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Philosophy Today

Volume 16, Issue 1, Spring 1972

Garth Gillan
Pages 4-11

Toward the Foundations of Hermeneutics
the signifying flesh

Hermeneutics is the systematic exploration of the structure of cultural meaning mediated through the experience of the sign. At its foundations there is language. But language is more than a catalogue of forms of signification; it is radically the experience of the sign in those relations with others which constitute intersubjectivity. What is the experience of the sign or the experience of signifying? At the level of structural linguistics, the sign signifies in virtue of its form. The sign is to that extent a relational concept; it is diacritical — formed by the systematic relations which give it value as a linguistic element. Yet while fundamentally true, the diacritical description of the sign presupposes the experience of the sign. The diacritical description of the sign which has become the hallmark of linguistic studies of meaning since Saussure assumes the intersubjective nature of the sign and that the recognition of meaning in language is perceptual in character. There is then a deeper dimension of the sign upon which its understanding rests: the exploration of the intersubjective and perceptual structure of the moment of signifying. To firmly come to grips with the nature of interpretation and the nature of the questions which form the problematic of hermeneutics, it is necessary, therefore, to go beneath the formal structure of the sign to the material experience of the sign where that formal structure becomes the modality of linguistic meaning. The foundations of hermeneutics rest upon the most concrete experience of the sign which is the experience of the sign within the folds of the flesh and in the language of desire. The reflections which follow are an interrogation of those two dimensions. They form, in the manner of phenomenology, constitutional studies for they raise the question of the primitive experience within which the sign is constituted as a signifying experience.

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