Readings for Seminars 20/22/24 Feb. 2018

From Lindsay:

1) Ian Munday was a transformative influence on my own attitude and approach to teaching (or at least, his writing was). I’ve written about his work a few times on my blog: and I thought this 2012 conference paper on problems and mysteries was particularly excellent. Ian has taught film and cultural studies in the past. He is now a full-time lecturer in education.

2) Hans-Georg Gadamer was a philosopher who lived throughout the whole of the last century and did all his major work in his later years. His work focuses on understanding and conversation. This is a chapter from a book by Monica Vilhauer on what she calls Gadamer’s ‘Ethics of Play’. Her book frames Gadamer’s philosophy of understanding the other (‘hermeneutics’) as a kind of play. This chapter talks explicitly about how we engage with, understand and play with various art works/forms, but it also leads us to consider Gadamer’s hermeneutics more broadly, and relate it to other educational relationships (between learners, teachers, colleagues, texts, etc).

“Hans-Georg Gadamer was a German philosopher of the continental tradition, best known for his 1960 magnum opus Truth and Method (Wahrheit und Methode)”



My understanding of hermeneutics is that it is that it deals with interpretation – not necessarily of the other but of texts, the knowledge of the interpretation of texts.

“Hermeneutics as the methodology of interpretation is concerned with problems that arise when dealing with meaningful human actions and the products of such actions, most importantly texts.” Stanford Dictionary of Philosophy (2016) (Accessed at:

Vilhauer’s Understanding Art: The Play of Work and Spectator itself offers an interpretation of Gadamer’s text (an hermeneutic act?) which is hard to assess without going to that source itself.  She offers:

He aims to show us how it is only in the back and forth play of communicating meaning between presenter and spectator that interpretive understanding occurs and the artwork achieves its completion.

However, the artwork is not the same as the presenter.  The presenter is mostly always physically absent in the encounter by a spectator with an artwork (unless it is a performance piece )? – the encounter, more accurately, should be I think described as an encounter with either a thought process by the artist manifested and the bodily and cognitive presence of the spectator, or of an artefact of the artist and a spectator during which the spectator has an experience, an “interpretive understanding” which completes the artwork. What if there is incomprehension  – would the artwork be incomplete? And how can you have play between an non-human object (the artwork) and a human spectator? Surely the spectator is the player, and s/he plays with an object .

Can an object “play” with the spectator? I understand, though that this is what art tries to achieve…

Perhaps Benjamin can help here:

“the rigid, isolated object (work, novel, book) in of no use whatsoever. It must be inserted into the context of living social relations.”

Walter Benjamin “The Artist as Producer,” Understanding Brecht, p. 87, in Kazis, R. Benjamin’s age of mechanical reproduction (1997) Jumpcut

The promotion of Vilhauer’s book Gadamer’s Ethics of Play: Hermeneutics and the Other on her website links the ‘play’ with a ‘dialogue partner’

Through the lens of dialogue-play, the book focuses on openness toward one’s dialogue partner, respect for his differing point of view, and a willingness to learn from him in conversation as crucial ethical conditions of genuine understanding.

Lexington Books (2010) (Accessed here:

Perhaps I’ll find the relationship of spectator and artwork further on.

I read on and find that Vilhauer points out that Gadamer actually uses a performance (in this case performance art) to develop the argument that in a show with an audience, play  “begins a back and forth of communication of meaning”.

Vilhauer notes that play cannot be a “solitary event” it requires two. I anticipate that this argument is building up to transform the artefact into a sentient thing where play can happen between two…


Somewhat ironically I run into a problem quite early in reading Ian Mundy’s paper The classroom: a problem or a mystery? under a section – Having problems.

In all unexceptional cases of “having as possession” there seems to be a certain quid relating to a certain qui whereby the latter is treated as “a centre of inherence or apprehension” (p. 173). The qui must therefore be, in some way, transcendent to the quid (ibid.).

If it relates to Latin “quid” = what and French “qui” = who, I can make a meaning.. not necessarily the right one.. but I took the risk of exposing my ignorance and asked our fb group and see what returns…

I had one return from the group that agreed that interpretation – that the “who” takes precedence over the “what”:

Yes I think thats right. So is it saying that the person in possession of the object/thing takes priority over the importance of the thing itself… so if you have my grandmothers ring, the fact that you’ve got it, takes priority over the fact that the object has significance to me.

The distinction between problem and mystery: comes from  philosopher Gabriel Marcel (“his philosophy was later described as “Christian Existentialism” (most famously in Jean-Paul Sartre’s “Existentialism is a Humanism”) a term he initially endorsed but later repudiated.”)

A problem is something which I meet, which I find completely before me, but which I can therefore lay siege to and reduce. But a mystery is something in which I am myself involved, and it can therefore only be thought of as a sphere where the distinction between what is in me and what is before me loses its meaning and initial validity. (Marcel 1949, p. 117)

The idea that owning things puts one in opposition to the other; owning and having, keep people apart from each other:

For Marcel, ―having is damaging because of the dynamic of suppression and loss. It generates an economy in which the ―other is always posed as threatening. (Mundy)

Then from owning and having Mundy and Marcel travel to a position of mystery where the individual’s boundaries are not reductive but are expansive and freer in a creative way of being. And in the classroom breaking out of the paradigm of having into an alternate and unspecific way of being may allow a sense of individual and inclusive learning.

“That said if classrooms are allowed to be spaces of mystery, then a vitalism that has been exorcised from the profession may make a return.”


2 Replies to “Readings for Seminars 20/22/24 Feb. 2018”

  1. I have to admit ‘Ethics of Play’ went over my head a little and I don’t know about you but I felt it over complicated what should be a fairly simple exchange. For me it took all the fun out of the idea of play ha!

    Did you manage to get to the bottom of the spectator/ art or object query?

    I quite enjoyed Mundy’s article- only because I like the idea of mystery in the class room, and there being something magic about the energy. This notion then felt a little ironic that ‘unquantifiable mystery’ was being theorised in some way…un less I missed the point. Did you enjoy?

    1. Yes I made a meaning, though not necessarily the right one.. (Latin “quid” = what and French “qui” = who) I went forward with that.

      I did enjoy Mundy and I do understand what you say about theorising. How can we understand mystery- its contradictory by definition! Scholarship is another art related to making, but unlike makers, theoretical thinkers try to analyse and describe with words processes and objects that artists use other media to do. Andrew Kotting (the experimental filmmaker) says he ‘reverse engineers’ his work ie he makes the work and then realises what it is about later.

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