A Note on Interpretation

Thinking and reasoning about what interpretation exactly is, is an endless source of joyful wondering. I was just rereading my own Screwmeneutics (2016) – while preparing my thesis conclusion, there was no vanity in that action! – and it struck me that there is a problem between Heidegger (2010 [1927]) and Gadamer (2013 [1960]). Heidegger thinks interpretation is purely subjective, we can only read ourselves in text. Gadamer, however, thinks that works of others can expand our horizon.

The problem I find here with Gadamar is: how can we learn something we do not have first hand experience of? Can a child before it acquires language understand the consequences of touching the hot kettle on the table before it has experienced a – hopefully limitedly – terrifying event? I assume there exists gene encoded and therefore tacitly embodied intuitive knowledge – is the physiological reflex with which the child retracts its hand from the kettle such knowledge? Possibly, but that knowledge is fully embodied and has no conscience components, is seems to me. I do not see a convincing reason yet to assert gene transferred cognitive appreciations of any kind. However, the wailing that follows convinces me that there is now more conscience understanding resulting from the experience. Not of course as concrete as “kettles may be super hot, take care not to touch kettles without sufficient checking” – more some dim realization that linguistically later on might be put as “things can hurt”.

The child, mercifully is the malleable developing brain, will forget the concrete experience, but a part of understanding has been achieved. The physiological experience extends to acquiring meaning as well. We cannot understand a meaning but before we have acquired it through an experience of some kind. The fact that information and understanding is able to flow between people by way of text (or speech) is therefore the ability to translate symbols and linguistic signs into a sort of imagined experience from which we then learn.

I think we should not confuse this with a reified semantics that is embedded in individual words or symbols or some linguistics connected to these. If I encounter a word that is fully and utterly new for me, I simply cannot understand it. I need it in a linguistic context of a sentence (and possibly a whole lot more sets of semantic signs, such as chapters and books) to help me have an imagined experience to understand – essentially performatively reconstruct – the meaning of that new word.


Hans-Georg Gadamar. 2013. Turth and Method. Translated by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall. First published 1975, 2nd edition 189, Revised edition 2004; Originally published 1960 (German). London, New York: Bloomsbury Academic.

Heidegger, Martin. 2010. Being and Time. Translated by Joan Stambaugh. First published 1953, rev.with A foreword by Dennis J. Schmidt, Originally published in 1927 (German). Albany (NY): State University of New York Press.

Zundert, Joris J. van. 2016. “Screwmeneutics and Hermenumericals: The Computationality of Hermeneutics.” In A New Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Scheibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth, 331–347. Malden (US), Oxford (UK), etc.: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/9781118680605.ch23/summary.

Why We Should Think About a Domain Specific Computer Language (DSL) for Scholarship

Introduction This is the text of a paper I presented during the conference “Digital Hermeneutics in History: Theory and Practice”, organized by the C2DH of Luxembourg University on 25 and 26 October 2018. I have been toying with the idea for a Domain Specific Language for textual scholarship for over a decade. Manfred Thaller—not aware … Continue reading Why We Should Think About a Domain Specific Computer Language (DSL) for Scholarship


Willard McCarty on Humanist pointed me to a, quite silly, article in the Economist entitled “March of the Machines”. It can almost be called a genre piece. The author downplays very much the possible negative effects of artificial intelligence and then argues that society should find an ‘intelligent response’ to AI—as opposed, I assume, to uninformed … Continue reading Singularity

Intellectual Glue and Computational Narrative

There exist several recurring debates in the digital humanities. Or rather maybe we should position these debates as between digital humanities and humanities proper. One that is particularly thorny is the “Do you need to know how to code?” debate. In my experience it is also frequently aliased as the “Should all humanists become programmers?” … Continue reading Intellectual Glue and Computational Narrative

Nederlab: Concerns from the Research Perspective.

Nederlab is a recently awarded Dutch Science Foundation large infrastructure investment. The successful proposal for a 2.4MEuro subsidy was carried by an impressive consortium of leading researchers in the fields of linguistics, history, and literary scholarship. Reading the proposal I find there are several serious issues that may cripple the project from the start. I … Continue reading Nederlab: Concerns from the Research Perspective.