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Hermeneutics

The Genesis of Secrecy, S/Z

interpretation assumptions communities barthes

is the study of the art of interpretation, evolved as a separate object of interest through German theology and philosophy towards the end of the nineteenth century. The leading figure in this movement was Wilhelm Dilthey (18331911); distinguished later theorists are Paul Ricoeur and Hans Georg Gadamer, and Frank Kermode makes a subtle contribution to the debate in The Genesis of Secrecy (1979). Interpretation has many meanings and occasions, but it also has recurring features which can be described and explored; it seeks to adjust texts to the needs of their readers, to build bridges, for example, between the communities of the Gospels and later communities wishing to lead their lives in accordance with Gospel precepts. Hermeneutics characteristically addresses questions about where interpretation starts, what assumptions it makes, and which assumptions are indispensable. More recently, through the work of Roland Barthes and others—in S/Z (1970) Barthes identifies a ‘hermeneutic code’ in narrative, a strand which involves the ravelling and unravelling of an enigma—‘hermeneutic’ has come to designate the practice of deriving meaning from a text, as distinct from, say, studying its origins or its rhetoric. See also semiotics.

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