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Body Language

Corporeality, Subjectivity, and Language in Johann Georg Hamann


Julia Goesser Assaiante

Body Language: Corporeality, Subjectivity, and Language in Johann Georg Hamann addresses the centrality of sensual perception to the constitution of subjectivity and the resulting relationship between subjectivity and language in the work of Johann Georg Hamann. In positing the body as the entity that conditions a subject’s encounter with the world, Hamann, it is argued, prefigures a notion of finite subjectivity that not only runs counter to the Enlightenment tradition but also reemerges in nineteenth- (Kierkegaard and Nietzsche) and twentieth-century (Benjamin) discourses on the tension between subjectivity and the abstraction of language. The paradox at the heart of this investigation is Hamann’s radical circumscription of reason as expressed through language, which nevertheless attempts to recuperate the concept of universal meaning through faith. Language is wrested away from abstraction and, therefore, any universality, and becomes the expression of the finite, corporeal subjectivity, a state of limitation that is at once granted and resolved by a divine creator.


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2. The Emergence of the Particular: Hamann’s Sense of Style 25


No Word Stands Alone If one problem lying at the heart of Hamann’s critique of abstractrationality is the inability of language to adequately convey concepts beyond the realm of experience, the question becomes how that expe- rience is reflected within language. For Hamann, the answer is quite simple. Language always already reflects the particularity of experience obtaining to any society through its expression of the determinative his- torical circumstances and cultural practices shaping that society. Any given dialect, grammatical structure, or linguistic convention of a group of people corresponds to the mentality of the same, which is, in turn, shaped by the particular experiences of that group: Erstlich: die natürliche Denkungsart hat einen Einfluss in die Sprache. So wohl die allgemeine Geschichte als die Historie einzelner Völker, Gesellschaften, Secten und Menschen, eine Vergleichung mehrerer Sprachen und einer einzigen in verschiedener Verbindung der Zeit, des Orts und des Gegenstandes, liefern hier ein Weltmeer von Beobachtungen, die ein gelehrter Philosoph auf einfache Grundsätze und allgemeine Klassen bringen könnte. Chapter 2 The Emergence of the Particular Hamann’s Sense of Style Goesser Assaiante_T4.qxd 9/1/2011 3:55 PM Page 25 Wenn unsere Vorstellungen sich nach dem Gesichtspunct der Seele richten, und dieser nach vieler Meynung durch die Lage des Körpers bestimmt wird; so lässt sich ein gleiches auf den Körper eines ganzen Volkes anwenden. Die Lineamente ihrer Sprache werden also mit der Richtung ihrer Denkungsart cor- respondiren; und jedes Volk offenbart selbige durch die Natur, Form, Gesetze...

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