Friday 1 May 2009

Postmodern Authoritarianism

Oliver O'Donovan makes an appeal to the postliberal theology school of Yale for his treatment of Scripture, whilst making use of the super-realists who produced the Jerusalem Declaration (who'd hardly rate the Yale approach - and there is a Yale approach).

What is the Yale approach but the non-objective fixing of the grammar of texts to identify a community by its performance of the texts, e.g by public reading. It's a cultural icecube: culture from the past frozen because it cannot be objectified today. Or, using the words of O'Donovan himself:

we cannot simply take it up and put it down, but read it as the church, depending on it for our identity

Trouble is language is always dynamic and changing. In a kind of linguistic Darwinism among the cultures, accents became languages, languages start to mix and borrow, and concepts full of meaning in one context shift in another, and the shift gets transmitted back. Yale wants everything frozen: the last gasp of historical authoritarianism after all the current reasoning has been lost.

So time to do a bit of postmodern deconstruction on this article then, if we are talking about text. Some word and phrase selections are extracted:

  • a huge mountain of over-confident speculative rubble
  • arose a doctrinal and apologetic way of talking about Scripture, one driven by the pastoral need
  • icon of revelation for us
  • "Authority" is a term of practical reason
  • "translated", "read", "preached", "taught" and "obeyed"
  • "hear", "read", "mark", "learn", "inwardly digest"
  • New literature is more elusive
  • the reader is, and must remain, an unknown
  • the writer is always a prior and unnegotiable quantity
  • fashionable... "reading against the grain" is simply a battle to suppress the text
  • the text lacks resources to resist the violence offered it
  • the strength the text has offered
  • an implicit hierarchy of texts
  • the logic of a canonical text
  • a reading in faith - not as opposed to reason, but as a founding moment of reason's exercise
  • a reading in love
  • a search for such a "first text", a text to illuminate all texts
  • aesthetic values will not point us to the authority of the canonical text
  • The privileged book
  • the Christ-moment which fulfils the promise of history
  • words of Christ are already interpretations of Holy Scripture
  • God's self-emptying into Scripture
  • the history of the law-text, the history of God's manifest will
  • Reading is a Christological business
  • the authority of Scripture... the attested reality of God's acts disturb the ideal constructions and zealous projections of human piety
  • the authority of Scripture in the church arm it against the greatest danger of a culture that declares itself "post-modern"
  • translated, read, preached, taught and obeyed
  • plain and canonical sense, respectful of the church's historic and consensual reading
  • a disciplined act of plain and simple reading
  • interpretation must happen in due order, under the command of the text
  • a proper value assigned to the corporate exercise of public reading
  • primary to the catholic identity of the church gathered as the reading and recitation of Scripture
  • It is the nuclear core
  • not trying to manipulate or evade its claims...
  • guided by moralistic ideals, has surely crossed the line at which interpretation becomes domestication
  • a strange and slightly mystical claim, that the text has its own ongoing life in the life of its readers
  • In extending the authority of the text to cloak the vagaries of its readers, it dissolves the text's critical authority altogether
  • challenge, out of the text itself, even the most historic and consensual readings if they are downright wrong
  • the Bible is not the creation of the church's reading but its judge
  • the reading of Scripture is a collective enterprise
  • insights of one generation and another will complement each other
  • Good interpretation
  • a proper test of our readings
  • a great deal of normative weight to tell us
  • what obedience is all about
  • we may confront the indeterminacy of practical decision
  • authority is genuinely a practical, not merely a speculative category
  • There are mistaken ways of hearing that promise.
  • ...we are advanced where Jesus and the apostles were naive, we are developed where they were primitive, and so on. [irony]
  • measured by a norm, which is the works and words of Jesus, the perfected law which lies at the heart of Scripture
  • [God] judges the ambiguous proposals of science, literature, culture, politics, economics - yes, and sexuality
  • reading the text for our time, but also reading our time from the text
  • what we need as we read
  • shall not need to look elsewhere
  • God's masterful government of history

This is not an argument, but a construction of vertical authoritarianisms, phrase after phrase of stacked up texts emphasising discipline and regulation. It should be seen for what it is, as a skyscraper of piled high crates and why this article should be rejected as nothing more than an artifice reaching up, pressing down its mass, and swaying in the wind.

Instead, living now, read in creative dialogue, in reflection on what is there, not upon a book of rules, and read along with the reading of other books of life.


Anonymous said...

-"not an argument"
-"a construction of vertical authoritarianisms"
-"phrase after phrase of stacked up texts"
-"emphasising discipline and regulation"
-"It should be seen for what it is" -"a skyscraper of piled high crates"
-"(these comments) should be rejected"
-"nothing more than an artifice"
-"reaching up, pressing down its mass"
-"swaying in the wind."

So it would seem to be the case that this is not an argument, but a construction of vertical authoritarianisms, phrase after phrase of stacked up texts emphasising Pluralist's discipline and regulation. It should be seen for what it is, as a skyscraper of piled high crates and Pluralist's comments should be rejected as nothing more than an artifice reaching up, pressing down its mass, and swaying in the wind.
Or not? What is really the difference?

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

Well, you can do the same to me of course, but mine doesn't have the same consistency as O'Donovan's, and if you do this to my texts they should tend to disperse - except that all arguments as presented in essays and articles are constructed narratives that should increasingly focus to a point: and so go ahead and bust them.

Anonymous said...

A core point, I think, is that no reading method can truly exempt us in any context or setting - from the responsibilities (in contexts) of reading, understanding, following. I see all of these schools as efforts to avoid audience responsibilities, by pushing something back on the text or other authority (usually with skewed if not de-historicized frames, too). I note that by the end of the argument, we somehow can only hear some sort of divine revelation order that commands, stop thinking or investigating, just obey.

I used to take it too much for granted that one charism among Anglicans was that we never, ever thought God was commanding us as followers to turn our brains off.

Real authorities, on the other hand, are always contextual, risky when we apply things to ourselves and other people, and need conscientious follow-up in testing and discernment - not least because of that pesky rule of unintended effects.

The more I read Fulcrim, the crazier their hard work to escape being responsible for what they read and understand of God and neighbor seems to be. They seem always to be arguing that until they have touched some eternally objective bottom hundreds of fathoms down in the deeps of knowledge, they cannot learn to swim or trust keeping their heads above water to breathe. drdanfee.