Spool Five

The Hermeneutic Fractal


There has been some debate over the image of the “circle” when discussing the hermeneutic circle. A circle is an established geometric shape with highly regular features like a centre-point and so on. However, when most people talk about the hermeneutic circle, they are talking about a kind of recursive relation between two points. It is more appropriate, perhaps, to describe this relation as circlular rather than as a circle. For example, Paul Ricoeur tends to prefer the metaphor of a spiral, since the hermeneutic relation implies some kind of movement outside of a simple circle-like orbit. When travelling the path of the circle, we always arrive back where we started. In the process of hermeneutic understanding, however, the is a returning motion, but we never arrive exactly where we started. When I travel abroad for the first time, I learn about new cultures and languages, then, when I return home, my home has also been transformed, I now notice peculiarities about my own culture that aren’t shared elsewhere, and so on. So, the motion is more akin to a spiral than a circle.

However, we can perhaps expand this even further. A fractal is a type of geometric figure that has:

The hermeneutic process works in a similar sense, there are “circles all the way down”. There is a hermeneutic, circular relation between the reader and the book, between the overall book and the chapters of the book, between a chapter and its scenes, between a sentence and a paragraph, between words and sentences, between the reader and themselves, between the book and its historical context, and on and on ad infinitum. Each level of relation is like a fractal viewed at different scales.

:TODO: [maybe something here about James’ The figure in the Carpet]