Words For Wrestling

As I dauntlessly press my case for a different way to think about interpretation (“different,” that is, from what prevails in the theological academy, though also different from prevailing culture) I keep running into examples of my problem outside the sphere in which I primarily work. The umbrella characterization of my argument can be oversimplified as, “People mistakenly construe the trope of ‘interpretation as deciphering’ as a definition of interpretation; hence, they import aspects of “deciphering” into interpretation in ways that don’t impede ordinary casual conversation, but that generate significant problems when they’re inflated into ‘given,’ ‘natural’ elements of communication.” This morning on the shuttle bus, I connected this reflex with the mantis, the Delphic prophet(ess) whose obscure utterances required the hermeneutic intervention of the priests. In the economy of mantic communication, everything has a “real meaning” that differs from its apparent meaning; and knowledge of real meanings belongs to an assortment of anointed interpretive guilds, from biblical scholars to psychoanalysts (I was listening to a lecture on Freud at the time) to conspiracy theorists to illuminated New Age cognoscenti, ad infinitum.
So “mantic economy” works for the ideology I resist. For the alternative — that there are no “real” meanings in the mantic sense, but only more or less satisfactory ways of integrating utterances (and other, non-deliberate phenomena) with the vast array of contexts we bring to our own efforts to make sense of life — this alternative doesn’t bring to mind a snappy alternative to “mantic.” So I’m casting about for a label, one that doesn’t immediately imply self-congratulation or grandiosity.

1 thought on “Words For Wrestling

  1. This kind of thinking connects really well to those who see language as a social-semiotic (Halliday’s phrase). In that kind of understanding, language is not so much a tool to encode objective meaning as it is a kind of social interaction, so “meaning” as it were, is really a production of the interaction of social contexts (that of the reader/hearer and author/speaker). I’m still trying to work through the hermeneutical consequences of this kind of thinking, but I think it connects to your mantis analogy.

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