The introduction describes the political and philosophical conditions in which Hamacher wrote his thesis, with particular attention to a series of debates in the late 1960s, including those inaugurated by Jacques Derrida's announcement of "the end of the book" and Pierre Bertaux's declaration that Hölderlin was a genuine Jacobin. The introduction also locates the thesis within the context of the contested sphere of German literary studies, as it emerged at the Department of General and Comparative Literature founded by Peter Szondi at the Freie Universität Berlin.
"Version of Meaning" describes the course of Hölderlin's late poetry from the problem of interpretation in the ode "Voice of the People," through certain fundamental alterations in the central stanza of "The Rhine," to the various versions of "The Only One," culminating in readings of "The Ister" and "Mnemosyne," along with corresponding poetological reflections, especially Hölderlin's "Remarks" on Sophocles's plays. Rigorously analytic, the argument develops out of an intense critical engagement with Szondi, Adorno, Heidegger, and especially Walter Benjamin and Jacques Derrida, with, perhaps, certain concepts borrowed from Freud and Lacan in the background.
The chapter begins with a careful analysis of the manner in which Hölderlin undertook a critical transformation of both Kantian and Fichtean versions of transcendental idealism, with the result that he developed in his poetological writings from around 1800 an idea of parousia that, far from being indebted to an "original synthesis," is interrupted by moments of absolute non-synthesis, which cannot be identified or presented as such. The chapter then describes the consequences of Hölderlin's reconceptualization of mediacy, communicability, and temporality for a selection of his late poetry, especially "Chiron," from which an image of time as "sideways" emerges, and "Half of Life," in which the moment of interruption and reversal takes shape in "stone-walls" that so fully lack language that they refuse all meaning-granting acts.
The aim of the afterword is to reflect on the difference between the first and second chapters, with particular attention to the importance of the theory of revolution in the first chapter and its near total absence in the second. Moving from the circumstances under which the first chapter was written; through its examination of certain "master thinkers," from Szondi to Derrida; to the circumstances under which Hamacher abandoned the project of expanding it into a book; the afterword concludes by showing that the second chapter responds in an unexpected manner to the initial project of deconstruction expressed at the opening of the first chapter. For Hamacher, Hölderlin's image of "stone-walls," by utterly lacking language, constitute a "revolt" of the interpreted object and thus paradoxically suggest a non-human, earthward revolution.