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Understanding and Interpretation


Welcome the wild.

Understanding and Interpretation

Mark Douglas

My literature review chapter in my dissertation proposal is a beast. The volume is needed to lay out where I'm coming from in terms of Heideggarian thinking. I'm putting that content in the review rather than the conceptual structure chapter because I think my readers (committee and myself) need to gather the clearest grasp of the shoulders on which I stand. I'm about to the end of my first draft of the chapter. What's left? Understanding and interpretation. I'm gonna try to do this using "bartender friendly" language but given that it's a first draft it will probably be somewhat high fallutin' and murky. Here goes...

Understanding and Interpretation

Section 32 of Being and Time shares the title of this meager blog post. So before using secondary literature, I'll pick my way through that section in BT. Dasein is understanding. What is it that is understood by Dasein--BEING. Dasein understands being ergo Dasein takes its stand on being. Being stands under dasein. Being is the foundation of Dasein. Think of it like a foundry where tools are forged from molten metal. Using the foundry and foundational analogy we can say that being : Dasein :: molten metal : forged tools. Being, in this sense founds Dasein. Being founds being-there. All that is to say that Dasein is understanding in the sense that "Dasein is the being that takes a stand on its being."

"Dasein projects its being upon possibilities" (p. 188). How in the world can somebody project their being upon possibilities? Hopefully Donnie Darko can help us out to at least visualize this phenomenon. For a long time I've felt that Donnie Darko has a good deal to tell us about being, time, and quantum realities. In the event of realizing his horizon of existence, Donnie projects possibilities for himself. Donnie has an authentic grasp of what he stands for and can press his stance into possibilities (to borrow Bert Dreyfus's notion of pressing into possibilities). "The projecting of the understanding has its own possibility--that of developing itself [sich auszubilden]. This development of the understanding we call 'interpretation' " (p. 188). Interpretation is the actualization of understanding. If Donnie understands his being then he is free to follow the imperative of our friends from Jersey Shore, and "do you! You do you!" Donnie is taking from the projection of understanding and actualizing the "counter-thrust [Ruckschlag]" of possibilities in is interpretation that stems from understanding. Interpretation is "the working out of possibilities projected in understanding" (p. 189).

Do you:

1. acting in a way that satisfies you, not caring at all about what others think nor about your actions and/or consequences 

2. following your heart 

3. possibly the best advice you can give anyone when they have a dilemma

We can also characterize "doing you" as "doing your thang" especially with the heft that "thinging" has in Heidegger's world.

Donnie senses understanding as pressing into possibilities. Donnie senses his role as the stand he takes on his being.

Donnie senses understanding as pressing into possibilities. Donnie senses his role as the stand he takes on his being.

What is revealed when somebody is understanding the world as being-in-the-world? Significance has to do with understanding and interpretation. Significance is disclosed (revealed) in understanding. When somebody is involved in the ready-to-hand mode of skillful coping and immersed activity in-the-world then somebody senses the constituent equipment and its significance understandingly. "The ready-to-hand comes explicitly into the sight which understands" (p. 189).  The relationship between understanding and interpretation pivots on the "as structure". "The 'as' makes up the structure of the explicitness of something that is understood. It constitutes interpretation." (p. 189). Understanding is that on the basis of which interpretation emerges. But such interpretation does not extract and de-signate that which is ready-to-hand and understood. To do so would be a de-worlding into a presence-at-hand. In this way interpretation is "pre-predicative". 

Even if somebody uses language to articulate that which comes through understanding their articulation as language "the 'as' does not turn up for the first time; it just gets expressed for the first time, and this is possible only in that it lies before us as something expressible" (p. 190). Understanding is ontologically prior to interpretation which is prior to articulation. Despite the fact that the 'as' slips into the background of experience in its withdrawal, this does not make blank apprehension of objects prior to understanding. The blank stare of objectivity derives from the primordial understanding. The 'as' is still in play in the objective stare of logical positivism. 

A good example of this phenomenon can be found in a recurring game hosted on the blog called "What is it?". Well, what is the object. We look at such objects qua things and comprehend it as object rather than as nothing whatsoever even if the 'as' is ontically unexpressed. "When we merely stare at something, our just-having-it-before-us lies before us as a failure to understand it any more. This grasping which is free of the "as", is a privation of the kind of seeing in which one merely understands.

All this is important for my investigation because it is the embedded, embodied, and instantiated understanding of wilderness in the everyday circumspection of people involved with wilderness that I'm after. I want to study the ready-to-hand depth of wild places in the lives of constituents. Understanding as reception by the background "is the very mode in which it is the essential foundation for everyday circumspective interpretation. 

The next four pages of Being and Time (pp. 191-195) unravel Heidegger's notion of Hermeneutic interpretation as it stood at that time. After that, we've reached the end of our subsection and we can move on into some literature review on place meaning and wilderness. Of course, these set the table for my own fore-conception guiding my dissertation (Chapter 4: Projection). Before we delve into this somewhat difficult material I just want to share the Ouroboros that Ian Bogost crafted and Tim Morton has given adoration in just appropriation. Because, yeah, it's kind of like that.


Understanding that is embedded into the background is the foundation of interpretation. This interpretation is grounded in a fore-having. Interpretation "operates in being towards a totality of involvements which is already understood" (p. 191). Interpretation acts in being while attending to a totality of involvements.

Interpretation is grounded in fore-sight. Fore-sight is a point of view "which fixes that with regard to which what is understood is to be interpreted" (p. 191). How an interpretation is conceived "is grounded in something we grasp in advance--in a fore-conception" (p. 191).

Therefore interpretation is founded upon fore-having, fore-sight, and fore-conception. You can't approach somebody's or something's given interpretation except from you own interpretation. As you delve more deeply into the other (somebody or an at-large) understanding, your own fore-structure modulates so that in the engagement with another interpretation, a middle ground is unearthed.

The hermeneutic circle "is the expression of the existential fore-structure of Dasein itself" (p. 195). What's most important is to not let "fancies and popular conceptions" present the thinker an external or adopted fore-structure. The thinker must work out fore-structures "in terms of the things themselves….The circle in understanding belongs to the structure of meaning... [which] is fronted in the existential constitution of Dasein -- that is, in the understanding which interprets" (p. 195). All this is to say that Dasein, as understanding and as being-in-the-world, has an ontologically circular structure. "I live in the understanding of writing, illuminating, going-in-and-out, and the like. More precisely: as existence, I am--in speaking, going, and understanding--an act of understanding dealing-with. My being in the world is nothing other than this already-operating-with-understanding in this mode of being" (Logic: The Question of Truth, p. 146; quoted by Dreyfus, Why Heideggerian AI Failed, in the footnote Dreyfus cites Vorstehen, not Verstehen in a nod to Basic Problems of Phenomenology. I'm unclear which version was used in Logic. Either way, this broadens the notion here of understanding, rather than narrowing it).

This serves as a solid lead-in to notions of place meanings as common fore-structures of understanding and interpreting the meaning of wild places.