At a [birth]day party for Brendan, discovering that I’ll actually be preaching at two patronal festivals in the coming days, not only the one I expected.…
Ruminations about hermeneutics, theology, theory, politics, ecclesiastical life… and exercise.
At a [birth]day party for Brendan, discovering that I’ll actually be preaching at two patronal festivals in the coming days, not only the one I expected.…
Next time, I won’t print the densely-typeset French article two-a-page.
‘Therefore, the more manifestly each drawing demonstrates the truth, the more openly through this dissimilar similitude it proves that it is a drawing and not the truth. And in this, dissimilar similitudes lead our understanding further toward the truth because they do not allow it to dwell on likeness alone.’ [translation Oliver W. Norris, in Discourse, Figure]
St Hugh, commenting on Pseudo-Dionysius, in Lyotard
I thought I’d paste my response to her query on the rationale of using incense in worship here.
(A) Whatever is pleasing and costly to humans is plausibly offered to God as a sacrificial gesture (in the double sense of the gesture of renunciation by the human and the gesture of endeavouring to please the deity);
(B) It visibly ascends to heaven, where (presumably) God can relish its aroma;
(C) It signifies prayer (Ps 141:2, ‘Let my prayer be set forth in thy sight as the incense; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice’), especially important since after the destruction of the Temple and the incense-alter therein, it was deemed that observance of daily prayer fulfilled the commands in the Torah to make daily sacrifices, morning and evening.
(D) Its pleasing aroma adorns the liturgy, in keeping with the premise that we ‘worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness’; it is fitting that worship communicate via all the senses that something splendid and glorious is taking place.
Since I’m determined to strengthen my practice of daily blogging (and turning away from FB), I’ll take just a minute or
two fifteen thirty sixty away from reading about Lyotard in French to sketch in a bit more detail the rationale for connecting differential hermeneutics to psychoanalysis and specifically to dream interpretation.
In the first place, then, Big Thinkers have been wrestling with the hermeneutics of dreams for more than a century, with little attention paid from the side of biblical hermeneutics. That is, little attention from theoretical hermeneutics as a general biblical field, not ‘psychological criticism’ whose practitioners have obviously attended to dream interpretation — as have psychological interpreters who turn to the Bible as an object of their interpretive attention. Moreover, since the sort of interpretive attention in question is widely associated with ‘the masters of suspicion’ (Marx, Nietzsche, and especially in this case, Freud), and since many scholars take it as axiomatic that one must approach biblical texts with that ‘suspicion’, I stand to benefit from immersing myself in the relevant thoughts of one of the Masters.
Second, as I said several days ago, dreams provide the interesting case of a text (the dream, not simply the dream-report) whose ‘intentionality’ is open to inquiry, which we also feel it important to interpret one way or another. While one can quickly enough jump to the assumption that a subconscious process in the dreamer, or the unconscious, or some other impulse can stand in for the author of the dream (thus providing intentionality), that’s a different quality of ‘intention’ from (say) my determining to wear a red shirt today (and doing so). Indeed part of what’s perplexing in dream interpretation involves devising some form of coherent agency which might compose the outlandish pastiches that we recall on waking. So if we can learn something about dream interpretation without obvious intentional agency, we may be better situated to address the possibility that an ascribed intention need not provide the be-all and end-all of hermeneutical deliberation.
Third, many of the thinkers who weigh in on dream interpretation express comfort with the premise that dreams might not have one and only one definitive meaning. Since differential hermeneutics (as I envision it) sets out to investigate the ways and reasons for interpretive divergence, the study of multiple ‘meanings’ for dreams seems particularly apposite.
Fourth, even the pro-plurality phalanx of contemporary oneirologists treat some interpretations (or interpretive gestures) as better, wiser, sounder, more productive than others, any effort I make to espouse a hermeneutic that moves away from single correct answers to multiple plausible responses will always encounter the question of whether this makes all interpretations equal, whether one can say any damn thing one wants, whether I take away the grounds for distinguishing right from wrong. If I’m on a sound track, though, I will at the end be equipped to articulate a rationale for those distinctions that does not rest on transcendent Rules of Interpretation or The Nature of Meaning or any other such problematic construct.
In the preface to my first book, the ‘What Is…?’ book about postmodern biblical criticism, I allude to a neon installation on the façade of the Lenbachhaus in Munich. Working by memory, before the heyday of the internet, I quoted the inscription and circumstances from memory. At the time, I thought I recalled that the neon spelled out the words ‘You can think the opposite‘ written backwards, and I couldn’t recall the name of the artist.
It just occurred to me that I could make that reference more explicit now, so I will:
Maurizio Nannucci, ‘You can imagine the opposite’ [not written backwards], the Lenbachhaus, Munich.
I’m reading material in which authors make a great deal of the difference between textuality that one can apprehend readily, without hesitation or uncertainty (on one hand) and textuality that throws us back on our capacity to make inferences from evidence. That’s not the language they use, of course, that’s chosen to reflect my own pet perspective; the current article refers to the space of signification and the space of designation, insists that they are incompossible, and that we usually read transparently until we encounter a word or phrase that opaquely disrupts the system of oppositions by which we make meanings.
Contrariwise, I propose that ordinarily we read in the same way we ordinarily ‘calculate’ 2 + 2 = 4; it’s already known, there’s no need to deliberate or slow down in assessing it. If, however, one were to infer that ‘addition’ is ‘transparent’, one would have to account for the difference presented by 21793 + 68337; when I see that mathematical expression, I must pause to calculate the sum before I go forward. Simple sums aren’t ‘transparent’ and longer sums ‘opaque’; they just evoke different responses from people with different attitudes and capacities. No linguistic formulation simply is transparent or opaque, and it’s a conceptual mistake to posit this manner of distinction when trying to suss out how language works (much more so when trying to figure out how communication works).
I had no initial inclination to take up the psychodynamics of biblical interpretation; my research in hermeneutics just kept driving me that way (this way).
And yes, I am self-conscious enough to realise how absurd that sounds in this context. It doesn’t stop its being true, though; there’s no trace of my current chapter in earlier drafts of the project. At most, I might refer to Jung’s amplification as a paradigm of sorts of interpretation, entirely deracinated of its original embeddedness in analytical practice. Now, though, all I can see is condensation and displacement and especially cathexis, cathexis, cathexis.
(Later edit: not that I haven’t talked about this general topic before, whether here or in the Breu Without Authorial Intention volume, in ‘The Good That I Mean I Do Not Say: Meaning, Intention, Psychology and Romans 7.’)
I’ve written before about my restlessness about naming my project. In that post, I describe my eventual contentment with the designation ‘differential hermeneutics’; it’s fair, it does the trick, and people already associate it with me. At one point I considered including in the monograph version an entire chapter of possible titles, with the explanation for it and the reason it ultimately doesn’t work as a designation.
So, for instance, I’ve written about my approach as sensual hermeneutics, because it places a greater emphasis on sensing than does an approach to interpretation that treats reading as a transparent, obvious datum. Plus, if it were on the cover along with a salacious image, the book might sell more copies! But the downside of ‘sensuous’ is that (a) it’s a bit of a distraction, and (b) it describes but does not define what I’m up to.
That led me to think, ‘Maybe “sensational hermeneutics”!’ It’s still jazzy and perhaps even more clever; but again, it falls short of a clear indication of what’s going on.
‘White Hermeneutics’ does well for pointing (in a way) to the political cast of my work, except that I’m not about White hermeneutics itself, but only pointing the Whiteness of conventional hermeneutics (yesterday, maybe, someone on my FB timeline mourned [not in the following words] the imposition of White hermeneutics on aspiring Black preachers) — if conventional hermeneutics are White, then Whiteness must be optional for people of colour. But that takes the part for the whole: my project isn’t about White supremacy in hermeneutics, but about why the dominant culture shouldn’t demand that everybody (else) kneel before their eminence. It’s not Male Hermeneutics, or Straight Hermeneutics, or First-World Hermeneutics (and I wouldn’t presume to call it Feminist or Womanist, or LGBTIQA+ or Two-Thirds World hermeneutics); it’s an account of the difference.
Anyway, feel free to join in with unsatisfactory titles yourselves. When I think of any others, I’ll add them in the comments.
Having placed two articles that I’ve been wanting to publish for a while, I’m forging ahead with the plan for my monograph on Differential Hermeneutics. If I devote a first chapter to what I take to be the problem (or perhaps preface = problem, first chapter = articulation of the way that the problem is inscribed in the dominant discourses of biblical studies), I’ll work up a subsequent chapter on the theoretical shortcomings with traditional (‘integral’) hermeneutics, drawing on the work I’ve published in the foreword to Faithful Interpretation and in my forthcoming ‘De-Coding Hermeneutics.’ Then I’ll have a chapter on the very idea of differential hermeneutics, grounded in the interpretation of non-verbal visual perception (again, based on ‘Sensual Hermeneutics’). After that — and here at last I’m getting to the point of this paragraph — I’ll sketch a practice of hermeneutics informed by the process of
‘Better cut down on your use of exclamation marks,’ I patiently riposte. Dreams are a useful test case for me for several reasons. First, they carry with them (arguably) no deliberate intentionality, so that ‘authorial intention’ doesn’t haunt the discourse the way it does in the interpretation of deliberately-composed texts. Second, amplification provides a ready-made model on which to yield. Third, dream-interpretation has a history in the philosophical analysis of meaning’ — here I will be interacting specifically with my intellectual hero Jean-François Lyotard, whom I’m rediscovering in a tidy recapitulation of my earliest research into poststructural accounts of meaning.
So I imagine I’ll post some quotations and meditations in dialogue with Freud, Jung, James Hillman, and Jean-François Lyotard over the next few weeks.
By the way, my work on amplification does not amount to an endorsement of the psychological positions of any of the theoreticians I’m working with. As usual, I find myself excited and provoked by their ideas, but very much unconvinced by their specific theories. I don’t think there’s a likelihood of your finding me offering workshops on Christian Polytheism, or The Collective Unconscious as the Holy Spirit, or anything like that. At the same time, I will be thinking a lot about desire in interpretation (I started this in my essay in Biblical Exegesis Without Authorial Intention, edited by Clarissa Breu); since everyone who undertakes biblical interpretation is also someone affected by desire, and since desire has been known to affect us in ways we do not intend or control, I expect there’s productive work to be done on this terrain. Likewise, Hillman’s approach to dream interpretation aims at generating interpretive plurality, thus aligning conveniently with my interest in differential hermeneutics.
For about seven years now (!), the very generous Christopher Roussel has been hosting this blog through intervals of activity and inanition, updates to WordPress and waves of spam comments, with never a word of complaint. For a variety of reasons, though, it seemed good to me that I should move to a commercial host. I asked Elliott Noss for a recommendation, and he said ‘Funny you should mention that….’ The Tucows family now has a hosting service as well as its domain registration service Hover.com (of course, I recommend Hover, and I expect to be as pleased with Exact Hosting as with Hover and pretty much everything Elliott sets his hand to). As of today, my blog is back on its feet, my old email address at disseminary.org is functional again, and — and this is the important part, inasmuch as anything is important — I’m planning to begin extricating myself from Facebook by posting anything substantive here. That means the few of you who have been coming here for updates on my progress running will have to be patient with observations on hermeneutics, theology, technology, the Baltimore Orioles and Duke basketball, my wonderful family, and whatever else crosses my mind. And if you find a broken link (within this site), please let me know and I’ll set about fixing it.
Now, true to the title of this entry, I have to catch up on several months of backlogged reports on my biweekly mile run. These have been mostly uninteresting, in contrast to previous reports on my running which have been largely uninteresting. Two occasions seem worth mentioning: First, one Wednesday morning, Christine our breakfast server at St Stephen’s House observed me on her way in to work. ‘Oh, Father AKMA!’ she said to me at breakfast, ‘You look so determined (miming a swimming dog), you look so pained.’ Since that morning, she has not failed to give me a good-natured (Christine is very kind and friendly, and would not afflict me except in good fun) hard time. Second, I did at long last break the ten-minute barrier once. I haven’t done it again, but I’m usually flirting with a plateau of 10:10, so that ordinary variations mean I’m likely to break 10:00 again sooner or later.
And I still hate running — but I have to admit, I don’t hate it as actively during my morning mile as I used to. I remember getting to Tsang’s Takeaway at about a tenth of a mile and wishing I could just pull my lungs out and throw them away; now, I just keep reminding myself that the whole experience lasts only a half hour or so from putting on my shoes and stretching to regaining my breath at home, and that it will be over soon.
Now, for the times:
Sunday, 2 June — 10:15
Wednes, 5 June — 10:15
Sunday, 9 June — 10:25
Wednes, 12 June — 10:13
Sunday, 16 June — 10:06
Wednes, 19 June — 10:26
Sunday, 23 June — 10:30 (pollen levels very high)
Wednes, 26 June — 10:28
(I don’t remember why I missed this week)
Sunday, 7 July — 10:18
(Holiday in Scotland — thanks, Doug!)
Sunday, 14 July — 10:24
Wednes, 17 July — 10:29
Sunday, 21 July —
Wednes, 24 July — 11:00 Scorching heat; I took it very easy
Sunday, 28 July — 10:06
Wednes, 31 July — 10:08
Sunday, 4 August — 10:10
Wednes, 7 August — 10:27
(I’ve been taking the last few days slowly, as I have tightness in the ligament or the tendon or something inside my right thigh.)