We bring our own historical moment to what we read: Gadamer and Heidegger

Martin Heidegger noted that in the very act of ‘seeing’ something, we bring something to it. We categorize it. I can’t look at that sign over there without IMMEDIATELY seeing it as a sign. I can’t purely ‘see’ it. I don’t ‘see’ it, and then decide what it is. I see it as a sign at the very moment I look at it.

Hans-Georg Gadamer was interested in this idea because it applies to reading literature. We bring our way of seeing things to everything we perceive, and everything we read. There’s no point, says Gadamer, in trying to read a historical text from the point of view of the author who may have lived 300 years ago. At the very moment the words are read, they are interpreted through the lens of our own moment in history. We’re stuck in this historical moment, and our goal is to merge this moment with that of the author’s.