Lyrical and Ethical Subjects

Essays on the Periphery of the Word, Freedom, and History

By Dennis J. Schmidt

Subjects: Ethics, Continental Philosophy, Aesthetics
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791465141, 239 pages, August 2005
Hardcover : 9780791465134, 239 pages, August 2005

Table of contents


1. Lyrical and Ethical Subjects: Straining Communicability

2. Wozu Hermeneutik?: On Poetry and the Political

3. Between the Lines: On Language, Translation, and Tradition

4. On Blank Pages, Storms, and Other Images of History: Speaking and Imagining History

5. Time Made Loud: On Language and Music

6. What We Cannot Say: On Language and Freedom

7. "Two mouthfuls of silence": On Language and Pain

8. On the Dark Side of the Moon: On Language and Deafness

9. Speaking of Nature: On Language and the Unbidden World

10. Words on Paper: On Language and Script

11. "Like a fire that consumes all before it": On Language and Image

12. Language in the Age of Modern Technicity: Speaking of Freedom and Community Once Again

Appendix: "Monologue" by Novalis


A wide-ranging attempt to develop a theory of ethical life from a hermeneutic understanding of language.


Dennis J. Schmidt develops a hermeneutic theory of language that forms the starting point for thinking through the concerns of ethical life. Working from texts by Homer, Plato, Kant, Nietzsche, Heidegger, and Gadamer, this volume explores some of the ways in which we experience the fringes of language, and highlights the relation of both freedom and history to such experience. The book is also guided by the conviction that such reflections upon the limits of language can open up something decisive for the effort to address the enigmas and challenges of judgment in the realm of ethical life.

Taking seriously Kant's claim in the Third Critique that aesthetic experience opens up a basis for judging that is other than that found in the language of the concept, Schmidt pursues this claim by addressing the relation of language to poetry, to music, to silence, to script, to sign language, and to painting—those experiences of language which set themselves apart from the concept. Out of the treatment of these experiences of language at its limits, the author argues that we find an opening upon the realm of ethical life that is truly beyond the calculus of good and evil. What results is an experience of radical freedom, an experience that precedes anything like a notion of freedom finding its explanation in the agency of a subject. It is here that we find the contours of what Heidegger once described as "original ethics," and experience something of the sources of ethical life.

Dennis J. Schmidt is Professor of Philosophy, Comparative Literature, and German at The Pennsylvania State University at University Park. He is the author of On Germans and Other Greeks: Tragedy and Ethical Life and The Ubiquity of the Finite: Hegel, Heidegger, and the Entitlements of Philosophy.


"In Lyrical and Ethical Subjects Dennis Schmidt is at his best. His sensitivity to language, his intimate knowledge of German philosophy, and his deep concern for ethical and political issues are united to give the reader an enriching and exhilarating experience. " — Robert Bernasconi, The University of Memphis

"Here is a book that anyone concerned with issues in hermeneutics must read. It provides real insight and stretches our previous ways of approaching issues in language in relation to history and art. Through Schmidt's probing interrogative style, the reader encounters great ideas from great philosophers in a compellingly interesting way. " — James Risser, author of Hermeneutics and the Voice of the Other: Re-reading Gadamer's Philosophical Hermeneutics