OK, this is what I have:

Postmodern biblical criticism includes a disparate array of interpretive strategies that share few characteristics other than their deliberate departure from the presuppositions of modern biblical criticism. Where modern biblical criticism strives for objectivity, one school of postmodern critics exercises their distinctive subjectivity with flair. Where modern biblical criticism eschews explicitly political interests, most postmodern interpreters acknowledge an inevitable political component to their work; many, in fact, pursue their interpretations with deliberate attention to advancing social equality, cultural diversity, and resistance to heterosexual privilege. Where modern biblical interpreters emphasize their adherence to rigorous methodological standards, postmodern interpreters emphasize the role of imagination in even the most narrowly historicist interpretations. In these and innumerable other ways, readers have propounded criteria of rigor and soundness that depart from the norms that characterize modern biblical interpretation.

For example, modern biblical interpretation tends to treat linguistic communication as optimally transparent to meaning — as though ambiguity and misunderstanding were regrettable, evitable miscarriages of expression. On that basis, biblical texts presumably equal a meaning that the modern interpreter simply restates in local languages, in contemporary terms. Such a model neglects the extent to which even the most scrupulously direct prose engenders varied interpretations (as the history of biblical interpretation amply illustrates). Linguistic expression does not evoke ambiguity as an accidental byproduct of shoddy composition, but as a necessary condition of linguistic communication. Jacques Derrida identified this phenomenon as “play,” as the semiotic slack requisite for effective communication. Biblical interpreters have seized on the discrepancy between the modern repression of ambiguity (on one hand) and the postmodern attention to linguistic pliancy (on the other) to foreground counterintuitive readings, to flout conventional wisdom. Such startling readings — however much they distress those who place their faith in modernity — rest not solely on outrageous whimsy; they articulate the latent possibilities that linguistic expression always permits.

The modern inclination to stress distinct, definite meaning at the cost of interpretive difference thus involves a determination to authorize some sorts of criticism and to exclude others. Modern interpreters defend this as a condition of rational communication: if we do not mean one thing rather than another, they suppose that it would be impossible ever to misunderstand. The willed refusal to acknowledge alternatives to modern standards of legitimacy, however, reveals a political impulse to this professedly disinterested mode of discourse. Indeed, modern interpreters who simply identify their own approach with value-neutral, rational, scientific inquiry reinforce Jean-François Lyotard’s accusation that enlightened modernity exercises a paradoxically coercive intellectual regime, “the institution of will into reason.” Postmodern interpreters typically challenge modern interpreters’ claim that their hermeneutical axioms constitute the scholarly conclusions of non-partisan reason; as male white European and North American scholars dominate the guild of biblical criticism, their social location cannot escape affecting these scholars’ interpretive reasoning. Postmodern interpreters may make their own social location the explicit criterion for their interpretive judgment; they may show the ways that dominant-class interpreters use their institutional and social power to reinforce their own interests; they may deliberately read the Bible against the grain of the dominant patterns of scholarship in order to articulate an alternative vision of biblical meaning that better coheres with the interests of women, of interpreters from a wider global community, of readers whose dissident understanding of Scripture has been suppressed in the name of cultural homogeneity.

These examples show some directions that a postmodern temper may take in biblical scholarship. Since postmodernity characterizes biblical interpretation not as a regulative method but as a sensibility, one can not set boundaries for postmodern interpretations (though one can argue the justification of applying the characterization “postmodern” to particular readings). For just this reason, postmodern biblical criticsm will probably not constitute itself at distinct interpretive practice so much as it will influence the ways that particular interpreters approach their work. Some critics will continue unaffected; others will pursue familiar methods with a different inflection; a smaller group will depart markedly from modern critical expectations.

You’ll notice that it doesn’t have a proper conclusion, and it’s already too many words. I’m hoping that if I’aid anything dreadfully off-trarget, or if someone senses an inchoate wrap-up sentence that will free me to send this off to its publisher, you will let me know. Until then, I’ll count on letting the definition incubate, and will move on to my next assignment.

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