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Between Strangeness and Familiarity: Towards Gadamer's Conception of Effective History

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image of Research in Phenomenology

This essay seeks to examine the relation between selfhood and history through Gadamer's conception of hermeneutical experience, one of the cornerstones of his theory of effective history in Truth and Method. By setting Gadamer's project into relation with those of Heidegger and Hegel, my primary focus is to demonstrate how effective history, in its emphasis upon the finite, the partial, and the fragmented, actually turns these seeming deficiencies into advantages for human self-understanding in the current theoretical climate of plurality and diversity. I argue that the dialectical model of the relationship between self and tradition given by Gadamer serves to reveal our human limitations, and thereby allows us a space in which self-determination can be carried out through an effective-historical consciousness that avoids the pitfalls of subject-centered, all-encompassing, unified theories of history, on the one hand, and scientifically unselfconscious, ahistorical approaches to selfhood, on the other. The essay closes with an application of effective-historical consciousness to the tradition of post-holocaust German theater, where hermeneutical experience functions to provide resources for Jewish self-determination through the same tradition that had formerly excluded them.


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