Saturday, January 31, 2009

Reflections: Oh, yeah? Sez you!

I have been involved for the past several days in a comment thread over at Zippy Catholic which has veered—or caromed—off topic, becoming somewhat vituperative in the process. What began as an interesting (to me, anyway) discussion of the art of textual interpretation, has come to rip the scab off the Reformation, resulting in some finger-pointing and name-calling, neither of which, obviously, has anything useful or productive to say about hermeneutics. I doubt very much that anyone will want to read through the 100+ comments that brought us to such a pass; but, in the spirit of full disclosure, I provide the relevant link here.

Now, it so happens that I have been jotting down some pithy concepts on interpretation gleaned from Frank Kermode’s excellent and interesting text, The Genesis of Secrecy, to which I previously referred here. The following is particularly relevant to the position that I’ve been taking in the thread chez Zippy:

“Now that which requires to be disclosed must first have been covered, and this view of interpretation certainly implies that the sense of the parable is an occult sense. Its defenders like to say not that the interpreter illumines the text, but that the text illumines the interpreter, like a radiance. For this, as I said, is an outsider’s theory. It stems ultimately from a Protestant tradition, that of the devout dissenter animated only by the action of the spirit, abhorring the claim of the institution to an historically validated traditional interpretation.” [p.40]

This excerpt is sandwiched, in my notes, between those following (its place in the sequence may be discerned by the page number given), which I will post for context, without additional editorial comment. And I will invite my RC antagonists over to have a look at them, in hopes of elevating the level of discourse.

“Once free of the constraints of the simple primary sense, we begin to seize on those more interesting—let us say spiritual—senses that failed to manifest themselves in the course of a, let us say, carnal reading. Carnal readings are much the same. Spiritual readings are all different. Speculation thrives; we each want to say something different about the same text. Nor is there a foreseeable end to the things that might be said; one divination breeds another.” [p.9]

“[Interpretation] may go on to provide [a text] with a mythological structure, a satisfying spiritual order, instead of the trivial carnal order of the primary narrative. Should we go on to say, in a manner now modish, that the text, in the end, interprets itself or enacts its own interpretation? This is the latest of Hermes’ tricks, when the interpretation vanishes into the text, or the text into the interpretation.” [pp.9-10]

“The object of…interpretation is…sometimes said to be to retrieve, if necessary by benign violence, what is called the original event of disclosure. This is the language of Heidegger; he takes the Greek word for “truth,” alētheia, in its etymological sense, “that which is revealed or disclosed, does not remain concealed.” Every hermeneutic encounter with a text is an encounter with Being as disclosed in it. For Heidegger indeed, it is the very fact that one is outside that makes possible the revelation of truth or meaning; being inside is like being in Plato’s cave.” [p.39]

If you’ve come over, welcome. Your serve.