Hamanns, Johann Georg: Hauptschriften Erklärt [Book Review]

Review of Metaphysics 20 (4):740-740 (1967)
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Though Joseph Nadler published the definitive, critical edition of Hamanns' complete works, the hermetic character of these texts warrants only too strongly a publication of at least the major texts with commentaries. The annotated edition is planned to comprise eight volumes. From the viewpoint of the history of ideas, Vol. IV is undoubtedly the most interesting, since it contains the important texts on the origin of language. These were directly provoked by Herder's famous Abhandlung über den Ursprung der Sprache; "the Magician of the North" fights the spirit of the Aufklärung even when it is clothed in the more attractive, pre-romantic setting of Herder's prose. Besides a fantastic amount of notes and commentary, Miss Büchsel, the editor of Vol. IV, offers a comprehensive and penetrating introductory study. Especially important are the chapters on the "pre-history" of Hamanns' Herder-interpretation and its influence on the later development of German intellectual life from the early Goethe to the old Schelling Vol. V contains the so-called mystery-writings directly pertinent to the Christian doctrine of the revelation of the Incarnated Son of God. These texts are truly esoteric, and even the multitude of notes accompanying them cannot always fully overcome their terrible obscurity. And here arises the only objection against this edition. The notes and commentaries are a mine of detailed information, and they "unconceal" the meaning of every word. Yet perhaps their very abundance impedes their stated purpose. They do help in understanding the words, but they make sustained reading of the texts themselves impossible. The encyclopedical character of the notes is cause for both exasperation and for growth in knowledge and inspiration.—M. J. V.



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