David P. Haney, The Challenge of Coleridge: Ethics and Interpretation in Romanticism and Modern Philosophy. Literature and Philosophy Series. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2001. xviii + 309pp. $59.00. (ISBN 0-271-02051-2).
John Jay College of Criminal Justice - CUNY
The Challenge of Coleridge aims to demonstrate the overlap between hermeneutics and ethics, to show how reading deeply may lead to acting morally, how reading and respecting the otherness of a written text resembles hearing and respecting the otherness of an individual person. The book hopes to encourage a new way of teaching the humanities, by "placing the texts of the past and the present into a conversation in which the attention of both partners is focused, albeit from different historical horizons, on important issues of mutual concern" and thus to remove the humanities from "the criteria of technological production" by which university administrators often evaluate their worth (xiii). Even as it promotes the idea of conversations and dialogues on issues, the book engages in such conversations, ranging widely over living and dead philosophers. As Haney ventures into his vast terrain, he is guided by "Gadamer's notion of a transhistorical conversation that is more comprehensive than the horizon of either the modern interpreter or the historical text, a concept which . . . can provide an important alternative to the currently dominant ideological interpretations of history" (xii). Those of us who teach the humanities enter the field of this book with great hope that ethics, morality, and the conscience will be clearly applied to actions as well as interactive words to deepen our teaching of texts and perhaps even our engagements with actual persons. Chapter headings such as "Knowledge, Being, and Hermeneutics," "Oneself as Another: Coleridgean Subjectivity," and "Love, Otherness, and the Absolute Self" promise opportunities for meaningful contemplation. The recollection of Haney's fine "Aesthetics and Ethics in Gadamer, Levinas, and Romanticism: Problems of Phronesis and Techne" (PMLA 114.1 1999, 32-45) adds to the anticipation.