3 10 2008


This paper focuses on analysis of the biohermeneutical conception that describes living being with the aid of the metaphors of art, text and interpretation. The biohermeneutical approach to life attempts to overcome Cartesian concept of nature where living beings are considered as substantial objects grasped univocally by the human subject and classified in fixed categories. The biohermeneutical conception shows that the scientific explication of the life is never sufficient and that it must presuppose some additional non scientific condition in order to explain the character of the life (for instance existence of the so called organic molecules, idea of the so called “elan vital” – a non scientific energy of life, interpretation of the DNA as a fixed “program” that directs the whole ontogenesis (Markoš (2006), p. 220) . Biohermeneutics, on the contrary, considers a living being as an autonomous subject whose existence can be described as a sort of art or as an interpretation. The theoretician of biosemantics Marcello Barbieri (2005) proposes for instance that the life is an interpretation of the genetic codes in the senses of an artefact making (p. 81-102). The biohermeneutists Clément, Scheps and Steward (1997) assume that the living being must be considered as an interpreter of its own environment and that this environment represents in some metaphorical way a text (p.209-233). There are other biohermeneutical attempts that explain for instance the genetic code as a text interpreted by the living being in the context of its life (Markoš (2000), Kaufmann (2000))

The goal of this paper, however, is not to analyse the existing and perpetual conflict between biohermeneutical and traditional scientific scheme. Instead, I would like to concentrate on the analysis of the biohermeneutics from the “opposite point of view” and to show to which extent this conception can be problematic due to its insistence on some hidden metaphysical presuppositions. The problem of biohermeneutics corresponds, among others, with the questionable presupposition concerning the concept of life and with the inadmissible formulation of the metaphor of interpretation, art, interpreter and text. I wish conclude my paper by proposing a potential overcoming of the biohermeneutical approach with the aid of an inspiration in Jacques Derrida’s idea of the disseminale reading of the text.


There are three main presuppositions that concern the living being and that limit the biohermeneutical approach. First, biohermeneutics insists on the essential “will to itself”, on the idea of a dynamic self-reference of the living being. The living being never crosses the limit of its own self; his existence, explained metaphorically as an art-making, means a self-production in the realm of a priori limited and given possibilities. Secondly, biohermeneutics insists on essential mutual coherence and appropriation between the living being and its world (Umwelt ). The living being lives not only in an essential proximity with itself, but also with another living beings and its world in general. The world of living being is its home; it “belongs” to the living being and it is essentially understandable. The living being is its world in fact. Thirdly, biohermeneutics understands the life as a universal and unified phenomenon. To identify a life means to discover one characteristic feature that characterises a being as a living being and that distinguishes the living being from all non living beings. 

This sort of presuppositions is completed by a specific use of metaphors. If Barbieri claims that the life as a reading of the genetic code is an art making, he implicitly explains his understanding of the art. The art in his approach means an activity of actualization of an idea that is itself permanently hidden and that resists to be grasped in a full or explicit way. Pieces of art (living beings) are “silent” about their “core idea” (genetic code). However they always can express this idea in a particular form and from a particular perspective. Thus, the living beings represent the infinite variety of the possible “embodiment” of their genetic codes.

Clement, Scheps and Steward use another sort of metaphor. In their approach, to live means to read a text of the environment, i.e. to interpret the possibilities arising in the world. However to interpret a text means again in this metaphor to express contextual actualisations of the hidden “thing of the text”, of the hidden contents of the Umwelt. Thus, to live means to embody the hidden directing idea of the life. In this way the world is interpreted in a dynamic, infinite process of evolution but its meaning is still directed by some “background”, the so called Universe of the delimited possibilities.

The problem of the hermeneutical approach consists in a very traditional understanding of the art and of the interpretation based on the dualism of the idea and form. Hermeneutics still works with a hidden Cartesian scheme: there is always something particular to be interpreted (genetic code or the world as a given text), there is still a metaphysical identity (affinity, coherence) between the interpreter and interpreted object, there is always the realisable capacity of the interpreter to understand “the texts of its life” in some perspective way. 


I suppose that there is a potentiality to overcome the biohermeneutical approach with the aid of inspiration in the works of Jacques Derrida. Derrida describes the experience with a work of art in a completely different way than biohermeneutics. He uses for this purpose the metaphor of the open and closed palm that should represent the so called fold. 

The biohermeneutical approach understands the piece of art, for instance the text as a homogenous field, an open palm that refers to a core permanently hidden idea. However, the exterior interpreter can approach to the interiority of the text directly and he can grasp on the basis of his intentionality, will and effort a particular contextual meaning of the thing of the text. This process in infinite, dynamic and situational but it is always directed by the univocal “thing of the text”.

The disseminale reading, on the contrary, is based on the idea of a space that is neither an integral part of the interior-piece of art, text, living being, neither it is directly graspable by the exterior- interpreter. This area is called a fold. There is not a clear and explicit frontier among the fold, exteriority and interiority, but the fold is an autonomous domain that emerges as an exteriority of the interiority. The exteriority is the frame and the condition of possibility of the fold arising in the interiority. The interiority is not capable to build its “own” fold without the co-existence and influence of exteriority. Thus, the fold is not a full structural component of the interior, but it emerges as a space beyond or aside the existing interior and exterior worlds. The fold resists to all attempts of appropriation, integration, understanding, identification with the interiority as well as with the exteriority. It represents an inner limit of the interiority, a gap that spoils every attempt of the homogenisation and approximation in the process of art making and interpretation. 


Thus, the topology of the fold differs from the topology of the hermeneutical circle in several points: 

1. The topology of the fold is heterogeneous and not homogenous: the domain of interpretation is not simply connected. When interpreting the folded text it is necessary to accept its discordances and interruptions and not to violate it with the reduction on an open continuous and coherent realm those meaning reveals in a dynamic perpetual dialectical process of actualisations. 

2. It is not possible to achieve the fold neither from exterior nor from the interior. As long as the exterior interpreter means that he achieved the fold with the aid of his will, effort and intention, he only unfurled the palm, smoothed the space of meaning, and destroyed the fold. At this moment, the non explicit but existing difference between interpreter, fold and text is annulated and the fold disappears. That is actually what happens during the hermeneutical interpretation. Hermeneutics discovers only such a meaning that reveals from the mutual correspondence (fusion of horizons, Horizontverschmelzung ) but it misses the unpredictable meaning arising from the folds. 

3. The encounter with a piece of art, text, world, genetic code, another living being does not develop in a primary proximity but in inhospitableness. The interpreter and the object of interpretation do not share the “same world”. There is always an irreducible difference between the object of interpretation and the interpreter (“only what differs can afterwards resemble” (Deleuze (1968))). To encounter something or somebody means to carry in the interior dialog somebody who does not exist in world of interpreter. Derrida gives example of the bereaved that carries in his inner dialog a deceased person or the example of the pregnant woman that carries in her uterus an unborn child. Both the deceased person that does not exist any more and the child that does not yet exist in the coherent shared world represent the folded sources of unpredictable meaning. 

4. Thus, the result of the encounter with a text or with another living being is not a mutual coherence, shared meaning and harmonic co-existence but intensity, open affair, problem, gap of meaning. Nevertheless there is a specific sort of meaning arising from the gap of meaning. This meaning is essentially “improbable” and it cannot be immediately experienced and articulated, because it belongs to an experience that cannot be appropriated by anybody and that happens out of the linear time of the interpreter’s existence. The time of the fold is not synchronous or simultaneous with the time of the intentional interpretation. At the moment the meaning of the fold appears to the interpreter, the source of this meaning does not exist any more or not yet. The meaning of the fold is unpredictable; it arises only “perhaps” in the complex non-linear topology of folding. 


I suppose that the presented interpretation of the disseminale encounter with a text can be useful for theoretical biology. If theoreticians of biology desire to use the metaphor of art, interpretation and text for description of the phenomenon of live, they have the possibility to explain these concepts differently from hermeneutics. The topology of the realm of life can be considered as heterogeneous and folded. The life appears then not as a compact and unified phenomenon whose idea exists although it is permanently hidden. There is not one life in the sense that everything that is alive is alive in the same way as all other living beings. Thus, it is not possible to define life with the aid of some univocal and universal feature that characterizes all living beings. One is always alive in some specific way and this characteristic does represent neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition of the life as such. Life as an art is a folded phenomenon that denies itself when appearing and that offers such a sort of meanings that are not mutually coherent and do not compose a unified and univocal structure of various perspectives. The living being is a fold in another living being and in itself. A living being constitutes the interior limit, the exterior inside of another living being. The phenomenon of life cannot be grasped, even in some particular perspective, uniquely with the aid of the method of good will to understand, of intentional analysis and of the hermeneutical cyclic dynamism. The time of a specific fold of the life is not synchronous or simultaneous with the time of the intentional interpretation of the life. At the moment the meaning of the live appears to the interpreter, the source of this meaning does not exist any more or not yet. The meaning of life appears unpredictably, “perhaps”, and always in a different way.


Deleuze G. (1968), Différence et répétition, Paris : PUF.

Markoš, A. (2006), Patálie se životem (Troubles with the life), in: Barbieri M., Organické kódy (Organic codes), Praha: Academia. 

Barbieri, M. (2005), Life is “Artifact-making”, in: Journal of Biosemiotics 1. 

NY : Nova Science Publishers, Hauppauge. 

Clément, P., Scheps R., Steward J. (1997), Umwelt et interprétation, in: Herméneutique: textes, sciences, Cerisy, Paris : PUF.

Markoš A. (2000), Tajemství hladiny, Praha: Dokořán.

Kaufmann S. A. (2000), Investigations, Oxford: UP.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: