The Hermeneutic Motion

"The hermeneutic motion, the act of elicitation and appropriative transfer of meaning, is fourfold. There is initiative trust, an investment of belief, underwritten by previous experience but epistemologically exposed and psychologically hazardous, in the meaningfulness, in the 'seriousness' of the facing or, strictly speaking, adverse text. We venture a leap: we grant ab initio that there is 'something there' to be understood, that the transfer will not be void. All understanding, and the demonstrative statement of understanding which is translation, starts with an act of trust. This confiding will, ordinarily, be instantaneous and unexamined, but it has a complex base. It is an operative convention which derives from a sequence of phenomenological assumptions about the coherence of the world, about the presence of meaning in very different, perhaps formally antithetical semantic systems, about the validity of analogy and parallel. The radical generosity of the translator ('I grant beforehand that there must be something there'), his trust in the 'other', as yet untried, umapped alternity of statement, comcentrates to a philosophically dramatic degree the human bias towards seeing the world as symbolic, as constituted of realtions in which 'this' can stand for 'that', and must in fact be able to do so if there are to be meanings and structures."

--George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation, 3rd ed. (oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 1998), 312.

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