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Updated Up To 23/01/2018
Volume 7, Number 1 (January 2009) : 87--96
How (if at All) Can We Encounter What Remains Latent in Texts?

Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht
Rubric A: History of Humanities



As readers, we sometimes have the impression that texts “know” more than their authors ever did. The article refers to this type of (supposed) textual knowledge as latency. It argues that, if there is no direct, methodological, deductive or inductive way towards that which appears to be latent, the Stimmung (mood, atmosphere) produced by the text, as a maximally light and yet invariably physical environment, can become a symptom of what remains latent -- without transforming latency into a situation of open excess. Thus, for instance, in Thomas Mann’s novella “Death in Venice” the detailed descriptions of the ever changing weather of Venice produce in the reader what is best described as a mood — a quasi-physical certainty of being in the presence of something latent, that will eventually reveal itself as a longing for death permeating the homoerotic desire that has overcome the protagonist.

In those cases where long processes of crystallization of latency do not lead to situations of evidence, the intervention of our judgment is required -- the intervention of a judgment that can make itself dependent on better or worse reasons but will never be regarded as exclusively true, or exclusively adequate.

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