Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht: Production of Presence. What Meaning cannot Or more accurately an oscillation between interpretation and presence. PREHISTORY. Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey. Author: Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht. × (60×90/16) hard cover, pp., ISBN 5‑‑‑4 . Production of Presence. What Meaning Cannot Convey. Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht. STANFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS. STANFORD, CALIFORNIA

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Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey

What Meaning cannot convey. Putting aside the many precautions taken by Hans-Ulrich Gumbrecht to expound his position with nuance, one can bluntly summarize his main thesis in The Production of Presence as follows: In essence, the humanities are enjoined to renounce their purely meaning-based epistemology, and “get their hands dirty” 78 by engaging with the bodily, sensorial dimension of the world, its very “presence”, “substance” — and even “Being”.

Bearing this in mind, ulrlch is one quality that must impress in Gumbrecht’s opus, notwithstanding the opinions one may entertain generally about his work and ideas: Most of the polemical sting is taken out of his questioning of interpretation and its claim to universality by his gumbrech that he is not rejecting it as such, but rather prrsence a richer and broader understanding of its implications, which ideally would manage to overcome its exclusive concern with gumbrexht.

The quest for presence he is advocating does not imply an obturation of ulrlch dimension of meaning fundamental to interpretation: As he therefore states at the beginning of his book, his claim to go beyond interpretation is in essence “anticlimatic”: The methodological restraint Gumbrecht allies to his very bold and wide-ranging claim on the necessary future epistemological orientation of the humanities is all the more significant when one acknowledges that The Production of Presence represents “a comprehensive version of [his] thinking” publisher comments.

The thesis defended in this book is the result of a long personal theoretical quest, which he is anxious to recount from its very inception in the 80s during the colloquiums on the “Materialities of Communication”, when he first turned his attention to presence and, as he put it, the “phenomena and conditions that contribute to the production of meaning, without being meaning themselves.

In an effort to further contextualize the question of interpretation and underscore the deep-rootedness of the problem raised by its extreme meaning bias, Gumbrecht situates his argument more generally by briefly retelling the history of Western metaphysics.


He thereby tries to highlight the following facts: Ours, according to Gumbrecht, is a typical “meaning culture”, which can be opposed to “presence cultures” such as the pre-Socratic or medieval cultures, in which preeminence is given to the body.

Gumbrecht thus remarks that “the emergence of aesthetics, as a subfield of philosophy, in the eighteenth century, makes it clear that, counter to the premises of the hermeneutic field, world-appropriation through the human body […] was now also reappearing as an epistemological option.

Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

Among these thinkers, Heidegger is singled out as of particular importance, as he provides the conceptual framework needed to mark out a first, admittedly provisory, model of the nonhermeneutical epistemology being called for Bohrer, Nancy, Steiner, Butler are also mentioned as relevant contemporary thinkers to that end.

Foremost is the Heideggerian idea of “unconcealment of Being”, which interests Gumbrecht because of the link it establishes between the purpose of metaphysics and the things of the world. On the basis of this discussion and his still rather unrefined concepts, Gumbrecht goes on to elaborate on presence and seeks for a more detailed description of the future nonhermeneutical landscape of the humanities. What he comes up with is a three- pronged proposition, addressing respectively the significance of presence for aesthetics, history and pedagogy.

First and foremost, he introduces presence as epiphany, or in other terms, an aesthetic “moment of intensity” which has nothing edifying, “no message, nothing that we could really learn from” Its distinctive features are quantity not qualityremoteness from everyday life or “insularity”, suddenness, focus.

Epiphany implies a “staging”, through which a “complex and embodied form” is presented.

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht

It also implies an element of violence, and importantly, requires a certain loss of control, or serenity and composure Gelassenheit to be experienced. Secondly, presence is obtained through the presentification of the past.

Assigning meaning to history is not the only way of understanding and appropriating the past: In our eyes though, the definition of presence through epiphany is a weaker moment of the book. One had been warned to expect an anti-climax, but a measure of disappointment with “epiphany” is still justified: True, Gumbrecht mentions Prodhction Luhmann’s thesis that a possibility to experience presnce effects and presence effects in simultaneity may be found in art.

True also, Gumbrecht points out that such aesthetic epiphanies as can be found in art but not onlydespite their insularity from everyday life, should be understood as giving rise to a general ot erleben — and can be thus said to be meaningful since they reveal the very nature of the things of the world.


But he then states that this “epiphanic” experience, insofar that it reactivates our bodily dimension, meets the things of the world “in their pre-conceptual thingness”or in other terms, in a form totally bereft of meaning. The case for presence is thereby overstated, since no room is left for any role that meaning might play in our bodily appropriation of the world.

This attack Gumbrecht finds he cannot really counter, and interestingly, meets with relative indifference.

It is unmistakable that he has hit on a real problem at the heart of the humanities, and that in essence, his reaction is appropriate. In a way, it is probably precisely because he is trying to appropriate for the humanities a knowledge traditionally reserved to theology that his is confronted with the accusation prresence becoming a religious thinker.

True, his assertion that “even now, no attempt at overcoming metaphysics and its consequences can disregard Heidegger’s work” 47 is not altogether wrongheaded; there are two reasons, however, to regret this institution of Heidegger’s work at the center of the contemporary quest for presence.

For one, it is barely probable that a direct recourse to the concept of Being might be readily accepted within the context of the humanities as a credible founding bloc for a new nonhermeneutical framework: Even more significantly, Heidegger is not the only thinker to wish to overcome “metaphysics”. Nietzsche’s or Bergson’s efforts to go beyond metaphysics antedate his own.

Also, the slavist in us can’t help but wonder if more attention to uulrich studies of poetics by the Russian Formalists or Czech Structuralists could not have provided Gumbrecht with an intriguing template to further examine his idea of a tension between meaning and presence: It is the merit of The Production of Presence to strongly make the case that striving towards that goal should be fruitful, or even necessary.

Production of Presence: What Meaning Cannot Convey – Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht – Google Books

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