On a Theory of Transcultural Hermeneutics
Wolfgang Welsch begins his theory of transculturality (as opposed to interculturalism and multiculturalism) with a critique of J. G. Herder’s notion of culture, who—under the conditions of 18th-century absolutism, but already with a strong anti-colonial stance—had stressed a nation’s fundamental right to cultural particularity and, inversely, culture’s potential to provide identity for an idealized concept of a homogeneous people. Without doubting for a moment the outdatedness of this cultural foundation of a people or the urgency of Welsch’s concept of transculturality, in my paper I argue that the limits of Herder’s concept of a cultural nation are already exposed in his own theory, namely at the crucial point when he runs into the antinomy of particularist and universalist intentionalities that drive his brand of enlightened humanism. For Herder’s theory of culture, which for politically quite understandable reasons radically favors the notion of cultural and thus national particularity, can’t help but assume that every cultural theorist and historian (no matter what his cultural heritage may be) must accept the prescription of enlightened humanism as universally valid. It turns out that already in Herder’s theory, the cultural historian finds himself elevated (and estranged) from the history of a particular culture to a transcultural position in both meanings of the word: outside the limitations of a particular culture and beyond culturalism.
If this moment of transculturality is not to suffer from the limitations of enlightened science (let’s say positivism), Herder’s cultural historian has to escape to a position of transcultural interpretation, that is to a self-reflexive methodology of hermeneutics. For this kind of understanding, Herder argues, comprehensive knowledge of the other culture is a necessary but not a sufficient presupposition; what is also needed is sympathetic intuition, the merging of cultural horizons, the self-identifying experience of the other culture’s value or genius, that is of its particular form of humanity.
Bernd Fischer (United States)
Professor of German and Chair
Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures
Ohio State University
1982 PhD University of Siegen, Germany; 1983- Professor of German, Ohio State University; Publications on German Literature and Thought, 18th to 20th centuries; Interested in questions of national and cultural identity, theory of aesthetics, theory of culture studies
Person as Subject
(30 min. Conference Paper, English)