University of Cambridge > Talks.cam > German Graduate Research Seminar >  'Navid Kermani’s Poetic Hermeneutics of Religious Experience or; How the Failed Attempt to find a Hermeneutics of Religious Experiences Shaped Kermani’s Literature.'

'Navid Kermani’s Poetic Hermeneutics of Religious Experience or; How the Failed Attempt to find a Hermeneutics of Religious Experiences Shaped Kermani’s Literature.'

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Navid Kermani finds similar, if not even identical, ideas about self-restraint as self-steering and as a means to lose oneself in mystical primal grounds in Farīd al-Dīn ʿAṭṭār’s poetic works (as a scholar), in Neil Young’s discography (as a father trying to pass on feelings of exaltation that paradoxically find expression as composure), in ecstatic collective euphoria (as a football aficionado) and in Hölderlin’s dense poetry and Jean Paul’s boundary-extending prose-labyrinths (as an inspired reader). Despite a striving for these states of ‘Ent-Ichung’ or ‘deselfment’, Kermani always remains on a particularly high level of intellectual reflection. Serendipitously, Kermani finds his own way of creatively adapting these complex ideas to various discursive constellations in literature. In doing so, he does not only blur common discourse-boundaries semantically (e.g. by emphasizing the political challenges of transcultural processes or demanding for a political environment that allows non-essentialist self-identification) but also poetically.

In his scholarly as well as in his essayistic work, he applies a hermeneutics of approximation when it comes to others’ intense religious or spiritual experiences. He juxtaposes various attempts to describe such encounters as a heuristic tool, nevertheless leaving no doubt about his considered opinion that every attempt to fully communicate them is condemned to failure. By inter-relating such descriptions with poetic or mystical phenomena, Kermani’s hermeneutics of approximation become a model for the construction of his very unique poetic programme. In his novel Dein Name, for instance, he compiles an archive of aesthetic endeavours to express the unpronounceable, and in doing so he reveals that the inner structural analogy between aesthetic and religious primal grounds is still working in post-secular artefacts. Since a hermeneutics of religious experience is therefore impossible to Kermani, the apparently purposeless attempt to nevertheless going on to try is both the basis of artistic processes in general and a means of worship.

I will show that Kermani uses structural analogies elaborately as a poetic device in texts that try an approximation to religious experiences with the help of aesthetic means. There are two main kinds of experiences in this respect: First, the texts want to approximate the mystic experience of self-aggrandizement through self-transcendence or self-annihilation. Secondly, he ‘redescribes’ (Luhmann) literarily a religious consciousness of a world that is completely pervaded with a structuring force. Kermani uses three basic means to approximate those aspects, all of which are grounded in his own academic findings on other’s faiths: First, he uses negations as a hermeneutic (as well as a poetic) means. Secondly, he applies the paradox, a typically mystical instrument through all times and confessions. And thirdly, Kermani approximates the ineffable core of what is supposed to be expressed by relating the attempt to do so to similar efforts of others. Kermani is not trying to become Shaftesbury’s second maker; on the contrary, Kermani is worshiping God by attempting to recreate God’s creation poetically.

This talk is part of the German Graduate Research Seminar series.

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