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Steiner, R. (1995). Hermeneutics Or Hermes-Mess?. Int. J. Psycho-Anal., 76:435-445.

(1995). International Journal of Psycho-Analysis, 76:435-445

Hermeneutics Or Hermes-Mess?

Riccardo Steiner

I have been asked to consider some aspects of the present state of the link between psychoanalysis and hermeneutics, to do so succinctly and to express my personal view. This is as well, since the task of condensing into a few paragraphs what is in fact a large portion of Western thought with a substantial literature, mainly in German, dating back four or five hundred years, would be quite beyond me. Even a review of the main strands in the work of psychoanalysts such as Thomä, Kaechele, Schafer and Spence, among many others, and their use of the hermeneutical tradition in the work of Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Heidegger, Gadamer, Habermas, Ricoeur and others, is much beyond my scope (Steiner, 1992). Instead I shall concentrate on a few of what I think are now the core issues.

Sources and context

First, drawing on an unpublished paper (Steiner, 1992), I want to raise the question of the use of sources and the implications of applying ideas developed in one context in one discipline to the understanding of another context in another discipline, as for example in the application of hermeneutics to psychoanalysis in the work of Schafer (1978, 1983, 1993) and Spence (1982, 1987, 1994).

Inevitably, when selecting ideas from one field, it is difficult to be completely aware of the context in which those ideas have been developed or of the context in which one's own ideas will later be used. Bearing in mind the debate that is going on in psychoanalysis concerning hermeneutics, particularly in America, therefore, it is significant to note that none of the major contributors have yet been aware of a very important debate which took place between Gadamer and Habermas (1973) on the very subject of psychoanalysis itself, then available only in German (Warnke, 1987).

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