As I work on a self-description for the purposes of combing out the tangles in our curriculum, I’m beginning to wonder whether it would be apt to identify me as a post-Derridean New Critic. I relish close reading; I appreciate the nuanced differences that words make; I do believe in the importance of classic works; I disavow the Intentional and Affective Fallacies. But I also recognise the political-interpretive effects of power, class, race, gender, and so on; I don’t believe that the words make things happen on their own, nor that “words” constitute an inherently privileged expressive medium; I reject the “institution of will into reason” that Lyotard found in the genome of liberal rationalism; I appreciate contributions to semiotics from such unusual contexts as information design (Tufte), comics theory (McCloud), digital media (Weinberger, Shirky, Lessig, et al.), and rock music.
A former colleague referred to me as a “postmodern Victorian,” which admittedly applies to me in non-vocational ways — but it’s hard to come up with a short label that accurately characterises my project(s). Everyone thinks she or he is unique, and but I’d rather (for these purposes) know who or what I’m like, the better to convey a helpful impression to prospective students.

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6 Responses to Pondering

  1. Elizabeth says:

    Post-Derridean New Critic sounds good to me. Mind if I borrow?

    Another self-descriptor I like, although I’m not sure it’s exactly me (or you for that matter) is my Eng Lit supervisor’s ‘deconstructive readings with material context’.

  2. maggi says:

    I’d be interested to know whether you think the author’s intent is completely irrelevant, completely unknowable, or is a notable (but not necessarily primary) part of critique?

  3. AKMA says:

    @Elizabeth — I tend to avoid using “deconstruction” words; so few people have more than a very oblique understanding of the topic, and that oblique understanding usually very heavily overcast with ideological fog, that I prefer not even to engage those issues. Post-Derridean, though, casts us as having been through the valley of the shadow of deconstruction, yet fearing no nihil.
    @Maggi, thanks for the prompt. Although I’ve written about intention before (in the “Author” article in the Handbook of Postmodern, in the “Preface” to Faithful Interpretation, and in the “Sea of Signs” article at least), I haven’t set out a full-length argument. When I do, it’ll look something like this: “Intention” as such isn’t available to us as a point of reference, so we want not to overinvest in it (as many criticisms aggressively do overinvest). We do have various bits of evidence that may be markers of intention, and — to the extent that we’re about an interpretive practice that takes full account of intention — we may enlist those as elements in an argument about the best interpretation of a text. At the same time, not every interpretive practice needs “intention” as a prominent criterion, and even in discourses that take account of criterion, “intention” can’t constitute a make-or-break touchstone. Rather, we ought reasonably and rightly to make as rich an argument as we can for the best interpretation of a passage. Very often that will include making an argument that our interpretation is congruent with what evidence we have concerning the author’s intention.
    Now, though, I have to write that out in a fuller treatment. Since I already have in view a series of hermeneutical essays (The pernicious code metaphor, The poverty of “the literal,” Parables and metaphors, and now The right role of “intention”) it looks as though I have to buckle down and, on top of my 1.2 FTE workload and the James commentary that I need for the REF, write out another hermeneutics book.

  4. William Varner says:

    Dear Dr. Adam,
    I see on some websites that you are contracted to do the James volume in the Baylor series of Exegetical Handbooks. May I ask how that is coming along? I just finished a linguistic commentary James, and it is with the publisher.  I am also writing another commentary on James in the new Evangelical Exegetical Commentary.

    I just wondered if I would ever be able to benefit from your work.


    Sent from my iPad
    Dr. William Varner. ibexdr@yahoo.com
    The Master’s College & Seminary
    Blog: DrIBEX Ideas, http://dribex.tumblr.com

  5. david says:

    @ Maggi and AKMA dialogue:

    Isn’t this where the authorial intent v. narrative intent distinction comes into play? It seems the face of the author becomes, wishfully I think, a bit obscured and secondary once the pen hits the pad, where the narrative fleshes out an intentional thing, hopefully taking on a life of its own. Even here, however, it is really quite interesting to note that even the author’s progeny of narrative intent is, all said and done, a bit fuzzy to the author as well. There are times when a reviewer of, say, a piece of fiction will say, thoughtfully, such and such means such and such, and the author will say something like “oh, well, wow… hmmm, that makes perfect sense, but that really wasn’t my original intent.” In this way, could we say the impetus of a text is really generated by a community — yes, it is crucially channeled and focused and thematized by the careful perspective and nuance of one or two individuals, but by and large the intent rests in the pool of talent which is community.

    So, for instance, what is the narrative intent of Shakes’ play The Merchant of Venice? Regarding the pound of flesh, is Shylock driven to this by his vengeance toward Antonio, or is the flight of his namesake, Jessica, the real reason for his base actions in the court room? And was one or the other the authorial intent from the get-go? Or after penning the thing did Shakes look back and see a monster of its own making; was it created, unconsciously, because the external influences of culture sublimated it so? In other words, does the author reserve the right to be astonished by others’ interpretations regarding thematic actions of a narrative, thus making her or his own work both strange and familiar waters?

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