Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Il n'y a pas de hors-texte

That there is nothing outside the text for Derrida simply means that the language as metaphor goes all the way down (arche-writing). This is not to deny reference in language as Derrida himself protests:

It is totally false to suggest that deconstruction is a suspension of reference. Deconstruction is always deeply concerned with the 'other' of language. I never cease to be surprised by critics who see my work as a declaration that there is nothing beyond language; it is, in fact, saying the exact opposite. The critique of logocentrism is above all else the search for the 'other' and the 'other of language'.

Derrida in suggesting that a context can never be completely fixed or stabilized, is really only saying that contexts overflow, that contexts are always in a state of flux, and as finite beings we can never hope to 'master' a given context. Thus a context is never 'complete' there is no total context. (This is not that radical of an idea, considering the fact that anyone doing serious historical study understands that history is a discipline of revision.) The problem, or the radicalization, of Derrida enters when we assume that because contexts are always and already under-determined that it naturally follows that all contexts are indeterminate. In fact, surprising to some, Derrida places a large emphasis upon reference, context, and community in interpretation. What Derrida is opposed to then, is not the impossibility of interpretation or the determination of communities as such, but rather the determination of communities under the naive assumption that no determination has taken place - that interpretation follows a set of 'natural' or 'self- evident' rules. These rules usually contain, as there chief means of determination, the notion of authorial intention. For Derrida the author's intent is not something that is 'perspicuous', it is not to be simply read off of the lines of a text. The derridian notion of the 'author's intention' is not some magical hermeneutic elixir which escapes the conditioning of contextually; but neither is it a chimera.

Friday, December 16, 2005

the positive side of Derrida

Sean de Toit (by the way the coolest name of any biblioblogers) asks the question of whether James thinks he is the only one to really understand Derrida, and wonders if the entire monstrosity surrounding Derrida can really be a chimera.

If I gave the impression that this is the scope of James' project, I must apologize; I can't imagine anyone saying that there is a 'single' correct interpretation of Derrida. What I feel James is attempting is a reading of Derrida that listens carefully to Derrida, and in the process seeks to dispel some of the 'pop-culture' interpretations of Derrida.

First James sets the Derrida-monster squarely within the context of two significant events, the awarding of the honorary doctorate by Cambridge, and the controversy that surrounded this move; and the illegal publishing of an interview in the states and the sparring that took place in the pages of the NYRB. It is from these events, but obviously not limited to these events, that the demonization of the Derrida-monster began to seep into the public's conciseness.

Next by way of via negative he explains deconstruction:

  1. Deconstruction is not a 'method'. It is not something we do to texts, deconstruction is already present in the texts, as interpreters we are but witnesses.
  2. Deconstruction is not merely negative 'destruction'. It is never a simple dismantling of texts, it is always a double movement of destructing with a view to reconstructing, thus the con infix is very important.
  3. Deconstruction is not a 'master' name. Deconstruction is not an adequate term, and must never be severed from the discourse of trace, margin, supplement, etc.
  4. Deconstruction is not nihilism. 'Deconstruction is not an enclosure in nothingness, but an openness towards the other (Deconstruction and the Other, 124).'
  5. Deconstruction is not anti-philosophical. While deconstruction questions the systems of philosophy and the institution of university, it is not opposed to either as such.

So as to come to a preliminary definition: 'Deconstruction then is a deeply affirmative mode of critique attentive to the way in which texts, structures and institutions marginalize and exclude 'the other', with a view to reconstructing and reconstituting institutions and practices to be more just (i.e. to respond to the call of the other).' (12)

Obviously there are other ways of reading Derrida, but I think James touches on something very important, the fact that the positive purposes of Derrida are often either neglected all together, or hidden in the backdrop; because a domesticated, silly, deconstruction is easier to brush of than one that, at its very center, has the ethics of the 'other' in view.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

The Derrida-Monster

  1. All texts and all interpretations are on par.
  2. Authors are irrelevant.
  3. Impossibility of distinguishing correct interpretations from incorrect ones.
  4. There are no distinctions between fact and fiction, observation and imagination, evidence and prejudice.
  5. People live in a prison house of language and have no relation to reality.
  6. Interpretation is without criteria.

A monster is a type of hybrid, a composite of other organisms grafted on to each other; it is at first sighting unrecognizable, it is unnamable, yet strangely familiar; the moment the monster is named it is tamed, this domestication of the monster is achieved through the mastery over the monster.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Can you misread Derrida?

This is a book that I bought on a whim, one of those many (my wife would say too many) books purchased to fulfill the requirements of Amazon's free shipping. I confess I purchased it more for the author's upcoming book, Who’s Afraid of Postmodernism, but I thought I would get acquainted with the prose style, dip my toes, so to speak, to see if the water would be to my liking.

I must say it is well written, indeed, I am engaged so far, and it has confirmed many of my own 'preliminary' readings of Derrida. But enough of what I think!

Jacques Derrida Live Theory is an attempt to reread Derrida in light of the many misreadings that have spawned over the years by those who have either been less than enamored with or those who have been over enthralled with his writings. Most of these misreadings, James presumes are due to critics not taking the time and effort to read Derrida carefully and thoughtfully (I must confess, I too am among the lazy, I have only read, Margins of Philosophy, and only read it once). According to Smith this has led to the creation of a 'derrida-monster', a mythical monster that is alive and haunts the public’s conception of what Derrida was all about.

I am looking forward to reading this book more thoroughly in an effort to correct my own possible/probable misappropriations of Derrida. That being said I do have a strong attraction to Derrida's notion of alterity, and am intrigued by the theological possibilities of such an ethical approach.

I imagine that I will probably post further on this book. But let it be known that my lame, and befuddled attempt to synthesize Jamey's accessible and elegant prose, should in no way discourage you from buying this book, he really does say it so much better!

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Time, RSS Feeds, and Biblioblogs

Do you just not have enough time to catch up with the latest squabble between Joe Cathey and Jim West on historiography? Or perhaps you want to know instantly from Mark Goodacre the latest offerings from RBL. But after that third cup of coffee and the morning scone(s) you just don't know if you can stay glued to your RSS feeder any longer. Well now you don't have too, thanks to RSStroom Reader which is ready to print the latest offerings from the Deinde team all the way to Scot McKnight, all for your reading pleasure.

With wireless connectivity, RSS 2.0/Atom compatibility, and a browser based control panel, it should get the job done. I remember a picture of Michael Bird's office, and this would look great next to your chair!

Friday, December 02, 2005

Achtung!: Self Disclosure

As I mentioned before I picked up a real gem of a book for a mere 36 cents called God and the Philosophers: The reconciliation of faith and reason. It is a book comprised of short autobiographical essays produced by philosophers on the subject of faith and reason. I read the short article by Merold Westphal entitled Faith Seeking Understanding, and I sum it up as follows:

On the Christianity of his Youth:

Westphal grew up in the type of circles that had a bumper sticker sort of hermeneutic 'God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It,' the function of this sort of hermeneutical theory, as Westphal explains, is to terminate conversation and critical reflection. He goes on to state that, by terminating conversation with those who do not share one's specific interpretation of the faith, one pretty much terminates the possibility of critical reflection on the truth, meaning, and relative significance of the various components of one's theology, rendering one's current understanding of the faith final for all intents and purposes. Ironically, the quest for certainty that motivates this posture is anything but philosophically innocent. It is more like a cross between Plato and Descartes dressed up in its Sunday's best.

On Suspicion and Faith

Thus I have found it necessary to take seriously such theories, often motivated by unbelief and just as often perceived as threats to the life of faith, as Nietzsche's perspectivism, Heidegger's hermeneutical circle, and Derrida's deconstruction based on differance. If there is ultimately a theological rationale for my serious exploration of these powerful secular forms of finitism, it is a willingness to be put in question. However imperfect the practice is of this willingness, it is an essential ingredient of faith as a virtue.

Faith's self-understanding is likely to be changed in the process. My own faith has continued to be central to my being-in-the-worlds but it has not been a fixed and final point impervious to reinterpretation. Faith in the unchangeableness of God does not entail the unchangeableness of faith itself, for faith is not so much my holding on to God as it is my willingness to let God hold on to me. Such faith includes the trust that in this process one's relation to God will be deepened rather than destroyed, and that has been my experience. I don't have the world on a string (or God in a box), as I did when I first came to philosophy. But I am convinced that I understand both God and myself better because of these losses. What Jesus said about finding our life through losing it has many meanings' one of which, in my experience, pertains to the life of the believer engaging in philosophical reflection. We have a similar experience when we discover that human relations, such as marriages are so much richer when we abandon the effort always to be in control.

On Kierkegaard and Sin:

Kierkegaard does not deny the finitude that is the heart of the Kantian analysis; but he subordinates it to a more radical rift between ourselves and God, our sinfulness, which he understands as our point of being useful without being a nuisance, He points out the workings of this desire, not just in our behavings but in our believings as well. Hence the contrast between 'humanly understood' and 'divinely understood.' What made me 'vulnerable' to these experiences was in large part the constant reminder from Kierkegaard that the thinking of sincere Christians was not immune to the corruptions of the fall. I was no longer able simply to identify the Christian world view I had inherited with the truth of God. Once Kierkegaard had become the occasion for a shaking of the foundations'significant parts of that edifice came tumbling down like the walls of Jericho. I was learning that the life of belief is a journey, and that 'living happily ever after,' poetically speaking, comes at the end of the story and not in the middle.

On the Lenten Reflection of the Secular:

Derrida, Marx, and Freud proved to be my worst friends' the kind everyone needs--to tell you what you best friends won't tell you, about your bad breath and dandruff. I found them to echo in the context of modernity the kind of critique originally directed by Jesus, the prophets who preceded him, and the apostles who succeeded him to those who saw themselves as the covenant people of God. These great modern atheists helped me to discover a dimension of the biblical message I had not noticed much before. A sustained appeal to the Christian church to take all religion critiques of this unholy trio seriously rather than simply trying to debate or discredit them, to read them as a kind of Lenten spiritual exercise in self-examination. It seems to me that their deeply hostile and unflattering accounts of the personal and corporate life of Christians is all too true all too much of the time. I don't think it is the whole truth, as they are inclined to suggest, but the best way to show this, I think, is not to argue against their theories but to submit to their discipline and relearn to live the life of faith in ways less vulnerable to their critiques. If there is more to the life of faith than self-deception in the service of self-interest, the best demonstration of this is not proof but practice. Here piety is useless in the sense of not having its value as a means to some end; and it is self-transcendence, not because it relates to the Transcendent (which can be an entirely ego-centered project), but because it involves a decentering of the self that always aspires to be the center of the world.

On Useless Self-Transcendence:

The concept of useless self-transcendence is not an argument for the rationality of religious belief. But it is a challenge to every rationality, sacred or secular, that functions to make the human self or the human community the possessor and dispenser of Truth. At the same time it summarizes, perhaps better than anything else--what my faith has found as it has sought understanding, namely, that faith is the task of a lifetime. The present narrative ends hereby but the story it has tried to tell goes on. As those who know me best will gladly attest, God isn't finished with me yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

One of my favorite things to do.

Today was our local libraries semi-annual book sale. Library book sales have been one of my favorite pastimes since a friend and I would traipse all over SoCal looking for bargains. Over the years I have filled a few shelves (anyone who has seen my library can attest to this) with fifty cent books (not books about the hip hop artist). One of my all time best buys would have to be the compact edition of the 22 volume OED. That is 22 volumes compacted into two hefty volumes, at 5pt font, now you need a magnifying glass to read it and all, but I got it for a dollar.

Today my treasures included, but were not limited to, The Chicago Manual of Style (13th ed.), Walter Wink's The Powers That Be, a book about Wilco (a great band), Jim Wallis' God's Politics, Stephen Jay Gould's Rocks of Ages, and Abbot and Smiths Greek Lexicon (which I promptly put up for sale).

The only bummer is that another guy found Wright's Jesus and the Victory of God, and seemed to be buying it only because of Fortress' nice cover, if only they could have put a dull brown cover on that book, I am confident that it would now be residing on my bookshelves.


All ill feelings to the chap who snagged the Wright book were quickly erased when I went back to the book sale and found 13 Anchor Bible Commentaries for 36 cents each, most of them were in the Hebrew Bible, but you can not beat 36 cents. Also picked up a gem called God and the Philosophers.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Again SBL


The receptions for me are always the highlight of SBL, and not just because of the free wine, although that does play a big part. This year, while mingling through the receptions, I met some old friends from Sheffield that I have not seen for ages, and it is always good to catch up on the departmental gossip, and to find out just what everyone is up to now (of course I forgot to bring my camera). The highlight by far was bumping into Mark Nanos, and chatting with him about my project. It is always affirming when an established scholar shows interest in your project. To be honest the Ph.D. is perhaps the most humiliating process I have been through, a time of constant doubting, and wondering if any one will buy the smoke I am blowing. So it is nice to get some positive feed back from someone who isn't known for affirming for the sake of being nice (just ask Preston).

The conversations outside of the seminars are always rich at SBL, perhaps because I have the luxury of having friends who are better thinkers than I, and who subsequently like to lash out against my feeble mind (shame shame!). This year was no exception, and they left me with much to mull over. I am counting on these conversations getting me through the next couple of months, so thank you!

Saturday, November 26, 2005



After a long three days in Valley Forge under the oppressive force which is 'Scanticon', we piled into a friends van and made the trek to Downtown Philly. Moving from ETS to SBL/AAR is helped by the annual IBR meeting, which conveniently lies between the two, both theological and sequentially. IBR was really really long, and I am sure the paper read by Gordon Wenham was good, but could have and should have been cut by thirty minutes. I arrived at IBR about twenty minutes late, hoping to avoid a long lecture, twenty minutes proved too early, and I had to endure a long lecture nonetheless. I do like IBR because they always give a free book out after the lecture, kind of like a prize for endurance.

Then it was off to eat, sleep, and prepare for the first full day of SBL. I woke up early on day two, and walked Philly. It was cold but I enjoy watching cities wake up, and being Saturday Philly woke up a little late. I took my new camera and scouted for some good pictures. I hope some day to get up enough nerve to ask people if it is ok to snap some shots of them, until then it is just buildings and scenery.

I only remember going to one session, it was the Wright/Crossan/Ehrman/Martin symposium on the authority of Scriptures. A few comments: Wright is a smart man, but when is he going to wise up to post-modernity, and the postmodern project? His comment to Martin about authorial intention seemed a wee bit shallow for Wright. The least he could do is read A.K.M. Adam's little intro to postmodern theology. Besides that it was a good session, and all of the respondents did well. Of course I resonated with Martin the most, but little surprise there, huh. Needless to say I will look up Ehrman's book, if only to learn about his journey from Moody to Yale and beyond, sounds most interesting.

Here are some more Pics from Philly;

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


The blogging has been slow, and unlike those who found time to blog, whilst still at ETS/SBL, I couldn't bare looking at a computer screen for long periods of time. Sleeping only three to five hours a night is not something I am particularly good at, add to the mix the fact that I gave a paper and had interviews, the stress levels were in a constant state of flux. So now that I have had time to reflect upon my experience here goes. I will start with ETS:


The Evangelical Theological Society is a crazy conglomerate of people who in some way profess to be evangelical. Evangelical as a term, is a great example of a word that shows the problems of signification, since it signifies very different things to very different communities. This is reflected by the wide spectrums of papers given, and also the comments to those papers. That being said I only went to four papers, in which only one was completely egregious and the reader deserved to be shot on the spot for making so many category mistakes (yes we postmoderns do care about the internal logic of a paper).

The highlight was obviously hanging out with friends, laughing, and just being all around misfits. I also got to meet Richard Hays, and chat with him a little, so that was cool. I met one of Richard's students, who had a really brilliant idea, setting up a young scholars study group at ETS, but alas, somebody would have to organize all that, but at least you could solicit papers instead of having them grouped in some incoherent conglomerate.

The ETS site was appalling, the building seemed to be at its heyday in the late 80's, which is beginning to get old, there were no restaurants close by, and unless one had transportation, you had to wait for shuttles to get back and forth from your hotel. Many of the rooms had no podiums, and there was an oppressive spirit that hovered over a place called the 'Scanticon'.

My paper seemed to go well enough, though there were very few comments, which was disappointing since that is why you give papers. But it was all good, and ETS is simply a great way to meet up with old friends, and meet new ones.

And I bought no books there, can you belive it!

Monday, November 14, 2005

Romans 1.18-2.1 and Imperial Polemics

Here is the paper I will be presenting at this years ETS in Valley Forge, please feel free to comment on it as you please.

Don't be turned away by the link, it is a free hosting service, click on the button below the title, then when ready, click on the globe with an arrow. Sorry for the hassle someday i will get my website back up, so I can host these things a bit better.

Link to Paper


On Exile

But I am the exile.

Seal me with your eyes.

Take me wherever you are--

Take me whatever you are

Restore to me the colour of face

And the warmth of body

The light of heart and eye,

The salt of bread and rhythm,

The taste of earth...the Motherland.

Shield me with your eyes.

Take me as a relic from the mansion of sorrow.

Take me as a verse from my tragedy;

Take me as a toy, a brick from the house

So that our children will remember to return.


One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

Friday, November 11, 2005

New Biblical Studies Website.

Sheffield has just updated their Biblical Studies website, it took a while but it is top notch, now we just need to get the Profs to put their papers online. Perhaps Paul at Deinde can convince them that open source is the wave of the future! Check it out.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Congrats Raf!

Rafael over at Verily Verily is now a papa, I want to welcome Janelle into the world, and offer Raf and Andrea my congrats!

Friday, November 04, 2005

The Nature of Texts

Texts are protean things; they are tied to circumstances and to politics large and small, and these require attention and criticism. No one can take stock of everything, of course, just as no theory can explain or account for the connections among texts and societies.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

What books do you plan on buying at SBL/AAR?

I thought it might be fun to compare shopping lists of biblioblogers.

Here are mine in no particular order:

1. Leander Keck, Romans

2. N.T. Wright, The Last Word

3. N.T. Wright, Paul: Fresh Perspectives

4. Cosgrove, Weiss, and Yeo; Cross-Cultural Paul

5. Mark Reasoner, Romans in Full Circle

6. Kevin Vanhoozer, The Drama of Doctrine

7. James Smith, Who's Afraid of Postmodernism?

8. Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, Saving Christianity from Empire

9. Sandra Polaski, Feminist Introduction to Paul

10. Camilo Jose Vergara, How the Other Half Worships

I will limit it to ten for now, and I know that some of these will not make publication by SBL, but that will allow me to add to the list.

So what will you buy?

Friday, October 28, 2005

After Wilma

UPDATE: Since my hard drive crashed I lost all my e-mail contacts, so if I haven't responded back to you in some time (Minna), or if you want to stay in some sort of contact, please email!

After Wilma we returned to Naples ready to asses the damage, and hope for the best. To our surprise we had power and water within hours of our arrival, but no DSL. We fared rather well considering some are still without power, water, and a few have even lost their homes. So we are happy!

But then in a twist of fate, while returning some of my books to their shelves, a volume of Aquinas’s Summa Contra Gentiles fell approximately five feet and hit my laptop, with a minor crash. No worries until the circuit board on my hard drive started making a crazy popping noise, and then a loud clicking, and then a groovy techno beat. Alas my Hard Drive was fried!

Does anyone really back up every day? Fortunately I backed up the important stuff right before Wilma, but not my music, e-mails, or even endnote files. There is a lesson here, but I will refuse to find it until after I fume!

This is the second time while writing my thesis that my hard drive has crashed, so forgive me if I never read Aquinas again!

As Promised Neusner on Judaism

Nominalist: Every Jew defines Judaism. Judaism is thus the sum of the attitudes and beliefs of all the members of an ethnic group. Each member of the group serves equally well to define Judaism.

Harmonistic: The common denominator among the sum of all Judaisms. All Jewish data, writings, and other records together tell us about a single Judaism, which is defined by the least common denominator among all the data.

Theological: The study of Judaism by studying the theological ideas of the various texts. This provides a well drafted description, but ignores all the questions of context and social relevance. Its Judaism came into existence for reasons we can not say and addressed no issues faced by ordinary people, and constituted a set of disembodied, socially irrelevant ideas that lack history and consequences. So it can be described and analyzed but not interpreted.

Historical: The working through sources in the order in which it is assumed that they reached closure, so as to find the order and sequence in which ideas came to expression. Each document is studied as a Judaism before comparing and contrasting can be done.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

What Is A Judaism and How Do We Study It?

Both Mike and Raf have been asking questions that I have been mulling over, off and on for nearly five years now, still with no epiphany! I was hoping that one of them might come up with an answer plausible enough that It would become the 'consensus' view, and I could just cite them, and begin to use that space in my brain again for something else.

I think a set of corollary questions are: Just what is a Judaism? How do we make use of the various texts of the Second Temple period for a reconstruction of history and theology? And the big question for me is then how can we use this information to better understand Paul, Jesus, Pharisees, or whatever is of interest to us, without manipulating it to say what we want it to say?

Some of the various attempts at describing Judaisms can be polemically explained and dismissed by the rhetorical genius that is Jacob Neusner, in a number of his writings, I don't have the book with me but will post it, after I hop over to USF.

I am aware of Philip Esler's socio-scientific explanation of ethnicity, but found it hard to swallow, but that may simply be because it was a foreign idea to me, and sometimes it takes time for those types of ideas to penetrate my thick cranium.

Enter Francis Watson into the fray, with some of the comments he makes in his, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. Where he poses the question of what it might mean to call Paul a Jew? The short answer for Watson is found in Rom 3.1-2 where Paul places unique significance of being a Jew in the reception, preservation, and propagation of the scriptures. Jews are those who possess, cherish, study, teach, and argue about the scriptures. Therefore to call Paul a Jew is to say that he reads the same texts as his fellow Jews, but reads them differently. The thesis is that all Jews interpret the same texts, the Torah and the Prophets; they interpret these texts in order to interpret the world around them.[1]

In all fairness Francis is only setting up a fruitful way of engaging the various texts, he is not out to answer the question of what it means to be a Jew qua Jew. Careful to distance himself from an essentialist view of Judaism, he offers an interesting way into the texts without having to deal with the anachronisms that Judith Lieu has been warning about.[2]

[1] Francis Watson, Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith. (London T & T Clark, 2004), 1.
[2] Francis Watson, xi.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Wilma and Formative Judaism

In the anticipation of Wilma, my wife convinced me that for the benefit of the children, and for herself, that we should move further north. It helped that my parents booked a room for us up in Tampa. To my delight and surprise our hotel was right across the street from the University of South Florida. The reason for my delight is that USF was once the scholarly residence for one of my favorite scholars, arguable the most published scholar in religion, Jacob Neusner. USF has published a substantial amount of Neusner's work and as a result holds most of it in their library.

So needless to say I have been spending most of my time working at the library, where I have found books that I have been meaning to look at for over three years, but couldn't be bothered to fill out the inter-library loan forms.

There is a certain beauty about the filled stacks of a research library that invigorate me to finish my dissertation.

Still Waiting for Wilma,

Thursday, October 20, 2005


There may be a slight hiccup in my blogging due to the uncertian effects of Wilma, we will know more later, but until then we wait!


Friday, October 14, 2005

Back to NT posts...sort of.

I have been meaning to read, 'Paul and the Hermeneutics of Faith', by Francis Watson, since picking it up last year at SBL, so I figured I ought to hurry and read it before SBL comes around again (in an effort to justify new purchases). I missed the lecture that Francis gave during the SBL meeting (ironically I went to hear Richard Hays), so I wasn't really sure what to expect from this book. So far, after reading only the introduction, I am looking quite forward to digging in. I hope to post some thoughts in the upcoming days, but until then I will leave you with a quote that struck me as germane to Biblical Studies.

'Disagreement is a familiar social practice in which it is difficult not to engage on a regular basis. It arises from the fact that humans live not in solitude but in community, and that from time to time their respective norms, projects or goals come into conflict. Since interpreting texts is an extension of the interpretative activity that permeates all human interpersonal relations, it is hardly to be expected that the specialized activity will be immune from the disagreements endemic to the wider field. Indeed, the possibility of disagreement is inherent in the practice of textual interpretation: for if a text needs to be interpreted at all, its meaning is not self-evident and there is always room for more than one account of what that meaning is. If it is possible to interpret, then it is also possible to misinterpret; and to claim that misinterpretation has taken place is to engage in the practice of interpretative disagreement. In itself, disagreement is an ethically neutral act. It does not necessarily imply that one party is doing violence to the other, that a human right to freedom of speech is under attack, or that there has been a failure to understand the other’s point of view. The ethical risks that accompany disagreement are perhaps no greater than those attending other practices, such as the avoidance of conflict. Disagreement is always an act rather than just an occurrence, and those who engage in it do so on the basis of means and ends they regard as appropriate and rational. Most important of all, disagreement presupposes a shared concern and thus an acknowledgment of community rather than a retreat into isolation. It always intends its own resolution, even if this can only be attained in the form of a negotiated compromise or an agreement to differ (24-25).'

Monday, October 10, 2005

Just Because?

Because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace things, but burn like fabulous roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue center light pop and everybody goes "AWWW!"

Jack Kerouac
On the Road

Monday, September 26, 2005

The Conversion of the Imagination

Sometimes poetry has the ability to rip us out of the status quo, to shake up our imaginations, in order that we may re-vision life, and come to understand just what it means to be new creations in Christ. Too often in this period of late-capitalism we become the consumers of images, images that become to us idolatrous, we need to be shaken to the core, to be re-invented, re-created, so that we can see the world as it was meant to be seen. In this vein I offer a poem by Yasmin Finch, 'in the beginning...', I suggest reading it out loud, again, again, and again.

in the beginning...

In the beginning was the word, and the word whispered.
Into our souls, into our spirits.
It whispered to the world,
to the babies born to African women
and the old men who sit at bus shelters in south America.
To the children who run barefoot through the Indonesian jungle
And the ones snuggled up in furs, pulled on sledges, through the Greenland winter.

The word whispered at the morning of the world,
when the first thin streaks of dawn stretched across the sky.
And it will be there at it's dying,by her bedside, mopping her brow, tending her needs.
The word whispered.
And through the darkness the light peeked out.
The word whispered and life coursed through the veins of every living thing.
The word whispered and most of us missed it.
It was gone, carried away by the wind, drowned by the sea, lost in the earth.

But those who heard it, those who felt its tug,
listened to the whisper.
Softly it spoke through all that is,
telling secrets,
speaking mysteries unknown
giggling at the colours of the sky
and grieving at the tears of the world.

In the beginning was the word, and the word whispered.

-Yasmin Finch

Saturday, September 24, 2005

New Blog

- The Blogs Tower, Sheffield

Perhaps in an attempt to divert attention from the pummeling I am receiving from the Yadav brothers, I am eager to announce a new blog. My friend Rafael Rodriguez who is doing some really spiffy work in historical Jesus studies has just entered into the bloging world. I have seen first hand the likes of Jimmy Dunn and Bruce Malina bedazzled at the rhetorical skills of this burgeoning young scholar. His work focuses on social memory and the remembering of Jesus; but don't take my word for it, go visit.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Choice Words

Unleashing the Scripture by Stanley Hauerwas

Most North American Christians assume that they have a right, if not an obligation, to read the Bible. I challenge that assumption. No Task is more important than for the Church to take the Bible out of the hands of individual Christians in North America. Let us no longer give the Bible to children when they enter the third grade or whenever their assumed rise to Christian maturity is marked, such as eight-grade comencements. Let us rather tell them and their parents that they are possessed by habits far too corrupt for them to be encouraged to read the Bible on their own.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Hungry People Don't Stay Hungry For Long?

This is a must read article from Naomi Klein, on the potential results of the 2nd Katrina, lets pray that Naomi is not a prophet!

Friday, September 09, 2005


"The only irony allowed to poverty is to drive Justice and Benevolence to unjust denials"

-BALZAC, The Country Doctor

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Barthes' Intertextuality

It probably was not fair of me to start a discussion on authorial intention with a Barthes quote, my attempt at intertextual play perhaps was confusing, but for Barthes there is no more author, that is for sure. However, this does not mean what Sameer has to say is irrelevant, it just means I need more time to think it through, until then let me clarify Barthes position.

Roland Barthes

While it may have been Kristeva's gloss on Bakhtin which eventually led to the term intertextuality, it is Barthes who has played the term and developed it into a theory of posts-structuralism. For Barthes the key to intertextuality is to get away from a modernist view of the text. To this end he employs the term 'work' as a replacement of 'text':

A work is a finished object, something computable, which can occupy a physical space (take its place, for example, on the shelves of a library); the text is a methodological field. One cannot, therefore, count up texts, at least not in any regular way; all one can say is that in such and-such a work, there is, or there isn't, some text. 'The work is held in the hand, the text in language'.[1]

The text is a process in signification rather than a medium within which meaning is secured and stabilized, writing for Barthes opens the sign up to a Derrida like explosion, infinite and yet always already deferred dimension of meaning.[2] Barthes' theory of the text, therefore, involves a theory of intertextuality, in that the text not only sets in motion a plurality of meanings but is also woven out of numerous discourses and spun from already existent meaning. Barthes intertextual text is:

woven entirely with citations, references, echoes, cultural languages (what language is not?) antecedent or contemporary, which cut across it through and through in a vast stereophony. The intertextual in which every text is held, it itself being the text-between of another text, is not to be confused with some origin of the text: to try to find that 'sources', the 'influences' of a work, is to fall in with the myth of filiation; the citations which go to make up a text are anonymous, untraceable, and yet already read: they are quotations without inverted commas.[3]
Unlike Kristeva, for whom the reader is the absent mediator-translator, Barthes reader is the body of mediation or medium for the texts effects to come into play. The reader is not a passive vehicle, not an echo chamber, but rather the regent of the text.[4] The author then is an arranger or compiler of the always already written likewise the text is, then, 'a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centers of culture.'[5]

It is important for Barthes that one recognize that textual meaning is not created from an author combining a signifier with the signified, the Barthesian concept of the intertextual, does not mean we can simply move to the intertextual level of the signifier and signified. To say that the text is constructed from a mosaic of quotations does not mean we can find a text's pretexts and then view them as the signified of the texts signifiers. The inter-texts, other works of literature, other kinds of texts, are themselves intertextual constructs, and are themselves able to offer us nothing more than signifiers.[6]

For Barthes the pleasure of the text is to follow the 'derive,' the drift of a ship off coarse, to see where it might take you, or where you might take it. The reader then is to chase the pleasure principle through the most deviatory routes, and play with other texts in a counter-directional manner.[7] Unlike Kristeva who ultimately sought from the dialogical nature of intertexts the ability for ideological critique, in Barthes one gets the sense that the only redeeming value of texts is how they play, or as Mary Orr has aptly put it, the brilliance in Barthes is '....the choreography of the intertext as ephemeral and sensate, the white heat of pyrotechnics.'[8]

[1] Roland Barthes, "Theory of the Text," in Untying the Text: A Post-Structuralist Reader, ed. Robert Young (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981), 39.

[2] Allen, Intertextuality, 65.

[3] Barthes, Image - Music - Text, 160.

[4] Orr, Intertextuality, 34, 35.

[5] Roland Barthes, "The Death of the Author," in Image - Music - Text (Fontana, 1977), 146.

[6] Allen, Intertextuality, 73.

[7] Orr, Intertextuality, 37.

[8] Orr, Intertextuality, 40.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005


This is from John Scalzi Blog and it is an amazing piece on what it means to be poor in America:

Being Poor
Being poor is knowing exactly how much everything costs.
Being poor is getting angry at your kids for asking for all the crap they see on TV.
Being poor is having to keep buying $800 cars because they're what you can afford, and then having the cars break down on you, because there's not an $800 car in America that's worth a damn.
Being poor is hoping the toothache goes away.
Being poor is knowing your kid goes to friends' houses but never has friends over to yours.
Being poor is going to the restroom before you get in the school lunch line so your friends will be ahead of you and won't hear you say "I get free lunch" when you get to the cashier.
Being poor is living next to the freeway.
Being poor is coming back to the car with your children in the back seat, clutching that box of Raisin Bran you just bought and trying to think of a way to make the kids understand that the box has to last.
Being poor is wondering if your well-off sibling is lying when he says he doesn't mind when you ask for help.
Being poor is off-brand toys.
Being poor is a heater in only one room of the house.
Being poor is knowing you can't leave $5 on the coffee table when your friends are around.
Being poor is hoping your kids don't have a growth spurt.
Being poor is stealing meat from the store, frying it up before your mom gets home and then telling her she doesn't have make dinner tonight because you're not hungry anyway.
Being poor is Goodwill underwear.
Being poor is not enough space for everyone who lives with you.
Being poor is feeling the glued soles tear off your supermarket shoes when you run around the playground.
Being poor is your kid's school being the one with the 15-year-old textbooks and no air conditioning.
Being poor is thinking $8 an hour is a really good deal.
Being poor is relying on people who don't give a damn about you.
Being poor is an overnight shift under florescent lights.
Being poor is finding the letter your mom wrote to your dad, begging him for the child support.
Being poor is a bathtub you have to empty into the toilet.
Being poor is stopping the car to take a lamp from a stranger's trash.
Being poor is making lunch for your kid when a cockroach skitters over the bread, and you looking over to see if your kid saw.
Being poor is believing a GED actually makes a goddamned difference.
Being poor is people angry at you just for walking around in the mall.
Being poor is not taking the job because you can't find someone you trust to watch your kids.
Being poor is the police busting into the apartment right next to yours.
Being poor is not talking to that girl because she'll probably just laugh at your clothes.
Being poor is hoping you'll be invited for dinner.
Being poor is a sidewalk with lots of brown glass on it.
Being poor is people thinking they know something about you by the way you talk.
Being poor is needing that 35-cent raise.
Being poor is your kid's teacher assuming you don't have any books in your home.
Being poor is six dollars short on the utility bill and no way to close the gap.
Being poor is crying when you drop the mac and cheese on the floor.
Being poor is knowing you work as hard as anyone, anywhere.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually stupid.
Being poor is people surprised to discover you're not actually lazy.
Being poor is a six-hour wait in an emergency room with a sick child asleep on your lap.
Being poor is never buying anything someone else hasn't bought first.
Being poor is picking the 10 cent ramen instead of the 12 cent ramen because that's two extra packages for every dollar.
Being poor is having to live with choices you didn't know you made when you were 14 years old.
Being poor is getting tired of people wanting you to be grateful.
Being poor is knowing you're being judged.
Being poor is a box of crayons and a $1 coloring book from a community center Santa.
Being poor is checking the coin return slot of every soda machine you go by.
Being poor is deciding that it's all right to base a relationship on shelter.
Being poor is knowing you really shouldn't spend that buck on a Lotto ticket.
Being poor is hoping the register lady will spot you the dime.
Being poor is feeling helpless when your child makes the same mistakes you did, and won't listen to you beg them against doing so.
Being poor is a cough that doesn't go away.
Being poor is making sure you don't spill on the couch, just in case you have to give it back before the lease is up.
Being poor is a $200 paycheck advance from a company that takes $250 when the paycheck comes in.
Being poor is four years of night classes for an Associates of Art degree.
Being poor is a lumpy futon bed.
Being poor is knowing where the shelter is.
Being poor is people who have never been poor wondering why you choose to be so.
Being poor is knowing how hard it is to stop being poor.
Being poor is seeing how few options you have.
Being poor is running in place.
Being poor is people wondering why you didn't leave.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

don't misquote me but...

'I', writes Barthes, 'is not an innocent subject that is anterior to texts. . . . The I that approaches the text is itself already a plurality of other texts, of infinite or, more precisely, lost codes (whose origins are lost).'[1]

The importance of authorial intention (hereafter AI) to some people obviously stems from a desire to safeguard interpretation, from the dangers of an anything goes 'relativism'. In this line of thinking, meaning is not created by readers but is embedded in the text by an author. The task for the interpreter then is to discern what the original author intended and to use this as a criterion for adjudicating proper interpretations.

While this is a most noble task, and one that I have often subscribed to in the past (and still slip into in moments of rhetorical weakness), it is I would suggest, at the same time, an inexact one. Let us take for example Paul's letter to the Romans. After centuries of intense study, scholars cannot agree as to whether Paul wrote to Jews, to Gentiles, or to both; depending on which group one thinks the author addressed, scholars have come up with any number of reasons why Paul sought to address them. If these basic questions of 'intention' cannot be settled, how is 'AI' going to arbitrate between these subtleties. The affair ends up being quite circular.

I think authorial intention is misguided as the sole retainer of meaning for a number reasons:

The notion of meaning that results from a strict adherence to AI ends up resorting to a pre-linguistic meaning, meaning is something which the author wills. Terry Eagleton states:

It is as if meaning is a ghostly, wordless mental act which is then 'fixed' for all time in a particular set of material signs. It is an affair of consciousness, rather than of words. Quite what such a wordless consciousness consists in is not made plain. Imagine looking up from the text, and mean something, is the meaning any different from the words that express it? [2]

Here I quote Eagleton because he will say it so much better than me!

Even if critics could obtain access to an author's intention, would this securely ground the literary text in a determinate meaning? What if we asked for an account of the meaning of the author's intentions, and then for an account of that, and so on? Security is possible here only if authorial meanings are what Hirsch takes them to be: pure, solid, 'self-identical' facts which can be unimpeachably used to anchor the work. But this is a highly dubious way of seeing any kind of meaning at all. Meanings are not as stable and determinate as Hirsch thinks, even authorial ones - and the reason they are not is because, as he will not recognize, they are the products of language, which always has something slippery about it. It is difficult to Know what it could be to have a 'pure' intention or express a 'pure' meaning; it is only because Hirsch holds meaning apart from language that he is able to put trust in such chimeras. An author is translated and variously interpreted just like any other.[3]

Another reason I feel AI is misguided is because it assumes that if the author is not the determiner of meaning, then the text can mean anything. Eagleton humorously calls this fallacy the argument from the floodgates. He rants:

Once you allow one person to be sick out of the car window without Imposing a lengthy gaol [jail] sentenced then before you know where you are motorists will be throwing up out of their vehicles all the time, and the roads will become impassable.[4]

This fallacy is often invoked after a detractor of 'AI' has just spent considerable words on the deficiencies of 'AI', in which the defender of 'AI' cheekily muses about the detractors intentions.

It is true that I desire my own work to be understood and hence I do show an interest in 'AI' after all (although my grammar at times precludes this possibility). The wrong assumption, however, is that without 'AI' readers can make texts mean whatever they like. There are still good interpretations and bad ones. Even to ones detest, writing is like giving birth, and once the text is severed from the umbilical cord it is no longer our own. We simply offer it to the world and see if it convinces anyone. If it convinces many, it might even become a consensus (although consensuses never seem to last long). The adjudicators of good and bad become what Stanley Fish calls our interpretive communities.

My final remark is that what one sees depends primarily on where one stands. There is no known way to shed our selves from our social contexts. We can not pick ourselves up by our bootstraps up to Olympian heights so as to get the objective view of what the author meant. This is even more precarious when the author is dead, and cannot answer our queries.

I offer this in humility believing in a God who makes meaning possible, but conceding that meaning is not a possession, 'For now we see in a mirror dimly.'

[1] Roland Barthes, S/Z (New York: Hill and Wang, 1974), 10.
[2] Terry Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1983), 67.
[3] Eagleton, Literary Theory: An Introduction, 69.
[4] Terry Eagleton, After Theory (London: Allen Lane, 2003), 205.

Saturday, September 03, 2005


Scott Mcknight over at Jesus Creed offers a reflection on the darkness.

Fred Clark over at the slacktivist puts together an ensemble of interesting remarks about the New Orleans disaster.

Billmon over at the whiskey bar offers some environmental insights to this catastrophe:

...But the bigger story [as opposed to the story of the lack of funds to sufficiently prepare the levees going to the Iraq war] behind the drowning of New Orleans is what it reveals about the longer-term consequences of America's lunatic environmental priorities. For nearly 160 years, private industry and governments alike have been chopping and channeling the Mississippi and its tributaries -- turning rivers into drainage ditches, riverbanks into Maginot Line-style fortifications, and wetlands into factory farms. This has created the same self-defeating spiral that doomed New Orleans -- the rivers rise, the riverbanks sink, forcing the levees higher and higher, until some of them are now as tall as four-story buildings.

But alas what is needed now is love:

Hurricane Relief

The American Red Cross

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Provides a full spectrum of services to disaster victims, including shelter, medical care, food, clean water and assisting with cleanup efforts.


America's Second Harvest

Donation link: Click here

Relief focus: Transports food to victims and secures additional warehouse space to assist member food banks in resuming and maintaining operations.


Catholic Charities USA

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Community based relief efforts focused on the long-terms needs of disaster victims and affected communities.


Direct Relief International

Donation link: Click here

Relief focus:Serves as a private back-up support to official emergency response efforts in the United States.


Feed The Children

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Mobilizing and distributing supplies in hurricane devastated areas.


Habitat for Humanity

Donation link: Click here

Relief focus: Helping disaster victims rebuild piece by piece and house by house.


The Salvation Army

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Providing hot meals to displaced disaster victims and emergency personnel working to aid those devastated by Hurricane Katrina.


United Jewish Communities

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Community organized and administered humanitarian relief for disaster victims.


United Methodist Committee on Relief

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: General community-based disaster relief, as well as the creation and distribution of "flood buckets" -- a relief item for those who prefer to donate with a personal touch.


United Way

Donation Link: Click here

Relief focus: Identifying serious needs of devastated communities and helping not only with front-line disaster relief but with long-term recovery.