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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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1. Walter Ziesemer and Arthur Henkel. eds. Johann Georg Hamann Briefwechsel (Wiesbaden: Insel, 1955), Vol. 7 of 7 vols., 424. Hereafter referred to as ZH. 2. Herman Grimm, Goethe: Vorlesungen. Gehalten an der Kgl. Universität zu Berlin. (Berlin:Wilhelm Herz, 1880), 43. 3. In Berlin’s words, Hamann is “The most passionate, consistent, extreme and implacable enemy of the Enlightenment and, in particular, of all forms of ratio- nalism of his time.” Berlin, Isaiah. Magus of the North: JG Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism. (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993). 1. This study will depart decisively from Berlin’s claim that Hamann’s thought represents a precursor to modern irrationalism. As will be shown, Hamann argues stridently for an understanding of reason that takes into account its genealogy as a symbolic and secretive representation of God’s Word. Hamann thereby does not reject reason and rationalism, but rather rejects the notion of understanding it as independent of tradition and experience. 4. Quoted in: Josef Simon, ed. Johann Georg Hamann. Schriften zur Sprache (Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1967), 70. 5. John Betz, After Enlightenment: the Post-Secular Vision of J. G. Hamann (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 3. 6. Johann Georg Hamann, Werke. ed. Josef Nadler (Wuppertal: Brockhaus. 1999) Vol. II of 6 vols., 73. Hereafter referred to as N. Endnotes Goesser Assaiante_T4.qxd 9/1/2011 3:55 PM Page 123 7. Martin Luther, Christian Liberty, ed. Harold J. Grimm (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1957). 8. G. W. F. Hegel, Hamanns Schriften, in Sämtliche Werke, ed. Eva...

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