Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hamann review

So, it has been too long since my last post. I'm still in Berlin, but soon I will return to New York where I plan to begin posting regularly again. For now I want to draw your attention to a review of Kenneth Haynes translation of Hamann. As the reviewer Ted Kinnaman points out, Haynes translates the two "dedications" that appear at the beginning of Hamann's most famous work, Socratic Memorabilia, but not the book itself. This short work is in need of either a new translation or a new printing of James O'Flaherty's translation.

For those of you not familiar with Hamann and his reputation should check out this SEP article by Gwen Griffith-Dickson, who also has written an excellent commentary on the Socratic Memorabilia called Johann Georg Hamann's Relational Metacriticism (Berlin: de Gruyter, 1995). I'm not sure what the best general introduction is to Hamman's work, but Isaiah Berlin's The Magus of the North. J. G. Hamann and the Origins of Modern Irrationalism (London: John Murray) is probably the most famous, although I think considering Hamann an irrationalist is quite contentious. Frederick Beiser's essay in his well know book The Fate of Reason is a very good and fair introduction to Hamann's thought and life.

Hamann I think played an important role in the emergence of German Idealism. Here are some reason that come immediately to mind: 1) he had a significant influence on Jacobi; 2) Hamann continually stressed the importance of Hume's skepticism; 3) he also stressed the importance of language in understanding the nature of reason and culture; 4) Hamann developed what is perhaps the first critique of Kant's Critique of Pure Reason, which circled amongst his friends, and was carefully studied by Herder. As the story goes, Hamann was friends with the publisher of the Critique and he had access to it as the pages were rolling of the press. 5) Hegel was familiar with Hamann, and even wrote a lengthy review on his thought. The extent to which Schelling and Fichte were interested in Hamann is not clear to me, though I suspect Fichte had read or was at least familar with Hamann's thoughts on language when he worte his essay "On the Linguistic Capacity and the Origin of Language" in 1795.


jane said...

I've been meaning to thank you Gabe for telling me about Hamann back in April at the NAFS... I picked up this new Hamann translation a little while ago and have been poking through it very happily.

Ben Crowe said...

I'm intrigued by the Hamann-Fichte connection. I think that what Hamann has to say about faith and sensibility in the "Socratic Memorabilia" sounds a lot like what Fichte says both in his early (pre-WL) writings and in his writings on the philosophy of religion. Surely, Jacobi was an important avenue of Hamann's influence on Fichte. But, my own search of the GA has revealed precisely 0 references to Hamann on Fichte's part. I'd be interested to see what others are able to dig up.