[KB] "Deacon"-structing Burke Part Whatever

Clarke Rountree rountrj at uah.edu
Sat Nov 8 07:49:50 EST 2014


As we've discovered in applying precedents in legal cases (one of my
research areas), applying the "rule" of a prior case leads to a new
understanding of what the prior case was doing. So I wouldn't draw too
sharp a distinction between interpretation and application.

A better biblical example is Paul in second Corinthians where he says women
should be silent in church. Patriarchal church leaders read that as "all
women in all churches for all time" (hence no female preachers allowed),
while 19th century Americans also read it as no women speaking in public,
especially not to men. What Paul meant can't be easily separated from the
application here.


Sent from my iPhone

On Nov 7, 2014, at 9:27 PM, Gregory Desilet <info at gregorydesilet.com> wrote:

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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