Monday, October 30, 2006

Some notes on Faithful Interpretation

I’ve just finished AKMA’s latest book, Faithful Interpretation, and will make a few notes while it’s fresh. First, I came away with a renewed sense of the intelligence and integrity of the man and his writing. Reading him slowly is rewarded because he is saying things he’s thought about long and subtly.

Next, I sense there’s a “plot” to the book, never openly divulged, but underlying it nonetheless. It opens with the confrontation with Kings of Modern Biblical Interpretation, long known for their exegetical skill, and suggests there is something fundamentally amiss in their approach to reading. The problem is how they privilege “history” – itself a complex web of interpretive tradition and value – so far that all else, including Theology, is subordinated to it. That is to say, if we cannot adduce what we moderns agree is historical evidence in support of the Virgin Birth, or the Resurrection, well, then we might just have to let these events – and whatever other significance they may point to – take a back seat to our historiographic detailings.

Historians can tell us about what various theologians, political figures, texts, and images say about Christ, but the historiographic ascesis that can immeasurably help clarify interpretive questions also obliges us to remain mute on a question for which the evidence is inaccessible (or at the very least) fundamentally controverted. (43)

One treads carefully here because AKMA tends to not underscore where the floorboards are weak or entirely nonexistent. He’s more like David Hume, facing the really troubling stuff head on, but calmly and without the existential crisis mode of latter day academic theoreticians who keep anxiously interpreting for us the fact that there are no facts, only interpretations.

But there’s crisis nonetheless as the reader learns that not just history, but the very apparent solidity of the text itself turns out to lack the minimal requisite stability to provide an object of intellectual inquiry. With a nod to Stanley Fish, AKMA finds little there there other than what the interpreter, working from within one or another set of local interpretive rules and practices, brings to her/his task:

…a more useful approach [than Fish’s claim that no text exists] would be to concede the (possible) objective existence of the text while denying it any functional efficacy. (127)

Without the twin supports of historiography and an actual, shared text, the authority of the high priests of scriptural understanding doesn’t seem quite so well founded, or grounded.

At this point – when the primary modern mode of contextual analysis and the very notion of “the text” itself have been replaced with, basically, nothing – things begin to look pretty bleak.

The narrative takes a turn here not by invoking some simple interpretive scheme or other deus ex machina, but by adducing in serial fashion several ways in which this loss of terra firma can actually be a gain for faithful interpreters.

The first step is to understand that while we might never have the chance to agree on either the text or a privileged approach to it, we have the local practices of communities of readership that come with certain constraints helpful for working out viable readings. The second step is to see the possible value of a world of differing understandings – what AKMA calls “differential hermeneutics.” This is possible only if we let go of the idea that there is one sole universal meaning “in” the text which all proper readers are obligated to share. Not only do texts not contain meaning, but as already noted, they really can’t be said to have much of an objective existence at all.

The sacrifice of the container/content sense of text, and of the text as stable, identifiable body, is at the heart of the major plot turn in Faithful Interpretation. Faced with the abyss where was once the Guiding Light, the interpreter will receive help from the local community and from a re-vision of what it means to interpret scripture. Because the locus of meaning is no longer in the text, or in the interpretive scheme, but in something more immediate and fluid – the “signifying practices” to which communities of faithful readers will be prodded, spurred, impelled by tuning in to what manifests in their lives as a result of viewing said lives within the order of signs of which scripture, the Word, is one very important anterior sign. (It is important to note that AKMA is always speaking from and to a reading community of believers.)

That is to say, the role of the reader is what has changed. From an allegedly passive “mind” working to develop an accurate, placid picture of a stable meaning latent somewhere within a text, it becomes a more a mode of participatory action. Where? In the reader, of course, whose every moment in time is constituted by his/her manifestation of that Word in their voice, body language, ethical choices, art, music, inflection – their incarnation, in short, of the Word, which AKMA calls “constitutive repetition.” (122)

The interpreted text is not what you, or he, or others say it is, it’s what manifests in the lives it inspires. It breathes us, we dance it.

The plot of the book ends with a moving description of performative harmony that lives up to AKMA’s title. This is sufficiently radical (and possibly empowering) as an approach to the epistemology of reading that I want to stop and consider it. But I need to raise one quibble that’s nagged me from early on in reading Faithful Interpretation, and that’s this: perhaps for strategic reasons, AKMA goes further in denying objective attributes to texts than seems necessary or warranted by “the facts.”

I.e., it’s safe to say that there are many, many features of written language that can be identified, logged, quantified, in a manner that most (one can’t say “all,” ever) people would find nothing to disagree with. We can count the “Q’s” in a poem and arrive at a total – and, pace AKMA’s pains to assure us that one never reads the same Q twice, there’s a literal identity that subtends the manifestations of that and every other member of the alphabet that cannot be elided by attending to differences such as whether the Q is in print, or handwritten, etc.

That’s a trivial example, but then that’s what the Trivium has always been: a set of mere tools crafted over centuries in multiple languages by gifted observers of human language – folks like Aristotle, Quintilian, Dionysus Thrax and a lot of other very subtle people from Cicero to Chomsky – that enable us to describe with some degree of accuracy certain properties of language: from sentence structure to syncope to tropes, figures, logical relations and syntactic aberration. It’s an enormous human inheritance that deserves acknowledgement. Whether and to what extent our competence to share rich descriptions of a text can serve as a basis for interpretive legitimacy is an eternally contested question. My only point is that there is reason to have faith in the utility of a distinction between description -- as per the Trivium -- and interpretation, which, as AKMA, I think, rightly argues in harmony with Nietzsche, is sheer Theology.

Media Tip #763: Reporter, truth attenuated in Oaxaca

This is Brad Will's own news organization's statement about his death in Oaxaca:

For Immediate Release

October 28, 2006, 12:40 a.m. Contact:
Beka Economopoulos, (917) 202-5479
Brandon Jourdan, (646) 342-8169
Eric Laursen, (917) 806-6452


William Bradley Roland, aka Brad Will, a U.S. journalist and camerman, was shot and killed yesterday in Oaxaca, Mexico, by paramiliaries affiliated with the PRI, the former Mexican ruling party. Will was in Oaxaca covering the continued resistance of teachers and other workers against the PRI-controlled government of the State of Oaxaca. According to reports from New York City Independent Media Center and La Jornada, Will, 36, was shot at the Santa Lucia Barricade from a distance of 30-40 meters in the pit of the stomach by plainclothes paramilitaries and died while enroute to the Red Cross.

Those with an interest in USian media antics see this as well as this and this.

Update: And this and this


Sunday, October 29, 2006

Imitation as a sincere form of delusion

Père [trying to get underneath a kitchen cabinet to make some repairs]: "I wish I were smaller."

Fils [considerably smaller in stature, being not quite 4]: "I wish I were smaller too."

Saturday, October 28, 2006

disintegrated kitchen

link via post on fluss, which blogs sort of the lovely way this design understands kitchens.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Not coming soon to a theatre near you:

My Country, My Country

Laura Poitras

It can be obtained.
I filmed for the whole two days and during this one particular scene, it's a contractor for the Justice and State Departments who was conducting this training and talking about this is going to be such a great show. But then you listen to the conversation that develops, and you realize that the people he's talking to — the Iraqi police — are going to be on the front lines, so these are the people who are going to die in the show.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

snake eyes

Apparently the Gubernatorial challenge for the chad-averse Die-bold crowd here in Florida is to detect which of two absolutely indistinguishable white guys, whose views of what is important appeal to the lowest, most self-serving instincts of a venal, ignorant and unconscionably uninformed electorate that cares about property tax, insurance premiums, bad Cubans, evil Mexicans, Terri Shiavo, intangible tax, Florida being a shining state (behind strong borders) upon a mountaintop [sic], comparative standing in high school statistics (Florida under Mr. Bush stands at 49th for lousy SAT scores and drop-out rates), boyscout rhetoric and nothing else.

{Low point: Crist humorlessly asked Davis if he was going to apologize to Florida Cubans and Jews for having gone to Cuba on one occasion and for having met Arafat on another. Davis proved he was simply Crist spelled otherly by humorlessly troubling to defend such behavior.}

Monday, October 23, 2006


Couplets from a poem by Louis Hardin, aka Moondog:

I find the greatest freedom in the stricture of a form
that paradoxes abnormality within a norm.

The Sword of Damocles hanging over all of us.
In view of that what subject can we sensibly discuss.

My credo may be this, that ere my dirth of days is passed,
I´ll strive to live each one as if it were my first and last.

You pity me in exile? Well, then pity if you must,
but live - before your dear identity is lost in dust.

Carnivores who lived on Herbivores who lived on plants,
were all consumed by Omnivores who walked around in pants.

He who didn´t know who didn´t know he didnt know,
became the he who didn´t know who knew he didn´t know,
and he became the he who knew who didn´t know he knew,
who finally became the he who knew who knew he knew.

A glance, a smile, a chance hallo and then - a fond embrace.
The years roll back before my eyes to scenes I can´t erase.

We grope with eyes wide open t´ward the darkness of futurity,
with faith in outermost instead of innermost security.

The trombone and the sackbut stare each other down in shame.
One sees what he had been, the other sees what he became.

The Whole declared, "You´ll never know the sum of all My parts,
so stop your foolish figuring, and mend your broken hearts."

Proof that God exist is in the overtones from one
to nine, besides revealing how the Universe is run.

What I say of science here, I say without condition,
that science is the latest and the greatest superstition.

The Leaning Tower leaned a little farther south and said,
"I wouldn´t be so famous if I had a level head."

A snow-flake landed on my hand and said, as if in fear,
"I must be on my way, before I turn into a tear."

Having healthy-wealthy possibility amounts
to nothing, if you do not know that every minute counts.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

angry fix

I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,
dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,
angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of the night,

If you did you did Allen. Looking back on what the remainder of the best minds of your generation hath wrought, why do you say that like it's a bad thing.

Why would we want any more self-injected angelheads jacked in to the starry dynamo listening to the Terror through the wall than we already have?

Why Allen Why?

What we really need, really, is fewer angelheads operating less machinery and more night.

More night.


Wednesday, October 18, 2006

well, current as of 1996...

"...current Docetists presumably base their understanding of Jesus on a sort of idealized gentle twentieth-century Alan Alda figure."

One of the minor joys of AKMA's book.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006


On Friday, we interviewed 80 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., right near the Smithsonian Institution. They were asked one question: What's the current population of the United States?

The 80 people surveyed come from all over the country and range in age from 4 to 78. Six people were from England, Australia, and Venezuela.

The answers we received for the U.S. population size ranged from 17,000 to 20 billion. Though roughly 1 out of 4 surveyed knew the population was about to hit 300 million, 1 in 8 said that they had absolutely no idea how many people were living here. NPR, Morning Edition

Ok, but where are the logical follow-ups? E.g.,
  1. To adults whose answers were off by, say, 299 million: "How many hours of television do you watch each day?"
  2. To those who answered "six (6) hours" or more to question 1: "Who did you vote for in the last five presidential elections?"
  3. To those who answered "Bush, Bush, Dole, Bush, Bush" to question 2: "Would you consider voiding your citizenship in return for a nice bush?"
  4. To the rest of the world (after administering massive dose of antiemetics): "How does it make you feel that there are now 300 million of them and counting?"
Also of interest: (link)

Price of a new home

  • 2006: $290,600
  • 1967: $24,600 ($149,147 in 2006 dollars)
  • 1915: $3,200 ($64,158 in 2006 dollars)

Cost for a gallon of regular gas

  • 2006: $3.04 (as of Aug. 7)
  • 1967: 33 cents ($2 in 2006 dollars)
  • 1915: 25 cents ($5.01 in 2006 dollars)

Price of milk

  • 2006: $3 gallon
  • 1967: $1.03 gallon ($6.24 in 2006 dollars)
  • 1915: $ .36 gallon ($7.22 in 2006 dollars)

Cost of a first-class stamp

  • 2006: 39 cents
  • 1967: 5 cents
  • 1915: 2 cents

Number of foreign-born people

  • 2006: 34.3 million
  • 1967: 9.7 million
  • 1915: 13.5 million

Average Household Size

  • 2006: 2.6 people
  • 1967: 3.3 people
  • 1915: 4.5 people

World Population

  • 2006: 6.5 billion
  • 1967: 3.5 billion
  • 1915: 1.8 billion

Tuberculosis Death (per 100,000 population)

  • 2006: 0.2
  • 1967: 3.5
  • 1915: 140.1

Number of people age 65 and older

  • 2006: 36.8 million
  • 1967: 19.1 million
  • 1915: 4.5 million

Median age of the population

  • 2006: 36.2
  • 1967: 29.5
  • 1915: 24.1

Most popular baby names for boys and girls, respectively

  • 2006: Jacob and Emily
  • 1967: Michael and Lisa
  • 1915: John and Mary
  • Some large mammals, including horses, cannot or rarely vomit.

Courtesy: U.S. Census Bureau

Saturday, October 14, 2006

kuo vadis

Rove looked at him, took a deep breath, and said, “I don’t know. Just get me a f—ing faith-based thing. Got it?”

link via link with assist from link.

See, they have no plan, even for things like making the god-fearing feel godly. They do not think, on any level. They issue unreality-based orders. Make it so..

In God, every end is converted into a new means. Thus the use of commodity, regarded by itself, is mean and squalid. But it is to the mind an education in the doctrine of Use, namely, that a thing is good only so far as it serves; rwe with prod from

Sunday, October 08, 2006

A Palm Beach Story

The world is your oyster and the trashbags are your kids

For the longest time, we thought it was going to be a mall. One of those world beaters, like the Mall of America, something that would turn our little bedroom community into a real travellers' destination, an honest-to-goodness exurb on the map.

So it was with some degree of surprise that we saw one day that the work was done. The parking lot brimmed with cars as far as our binoculars could see. It was no mall. It was a single retail outlet. It was a SuperTarget (pronunciation guide: Soup-er-tar-szzzshz-AY).

Here I have to beg the reader’s indulgence to make a confession. I'd hoped to produce a small contribution to the Webfestschrift organized by Albert Ruesga of White Courtesy Telephone in honor of the Happy Tutor, the presiding spirit of the nest of scurrility and badinage known to the unwashed as Wealth Bondage. I’d been planning to do something political, full of resonant phrases, arch attitude, crackling wit, Berubean irony, all of course laced with various casual instances of captatio benevolentiae, than which no rhetorical device is more needful for effective blogging. (Of course you, genial lecteur, need no servile pointer to some googlefied decantation of this hallowed rhetorical term.)

Alas! I am here to say I will fail the FestchriftarbeitsgabeGeschenkpackungenliederfest; I will be, if not absent to the virtual gathering, somewhat more than faintly unpresent, sort of, shall we say, as though it were, comme on dit, a ghost of a diacritical mark sous rature; the time is short, and much remains to be done to put my earthly affairs in ordnung, as Rene Wellek used to say, with Czech witz, over a stein of Pike's Ale to a gaggle of admiring grad students at the Yale and Quail Club. The tutor surely recalls those days with a fondness equaled only, if at all, by my own.

But enough of that. Since some time ago when I and my family entered SuperTarget until this moment, nothing has been quite the same. If I do not recount my experiences in a manner that comes across as entirely coherent, I take comfort in the assurance that The Tutor will surely understand.

We had little sense of the dimension of the store other than the obvious: it was a large building – so large that it was impossible to gauge where, or when, it ended. I was reminded of a remark of that famous Dallas-Fort Worth worthy, Sallust:
To one familiar with mansions and villas reared aloft on such a scale that they look like so many towns, it is instructive to visit the temples built by our godfearing ancestors.
Anyway, we knew the other entrance wasn’t close when we saw the tollbooth marked “SuperTarget West Entrance: Onramp to SuperHighway.” We opted for the nearer door. After a day or so of aimless meandering, we spotted an emaciated woman heading for a Honda Fit. In our joy to grab her parking space, our Hummer ran over her and her Fit.

The half-mile walk to the peoplemover left us dehydrated under the torrid Florida sun. As soon as we were aboard, red-shirted SuperTarget Team Members sprayed us down with aromatic tubes filled with rose blossoms. Also, we were each given a small photo of I.F. Stone supping with his wife, Esther, at the Waldorf Astoria. Standing in ranks and files, we were carried over a wide moat and into the store.

I will skip our early adventures – they are hazy, and presented the sort of thing any Guest is likely to encounter upon first entering a SuperTarget. I recall the slightly disorienting sense that people were there because they knew that something in the universe had changed – some foundational tumbler had moved, setting in motion arcane forces they could never hope to understand. They moved amid flat-panel TVs as if rehearsing for Christmas shopping. “Today is all about us,” one guest was overheard to say. In the radio section, Sonys and Emersons were tuned to a station that was advertised as doing a live spot elsewhere in the store. We thought it odd that the reception was so poor, until one Team Leader explained that the live feed was over in hardware -- too far for the signal to arrive as anything more than a cracked shadow of itself.

After that, we picked up our pace. I was due for surgery on the following day – an effort to open up some blocked arteries. It wouldn’t be well if we were to be delayed at checkout.

Swiftly we transited the aisles. We figured we’d return for Halloween rubbish – maybe by then there’d be some last minute discounts. We zoomed through men’s apparel, noting that there seemed to be more formal attire than in regular Targets, or even Target Greatlands. Of course every man in Florida needs a few dark suits with the Silas Haslam label. By the time we reached Aisle L.243, we wondered how much more of the store there was. We’d heard there was a grocery, but that was a section we’d not seen. We were looking to find a Team Member to ask when, the next aisle over, about halfway down, we made out the words DOUANE/CUSTOMS. We weren’t asked for passports that day, but were told that in the future, we should always bring them with us, as the Province of Quebec was considering taking a harder line with USians seeking to enter and shop. From that point on, every item was marked in English and French, and priced in US and Canadian dollars.

Time passed. I gave no further thought to my surgery. We began to develop a sense of the scope of the enterprise as, over the following days, we came upon small enclaves of human beings who had given up the idea of ever leaving SuperTarget. Loosely joined small groups watched ball, listened to Ipods, or gave birth. No one seemed upset, really. When asked, they offered vague, unfocused ideas about where they were from, or how long they’d been in SuperTarget. One man told us he’d found out that this store alone employed more Team Members than are employed by the governments of the states it traversed. Officials in Georgia, Tennessee and West Virginia had motions before their legislatures which would declare those states to be departments within SuperTarget. If passed, all public activity would cease, and citizens who were unwilling or unqualified to be Guests or Team Members would either have to relocate to another state, or be barcoded to be put on Clearance.

We grew weak. Our shopping cart -- we'd chosen one in the Dumpster style, in fond memory of the Tutor -- was piled ever higher, and grew heavy. We rolled past entire neighborhoods now where Canadian Mobsters – all Tony Randall lookalikes – controlled access to the wares. Guests had to pay protection just to make it safely through the aisles. We could see SWAT teams staging pantomime raids in Lingerie and Pets. The smell of reefer wafted through Infants. Unsavory short men with long cigars tried to sell us seats to some bloggers' conference featuring Jon Husband taking place in Shoes. Lights began to dim and blink in Jewelry. Armed with interpreters and megaphones, police departments debated jurisdiction. Large peoplemovers piled high with shackled Guests sped down mega-aisles into the vanishing distance.

I stepped on a scale in Housewares, and discovered that I had lost 50 pounds – beating BMO by a bunch without even trying. One of the children ran off with a Lumberjack from Saskatoon. Paratroopers beat a man to death in Linens. I pass over many things in silence.

Only this morning were we able to find a peoplemover with room sufficient for what remained of our family. It took us and our Dumpster-sized cart to a check-out where we barely had enough funds left in our Net Worth Account to consume that which our Guesting had Guested us to, uh, Guest. I should mention that by this time, I was pretty damned near unrecognizeable. With the weight loss, the French elan, and a passion for clothes that bore the face of my soul, in fact, I looked like this (click image to enlarge):

Had I not had to use my card, they'd never have nabbed us. They discovered that we were wanted in Florida on charges of abandoning a car, a doublewide, a dog, a pickup, a blog, and yes, they’d even found evidence to charge me with reckless abandonment of a certain Webfestschrift. I wasn’t surprised. It had only been a matter of time. Not that it much mattered. We were tired, sick, emaciated, grizzled, and bankrupt. It was over for us, we'd never see Florida, or the Tutor, again. Look Homeward, Angel. We turned and headed back for Aisle P.2534: Gift Registries and Funerary Offerings for the Consumed. Under the circumstances, it was the least we could do.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

gnus quiz

How many "news" stories about the randomized murder of Hashim Ibrahim Awad, a 52-year-old Iraqi civilian, by seven USian Marines, mention that he was the father of 11 children?

Friday, October 06, 2006

A fair and balanced birthday for Mr. Merdle

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hugger-Mugger Macht Frei

Marine Corps MySpace Recruiting Page

Friend of The Marine Corps

The annoying Marine video is here. Click Here to put this clip in your profile!

The Militarization of MySpace

Monday, October 02, 2006

In view of the size of your endowment...

Summary: Despite reports on a New York Daily News weblog and in the Los Angeles Times, no other media outlets have reported that the National Republican Congressional Committee accepted a $100,000 donation from Rep. Mark Foley last summer after NRCC chairman Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds reportedly learned of Foley's inappropriate conduct. The media have further ignored the NRCC's continued solicitation of funds from Foley's campaign war chest, as reported in The New York Times. Media Matters

What happens to Foley's pile of dollahs now?

{later] This points to the astonishing answer to the question above.

[even later] Why are the upholders of strict law-n-order, the rigorous enforcers of "sexual morality," precisely the very people engaged in the activity that they've promised an eager populace to police? a sane voice.