Document Type

Conference Paper


Available under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike 4.0 International Licence


6.4 ART

Publication Details

Paul Ricoeur and The future of the Humanities conference, University of Gronnigen, Holland, June, 2013.


Through revisiting the notion of the symbol and sign in the relatively early work of Paul Ricoeur it hoped to point to a yet unexplored element of his work in relation to Aesthetics and contemporary Critical Theory. This paper will focus on a particular point in the work of Paul Ricoeur, a point where the problematic of language begins to come to the fore within his structural phenomenology of the late 1950s and early 1960s. The publication of The Symbolism of Evil in 1960 represents a definite departure from the structural Phenomenology of his earlier works where the central concern was the limits of experience and freedom. However, the turn to symbolic language is set, it will be argued in this paper, in a wider context of an understanding of the symbol.

The famous maxim of The Symbolism of Evil: ‘le symbole donne à penser’, it will be argued could be seen a determining element in the reconsideration of the nature of language and Aesthetics within hermeneutic phenomenology. The hermeneutic phenomenology of Paul Ricoeur’s early work could enable the re-evaluation of the mediation of the silence of the artwork. One of the principal tenants of this paper is, therefore, the problematic of Ekphrasis. The relationship between image and text, visual material culture and language which is central to any development of a new critical theory; a theorizing of theaesthetic object which is beyond the predominant discourse of visual semiotics where images are held to speak. Whilst, it could be argued that Ricoeur is referring to particular types of experience in The Symbolism of Evil, there is the possibility of generalizing the nature of the relationship between language and pre-linguistic experience to include the problematic of Aesthetic experience as a pre-linguistic experience. Ricoeur develops more completely the relationship between the aesthetic experience and communicability through the notion of ‘monstration’ in his later works and interviews. Nonetheless, the nature of the symbol and the sign has been largely been considered by critics in relation to his linguistic or metaphorical analysis of the sign and the symbol. If the symbol gives rise to thought, it could be argued that language, not only mediates the silence of the visual artwork but to certain extent constitutes it. Contemporary forms of artistic practice challenge traditional understandings of Ekphrasis and by revisiting the work of Paul Ricoeur a better understanding could be achieved.