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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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4. The Unity of Theos and Logos: The World as Language 61


The Interdependence of Subject and Object The question concerning the origin of language, and particularlyHamann’s take on it, raises more questions than it answers. However, in the same 1787 letter to Jacobi in which Hamann presents the necessity of an interdependence of faith and reason, he expresses what he sees as the metaphysical object of his philosophical thought: “Jeder wünscht die Umschaffung der bisherigen Philosophie, hofft sie, arbeitet daran, trägt sein Scherflein dazu bei. Was in deiner Sprache das Seyn ist, möchte ich lieber das Wort nennen” (ZH.VII.175). This rather puzzling claim, namely that the object of Jacobi’s ontology is, for Hamann, the Biblical Word, should come as no surprise by now, given Hamann’s reading of the Biblical creation accounts and his fidelity to the creative, divine Word. But the relation between Seyn and Wort in Hamann’s thought is one of both infinite discrepancy, “dem unendlichen Missverhältnisse des Menschen zu Gott” (N.III.312) and absolute mediation: “Jedes Wort, was aus dem Munde Gottes geht, ist eine ganze Schöpfung von Gedanken und Bewegungen in unserer Chapter 4 The Unity of Theos and Logos The World as Language Goesser Assaiante_T4.qxd 9/1/2011 3:55 PM Page 61 Seele” (N.I.64). The infinite disproportion between man and God is thus characterized as the intimate relation between human language and the Word of God, in fact, language is that which brings the human and divine together. As Hamann claims in a letter to his friend Lindner: “Das unsichtbare Wesen unserer Seele...

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