Two Points Of Academic Pertinence

I’m going over to St Andrew’s on Thursday to try to undermine the foundations of Western Civilisation (as usual) with my presentation on “René Magritte, Krazy Kat, and Biblical Hermeneutics.” I’m coming off a couple of warmly-received presentations (one was exceptionally encouraging, thank you all very much), but my stuff is sufficiently counter-intuitive for most people in my field that I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going over “Krazy Kat” to try to disarm the most prominent possible stumbling-blocks, and to make explicit some of the more helpful-positive dimensions of the project. I think I’ll be able to give it (for the first time ever) as a slide presentation, which will enhance it considerably; the colour images from Magritte, the photographs of George Herriman, the capacity to enlarge and focus on single frames from the Krazy Kat comics all stand to strengthen my case. This (first point) is an argument that really does derive much of its force from non-verbal argumentation. That shouldn’t be surprising, it doesn’t surprise me, but I don’t assume that peers in my field will receive non-verbal rhetoric as positively.
Second point: I have found my exposition of how we communicate in the absence of subsistent meaning to make particularly specific use of the phenomenon of expressive/inferential miscarriage; sometimes our ventures in expression miscarry, and sometimes our interpretations do. But (and many of you will already be jumping on this, honest, I’m aware, it’s what I’m about to ask about) the verb and noun in question carry such monumental resonance for people who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy — especially, of course, women who have themselves been through that heartbreak — that this distinctively useful word-pair brings with it very powerful negative coloration.
When I lectured this morning on the aftermath of the Pauline tradition — a chapter that Bart Ehrman (boldly) entitles “Does the Tradition Miscarry?” — I avoided the use of the verb by substituting the wordier (and less precise) phrase, “go off the rails.” That provides an adequate alternative in this particular context, but I don’t think it works as well for a mismatch in expression and apprehension of meaning. So if you will grant me, for just these few moments, the premise that the word(s) that I really want are precisely the words that I ought not use, can you, dear readers, provide an alternative that gets as close as possible to “miscarry” without invoking that very tender, painful experience?
The semi-official answers include “fail,” “misfire,” “fall through,” “go astray,” “go wrong,” “founder” — but none of these sounds right to me. Some lack a functional noun form (“the going-wrong of an interpretation”?), and others don’t convey the sense of a venture begun with promise and particular intentions, which arrives at a different, unplanned, undesired conclusion. Now, even if no other word would function as well in that dimension of my rhetoric, I still don’t want to deploy an unwelcome (if precisely apposite) word; I just don’t see what would be my best alternative. So I’m probing that wound as I put together the slide show and mark the transition cues.

1 thought on “Two Points Of Academic Pertinence

  1. Well, to pick up the substitution you’ve already used, ‘derail’ would be more concise, if still not precise, and there’s still a problem with the noun.

    I will ponder this.

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