“I-We” Sociality and Gadamer’s “Fusion of Horizons”
In Kathleen Wright’s article, “On What We Have in Common: The Universality of Philosophical Hermeneutics,” she writes the following regarding Gadamer’s understanding of the universality of hermeneutics:
“the universal aspect of hermeneutics has to do with the community we join and the communion we feel in and through the fusion of horizons.”
What Wright wants to highlight is that according to Gadamer a “successful conversation” involves the interlocutors forming a community and being changed or transformed by the subject matter of the conversation. We can easily see what Wright calls the “I-we sociality” involved in a conversation between two living, breathing individuals, but how are we to understand this sociality when the conversation partner happens to be a text? “With whom or with what does the interpreter actually share an understanding? Gadamer seems to be responding to this kind of question when he states that, ‘It is more than a metaphor; it is a memory of what originally was the case to describe the task of hermeneutics as entering into a conversation with the text (Truth and Method 368). Gadamer maintains, therefore, that the shared understanding, the ‘fusion of horizons,’ that comes about through the interpretation of a text is social in the same I-we sense as the shared understanding, the ‘fusion of horizons,’ that we achieve through a conversation” (p. 237). Here I think that a musical analogy (or two) might help in shedding light on Gadamer’s claim. Consider a solo piano piece written by Beethoven (the score being analogous to a “text”) and its performance (interpretation) by a 21st century pianist. The pianist does not simply approach the score in a monologue fashion, but rather attempts to enter the lifeworld of the piece—a lifeworld that goes beyond Beethoven, as Beethoven himself stood in a tradition of musicians and his composing reflects the various influences of his musical predecessors (Haydn, Mozart, etc.). Likewise, the pianist herself represents a musical tradition—a tradition which perhaps has been shaped by French impressionism and a genealogy of Russian composers. Consequently, when the pianist performs Beethoven’s piano concerto, she, as well as, the piece itself are transformed and a ‘fusion of horizons’ takes place. In a sense, the “conversation,” has been going on for some time (several hundred years); the 21st century pianist (the “I”) is simply joining in (and participating in the “we” and vice versa).