The Gadamerian Approach to the Relation Between Experience and Language

Narrativism as a theory of historical depiction intuitively opens the question: what is left of reality when it is poured through the filter of language structures? And, extended a little bit further, questions arise: What is responsible for the final shape of a historical depiction? Is it experience or language? What is affecting what? Narrativism typically accuses language units of transforming experience in a specific way. However, even in asking these questions, the problem of the separation of experience from language and language from experience remains. In this article, I address this issue using Gadamer's hermeneutical frame. Wherever philosophical tradition insists on the separation of certain positions, Gadamer tries to show their ontological connections. For Gadamer, understanding is a basic ontological structure, within which both sides of a dialogue affect and constitute each other. In Gadamerian hermeneutical ontology, there is no “starting point” or first responsible position. In the understanding, dialogue has the permanently moving character of a play, where separate positions are erased. This Gadamerian view can also be applied to the question of language and experience and their mutual connection in depicting any experience via language. In Gadamer's example of the work of art, the original subject matter (Urbild) is articulated through its depiction. The subject matter dictates possible ways of depicting, which in turn dictate the final shape of depiction. In this article, I discuss Gadamer's term “articulation of the world,” by which he means a function of language. Articulation is simply a transformation of shapeless matter into a shape, and in our case it is a transformation of an experience into a language depiction. I show that the Gadamerian approach to language and experience can offer an interesting perspective on the issues discussed in reaction to narrativist philosophy of history.