Stanley Fish

Interpretive Communities, a Request, and a Heraldic Gospel

On a recent video from the Transforming Theology project, Phillip Clayton asked Tony Jones how the internet and Google have been at work changing theology. Jones replied that it allows for a greater, more broad based, access to information, and forum for feedback.  I agree.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Jonathan Brink writes about uncertainty, truth, interpretation, and Stephen Colbert’s interview with the Conservative Bible Project guy.  Those are all things I love thinking about.

In a Dec. 14 post on his blog, Blake Huggins writes about Jurgen Moltmann, Jean Francois Lyotard, and Chris Rosenbrough commented that “… these are first and foremost the questions that need to be asked and definitively answered and those answers are found no where else than in the inerrant and inspired text of scripture.”  Blake replied that “… I think it is impossible for anyone to simple “begin in the text” or pose the question “what does the text say?” I don’t think the text or us as readers exist in a vacuum.”  This reminds me of Stanley Fish’s comment that “”strictly speaking, getting ‘back-to-the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its production.”

In a serendipitous convergence of things, this very day I finished writing a piece called “Towards a Heraldic Gospel: From Monorthodox Doctrine to Theopoetic Perspectives on Revelation and Repentance.”  It addresses all the things that Jonathan, Blake, and Chris were discussing, and I wonder, if, in the spirit of the Tony Jones and Phillip Clayton conversation, real people are interested in chomping down on some theology with me and giving it a read. That’s my request: given that you are a hyper-extended community of interpretation that might actually be interested in theology, is there anyone out there who would be interested in chatting?

There have been a few great back and forths on The Image of Fish already, and I thought it might be worth testing the waters to see if this larger scale communique would be received as well.

Anyone who would be interested and giving it a read can download it directly here.  If anyone does bite, I’d love to do a back and forth via skype for a few minutes so that it could get posted here as well… Comments are good too though.

“strictly speaking, getting ‘backto-
the-text’ is not a move one can perform, because the text one gets back to will be the text
demanded by some other interpretation and that interpretation will be presiding over its

“It Is” and “It Means”

I’m still several posts away from actually addressing the importance of community in individual interpretation, but it appears I am one step closer. What I am interested in for this post has been inspired by a number of relatively unrelated pieces of information I have recently come across:

  • A story from Stanley Fish’s book, Is There a Text in This Class?, in which a group of well-intentioned students is able to “interpret” the meaning of a “Medieval Christian Iconographic Poem,” which is actually just a list of names.
  • A news item about Jesus appearing on an iron, featuring the 44-year-old Mary Jo Coady, who was raised Catholic. She and her two college-age daughters agree that the image looks like Jesus and is proof that “he’s listening.”
  • A (closely paraphrased) tongue-in-cheek quote from James H. Evans Jr. : “Any time an image of Jesus immerges on a potato chip, iron, or cave wall, I have the same question: Not whether it is Jesus or not, but why is it that every appearance of a 30 year-old bearded man is presumed to be Jesus. Why not Che Guevara?”

What I’m working with certainly isn’t a new thought as such, either for me or for the world, however it has had a certain grip on me as of late and so I’m putting it out there.  The guts of it are in a statement and two corresponding questions:

S: Often we confuse our interpretation of something with the thing itself.

Q1: What would change in the world if we said that some of the things we “know” to be true might just seem true to us?

Q2: Is anything lost if we give up saying we know things for sure?

Given how broad the questions are I think it is important to emphasize that I do not intend them to be rhetorical.  In particular I wonder about the second.  To some degree this has been popping up because I recently began reading Carl Raschke’s book, GLOBOChrist. I haven’t finished it yet, but right in its forward, James K.A. Smith hits on something that I have found to be absolutely true, “Contrary to those who espouse a postmodern account of mission or evangelism as a cover for engaging in “transformative dialogue” (or various other technical translations of kumbaya), the core argument of GloboChrist suggests that the church’s missional task in postmodernity is inevitably a vocation of conflict.”

As someone who uses the phrase “transformative dialogue,” often and is actually an employee of an organization whose very name is The Transformative Language Arts Network, I am under direct, and appropriate, fire.  How earnest am I being when I say that other viewpoints are just as good as mine? Do I really believe that or am I just saying that to cover over the fact that some hard things to deal with are just irreconcilable?

Now, I’m not even sure that Q1 is even remotely a realistic possibilty, and wouldn’t even know where (NVC notwithstanding) to begin institutionalizing it, but it doesn’t seem that radical, because the might in it still leaves open the possibility that the things we believe are, in fact, completely and absolutely true.  It doesn’t say nothing is true, just opens up the possibility that we might be misguided.

Regardless of feasibility of the first, Q2 fascinates me all the more because a part of me feels like I’m missing something.  I don’t seem to feel like admitting that my own knowledge is contingent seems to be a problem most of the time, but maybe by doing so there’s something I’m not experiencing… like I’ve inserted this philosophical and phenomonological safety epoche’ to buffer myself from the more strident emotions and firmer commitments of the world.  Perhaps if I was more assertive I would feel differently about things.  Maybe I’m missing out because I’m “hedging my bets.”    Hmmmm…. more fodder for the grist mill I suppose.  The only thing to do is keep on keeping on.  Which reminds me:

I’ve got some lunch to eat.