Aesthetica Preprint, 17 (September 1987)

Friedrich Ast: Aesthetics and Hermeneutics

Friedrich Ast is one of the most neglected figures of the early German romantic period. Known by students of hermeneutics mainly from Schleiermacher's polemical account of him in his second Academic Discourse, he is often seen merely as a precursor (particularly in the case of the hermeneutic circle) who first brought up issues that were adequately developed only by later writers. In the three articles presented here, an attempt is made to preserve the autonomy of his thought not only in the hermeneutic field but even in his work on classical philology and on aesthetics.
The first of the three articles, on Friedrich Ast's aesthetics, by Marco Ravera, starts the discussion on the role played by art in Ast's thinking. It points out that the "poiein" that Ast attributes to works of art is a fruitful aporia in the harmony seeking foundation of his system.
Ast deals particularly with ancient art and hence with the problems involved in a systematic study of the ancient world, to which the two articles, "Beyond the literal. The study of ancient world in Friedrich Ast", by Federico Vercellone, and "The hermeneutics of the Spirit in Friedrich Ast", by Tonino Griffero, are devoted. It is apparent from the first that, as in much protoromantic writing, Ast's consideration of the ancient world is part of a development of a theory of the modern, so that the historical nature of the ancient conferred on it by classicists is removed, and its nature as a historical concept is revealed, in correlation with the concept of the modern. Ast's reflections on hermeneutics reveal still further the inadequacy of any approach to his thought which attaches value exclusively to his harmonyseeking premises. So there appears, beside the circular iter of interpretation, a predominant linear path, which modifies the very extent of Ast's concept of the hermeneutic circle and brings out its anticipatory nature, its nature of heuristic hypothesis.
A translation (by Tonino Griffero) of the first text of Ast devoted to the study of antiquity, entitled The spirit of antiquity and its meaning in the contemporary world, has been added as an appendix. It already outlines the essential principles of classical studies that Ast was also to maintain in his later works.