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Body Language

Corporeality, Subjectivity, and Language in Johann Georg Hamann

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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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5. Translation and Metaphor: Hamann, Kant, Nietzsche 91

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Hamann’s Strange Modernism For Hamann, language is not only the raw material with which a sub-ject forms and shapes the world, nor is it just the means by which the world is made accessible through reason. As the mechanism of the world’s creation and the structure of man’s perception of that world, lan- guage, for Hamann, is the ontological and cognitive category par excel- lence. However, its human incarnation remains bound by the limitations of human finitude. Man’s knowledge of the world, given to him by the Urkorrespondenz he shares with that world, remains but a fractured, incomplete, and analogical approximation of the divine, creative word. It follows that man’s perception, and the language he uses to express that perception, is fundamentally aesthetic. It can neither mirror the world, nor reveal an essential truth; its very nature is one of a fractured approximation, a partial view of an assumed totality that arises from a subjectively determined encounter with the world. It is on this point that Hamann’s conception of language prefigures the return to language as an object of philosophical inquiry identified Chapter 5 Translation and Metaphor Hamann, Kant, Nietzsche Goesser Assaiante_T4.qxd 9/1/2011 3:55 PM Page 91 by Michel Foucault, as beginning with Nietzsche in the late-nineteenth century: Whereas it [philosophy] sought tirelessly in the regions of life or labour for something that might provide it with an object, or with its conceptual models, or its real and fundamental ground, it paid relatively little attention to language; its...

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