Practical Hermaneutics

For my art history course in London I was asked to do a presentation on a painting by Pieter de Hooch. For this presentation I needed a slide to show the painting to my classmates. I couldn’t find this perticular slide and because I was in a bit of a hurry I took a similar one.

I pointed out the situation to my teacher, who said that it would not do. I needed that perticular slide. He asked all of us: ‘What is hermaneutics?’ We were to answer in five minutes, when he got back.

He returned and we all gave him our answer. The answers were all similar and none of us had be wrong. But that was not why he asked us that question. He went on to say something like: ‘Hermaneutics is a way of looking for information, When you look for something and you know you should be able to find it you have a different mindset to when you don’t know that what you are looking for can be found.

He promptly held up the slide I should have had in the first place and I went purple in the face. ‘I’, he said, ‘knew that we had this slide in the library and so I found it.’ ‘You did not.’ We laughed it off then but I have learned a valuable lesson.

Now when people come to ask me where to find the…oh, I don’t know… Bulletin Museés Royaux de Beau Arts because they couldn’t find it I go with them to help them find it. When I do find it the most common reaction is the one I had a year ago in London. One of embarressment. I revel in that embarassment. It makes me feel superior. But I also know what it is like to be in the other place so often I take pity.


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