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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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Conclusion: Finitude as Revelation: Hamann’s Letztes Blatt 117


Dated May 18, 1788, a mere month before Hamann’s death on June21, Hamann’s “Letztes Blatt” is an utterly remarkable text.157 Written as a note in the Stammbuch of his friend, the Fürstin Gallitzin, at whose home in Münster he spent the last year of his life, this minis- cule fragment represents the last effort of a dying man to synthesize his life’s work. Unsurprisingly, this final Willensmeynung did not arrive in a rush, but rather through a careful consideration and summation of his life’s work in preparation for death. As Josef Nadler notes,158 the five years prior to Hamann’s death were utterly informed by the attempt to figuratively unclothe, and literally unburden, himself in preparation for his final journey: “Ich will mich aber selbst entkleiden, meine Hände ausbreiten, wie sie ein Schwimmer ausbreitet, um über das stille gehende Wasser der Vergangenheit zu schwimmen oder darinne unterzugehen” (N.III.404). The thinker who once exhorted his readers to pry open the “geballte Faust” (N.III.289) of his thought is now adamant about exposing himself, paring down his thought so that he may swim unencumbered through the waters of the past. This paring down is also a condensation, and the result of this introspection is a text Conclusion Finitude as Revelation Hamann’s Letztes Blatt Goesser Assaiante_T4.qxd 9/1/2011 3:55 PM Page 117 so dense and concise that it can easily be considered the most succinct summation of Hamann’s entire philosophical project. Composed entirely of citations, be they direct or paraphrased,...

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