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A History of Ambiguity$
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Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780691167954

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: January 2020

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691167954.001.0001

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(p.306) Chapter Eight. Adloyada
A History of Ambiguity

Anthony Ossa-Richardson

Princeton University Press

This chapter explores an older, mystical attitude to interpretation in the work of Johann Georg Hamann, whose writings, whatever their philosophical value, had a seismic impact on the Romantic thinkers of the next generation. It might be thought that Hamann earned his place in a history of ambiguity by his prose style. This is partly the case: few styles are so equivocal, and few have had so little precedent and so many imitators. However, the chapter argues that Hamann's prose style was really a style of reading Scripture, one that looked to the past, embracing both ambiguity and what would later be theorised as irony. Indeed, imitation is a key component of his register throughout his works, as he himself acknowledged—the ambiguous persona a hallmark of his satirical office. Another component is fragmentation, both on a prosodic level and on a semantic level. The fragmentation is also a function of the many literary and scholarly references spliced together in his work. Hamann called his ‘Aesthetica’ a ‘rhapsody in cabbalistical prose’, a rhapsody in the sense of a patchwork of ideas, quotations ripped out of context and repurposed.

Keywords:   Johann Georg Hamann, Romantic thinkers, ambiguity, prose style, Scripture, irony, imitation, fragmentation

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