use hermeneutics to understand what is written.5

It is now clear, that German literature, the canon, which is produced at the same time, is a product of male poets who are also state officials.6 So, Dark Hermeneutics should look at the exact opposite: women. Women who write are another kind of product of the system described, another product of the recording system of 1800, but they could lead one to a different understanding of hermeneutics and subjects. It is true though, that women who write in the 19th century are not free of the mentioned discourse nor are they unaffected by the auto-poietic system. But maybe, maybe they show a different kind of subjectivity and different techniques of becoming a subject, maybe a dis-oriented subject opening up the possibility for an object-oriented Dark Hermeneutics. 

Therefore, it is a woman who wrote a book, which belongs to the king, a letter of recommendation, a guidebook: Bettine von Arnim. Her “Dies Buch gehört dem König” (This book belongs to the king) of 1843 is different to what the male poets and state officials had portraited: it. Her book as well as the following “Gespräche mit Daemonen. Des Königsbuchs zweiter Teil” of 1852 are hauntologies of the discourse. They are the demons which haunt the discourse of male subjects and hermeneutics. Why?

Not only because the demon is in the title of the second book but also because of the explained statues of women within the philosophical and philological feedback loop Kittler has described. They are there, they write, but they are not state officials. Also, Bettine von Arnim re-iterates Marx and Engels when their spectre which haunts Europe became a partner of dialog, not something else, the other, but someone one can talk to. 

Let me quote Derrida’s definition of hauntology which is also quoted by Karen Barad7

“To haunt does not mean to be present, and it is necessary to introduce haunting into the very construction of a concept. Of every concept, beginning with the concepts of being and time. That is what we would be calling here a hauntology. Ontology opposes it only in a movement of exorcism. Ontology is a conjuration.”8 


“This condition of possibility of the event is also its condition of impossibility. . . without this experience of the impossible, one might as well give up on both justice and the event. ”9

For the subject- and hermeneutic-discourse women are not present, but they write and also address as it is the case with Bettine von Arnim those who are in charge. And she concludes the precise understanding of hauntology for the political as well as for the hermeneutical sphere: 

“Gewähre so lange es Zeit ist. Es wird eine Zeit kommen, wo du gewähren möchtest, aber keinen findest du, der es annehme. Wärst du gestern gekommen, heute bedarf ich nicht.” 10

And she also calls those male subjects, those poet-state-official-egos “die Gespenster zwischen Volk und Landesvater”, which means she clearly understood, that the male poet-state-official is a new form of elite.11 And that elite restricts the direct flow of information between the king and the “un-educated”, “non-intellectuals”, the people as the opposite to Bettine von Arnim’s romantic friends and Goethe. 

Her way of thinking and arguing is the exact opposite of the hermeneutical subject, the poet-state-official. She is not reflecting but diffracting the political and social construction of the 19th century. She is not systematically explaining step by step, but rushing into it, summoning the hauntology of Dark Hermeneutics. 

  1. Kittler 1988, 409 []
  2. Ibid. [] [] [] []
  3. Ibid., 410 []
  4. Ibid. 412 []
  5. Ibid. 413 []
  6. Ibid. 414 []
  7. Barad 2010 []
  8. Derrida 1994, 161 []
  9. Derrida 1994, 65 []
  10. Arnim 1852 []
  11. Kittler, 405 []

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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