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International Yearbook

for Hermeneutics
Internationales Jahrbuch für Hermeneutik

edited by
Günter Figal and Bernhard Zimmermann

in cooperation with
Damir Barbarić, Béla Bacsó, Gottfried Boehm,
Luca Crescenzi, Ingolf Dalferth, Nicholas Davey,
Donatella Di Cesare, Maurizio Ferraris, Jean Grondin,
Pavel Kouba, Joachim Lege, Hideki Mine, Hans Ruin,
John Sallis, Dennis Schmidt

16 · 2017
Focus: Hermeneutics and the Performing Arts
Schwerpunkt: Die Hermeneutik
und die darstellenden Künste

Mohr Siebeck

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Editorial directors: / Redaktionsleitung:
PD Dr. David Espinet
Dr. Tobias Keiling, PhD
Editorial team: / Redaktion:
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Marc Eberhardt
Benjamin Harter
Jerome Veith
Cecilia Wezel
The Yearbook calls for contributions in English or German on topics in Philosophical
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ISSN 2196-534X
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© 2017 by Mohr Siebeck Tübingen, Germany. www.mohr.de


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Printed in Germany.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Contents

Focus: Hermeneutics and the Performing Arts


Schwerpunkt: Die Hermeneutik und die darstellenden Künste

Marcia Sá Cavalcante Schuback (Södertörn University)


Dance, a word . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1

Andrew Benjamin (Monash University)


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition.
Walter Benjamin and Sophocles’ Electra . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13

Bernhard Zimmermann (Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg)


Tanz im griechischen Drama . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30

Nicole Haitzinger (Universität Salzburg)


Gesten der frühen Moderne. Zur strukturellen und
phänomenologischen Dreiteilung des Menschen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46

James Risser (Seattle University)


Hermeneutic Considerations for Understanding Music . . . . . . . . . . 61

John Sallis (Boston College)


The Endowment of Music. On Voice and Silence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76

Dennis J. Schmidt (Western Sydney University)


On Tristan Chords and Knee Play. Music at the Limit . . . . . . . . . . . 84

Antonia Egel (Universität Salzburg)


Wenn Bilder singen. Barnett Newmans Cantos . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 96

Theodore George (Texas A & M University)


Art as Testimony of Tradition and as Testimony of Ordering . . . . . . . 107

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


VI Contents

Topic: Cultural Understanding and Non-Understanding


Thema: Kulturelles Verstehen und Nichtverstehen

Dirk Westerkamp (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel)


Inferentielles Nichtverstehen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 121

Marie-Luisa Frick (Universität Innsbruck)


Zwischen Nicht-Verstehen und Verstehen-Müssen.
Die Aushandlungen der UN-Menschenrechtserklärung 1948 . . . . . . 139

Maike Schmidt (Christian-Albrechts-Universität Kiel)


Formen des Nicht-Verstehens in Franz Kafkas In der Strafkolonie . . . . 156

Martin-M. Langner (Pädagogische Universität Krakau)


Sprachliche Bilder als mentale Strukturen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 176

Nicolai Kölmel (Universität Basel)


Der Sultan als Kaiser, der Kaiser als Kunde. Verstehen und
Nicht-Verstehen zwischen Venedig und dem Osmanischen Reich . . 190

Fabian Fechner (FernUniversität Hagen)


Aloe in Amerika, oder: Wie neu ist die Neue Welt? Schattierungen
und Funktionen des Nichtverstehens im Kulturkontakt . . . . . . . . . . 219

Anne Mariss (Universität Regensburg)


Missverstehen, Unwissen und interkulturelle Konflikte auf der
zweiten Cook-Reise (1772–1775). Eine agnotologische Annäherung 242

Sabine Hübner (Carl von Ossietzky Universität Oldenburg)


Ohne Antwort? (Nicht-)Verstehen am Beispiel von Gesprächs-
darstellungen in der missionarischen Berichterstattung
des 18. Jahrhunderts . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 265

Interview

Über Literatur und ihre Wissenschaft . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 283


Bernhard Böschenstein (Universität Genf) im Gespräch mit
Antonia Egel (Universität Salzburg)

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Contents VII

Authors and Editors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 309

Index of Names . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 311


Subject Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 314

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


13

Gesture and Expression – Interrupting


Lament’s Repetition
Walter Benjamin and Sophocles’ Electra

by

Andrew Benjamin (Monash University)

While gesture is linked to interruption there are at least two ways in which
interruption can be understood, and thus there are differing ways in which
gestures are present.1 And yet, that minimally twofold presence should not be
construed as a complete separation. Modes of relation endure. Imbrication
and intrication continue. The strategy of this paper is to take up and explore
these differences, what will be understood as the constitutive differences at
the heart of gesture. At stake within them is the relationship between ges-
ture and normativity. Normativity, understood formally, involves a specific
modality of repetition. What is given, given within a determined logic,
unfolds in such a way that it is always the same as itself. Sameness inscribes
change to the extent that change is explicable in terms of variation. In sum,
normativity is the repetition of Sameness. Moreover, its repetition, assuming
the naturalization of normativity, precludes that form of interruption in
which the given would then be prefigured. The central figure guiding this
approach is Walter Benjamin and specifically his engagement with Brecht
on the topic of Epic Theatre. Benjamin’s claim made in relation to ‘epic

1
 These pages are excised from an ongoing research project on gesture. Part of the
supposition is that what marks the current philosophical predicament is the logic of the
symbol becoming an impossible possibility. It is this undoing, the gradual fading of the
symbol that gives acuity to gesture as a central philosophical or hermeneutic problem.
This means of course that the gesture is defined by a relation to time rather than reduced
to the history of the literal gesture. I want to thank the other participants of the Herme-
neutisches Kolloquium: Hermeneutics and the Performing Arts held at Freiburg Institute for
Advanced Studies, July 1–3 2016 for their responses when I delivered the paper. I also
wish to thank my colleague Dr. Eva Anagnostou-Laoutides for her incisive comments on
an earlier version of this text.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


14 Andrew Benjamin

theatre’ is that it ‘is gestural’ (ist gestisch).2 This description creates one of the
parameters within which gesture is to be understood. Gesture in Benjamin’s
engagement is recast in terms of ‘the interruption’ (die Unterbrechung). As a
result of this recasting, gesture then comes to have an important affinity to
the work of the caesura that Benjamin will adopt, in part, from Hölderlin.
(That adoption is however a sustained repositioning in which the Hölder-
linian caesura present in the Anmerkungen zum Oedipus is able to be trans-
formed, via reference to the ‘expressionless’ as the condition of expression,
into what can be described as the Benjaminian caesura of allowing.) The
caesura, therefore, is not just an interruption, it occasions. Hence, what is in
fact transformed is the way ‘the interruption’ is understood.3 Interruption
can allow. Equally there can be a mere hiatus, met by closure. Staged here,

2
 References to Walter Benjamin are Walter Benjamin, Gesammelte Schriften
(hereinafter: GS), edited by Rolf Tiedemann/Hermann Schweppenhäuser. Berlin 1980;
Walter Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, translated by Anna Bostock. London 1992.
There is a wealth of important engagements with Benjamin’s work on gesture. Amongst
the most significant are: Lucia Ruprecht, Gesture. Interruption, Vibration: Rethinking
Early Twentieth-Century Gestural Theory and Practice in Walter Benjamin, Rudolf von
Laban, and Mary Wigman, in: Dance Research Journal 47/2 (2015), pp. 23–42. Patrick
Primavesi, The Performance of Translation. Benjamin and Brecht on the Loss of Small
Details, in: The Drama Review 43/4 (1999), pp. 53–59; Carrie Asman, Return of the
Sign to the Body: Benjamin and Gesture in the Age of Retheatricalization, in: Discourse
16/3 (1994), pp. 46–64; Eli Friedlander, The Photographic Gesture, in: Paragrana:
Internationale Zeitschrift für Historische Anthropologie 23/1 (2014), pp. 46–55.
3
 I have tried to develop this conception of the caesura as integral to Benjamin’s phil-
osophical thinking of both history and the political in Andrew Benjamin, Working
with Walter Benjamin. Recovering a Political Philosophy, Edinburgh 2013. In regards
to Hölderlin and the question of interruption in the passage from the Remarks on Oedi-
pus, what is central is the following: “Der tragische Transport ist nemlich leer, und der
ungebundenste.Dadurch wird in der rhythmischen Aufeinanderfolge der Vorstellungen,
worinn der Transport sich darstellt, was man in Sylbenmaaße Cäsur heißt, das reine Wort,
die gegenrhythmische Unterbrechung notwendig, um nemlich dem reißenden Wechsel
der Vorstellungen, auf seinem Summum, so zu begegnen, daß alsdann nicht mehr der
Wechsel der Vorstellung, sondern die Vorstellung selber erscheint.“ Friedrich Hölder-
lin, Sämtliche Werke und Briefe, Band 10, München 2004, p. 155. Moreover, it would be
in terms of the difference between the sense of ‘the interruption’ as it figures in Hölderlin
to the use made of the same term by Benjamin in his interpretation of Brecht that it would
be possible to begin to question the claim made by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe that trag-
edy can be thought as la pensé spéculative. Cf. Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, L’imitation
des modernes, Paris 1986, p. 39. What might also be questioned is the interpretation that
reduces or equates all the extant Greek tragedies with a generalizable theory of tragedy.
Strategies differ. The contentions made here concerning the Electra differ from arguments
that could be adduced concerning Aeschylus and which would be arguments allowing
for a fundamental difference between Sophocles’ Electra and Aeschylus’ Oresteia. To this
end see the discussion of Aeschylus in: Andrew Benjamin, Place, Commonality and
Judgment: Continental Philosophy and the Ancient Greeks, London 2010.

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Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 15

once Benjamin’s lead is followed, are the two possibilities within gesture.
More is at stake, since these are also the two possibilities within interruption,
and thus they are the two possibilities for repetition.
While questions of fidelity remain complex Giorgio Agamben interprets
gesture in terms of “the communication of communicability”, an interpre-
tation that is assumed to recall Benjamin.4 Gesture becomes “pure medial-
ity” in Agamben’s project. Agamben finds this position as much in Benjamin
as he does in the image studies of Aby Warburg and the literary criticism
of Max Kommerell.5 For Kommerell pure gesture is die reine Möglichkeit des
Sprechens selbst.6 Gesture as ‘pure possibility’ is there in its separation from
means /ends relations. As a result gesture becomes pure means. Hence Ag-
amben writes: The gesture is the exhibition of mediality: it is the process of
making a means visible as such.7
At this precise point the complexity inherent in the interpretation that
gesture brings with it begins to emerge. For Benjamin the argument is going
to be that gesture can function critically insofar as the interruption becomes
that interruption of normativity where the latter is to be understood in terms
of the repetition of Sameness. It is an interruption, therefore, that undoes
the naturalization of normativity – especially its temporality, the temporality
allowing the interarticulation of repetition and Sameness – and as a conse-
quence of that interruption, normativity then reappears as semblance. There
is a denaturing of ‘nature’, naturalism’s undoing. It is essential to note that
what occurs here is a reappearing. Appearing, again, for a moment, for the
first time. Here is the emergence of the other possibility within repetition.
Present therefore is a modality of repetition that has to be thought in terms
4
 Giorgio Agamben, Means without Ends, translated by Vincenzo Binetti / Cesare
Casarino, Minneapolis 2000, p. 58. The significance of Agamben’s work cannot be over-
stated. He remains central to any engagement with a wealth of topics, gesture included.
The point of disagreement is, however, precise. In William Watkin’s exact formulation,
what is fundamental to Agamben is ‘the inoperativity at the heart of a concept as a pos-
itive potential’. It is this point that is being challenged here. It is a challenge that yields
a different conception of gesture. Cf. William Watkin, The Signature of All Things:
Agamben’s Philosophical Archaeology, in: MLN 129/1 (2014), p. 144.
5
 For an examination of Benjamin’s relation to Kommerell and then the use made by
Agamben of Kommerell in his own work on gesture, see respectively Eckart Goebel,
Critique and Sacrifice: Benjamin-Kommerell, in: The German Quarterly 87/2 (2014),
pp. 151–170 and Anthony Curtis Adler, The Intermedial Gesture: Agamben and
Kommerell, in: Angelaki 12/3 (2007), pp. 57–64. Agamben’s interpretation has its most
sustained formulation in Giorgo Agamben, Nymphs, New York 2013.
6
 Max Kommerell, Jean Paul, Berlin, 1977, p. 47. For a discussion of Agamben’s writ-
ings on Kommerell see Giorgio Agamben, Kommerell, or on Gesture, in: Potentialities:
Collected Essays in Philosophy, Stanford 1999, pp. 77–88.
7
 Giorgio Agamben, Means without Ends, translated by Vincenzo Binetti and Cesare
Casarino, Minneapolis 2000, p. 57.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


16 Andrew Benjamin

of difference rather than variety and therefore involving a fundamentally


different sense of relationality. Hence this conception of the gesture is of
necessity informed in advance since it is inscribed within the project of ces-
sation that is, at the same time, an opening towards. As this is an opening that
is not determined in advance by an already present image, this cessation can
be understood as “destructive”.8 There is another project. It is that project’s
becoming possible. And yet, from within the purview of Agamben’s inter-
pretation, gesture could not have been informed in advance. Its potentiality
lies in its purity. (While pure form or “pure mediality” becomes a central
concern, it is based on an impossibility: namely, that there could a “process”
that both “makes visible” and which is simultaneously uninformed.)
Allowing for gesture, and thus within what gestures allows, there is always
the other direction that can be followed. This direction is given by gesture’s
other possibility, namely, that gesture, even though present as interruption,
can still occur in a setting where normativity is both retained and reinforced.
It is retained, reinforced and then repeated as such, comprising a specific
modality of repetition. Moreover, it is not just that this takes place despite
the presence of an interruption; it is able to incorporate a form of interrup-
tion within it. The overall position therefore, as has already been suggested,
is that gesture is defined by an ineliminable doubling. Part of the project of
this paper therefore is to investigate gesture’s doubled presence – a doubling
that is pervasive since it is also there within both interruption and repetition,
and therefore has to be taken into consideration in any engagement with the
work of interruption and repetition. (Apparently singular terms never have
singular designations.) A further consequence of this pervasive presence is
that it simultaneously casts doubt upon any possible identification of gesture
with “pure mediality”. The necessity for the latter form of questioning is re-
inforced by having to allow for that other possibility within gesture, namely,
the possibility in which gesture remains open to forms of recuperation. The
latter is the presence of a mode of interruption that while holding open the
possibility of the repetition of the Same faltering, nonetheless reverts back
to the setting in which that repetition still endures. This position, which is
again the doubling within gesture, will be both developed and clarified in
what follows.
Benjamin’s texts on Epic Theatre are not ends in themselves. Their signif-
icance lies in their capacity to occasion. Engaging the relationship between
8
 The reference here is of course to Benjamin’s text, The Destructive Character. Cf.
Walter Benjamin, Selected Writing, Volume 2, 1927–1934, edited by Michael W. Jen-
nings/ Howard Eiland/Gary Smith, Cambridge 1999, pp. 541–542. For an important
discussion of this text cf. Maria Teresa Costa, Walter Benjamin: A New Positive
Concept of Destruction, in: Philosophy Study 1/2 (2011), pp. 150–158.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 17

gesture and normativity, a relation whose originality complicates Agamben’s


approach to gesture, I will begin here by noting the presence of the interplay
of continuity and interruption, interruption in its always possible doubled
configuration, in Sophocles’ Electra.9 That interplay is itself the setting in
which interruption and repetition figure and set in play the possibility of a
reconfiguring, a reconfiguration that is not abstract. It pertains precisely to
the narrative of revenge that organizes the Electra as a whole. That organ-
isation is the way a specific version of normativity is organized with the
theatrical work. More generally of course tragedy allows a way into gesture’s
doubled presence, a doubling that continues to be defined in terms of modes
of repetition. Repetition divides between the insistence of continuity and
thus of the repetition of the Same, in the first instance, and then in the sec-
ond that which takes place again for the first time. Within this context the
choice of tragic drama is far from serendipitous. Benjamin provides a clear
way of distinguishing the epic from the tragic:
Epic theater and tragic theater have a very different alliance with the passing of time
(ganz andere Art mit dem Zeitverlaufe). Because the suspense concerns less the end than the
separate events, epic theatre can span very expansive periods of time (kann es die weitesten
Zeiträume überspannen). This was once equally true of the mystery play. The dramaturgy of
Oedipus or The Wild Duck is at the opposite pole to that of epic theatre.10

What this passage makes clear is that the difference hinges on the movement
of time and thus time’s relation to differing possibilities within repetition.
Hence it is always times in the plural and modalities of repetition. The plural
will always take precedence over the simply singular. While the question
of the different senses of the ‘passing of time’ (der Zeitverlaufe) needs to be
addressed, it is time, both generally and specifically, that allows for a way into
the complex interplay of gesture, repetition and the body within the Electra.

1.

Time, more precisely the inherent plurality of times, play a determining role
in the play. The narrative of revenge is itself timed in advance. Within this
setting Electra appears at an early stage lamenting.11 When she first appears
she evinces a form of lament that brooks no end: ‘But never will I end
 9
 All references to the Electra are to the Loeb edition, translated by Hugh Lloyd-Jones,
Cambridge, Massachusetts 1997. Occasionally translations have been slightly modified for
argumentative consistency.
10
 Benjamin, GS, p. 533; Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, pp. 16–17.
11
 For an interpretation of lament that locates it squarely within the structure of what
will be described here as the revenge narrative cf. Casey Dué, Lament as Speech Act

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


18 Andrew Benjamin

from cries and bitter lamentation,’ (ἀλλ᾽ οὐ μὲν δὴ λήξω θρήνων στυγερῶν
τε γόων, 104).
What is significant here is the use of the future tense λήξω. Lamenting
will continue. Hence there is the question of the possibility of its cessation.
Is this an impossible possibility?12 The question that arises to be more precise
concerns the interpretation of this specific usage of the future tense. Its use
signals the possibility that a decision in the future – the future as a specific
moment within time and thus there as the now of the decision, the future’s
now – will bring lamenting to an end. Were this to be the case, the con-
tention then has to be that the play’s end – perhaps in both senses of end –
needs to be defined in terms of the absorption of the future. The play cannot
end open ended. Indeed, the Chorus a few lines later, in warning against
excessive lamentation, describes time as that which allows for lamenting to
end. Their formulation, one in which at key moments, sound and meaning
cannot be separated, interconnects time with a warning against excess.
Don’t suffer excessively (ὑπεραλγέω) nor be excessively angry (ὑπεράχθομαι) to those
you hate, nor forgetful of them, since Time is a god who brings ease (χρόνος γὰρ εὐμαρὴς
θεός, 176–179) .

Within this precise context what would bring an end to lamenting would
be a set of normative constraints. Time here (χρόνος) operates within them
and Time as a deity acts for them. Moreover, these constraints reinforce
the subject’s place within a set of conventions where it would be precisely
those conventions that would sanction the delimitation and thus necessary
restriction of excess. This amounts to the imposition of normativity as both
form and content. Again the Chorus figures importantly in the staging of
this sense of time’s movement. After having listened to Electra outline the
thinking behind her actions, the Chorus responds. Their response is directed
to Chrysothemis. They speak of Electra.
πρὸς εὐσέβειαν ἡ κόρη λέγει: σὺ δέ, εἰ σωφρονήσεις, ὦ φίλη, δράσεις τάδε.
The girl’s words show reverence to the Gods. If you are wise my dear you will do this.

This formulation is one to which Chrysothemis herself responds by deploy-


ing a similar form of language:
I will act thus, when an act conforms to conventions then it is not reasonable that two
are in conflict, rather they should hasten to the act (δράσω: τὸ γὰρ δίκαιον οὐχ ἔχει λόγον
δυοῖν ἐρίζειν, ἀλλ᾽ ἐπισπεύδειν τὸ δρᾶν).

in Sophocles, in: A Companion to Sophocles, edited by Kirk Ormand, Oxford 2012,


pp. 236–250.
12
 For a detailed discussion of the line cf. Sarah Nooter, Language, Lamentation, and
Power in Sophocles’ ‘Electra’, in: Classical World 104/4 (2011), pp. 403–404.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 19

Reverence towards the Gods demands a response that is linked to a form


of moderating wisdom (σωφρονέω).13 This wisdom is linked to the ‘act’
(δρᾶσις). Hence Chrysothemis begins by stating that she will act (δράσω),
and adds that when an act accords with convention, e. g., when it is δίκαιος,
then rather than there be ‘strife’ (ἐρίς), reason demands that the act be
undertaken. It is essential to note the sequence here. εὐσέβεια linked to
wisdom as a moderating force allows for actions that eliminate contestation
as to their viability insofar as such actions conform to reason.14 Here there
is what might be described as an exactitude of movement, e. g., time, a se-
quence of occurrences. Time is evoked to allow for ‘the passing of time’.
There are, however, within the play’s own sequential unfolding, suggestions
of another possibility. Those other possibilities do not appear in another fold
within that general unfolding. They are moments in which, if only for the
moment, in the unfolding, thus within folding’s continuity, the movement
of unfolding is checked. If there are intimations of time’s cessation, a break
in time in which the hold of convention may have been suspended and
what Benjamin will describe as a ‘free hand’ (freie Hand) emerges, then it
takes place at a number of particular moments.15 Such moments suspend
the hold of wisdom and convention because they allow the body as a locus
of affect to appear. For a moment another possibility for action is staged.
What matters does so in this moment. This is of course the gesture. And
yet, precisely because the gesture is doubled in advance, the gesture as in-
terruption contains a structuring and original division. Hence the presence
of gesture as interruption need not occasion a form of discontinuity freed
from already determined expectations. Recuperation endures as a necessary
and thus ineliminable possibility. The check brings with it the continual
possibility of its coming to be checked.
At line 928, Electra tries to convince Chrysothemis that Orestes is indeed
dead even though Chrysothemis has seen indications to the contrary. Elec-
13
 For the complexities that attended the gendered nature of sophrosyne see, Helen
F. North, The Mare, the Vixen, and the Bee: ‘Sophrosyne’ as the Virtue of Women
in Antiquity, in: Illinois Classical Studies 2 (1977), pp. 35–48. For an overall account
of σωφροσύνη set within the context of its centrality in Plato’s Charmides cf. Thomas
M. Tuozo, What’s Wrong with these Cities? The Social Dimension of Sophrosyne in
Plato’s Charmides, in: Journal of the History of Philosophy 39/3 (2001), pp. 321–350.
Tuozo makes the general claim that:
Sophrosyne, no matter what else it is involves a fundamentally social practice of self
knowledge that promotes the self-knowledge of oneself and others, is the condition of the
goodness of all other goods, and, in the best city for all other forms of social interaction,
pp. 349–350.
14
 For a further elaboration of this point cf. L. MacLeod, Dolos and Dike in Sophokles
ElectraLeiden 2001.
15
 Benjamin, GS, p. 520; Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 3.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


20 Andrew Benjamin

tra relays the reports that she has heard from one whom Electra describes
as having been at the scene of his death. Chrysothemis responds: ‘And
where is he? Amazement steals over me.’ (καὶ ποῦ ‘στιν οὗτος; θαῦμά τοί μ᾽
ὑπέρχεται.) Equally, when Electra confronts Orestes, though he is still to
be recognized as such, a site of similar complexity occurs. Orestes, still dis-
guised, hints. He suggests that he knows the truth concerning the survival,
or not, of Orestes. Faced with the possibility of knowing – a knowledge that
would be definitive one way or another – she responds deploying a formu-
lation that reiterates both the structure, sound and in part the phraseology
that Chrysothemis has already used: ‘What is it, sir? Ah, how fear creeps over
me!’ (τί δ᾽ ἔστιν, ὦ ξέν᾽; ὥς μ᾽ ὑπέρχεται φόβος.)
These two lines, in their difference, still coincide. And this coincidence al-
lows, if only momentarily, for an opening. The contention here is that both
lines need to be read (and heard) as divided at the center.16 The question
mark that divides each of them has an obvious interrogative force, though
equally, it stages an interruption. The question qua question can be incorpo-
rated into the narrative sequence, a sequence in which time and normative
constraints are interarticulated. This is the question’s logic: the logic of the
revenge narrative. The interruption becomes the gesture precisely because
what occurs after the question in these instances takes the form of an aside
that holds itself apart from the logic of the question. It is a turning aside that
gestures. Before pursuing this manifestation of the gesture, another instance
in which the affected body figures needs to be noted. On this occasion it
does not concern a question.
At 129–136 Electra appeals to the Chorus. As has been seen she makes it
clear that she wishes to continue to lament. She finishes by imploring the
Chorus. She adopts the position and language of the suppliant. Her final
line is the following:
Alas I beseech you.
αἰαῖ, ἱκνοῦμαι.
What needs to be noted is that within this line, sound becomes word: αἰαῖ
leads to ἱκνοῦμαι. The verb form ἱκνοῦμαι is connected euphonically to
the sound. The αἰ continues to be repeated. In so doing, the word ἱκνοῦμαι
now sounds, sounding again. One sounds in the other. Neither word nor
sound is present here if presence is thought in terms of isolation. Hence,
there can be no element of the formulation that is non-signifying; it is rather
16
 While ‘fear’ (φόβος) maybe also be what David Konstan refers to as a tragic emotion,
it is still the case that here fear, as it emerges in the context of this line, involves a splitting
or tearing of the subject. For a general account of “tragic emotions” cf. David Konstan,
The Tragic Emotions, in: Comparative Drama 33/1 (1999), pp. 1–21.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 21

that in play here are modes of signification with differing relations to the
lexical. Hence, what is at work is a relation that holds difference in place
while allowing its elements to cohere. The Chorus begins its response with
the word ἀλλά (‘but’). The euphony is interrupted. The interplay of sound
and word, the earlier inmixing of the affective and the lexical is brought
to an end. Electra’s line reinforces the point that speech is not defined in
relation to the mute, but rather is given in a complex set of relations be-
tween sound and word. The productive force of that relation is effaced the
moment the word still sounds and thus that originary interplay is ended.
Whatever potentialities this interruption had are overcome. If it can be ar-
gued that it is the interplay of word and sound that allows this line to create
an opening, and thus to work as a gesture, to be a gesture, then the response
by the Chorus closes that opening. Now quietened, the gesture ends. The
interruption has been reincorporated. It will be the intensity of the subject
of ‘I beseech you’, an intensity given by its harboring as much sound as it
does word (the lexical) that yields intimations of a break and thus a coming
apart. It is this break and thus division within the ‘I’ that takes place in the
two asides noted above. There is an indeterminacy therefore at the center
of this affected beseeching ‘I’. The presence of sound is there in and as the
opening provided by a separation from convention. Nonetheless, it is the
emphatic ἀλλά (‘but’) that brings her back into line. Measure returns. The
suspended moment is itself therefore now undone. Order is restored.
To allow lines 928 and 1112 to be read as staging two moments, the
moment as gesture, means that an account needs to be provided of the
interplay, a play of connection and separation, that they present. As already
noted, each line opens with a question. Each question involves an attempt
to incorporate the unknown or the uncertain, rendered known or certain,
into the continuity of the narrative or to allow for the narrative’s own driv-
ing force – e. g. the interplay of revenge and justice – to be reinforced if
not secured by the addition of that information. To invoke Benjamin’s for-
mulation, this is how the ‘passing of time’ would be understood. Moreover,
the subject asking the questions and the subjects to whom those questions
are posed are defined by relations of continuity which are either there or
sought. This is the movement of enforced and enforcing continuity. Either
way they are the relations in which subjects are subjected to the continuity
of constraints, which is itself the constraining of continuity.
In both instances after the question there is an aside. It is as though within
that aside another body appears. And yet, what appears is neither the body
as such nor a body that twists free. Rather, it is a body for which difference
is given by the nature of the relation that it has to the subject who questions
(and thus the one who has questioned). The aside allows for the emergence

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


22 Andrew Benjamin

of another relational subject, a subject that is what it is in its standing apart


from the subject questioning. Sameness and difference occur together. It
is this coincidence of separation that marks an opening. The same body
has become its other. In the first instance the body is being overcome by
‘wonder’, in the second by ‘fear’. This body will turn from what it is con-
strained to be to its becoming other. In turning, it becomes another. At that
moment the subject is split. There is a tear. If Benjamin is right to argue that
what characterizes Epic Theatre is the undoing of ‘empathy’ (Einfühlung) as
structuring the relation between audience and actor, then what resists such
a relation is not just the affected body but a body that is no longer one. As
a result there is none to have an empathetic relation with. The possibility
is undone. Nonetheless, there is still a body. There is a body, the trembling
affected body that for a moment stands apart from the narrated body: apart
and yet a part. There is therefore a separation and a connection that occurs at
the same time. This moment, which needs to be understood as an insistent
mode of relationality, is the gesture. Moreover, this is precisely what Ben-
jamin would have referred to as the ‘interruption’, a process that is given a
temporal designation by Benjamin in terms of ‘the moment’ (der Augenblick).
It is the moment at which there is a type of cessation; again Benjamin’s term
is exact, there is a ‘standstill’ (Stillstand). This moment is felt. Occurring
within it, for the audience, is ‘astonishment’. Benjamin’s actual formulation
of Epic Theatre in general is just as apposite a description of these lines
in the Electra: “The art of Epic Theatre consists in arousing astonishment
rather than empathy” (an der Stelle der Einfühlung das Staunen hervorzurufen).17
The movement of time, thought as the flow of life, present here as the
constrained narrative of convention, breaks, stops on what Benjamin calls
this ‘rock of astonishment’. And then in its wake, in the break’s after effect,
there is a form of coalescence between ‘human life’ (Menschenleben) and the
‘word’. After noting the interruption and its emphatic presence, Benjamin
adds in a remarkable formulation that Epic Theatre
lets existence spray high from the bed of time and stand an instant shimmering in the
void in order to bed it down anew (läßt das Dasein aus dem Bett der Zeit hoch aufsprühen und
schillernd einen Nu im Leeren stehen, um es neu zu betten).18

This formulation warrants detailed attention. It knits together elements


that are fundamental to any thinking of gesture. What it interconnects are
17
 Benjamin, GS, p. 535; Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 18.
18
 Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 13. Raised here is of course the problem of
how the relation between time, recognition and memory is to be understood. One of the
most important contributions to an analysis of that problem can be found in the work of
Gerhard Richter. Cf. in the regard Gerhard Richter, Afterness. Figures of Following
in Modern Thought and Aesthetics, New York 2011.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 23

three precise aspects of gesture. Interruption is the first. The second is the
process of continuity, which must be understood as a specific modality of
repetition. Hence the first two elements in bringing interruption and repe-
tition together demand an answer to the question concerning the modality
of repetition that is at work. The answer lies in the addition that the third
element brings to the passage. It occasions an answer to the question. It in-
heres in the addition of the simple word ‘new’ (neu). The passage allows for
the interplay of ‘once again’ and ‘newly’ (anew) to create a setting in which
the modality of repetition that enjoins alterity is at work. The contention
has to be therefore that where Epic Theatre differs from tragedy (perhaps
tragedy more generally construed) – and again the reference will be to the
‘passing of time’ – is in terms of a return in which the ‘new’ is no longer
a repetition of the Same. It is that conception of the new that sunders both
time as mere passage and time as eternal return.

2.

While the detail will become more complex it is nonetheless possible to


continue this engagement with the Electra with the recognition that what
is at stake in the lines examined thus far is that they provide the setting for
a split or a tear in the subject. What had been the subject has become torn.
As a result there is another subject given within the tearing of the subject
away from its own re-entrenchment within normativity’s unproblematic
repetition and thus equally in its re-presentation. (The latter, e. g., re-pre-
sentation, is a form of continuity that comes to be interrupted by gesture as
a presentation.) However, this tear is not a simple tear, it is not mere tearing
and thus it is not a split without determination. What occurs in the case
of the lines noted above from the Electra is a split within a subject who is
subjected to the work of normativity. What that means, of course, is that
this work is the work of normativity’s own continuation, in other words as
subject to its own ‘passage of time’ and thus to its own repetition. Norma-
tivity therefore is not just a set of beliefs but a set-up which demands its own
‘passage of time’ and thus its repetition which is the repetition of the Same.
This is normativity’s necessary demand. What occurs here therefore is the
moment at which continuity is checked. There can be no one way in which
this checking occurs. What is central is that in the case of the two lines
from the Electra – lines that divide between question and aside – the aside
becomes the gesture. It takes on the quality precisely because the asides (thus
gestures) in both lines check both the movement and the subject positions
demanded by the question. In so doing therefore they allow for an affected

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


24 Andrew Benjamin

body that if only for a moment is that which is freed from determination,
a freeing that is itself marked by its own indeterminate form. It is however
there for a moment. In that moment what persists is the possibility that was
already there in gesture’s other side, namely the opening that then came to
be recuperated. This is the possibility that always pertained. It would be the
moment after the moment of separation. The moment, in which the apart
became, once again, a part of what had always been there, there given to
be repeated.
In the case of the presence of the gesture within the Electra there is a
return. The logic and the subject of both the question and the response
stage a return. The gesture’s moment passes. However, it passes and thus is
reabsorbed, reabsorption as recuperation, the future overcome, for a specific
reason, namely there is no opening. It is folded back in. The possibility of
the new has been dashed since the gesture would need to have been more.
In the context of the Electra it is not linked to form creation. Gesture brings
with it the possibility that can also be identified in the caesura, namely that
it allows. What it allows cannot be determined in advance. This is so for the
precise reason that it is not organised by the same logic as that which pre-
cedes it. This is only ever known afterwards.19 There is a relation. However,
it is a relation of distance. Thus allowing is a mode of creating and distanc-
ing. Here within the Electra the interruption is not creative. It does not allow.
It has not astonished. In sum, therefore, in the case of the lines from the
Electra, a limit is staged and thus a specific modality of the gesture – gesture
as interruption – is delimited.
This delimitation of the gesture – what becomes the division within the
structure – can be taken a step further by looking in more detail at what can
be described as the presence of an insistent now. The now as a determining
moment. An instance of the latter occurs at the end of the play. The speech
by the παιδαγωγός sets in play the work’s final events, namely actions that
are determined by a conception of time that has a fundamental link to a
sense of the appropriate; both time and that which is expected are integral
parts of the revenge narrative. In this speech, it is the reiteration of this now
that both orchestrates and legitimises what is about to occur: ‘now is the
time to act (νῦν καιρὸς ἔρδειν), now (νῦν) Clytaemnestra is alone, now (νῦν)
no man is inside.’ (1368–1369).

19
 Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 13. Raised here is of course the problem of
how the relation between time, recognition and memory is to be understood. One of the
most important contributions to an analysis of that problem can be found in the work of
Gerhard Richter. Cf. in the regard Gerhard Richter, Afterness. Figures of Following
in Modern Thought and Aesthetics, New York 2011.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 25

The repetition of the ‘now’ (νῦν) underscores the immediacy of the deci-
sion. The act must be undertaken ‘now’; the setting for its possibility as act
exists ‘now’; equally, the act stems from a decision that is also taken ‘now’.
What then of the now of the decision? Indeed, of the now as having a form
of generality? It needs to be noted that this evocation of the time of activity
reiterates the position, again advanced by the παιδαγωγός, at the opening
of the play. The last lines of his opening speech make clear that there is the
need for the decision. What is distanced is the time of hesitation (ὀκνεῖν).
There has to be the moment from shrinking back to action itself, hence
the final words ‘but it is time to act’ (ἀλλ᾽ ἔργων ἀκμή, 22). Equally, Orestes
identifies the link between the moment of the decision and action: ‘The
moment is the chief determiner for every action of men’ (καιρὸς γάρ, ὅσπερ
ἀνδράσιν μέγιστος ἔργου παντός ἐστ᾽ ἐπιστάτης, 75–76)
The decision is inextricably bound up with the act. However, it is not
mere action, and thus it cannot be an act the results of which are open.
They are open and foreclosed at the time of the action. The force of the
insistent now means that actions have to resolve. Resolution here is linked
to κάθαρσις as the latter also involves a logic of resolution. If there is a
strong sense that can be given to Aristotle’s evocation of κάθαρσις, then it
can be linked as much to resolution as it is to the decision to resolve. In the
context of the Electra the resolution cannot be separated from what might
be described as the narrative sequence in which time, revenge and justice
intersect. Again, it should be noted that Orestes’ final statement concerning
the justness of the actions that have occurred (cf. lines 1505–1507) inter-
connects justice, law and punishment. What is important in the formulation
is the temporal directness (εὐθὺς) of the relation between them. There is
a seamless immediacy. Within that setting, given the incorporation of the
actions of Clytemnestra and Aegisthus with the structuring force of imme-
diacy, the only possible punishment can be death. It results immediately.
The insistent now holds all the elements in play. The possibility of a space
of deliberation – and thus one in which justice might be linked to delibera-
tion – is elided both temporally by the work of the insistent now and topo-
logically by the elimination of a place of deliberation. Action becomes the
enacting of law. The distinction between law and justice is undone precisely
because of the temporal and topological excision resulting from the insistent
now. In this instance, the further consequence of the insistent now is that it
occasions the work of κάθαρσις. To this it should be added that there is a
form of reciprocity here insofar as κάθαρσις gives these elements a unity.
They are experienced as unified with the moment that is the creation of
the insistent now. Experience is delimited by the now of its happening. As
a result, what is precluded is what astonishment brings into play, namely an

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


26 Andrew Benjamin

opening up of time by the inscription of a form of indetermination. There


is indetermination precisely because astonishment does not structure what
occurs. The happening of astonishment allows rather than either unifying
or foreclosing. Consequently, astonishment makes the future a condition
of the present. Rather than κάθαρσις, which closes the present in on itself,
astonishment does not just call for deliberation, it sanctions it. κάθαρσις
closes by ending.
In the Poetics Aristotle is clear that κάθαρσις as a mode of resolution
occurs ‘through pity and fear’ (δι᾽ ἐλέου καὶ φόβου, 1449b 26–27). The
difficulty is that this state, which might be understood, at least initially, as
indeterminate, needs to be marshaled in one direction rather than another.
This can occur only if these emotions continue to be formed by the work.
In other words, they cannot be form creating in their own right. The af-
fective is always formed. The affected body is not that which gestures to a
possibility that awaits. Were that to be possible then the gesture would have
slipped the hold of the logic that generated it. It is this possibility that has
to be curtailed. In terms of the relation to Brecht, κάθαρσις stands opposed
to the ‘interruption’. Hence if κάθαρσις is the ruination of one form of
gesture, then it is interruption without resolution that provides the counter
measure.20 The counter measure is the sense of interruption that can be linked
to form creation. This is precisely the point made by Walter Benjamin
when he argues that ‘interruption is one of the fundamental methods of
all form giving’ (daß das Unterbrechen eines der fundamentalen Verfahren aller
Formgebung ist).21 However, Benjamin’s position has to be developed since
what would have to be at work is a specific form of interruption. There is
no pure interruption. The point can be taken further by concentrating on
the way ‘astonishment’ is understood. Astonishment arises out of a form
of suspension. As has already been made clear, astonishment maintains the
distance that empathy would have tried to fill. In the first version of What
is Epic Theater? Benjamin evokes distancing. He argues that Brecht, in order
to construct a different form of drama (Theatre), develops a sense of theatre
that ‘allows itself a free hand with literature’ (der Dichter gegenüber sich freie
Hand läßt). Having introduced the ‘hand’, the next paragraph – in fact the
next line – introduces the description of Epic Theatre that has already been
noted and which links it to gesture, namely, Das epische Theater ist gestisch.
The argument has to be that this gesture, perhaps what can be understood
as gesture’s gesture, refers back to this hand. The gesture opens here. More-

 I have developed the concept of the counter measure in a number of places. Cf., for
example, the discussion in my Working with Walter Benjamin.
20

21
 Benjamin, GS, p. 536; Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 19.

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Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 27

over, it is now open handed. To the question – what is a free hand? – it can
be responded that it is neither the free nor the literal hand. Freedom is the
suspension of what he identifies as a ‘textbook example of the aesthetic’ (der
schulgerechten Sprache der Ästhetik).22 In other words, the free hand has been
marked in advance by a suspension of that conception of the exemplary in
which the law figures within a setting created by the elision of the distinc-
tion between law and justice. There is a primary sense of suspension that
opens up Epic Theatre. It is the opening in which gesture occurs. To be
more exact, in the context of Epic Theatre, it is the opening that gesture
maintains: the opening, there, with gesture.It is in terms of the hand that a
point of connection can be drawn between Benjamin’s approach to gesture
and what can be understood as the more conventional history of gesture (a
history in which the literal hand continues to figure). Note the description
of the hand in Quintilian’s Institutio Oratoria:
As for the hands, without which delivery would be crippled and enfeebled, it is scarcely
possible to say how many movements they possess, for these almost match the entire
stock of words. Other parts of the body may help the speaker, whereas the hands speak
for themselves (ipsae locuntur).23

While hands may be expressive they are so, for Quintilian, in their posited
separation from the domain of words.24 Moreover, the hand, what will come
to be known as the manus loquens, opens gesture up by allowing for the space
in which there is the continual presence of that which, while not words,
expresses without there being a corresponding conflation of expression and
word.25 In other words, what the hand allows is the possibility of a separation
and relation between the word understood as an act of representation in
which the word means because of what it stands for, the word as lexeme, and
the hand as standing for nothing other than itself. The actual hand becomes
the possibility and the actuality of presentation. In this latter sense the hand
moves towards the other gesture. And yet, integral to the position is the im-
possibility of the hand as pure. While it may not represent as such, the literal
22
 Benjamin, GS, p. 520; Benjamin, Understanding Brecht, p. 2.
23
 Quintilian. Institutio Oratoria, XI, Chapter 3.84. Reference here is to The Ora-
tor’s Education V, Books 11–12, translated by Donald A. Russell. Cambridge, Massachu-
setts 2001.
24
 For a detailed engagement with Quintilian on gesture and the connection to Ci-
cero see: Jon Hall, Cicero and Quintilian on the Oratorical Use of Hand Gestures, in:
The Classical Quarterly 54/1 (2004), pp. 143–160. The larger context of gesture in the
Roman world has been examined by Gregory S. Aldrete, Gestures and Acclamations
in Ancient Rome, Baltimore 1999.
25
 For an extended range of papers that coalesce around this conception of the ‘hand,’
cf. Matthias Bickenbach (ed.), Manus Loquens. Medium der Geste – Geste der Medien,
Köln 2003.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


28 Andrew Benjamin

hand, perhaps especially the literal hand, presents that which is always more
than one. It is precisely this state of affairs that is revealed by the history of
gesture. In one of the Carolingian illustrations that accompanies editions
of Terence, in an image that illustrates Hecyra II.2, Sostra’s hand covers her
face.26 When addressed by her husband, Sostra responds: Heu me miseram! 27
And it should be noted that this line begins with sound and then it becomes
word. As an opening it can be argued that the actual hand occurs within the
history of gesture. There is however more. Its occurrence within a specific
interplay of words and sounds, and here the way it recalls what has already
been seen in the Electra, needs to be noted; it locates that history within the
possibilities that inhere in the gesture of gesture. Her hand cannot be sep-
arated from the sound/ word nexus that allows for the other gesture. Both
gesture together. The hand brings the constitutive difference within gesture
into play. The hand passes itself. Mediality could never have been pure.
Finally, therefore – finality as an interim marking of time – it can be noted
that what the interplay of possibilities announces is what has already been
identified as the insistent presence of difference and modes of relationality
as constitutive of gesture. The gesture, as an always already plural possibility,
occurs within and as part of that nexus. Standing apart from the gestures
that occasion recuperation, while still a part of complexity that delimits
gesture, is the interruption that is form creating. Once taken together they
constitute gesture’s doubled presence. The latter, the gesture linked to form,
is the gesture which for Benjamin is there in Epic Theater. Noting the dis-
tinction within gestures, a distinction that insists from the start, is to note,
not as an addition but as the addition that marks gesture from the start, the
connection between gestures and the conditions and possibility of judg-
ment. Gesturing and judging stand, take a stand, together.

26
 The definitive study of these drawings of gestures is Leslie Webber Jones/​
C. R. Morey, The Miniatures of the Manuscripts of Terence, Prior to the Thirteenth
Century, Princeton 1931. The specific image is in the Bibliothèque nationale de France;
the reference is BN lat. 7899, 131v Sadness: Sostra. Hecyra II.2. For a more contemporary
study of the drawings see: Dorota Dutsch, Gestures in the Manuscripts of Terence and
Late Revivals of Literary Drama, in: Gesture 7/1, 33 (2007), pp. 39–71. For an analysis
of the connection to a wider tradition of the drawing of gestures see: C. R. Dodwell,
Anglo-Saxon Gestures and the Roman Stage, Cambridge 2005.
27
 The edition referred to here is published in Terence, Volume 11, translated by John
Barsby, Cambridge, Mass. 2001. Émile Chambry’s French translation captures the point
concerning the interplay of sound and word: – Ah! Je suis malheureuse. Cf. Térence, Com-
edies, translated by Émile Chambry, Paris 1948, p. 403.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.


Gesture and Expression – Interrupting Lament’s Repetition 29

Summary
The aim of this paper is to investigate – in the context of Sophocles’ Electra – what is
described as the doubling of gesture. Gesture is the movement of the body. It is the place
where the body and the conditions of meaning intersect. For Walter Benjamin the ges-
ture is an ‘interruption’. It is also form creating. This is the doubling. Sophocles’ Electra
provides the setting in which the performance of gesture and gesture as performance can
be analysed.

Zusammenfassung
Der Aufsatz untersucht im Kontext von Sophokles’ Elektra die dort beschriebene Dopp-
lung der Geste. Die Geste ist die Bewegung des Leibes. Sie ist der Ort, an dem sich der
Leib und die Möglichkeit des Sinns kreuzen. Für Walter Benjamin stellt die Geste eine
‚Unterbrechung‘ dar. Sie ist auch eine Formerschaffung. Darin besteht die Doppelung.
Sophokles’ Elektra eröffnet die Situation, in welcher die Aufführung der Geste und die
Geste als Aufführung untersucht werden können.

Authors e-offprint with publisher’s permission.