Sibylline Rhapsodies: Johann Georg Hamann's Apocalyptic Rhetoric

Richards, Kirby Don, Department of German, University of Virginia
McDonald, William, AS-German Language and Literature (GERM), University of Virginia
Best, Thomas, AS-German Language and Literature (GERM), University of Virginia
Martens, Lorna, AS-German Language and Literature (GERM), University of Virginia

Some have considered Johann Georg Hamann an irrationalist, while others portray him as a hyperrationalist. Correspondingly, his style has been characterized as either utterly chaotic or as compulsively organized. A third way is available however: reading with faith.
Hamann's view of faith is sacramental and metaphorically parallel to sexual intercourse with the divine. Faith engages the whole human being, as in the Lutheran view of Communion, where one may be said to become by faith one flesh with Christ. Hamann's works are designed to seduce the reader into such communion; hence their oracular form. Oracles, like seduction, proceed by a subtle alternation of revelation and concealment. "Rede, dass ich dich sehe ..." The reader reads the text with God, making connections to his or her own life situation.
In the second chapter, a single work, Versuch über eine akademische Frage (VF), is examined in detail to test the above thesis from a different vantage point. VF undermines the Berlin Academy's question on the relation of language and opinions. What is language? Though the essay has a fairly clear structure, it cannot stand on its own; it requires a reader to fill in the gaps. It culminates in an oracle, namely, the revelation of the love of God. In the third chapter, a tentative scheme for capturing Hamann's thought about the cultural context he was addressing is laid down. This scheme has a certain explanatory power with respect to Hamann's writings. Official versions of Christianity had been promoted for centuries by ruling elites to maintain order. However, under the impact of the scientific revolution, Christendom was crumbling. Therefore, a new "civil religion" (Rousseau) was required; one that could both withstand scientific scrutiny and keep the masses in control.
Hamann prophesied that such proposed civil religions were artificial constructs that would disintegrate, leaving a chaotic wasteland. Out of this void, the birth of a new age would take place in which humanity, now purified of its illusions, would be open to divine love.
Hamann’s style reflects an apocalyptic rhetoric that prophetically enacts both the cultural crisis and the hoped-for new creation.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
Hamann, Johann Georg, 1730-1788
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