Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reading and rendering

sympathy inescapably inflects understanding, and someone who withholds full sympathy (for whatever reasons, I’m not judging the reasons in question) holds back from the opportunity of fuller apprehension. AKMA

I would suggest that what you are missing is the unique status of the biblical writings precisely as Scripture. . . . in fact, the Bible is simply a collection of occasional writings written over a period of a thousand years, pulled together as a collection by a religious community called the Christian Church. And this community insists that this collection of writings be regarded as one book authored by the Creator of the universe, i.e, as Scripture.

. . .

The answer is patent: the community that collected and canonized these writings must provide the rules for the book's proper interpretation. Hence my claim, which is an uncontroversial claim for catholic Christians, that the Bible can only be properly understood within the Church, by the Church. The Bible can be read in any number of different ways; but if one wants to read the book as Scripture, then one needs to learn from the Church how to do so.

I think I understand "A" - the clarification of AKMA's to an earlier post in which he at least in part addressed my questions here.

The comments under "P" (who goes by Pontificator - I think this was his site - they are found in full here) raise way more questions than they resolve. To proclaim that 1000 years of work by a people that carefully culled, meditated, commented, remembered and revised its tradition was in fact "pulled together" by an entirely other community, Christians, is to forget - to annul -- any other basis for the writing and reading of these works than the one which Pontificator happens to espouse.

The pretty total obliteration of the other was what I was trying to look into in my earlier comment -- to read the Bible as Scripture apparently means to arrive at a species of intelligibility less by dint of careful and critical attention than by removing any alien features that might complicate what for all we know could be a preordained meaning imposed ab extra.

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I see AKMA's thought as pretty clearly opposed to Pontificator's. AKMA appears to say that absent total sympathy, openness, to what the text via all its myriad modes of signification points to, something will be missed, lost. There is no absolute either/or of intelligibility, yet some aspect of imaginative inspiration, some trace or inkling of what lies infinitely beyond the rarest overtones of the text, is in play.

Pontificator is saying a reader facing the Bible without the Pontificator's posse is consigned hopelessly to dealing with something "fundamentally unintelligible." This seems pretty either/or-ish.

The difference in tone and spirit between the two views seems huge: AKMA's mode of reading involves the intimacy of generous attention, combined with critical acumen. Pontificator, in line
with his Roman predecessors, will advise that anyone who ventures into the intimacy of that resonant chamber without the consensus fidelium is at risk of all manner of waylaying phantasmata of meaning.

Yet I wonder if somewhere along the hermeneutic moebius A and P don't converge, in answering what seems the next inevitable question:

Can the consensus fidelium be at odds with philology?

What is there about the sacred? What does it confer upon anything designated as such, and/or upon the designator of anything designated as such, that sets it apart from those who do not regard it as sacred?

Because the community agrees the text is sacred, it can, it is said, read it aright. But early on, before the canon was formed, the community doing the canonizing did not have a consensus telling it what were the possible significations among which it had to choose. What could their decisions vis a vis the canonical have been based on other than an attentive reading of the texts?

Does part of what "sacred" means have to do with putting something outside of rational intelligibility? Does it entail a kind of extraordinary rendition that binds, sacrifices, the sacred entity to inscrutable modes of capture, transport, protocol and control?

There seems little room for gradation when it comes to the sacred.

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Blogger AKMA said...

Tom, I'm sorry; I wrote a distinctly verbose comment here two days ago, but perhaps hit the wrong button, or wrote in a response to the CAPTCHA that revealed me to be a pernicious spambot. Whatever the cause, I didn't notice at first 'cos I figured you were moderating the comments — then when it became clear that the comment was lost, I was daunted by the prospect of reconstructing it.

Now I'm merely apologizing for my seeming disregard for your post, and assuring you that I tried.

Short version: Al Kimel turned to Rome for its principle of unchanging authority; I recognize in Roman authority a principle that makes possible coherent dissent (as opposed to institutions that eschew explicit modes of authority, which engender manipulative politicking, indifference, frowardness, and passive-aggressive petulance. I'm not swimming the Tiber myself, but if I did, it would be to reach a domain where I could uphold principled disagreement with authoritative teaching — in other words, for the very opposite reason from Al, bless him.

11/03/2007 8:14 AM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Interesting - I'd be curious to know how far principled disagreement might be tolerated there, and what determines that. Does it depend on the disposition of individual pontiffs? Or is there a broader frame at work?

Re comments: A couple of weeks ago, while I was still moderating comments, a friend said he'd tried to post something and it never showed up. Approx. the same time, some comments did show up that were a month old.

I stopped moderating in hopes that would make these apparent glitches go away. Apparently it has not. In any case, I am sorry to not have your full thought.

I notice you have had comment problems on your blog. Does anyone know of a comment module that manages to not cause comments to vanish?

11/03/2007 10:45 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dissent, literally, is the withholding of sympathy. How can dissent cohere when it is required to be sympathetic?


11/04/2007 10:24 PM  
Blogger Tom Matrullo said...

Sa'Luk - this is not in any way a reply on behalf of AKMA, more a question raised by your question. At one end of the interpretive spectrum, there are those who believe that to read the Bible as Scripture is to elicit some isolable meaning that is contained within it. When it is not "plain," or self-evident, a crew consults the tradition, then issues the controls that keep the authorized meaning bound and readily consumable.

At the other end, some think there is no meaning "in" the text. To me, one thing this suggests is that to read/interpret is more like an act of translation - a performing of the act of saying the text in other words, in another language, with full awareness of the bottomless unverifiability of the gesture.

Might it turn out - emphasis necessary - that one can propound unsympathetic assent under the crew model while offering a kind of deeply sympathetic differencing under the translation model?

11/04/2007 11:10 PM  

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