Lebenswelt as the Bedrock of Dialogical Hermeneutics:
A Phenomenology of Reading

A. Joseph Dorairaj 
Gandhigram Rural Institute-Deemed University, Madurai

Phenomenological or dialogical hermeneutics is opposed to objective hermeneutics which drives a wedge between the subject and object. As opposed to the “natural attitude” brought in by philosophical realism and idealism, phenomenological hermeneutics calls for a bringing together or co-implication of the subject and object. It points out that the text under consideration cannot and should not be seen as a cold and lifeless object meant to be analysed or dissected in a detached and disinterested manner. On the contrary, it calls upon the reader or critic to enter into a sustained and meaningful dialogue with the text.

As far as literary texts are concerned, “meaning is neither in the mind nor in the world but in the intentional relationship between the reader and the text”. Therefore, the event of understanding and the primacy of the world of experience (Lebenswelt) play a crucial role in dialogical hermeneutics and subsequently in the phenomenology of reading.

Gadamer’s “fusion of horizons” and Jauss’s “horizon of expectations” are important signposts in the phenomenological roadmap of reading. Gadamer talks about the “fusion of horizons”—the horizon of the text and that of the reader. Any reader approaches a text with a certain pre-understanding—however tentative or provisional it may be. In the actual encounter with the text, these presuppositions or prejudices may get clarified and confirmed or altered and modified, or even rejected. This is a back and forth movement as the text unfolds in time. And this encounter with the text is a sustained one and till the last page, as it were, the dialogue with the text continues and in the course of this dialogical encounter the reader’s pre-understanding is continually altered leading ultimately to a fusion or synthesis of horizons. Jauss talks about the “horizon of expectations” to refer to “the framework of expectations and assumptions that brings the worlds of reader and author together in the constitution and interpretation of texts”. He argues that “a text has no objective meaning and whatever meaning it may have is the joint product of the readers’ own horizon of linguistic and aesthetic expectations” and clarifies that the responses of individual readers do not occur in a vacuum but are situated within a horizon of expectations that can be objectified.

This paper examines the phenomenology of reading with special reference to Iser, Gadamer and Jauss.