Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Playing the texts: call for contributors

Here’s another interesting book series from T&T Clark: “Playing the Texts”.

The editors say: “We are currently on the prowl for scholars who are willing to take on the challenge to ‘play’ with Biblical texts. Media studies, pop culture, literary theory, all of it.” Writers in the series should be “exploring creative and sometimes risky juxtapositions of texts,” or “applying techniques previously untried in biblical studies.” You can find out more about the series here.


Shane said...

It's not often you hear a call for books that are intentionally terrible.

“applying techniques previously untried in biblical studies.”

Like what?

It's been midrashed, allegorized, moralized, historically criticized, source criticized, psychoanalyzed and subjected to ideological criticism feminist, womanist, liberationist, black, queer and green. What is left? What risky method has gone untried?

It reminds me of something that I heard my first day of freshman theology: "If you have something new to say about Christianity, you're a heretic."

kim fabricius said...

Yeah, and if you don't have something new to say, you're probably a tradition fundamentalist. What we should be looking for is, in the postmodern jargon (and I know, Shane, you're a great fan of pomo!) "nonidentical repetition".

But here is Nicholas Lash, who is hardly a raving deconstructionist: "A strategy of 'preservation', of attempted immobility, is doomed to failure because, whether we like it or not, the contexts in which it is pursued are subject to continual changes which are largely beyond our control." In fact: "it is through change, rather than immobility, that we achieve our fidelity to the past."

And I know you're a fan of Chesterton who, for all the splendid things he said about tradition versus liberalism, also said that "all conservatism is based upon the idea that if you leave things alone you leave them as they are. But you do not. If you leave a thing alone you leave it to a torrent of change."

I think we're probably actually on the same page, yes?

Alex said...

Good point Shane! They've even tried to find secret codes hidden in the text for predicting the future. I would nuance your last sentence a bit differently as Kim I think points out also. If you have something new to say that's incorrect, then you're a heretic. I don't think there's anything that keeps us from new correct insights into God. A lot of these ways of looking at the text, while all too often off the mark have I think added to our understanding, not taken away from it. But to be sure, they have also clouded it in a lot of ways to.

Shane said...

Mais oui.

The challenge of theology is homolegein, saying the same. It's not as easy as the fundies would want to think.

The fundamentalist thinks like this:
Paul says "X, Y, and Z",
I say, "X, Y, and Z,"
Ergo, I agree with Paul.

The harder question is, What does Paul mean by 'x'? Which is already the question: "How do I express X now, in my own language?" It's not a question which admits of easy correct answers.

"Creative readings of Paul" on the other hand are really easy. they go like this.

Paul says "X, Y, and Z"
But Paul's a fascist, so not-X.
I still like Y though because it furthers my (marxist/gay/womanist/etc.) agenda.

Zizek, Badiou, that whole crowd are engaged in something like this last thing.

Francesca said...

I like Shane's comment above. I read the link and wondered if it was an intentional parody.

I came upon an actual example of the interaction of Bible study with pomo culture today. A fourth year undergraduate produced a penultimate draft of his dissertation containing bizarre datings for the Biblical books, such as 1455 for Genesis. Upon interrogation, he confessed to getting his information from here


That's what Pomo culture actually contributes to Biblical studies

h phelps said...

The problem is, Badiou, Zizek, Agamben, and so on, do not claim to be doing biblical studies or theology, at least as normally understood (and, to be clear, biblical studies is not the same as theology). In fact, they are quite up front as to their methods and goals--in this sense, there is no hidden agenda guiding their readings; the agenda is quite explicit and somewhat different in each. Is the problem this: that non-theologians do not have the right to interpret the biblical text? That seems to be the underlying issue, though it seems a bit odd.

Andre said...

The real question, I think, is not so much about whether we ought to be liberals or traditionalists (in the Chestertonian sense), but about what we, as readers of Scripture, are responsible to (where the language of 'responsibility' is understood in its fullest sense). For the theologian qua minister verbi dei, talk of 'playing' with the biblical 'texts' is always going to sound irresponsible, as if the 'texts' were simply objects for the free-play of our imagination or hermeneutical theory, or whatever. In one sense, such agendas are the product of an immanent metaphysic that posits the reader as the sole agent of meaning. But they are also the manifestation of the ennui that pervades late-capitalist culture.
H Phelps - In no way does this suggest that only theologians have the 'right' to interpret biblical 'texts' - apart from anything else, the language of 'rights' is inadequate here, and I'm not sure that any theologian would (or ought) to claim for themselves such rights, let alone deny them to others!

Shane said...


I think you've misdiagnosed this. It isn't that i'm claiming theologians/biblical scholars have exclusive right to the text: I suppose Badiou would do whatever he damn well pleases regardless. What I'm saying is that Badiou is irrelevant to the Christian theologian. It might be interesting, by way of grotesque parody, but not relevant to the task of preaching the gospel.

At least, it isn't clear to me why he's relevant. If someone can persuade me that he is, then I will be converted, but I think it will be a hard argument to make.


WTM said...

I just wanted to leave a comment expressing my support of Shane, especially of the sentiment, "What I'm saying is that Badiou is irrelevant to the Christian theologian. It might be interesting, by way of grotesque parody, but not relevant to the task of preaching the gospel."

h phelps said...

Perhaps I have misdiagnosed the problem, though I am not really sure that I have, since it seems in some way implied in your comment on how Badiou, et al. are irrelevant to the Christian theologian. Whatever the case, I do take issue with the latter claim. Might it not be the case that someone like Badiou, who certainly does not claim any allegiance to the church, can see something the theologian cannot, since he is not bound to theological commonplaces and orthodoxies? Certainly, Badiou has his own presuppositions and goals in reading Paul. But might not these provide different insights into Paul that might go unnoticed by someone working with other, theological presuppositions and goals?

I also fail to understand how Badiou represents a "grotesque parody". Parody of what? I see nothing in his book on Saint Paul, or in anything else he has written, that fits this description.

Also, where does one draw the line between what is relevant and irrelevant to the theologian? What makes Badiou irrelevant? The fact that he is an atheist? A philosopher? Some combination of the two? That, to paraphrase Badiou himself, he cares nothing for the good news which Paul preaches?

WTM said...

I take the point to be that Badiou isn't reading Scripture as a witness to the Gospel, which is its whole point as Scripture and which makes it important to the church as more than a historical curiosity. Badiou may well be an interesting illustration or sign of the times, but his utility as a guide to the Christian reading of these texts is quite limited.

kim fabricius said...

While I admire the defiance of Shane and WTM and take what they affirm in meliorem partem, it is what they deny that concerns me, viz. the relevance of Badiou and Zizek to the theologian and preacher because they do not read "Scripture as a witness to the gospel." Certainly Barth found Overbeck relevant, Bonhoeffer Nietzsche, Moltmann Bloch, and Rowan Williams finds Derrida relevant - and I dare say Zizek himself!

The danger of too readily dismissing such folk from the table is the spirit I found in John Milbank's dismissal of, well, just about everyone in his thermo-nuclear attack on "the secular", the coruscating Theology and Social Theory: a kind of theological triumphalism, a lack of modesty, an unbecoming tone.

michael jensen said...

Milbank would be delighted to be accused (by an American of all things) of a lack of modesty.

I heard Milbank say once 'everything Derrida says can be reduced to about four sides of
A4' - prompting one doctoral student (dedicating his years of study to exegeting Derrida as Holy Writ, ironically) to emit steam from his ears... how dare he challenge the holy father?

There is dismissing from the table, but there is also absurd reverence too in modern theology, a kind of quiet hush whenever a thought from Foucault is wheeled in, or an allusion to Irigary is made(whose books are on closed reserve at the theology faculty here in Oxford. You can just walk off with Calvin, Luther or Aquinas!)

kim fabricius said...

Four sides of A4, Michael? That much? An outstanding young theologian named Benjamin Myers famously did each volume of the Church Dogmatics in a sentence!

WTM said...

I thought the point of this conversation was the relevance of these people and their 'imaginative' readings of Scripture, not whether or not theologians ought to engage with the philosophical currents of their age.

I also affirm Michael's rejection of the "absurd reverence" often given - by theologians! - to these thinkers.

joel hunter said...

What would we do without our short-hand markers? It seems many readers here are quite happy with their de Tocquevillian "formidable fences." On the one hand, why judge the figure by the epigones? On the other hand, why judge the figure by whatever critic has managed to canonically set the figure's specific "ideology?" Take Derrida for example.

He is not trying to tap some wondrous genial wellspring of wisdom or fancy that both transcends and defies reason, relying on corrosively striking radicality and neologistic catchiness to win a hearing and a following. We've stumbled badly out of the gate if we find either than the Algerian wizard either turns us on or turns us off with his methods and style. Both prejudice the genuinely philosophic project of taking up and working one's way intelligibly into Derrida’s program of philosophic inquiry. The first by uncritically accepting, the second by ignorantly rejecting, that there is justice to the claim that his thought is extraordinarily subtle and unusual in its aims, method and style. (BTW, I gladly confess that we philosophers are first-rate idolators: we do more critical engagement with a Figure or a Text rather than the questions. Do as we say and not as we do.)

You don't read a philosopher or a poet to supplement some lack in theological inquiry. Is that what Aquinas was doing reading Aristotle? One reads any philosopher, from Plato to Derrida, in order to do one thing: to begin at the beginning, i.e., to raise the never settled issue in philosophy: how does philosophy begin and what are the origins which philosophy in its beginning aims to discover, disclose, and make intelligible? Sheer novelty and strangeness is no guarantee of insightfulness. So the "relevance" of this series to the Christian theologian, I suppose, is two-fold: (1) pastoral--to remain uncontemptuously alert to the zeitgeist in proposed answers to the "big" questions, how people make sense of trends, events and devices that exemplify the meaning of the world to which the current spirit points; (2) intellectual--to provoke or illustrate an investigation into one's own theological origins, to begin again from the beginning for the sake of greater intelligibility. For now we see in a mirror dimly, and we cannot know in full. (What is the mirror?) The question for the theologian is: are you smudging it up or polishing it?

Shane said...


i don't think T&T Clark is asking for manuscripts on Badiou on the bible as an invitation for pastors to hold Badiou in contempt.

If they really want to take a gamble on a "risky" proposal in biblical studies which is in conversation with all the latest philosophy, they should really choose my new monograph:

"Formalizing the Logic of the Incarnation: Theology after Frege"

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