[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Gregory Desilet info at gregorydesilet.com
Fri Nov 7 22:27:00 EST 2014

Interesting comment, Clarke. I find Stanly Fish to be a fascinating guy. Whenever I read him he always unsettles me in some way. And I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, though in some cases I’m not sure it’s good thing either. I guess I’m saying I often find Fish to be a little fishy (sorry for that—it just came out).

In this case you mention, Fish seems to want to point out a difference between interpreting the law and interpreting sacred texts. In the one case, he bemoans the consequences of “creative” interpretation and in the other he praises the consequences. In each case language is not behaving differently; it’s just a difference in attitude—in this case Fish’s attitude—toward legal and religious contexts. And I think Fish understands that. But a good case could also be made for the reverse. The potential for abuse and for benefit exists concerning the interpretation of any text. Where using and understanding words in language is like following rules, Wittgenstein identifies the problem: “No course of action could be determined by a rule, because every course of action can be made out to accord with the rule.”

It may be that certain theologians draw out a multitude of meanings from sacred texts, but as in the case of the story of the Good Samaritan, this multitude is more in the area of the application of a rule rather than a multiple reading of the rule itself. And the applications are largely consistent with each other. So we could usefully distinguish between the applications of a rule and interpretations of the rule or “message” itself. Generally, in Biblical texts, arguments over “message” lead to schisms and different denominations whereas multiple applications of the “message” lead to something new to say in the sermons within the same denomination. So I think these factors explain a lot and still leave intact the notion that most theologians are unwilling to leave the message of a Biblical passage undecidable or multiple in its denominationally crucial import.



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