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.


Friday, September 02, 2005

People over Property?

Perhaps I read too much Eagleton and Jameson, but does anyone else find Bush's endorsment of a shoot-to-kill policy over looting a bit uncaring. I don't usually endorse crime, but is killing someone because they steal a TV really a pro-life policy?

And is there any doubt that we live in a fear culture when, in the apocalyptic madness of an instant society, people wait an hour to fill up there SUV's with precious petrol.