E Historically Effected Consciousness

Worth particular mention, because of its influence within contemporary herme-neutics as they have impacted on biblical criticism,84 is Gadamer's concept of Wirkungsgeschichte, the 'history of effect' of a text. Here the hermeneutical circle is correlated with the older hermeneutical recognition of hermeneutics as the interplay between the polarities of familiarity and strangeness. The point is that the gap between text and reader is not empty; it is filled by the effect which the text has exercised in the in-between time between 'an historically intended, distanced object and belonging to a tradition'. Consequently Gadamer questions 'the assumption of historicism' that the temporal distance is something which must be overcome. Rather it should be seen 'as a positive and productive condition enabling understanding'. The intervening tradition is part of us. Gadamer's point is not to be reduced simply to the recognition that the interpreter stands within a history influenced by the text. The key term is actually the more elaborate phrase, wirkungsgeschichtliches Bewusstsein, 'historically effected consciousness'. Here it is important to recognize the distinction between the English verbs 'affect' and 'effect': to 'affect' someone is to move or touch or influence that person; to 'effect' is to bring about or bring into being a certain result or outcome.86 Gadamer's point, then, is that the interpreter's consciousness, or pre-understanding we might say, is not simply influenced by the text; rather, it has in some measure been brought into being by the text; it is itself in some de

83. From Mueller-Vollmer, Hermeneutics Reader 112-13.

84. See, e.g., Watson, Text and Truth particularly 45-54.

86. As Gadamer's translators note (Truth xv).

gree a product of the text; it is a consciousness of the text to be interpreted. It is because the interpreter's consciousness has been thus 'effected' that it can be 'effectual in finding the right questions to ask'.87

Still more influential88 has been conception of the two 'hori zons' involved in hermeneutics, 'the horizon in which the person seeking to understand lives and the historical horizon within which he places himself'. But it is not enough to think of the hermeneutical process as a transposition from the familiar contemporary horizon to the alien horizon of the text. For the horizons, particularly that of the interpreter, are neither static nor closed; they shift, they are revisable. 'The horizon of the present is continually in the process of being formed . . . (and) cannot be formed without the past'. Hence, 'understanding is always the fusion of these horizons supposedly existing by themselves'.89

The value of this way of re-envisaging the hermeneutical circle is two-fold.90 First, it recognizes and affirms the fact of distance and difference between the interpreter and the text. Even in the 'fusion of horizons' (Horizontverschmelzung) the distinctiveness and difference of the other horizon are not to be lost to sight. Second, the hermeneutical process is seen to be more than simply Romanticism's empathetic feeling with the author; it is rather a movement of growing recognition both of the text's otherness and yet also of its effect (great or small, for good or ill) on the interpreter's own self-identity. The fusion of horizons is another way of saying that the reciprocally revisionary character of the hermeneutical circle is a spiral not only into an enlarging/ deepening understanding of the text; it is also a spiral into an enlarging/deepening understanding of oneself.

No wonder, then, that Gadamer has proved to be such an ally to those who want to maintain that faith is not in principle at odds with the hermeneutical process in its application to study of the NT, conceived as it has been in terms of Enlightenment historicism or through analogy as determined by 'modern' consciousness. Gadamer has made us aware of dimensions of self-consciousness without which a critical hermeneutic cannot be sufficiently self-critical.91

87. Gadamer, Truth 340-41, 301.

88. Illustrated particularly by Thiselton's two major studies, Two Horizons and New Horizons.

89. Gadamer, Truth 302-307.

90. Cf. Ricoeur's reflections arising from Gadamer's work, in the closing section of 'The Task of Hermeneutics' and in 'The Hermeneutical Function of Distanciation', which followed {Text to Action 73-88).

91. Not surprisingly, Ben Meyer was the first to recognize the significance of Gadamer for historical study of Jesus {Aims 59).

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