Utopia of Understanding

Between Babel and Auschwitz

By Donatella Ester Di Cesare
Translated by Niall Keane

Subjects: Hermeneutics, Continental Philosophy, Jewish Philosophy, Jewish Studies, Holocaust Studies
Series: SUNY series in Contemporary Continental Philosophy
Paperback : 9781438442525, 259 pages, January 2013
Hardcover : 9781438442532, 259 pages, May 2012
Paperback - Unavailable

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Table of contents

1. Being and Language in Philosophical Hermeneutics
Philosophical Hermeneutics and the Linguistic Turn
Which “Turn”?
From Heidegger to Gadamer: Language as Dwelling, Refuge, Shelter, Exile
“The History of a Comma”
Gadamer’s Self-Interpretation
Understanding as Middle Term and Mediation
Language and Linguisticality
Searching for the “Right” Word
“Being” Twice: The Speculative Passage from Being to Being-Language
The Universal “There” of the Word
Self-Overcoming: The Movement of Hermeneutics
The Understanding of Being: Hermeneutics Facing Ontology
The A-Metaphysical Dimension of Philosophical Hermeneutics
A Philosophy of Infinite Finitude
2. The Hermeneutic Understanding of Language
Heidegger and Derivativeness of Assertion
Aristotle’s Lesson
Hermeneutics Between Semantic Lógos and Apophantic Lógos
The Logic of Linguistic Praxis
As if “assertions fall from the sky…” The Analytic Artifice
Assertion, Method, and the Power of Technology
The Tribunal of Assertions
Hermeneía: From the Said to the Un-Said
Speculum: The Speculative Movement of Lanuage
Beyond Hegel: The Dialectic of Finite and Infinite
The Truth of the Word
The Hermeneutic Listening to Language
3. Translation and Redemption
…one shall no longer understand the lip of the otherI.” Babel
Languages in the Diaspora
“Love without Demands”: Translation in the Age of Romanticism
From the Original to the Originary: On Heidegger
Giving Voice to the Foreign Voice: The Translation of the Torah
The Dialogue of Languages: On Benjamin
“Pure Language” and Messianic Silence
4. Exiled in the Mother Tongue
“Exile” in the Jewish Tradition
“How Much Home Does One Man Need?”
Exile from the Land, Exile from the Language
On the Mother Tongue
In the Firmament of Rosenzweig: The Holy Language and the Language of the Guest
If German is the Language of Origin
“What Remains? The Mother Tongue Remains”: On Hannah Arendt
My Language Which is of the Other: Derrida and Monolingualism
Language Forbids Ownership
The Exile of Language
5. The Dialogue of Poetry
Paul Celan as a Witness to Hermeneutic Dialogue
The Everyday Word and the Poetic Word
Poetizing and Interpreting
“Your irrefutable witness”
Your I and My Thou: The Universality of Poetry
The Flow of Dialogue and the Crystal of Poetry
The “Soul’s Refrain”
6. Understanding Between Hermeneutics and Deconstruction
Paris 1981: An “Improbable Debate”
Hermeneutics and Deconstruction: Which Difference?
Derrida and Hermeneutics: Plaidoyer for Interruption
Gadamer and Deconstruction: “…at the beginning of a dialogue”
On the Language of Metaphysics and on Language in General
The Being-for-the-Other of Language
Wanting to Say, Wanting to Understand
Comprendre c’est égaler”? On Nietzsche
Understanding is Understanding Differently
On Accord and Discord
Heidelberg 2003: Starting from that Interruption
“The world is gone…” Dialogue after Death
Thinking, Carrying, Translating
The Blessing of the Hand, the Blessing of the Poem
Stars and Constellations
7. Utopia of Understanding
U-topia, Topia, Utopia: On Gustav Landauer
Celan, Poetry and the “Revolution of the Breath”
Breaking the Silence: Voice and the Absolute Vocative
January 20. The Date and the Circumcised Word
Speaking Ever-Yet?
The Language-Grille
Straitening, Anguish, Anxiety: On the Limit-Situation
The Other of the Limit, the Limit of the Other: The You is the Lever of the I
Understanding to live, Living to Understand: Auschwitz
Átopos. The Out of Place of the Stranger
The Tent of Encounter
“…The Language That Wandered With Us”
The Time of the Promise
North of the Future
The Word of Conspiracy

A hermeneutics of language after Auschwitz.


Speaking and understanding can both be thought of as forms of translation, and in this way every speaker is an exile in language—even in one's mother tongue. Drawing from the philosophical hermeneutics of Martin Heidegger and Hans-Georg Gadamer, the testimonies of the German Jews and their relation with the German language, Jacques Derrida's confrontation with Hannah Arendt, and the poetry of Paul Celan, Donatella Ester Di Cesare proclaims Auschwitz the Babel of the twentieth century. She argues that the globalized world is one in which there no longer remains any intimate place or stable dwelling. Understanding becomes a kind of shibboleth that grounds nothing, but opens messianically to a utopia yet to come.

Donatella Ester Di Cesare is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Rome "La Sapienza" and of Jewish Philosophy at the Collegio Rabbinico Italiano. She is the author of many books, including Grammatica dei tempi messianici; Gadamer; and Ermeneutica della finitezza. Niall Keane is Assistant Lecturer in Philosophy at Mary Immaculate College and the translator of Mauro Carbone's An Unprecedented Deformation: Marcel Proust and the Sensible Ideas, also published by SUNY Press.


"It is not an exaggeration to claim that Di Cesare's Utopia of Understanding represents a consequential and pioneering program of research within the philosophical study of hermeneutics. " — Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews