Monday, April 10, 2006

Against Interpretation: The A-hermeneutics of Susan Sontag

The following notes are from my reading of Susan Sontag's collection of essays found in Against Interpretation written in 1966.

From the Greeks the West has inherited the intellectual moorings of philosophy and art. Sontag undertakes to break free, in a sense, from the anchors of Ancient Greek culture and intellectual perspectives that confine the formulations and expectancies for Art. Her work, Against Interpretation, stances itself against the modern conventions of interpretation of art that find their theoretical justification in Plato and Aristotle. She notes in her opening chapter that the Greek theory of art, which itself challenges art to justify itself, is first formulated by Plato in the concept of mimesis, or the imitation of reality. For Plato, art as mimesis is dangerous and untrue because it is a copy of the real (3-4). She argues that mimesis is useless in Plato's thought, though such a characterization should not be overemphasized since Plato was not above using representation in his own works. Sontag also takes up Aristotle, whose scientific treatment of mimesis recognized its usefulness despite its status as "untrue". Here in the Ancients are found the seeds of what Sontag understands to be a false dichotomy, that separation of form and content, where form is the accessory and ancillary to content (which is essential).

The result of the separation and hierarchical arrangement of form and content is, at least in part, what calls forth the necessity and universality of interpretation because form, as an accessory, or better put, a covering of content, obscures the essential beneath its latent appearance and effect. Intetpretation, for Sontag, is what creates the assumption that art has content, that it is meaning something rather than doing something (5). Interpretation is the implicit set of rules for determining the meaning of art and the result of interpretation is essentially the translation of art into a new form, itself a copy (5). Here we find the philosophical turn of Plato and Aristotle, who assume an essence behind or within the material form that is representing that essence in a removed fashion (copy). Interpretation presupposes a discrepancy between the clear meaning of the text and the demands of its later readers and it seeks to resolve this discrepancy (6).

Classical interpretation, as Sontag styles it, is insistent but respectful to its object whereas modern interpretation (she points to Marx and Freud) is excavating and destructive to its object (6-7). And with the evaluation of copies comes the requirement of evaluating the interpretation itself (as translation, as a copy of the copy) both historically and contextually (7). Sontag remarks:

Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more, it is the revenge of the intellect upon the world--to interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world--in order to set up a shadow world of "meanings." (7)
Interpretation is a taming of art that makes it manageable (8). Freudian interpretation indicates a dissatisfaction (conscious as unconscious) with the work; it involves a wish to replace it (10). For Sontag, interpretive theory that considers a work of art as composed of content items, violates art; it is art for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories (10). Thus, she rejects the form/content dichotomy as an illusion (11).

Her purpose is to reopen the possibility for a crticism of art that serves art rather than usurps it; that gives more attention to form, that provides a vocabulary of forms (12). She declares:

Transparence is the highest, most liberating value in art--and in criticism--today. Transparence means experiencing the luminousness of the thing itself, of things being what they are. (13)
Sontag desires to refrain from the assimilation of art into Thought (Classical hermeneutics) or into Culture (Gadamerian hermeneutics). Her solution is radical: "In place
of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art" (14).

Monday, February 20, 2006

A Smidgen of Lacan on Television

The following notes are from "Intro to Names-of-the-Father Lectue" by Jacque Lacan. The lecture can be found in Television pp. 81-95.

The names-of-the-Father are built upon Lacan's previous lecture on anxiety. He describes anxiety as an affect of the subject (subject that speaks and is determined through an effect of the signifier). A subject is affected by the desire of the Other. It is what is not decisive, it is not without an object, and its object (petit a) is the cause of desire.

On page 84 Lacan mentions Kierkegaard and his styling of Hegel's system as "The System." I was hoping for a bit more from Lacan regarding Kierkegaard, but the brief mention is all there was said. Lacan mentions that desire is everywhere separate from fulfillment (86). I assume that desire is terminates into satisfaction in the act of fulfillment, and no longer exists as desire any longer.

The Other is not the subject who speaks from the place of the Other or through the voice of the Other. The Other poses the problem of the subject prior to the question (88). It is hard to know whether the Other as Lacan conceives of it is something metaphysical or existential or something else entirely. It is clearly not the subject in any way, though the subject is not unrelated to the Other (and perhaps Lacan would say that the subject is dependent upon the Other for its existence).

The father is an animal (considered from his mythical reality) from before the advent of the incest taboo, before law, before marriage and kinship, and before culture (88). Lacan appears simply to be taking evolution seriously in this consideration. Perhaps it would not be wrong to say that, for Lacan, before man-the-animal became human-the-father, before laws were, primordial humanity was.

There are three themes that Lacan points out as essential: Erotic Bliss, Desire, and the Object. Law and Desire are in a singular balance, born together and joined by necessity in the law of incest -- the erotic bliss of the father is primordial to law and desire. Mysticism plunges toward the bliss of God -- that trace remains in Christian mysticism whose insistence of God's desire functions as a pivot (89). God is something one encounters in the real, inaccessible, indicated by what doesn't deceive--anxiety. Interestingly, in the Greek Septuagint translation of the Bible, the translation of the Name (the tetragrammaton, which traditionally Jews refuse to speak aloud) is "I am the one who is." Lacan indicates that Greek tradition of philosophy would read God as the "I" and Being as the "is" thereby equating God with Being (as the arche) (90).

Lacan's comments on the Akedah are brief, but interesting. He notes that the angel who retrains Abraham from sacrificing Isaac is their in the name of El Shadday [sic]. The human sacrifice is interrupted in later times of Israelite history by an Angel or a prophet of the Name who comes and speaks in the Name (91-92).

Lacan takes a very anthropomorphic view of El Shadday, saying that he is not almighty, but that He is the one who chooses, who promises -- through covenant transmissible through barachah (blessing) of the father alone -- and who is the One who makes one wait (92). Lacan mentions the interpretations of the 11th century Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (Rashi) of Troyes, who called Isaac the son with two fathers (93). Rashi also followed a particular Rabbinic traditions that saw the ram as an elohim, the primeval ram who was there at the creation (94). The sacrifice of the ram is that of biological origin -- pagans exalt the realization of erotic bliss, but Hebrews gave special value to the gap that separates desire and fulfillment, as represented by the law of circumcision.

The above comprises the major statements of Lacan concerning the Akedah, Kierkegaard, and Rabbinic interpretation.

Renaissance Rhetoric of Ramus Part 4: Diffusion of Ramism

The following post is the final installment of my comprised notes written on Walter Ong's book "Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"

The previous three entries have discussed the major issues of Ramism, the intellectual and historical backgrounds of Ramism, and Ramism itself. The only remaining entry, and a very short one, is concerned with the spread of Ramism across time and space.

Ramism spread especially well in Germany and the Rhineland during the period spanning 1580-1620. Though it arrived in England and the British Isles, it did not share the same avid popularity as it did in Germany. The mental sensibilities that characterize it did make their way into the world of the British Isles and England however. Ramist influence on logic also occurred in some degree. Much of the reason for the isolation of Ramism in some countries was due to the fact that Catholic countries would not allow the works of the protestant Ramus to be circulated (295-306).

Many of the historical developments that helped with the spread of Ramism actually preceded by many years. The creation of the alphabet that ushered in a new spatial orientation of mental thought was furthered by the invention of the printing press, which advanced beyond the effects of manuscript reliance of the Medieval period that had begun to reduce the role of oratory. The advancement of spatial, quantifying mental orientation and the development of diagrammatic logic prepared the way for print-ready cognitive developments and were in part popularized due to the changing necessities brought on by print technology. The Humanism that followed the Medieval Scholasticism was inextricably linked to print technology both in its use of it and more importantly in the parallels of their processes. Printing methods were very much like the intellectual methods being developed, practiced, and advanced by Agricola and Ramus. The effects of print technology also led to further depersonalization of rhetors/writers (306-314).

The development of spatial models came at the expense of Aristotelian predicates and classifications and led to the ubiquitous methods of quantification. The assimilation of categories into topoi (place, or loci) that resulted from topical logic also spread through Ramism. Lastly, the increased use of spatial charts and models furthered the transition from a world of sound to a world of sight.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Renaissance Rhetoric of Ramus Part 3: Ramism

The following post is a continuation of my comprised notes written on Walter Ong's book "Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"


Dialectic, Method, and Rhetoric

Ong begins with a summary of the influences upon Ramus and Ramism of the Renaissance period (171):

1) Peter of Spain and his highly quantified logic
2) Agricola's place logic
3) Arts Scholasticism
4) Didacticism of the university atmosphere
5) Pedagogical machinery of Humanism
6) Habituation of mental activity (creating mental habits)


Ramism's standard of quality discourse was essentially that which represented an example of dialectic or logic (175-176). Dialectic is the ability to discourse as well as the power of discoursing, which is laid out in Ramus' Teaching in Dialectic. For Ramus, dialectic could lead to conclusions of absolute certainty (176-178). Thus, discourse is subjected to the understanding of dialectic. Ong notes that discourse is a primary term within intellectual history:

Disserendi [discourse] is a critical term which controls the whole field of mental activity from classical times through the Middle Ages and into the Renaissance. (178)

For Ramus, natural dialectic contrasted with the art of dialectic, the former being functional whereas the latter was superb by means of its nature as a habituation or acquired skill. Ramus' teleological goal is action and knowledge in the pedagogical vein. Ramus reduced the arts to visual tables and charts of things, including dialectic. Veritas [truth] was the content of an art (or thing) held by nature or its container--no real metaphysical import was attached to the term itself. It was as if in the process of mapping out the field of the mind or any other subject the objects which were placed in the containers did not fill them (i.e. with understanding) but provided "useful" labels in the ongoing process of producing a consistent and copious pedagogical program (178-190).

Ramus' Dialectic was divided into two parts (a pattern of division that runs throughout Ramus' works): Invention and Judgment. Invention, for Ramus, is concerned with resolving explicitly formulated questions, is syllogistic in structure (as opposed to predicative), and is primarily concerned with seeking out the middle term of the syllogism through examination of topics (places, loci) as arguments in themselves (rather than as starting point or "seats" of arguments). Judgment, for Ramus, is concerned with the arrangement of inventional conclusions and is conflated with memory. The shift from the term "judgment" to the term "arrangement" (dispositio) further emphasized the prima facie style and understanding of judgment (including in these are the visual analogies of comparison that get employed). Judgment was divided into three steps, the last of which dropped out of Ramus' later work entirely:

1) Syllogism (with induction, example, and enthymeme)
2) Collections of Arguments (method)
3) Religion

Syllogisms included simple (categorical) and composite (all others), the latter of which arose from the former. Simple syllogisms were of two types: minor premise, argument (middle term), major premise; and dichotomized brackets. The three types of syllogistic reasoning (induction, example, and enthymeme) were all viewed by Ramus as truncated forms that suppressed one of the terms in the syllogism (be it minor premise, major premise, or middle term). The Aristotelian understanding, according to Ong, was far different:

1) Induction involved arguing a principle without examining all actual cases.
2) Enthymeme invovled arguing from a probable premise to reach a probable conclusion.
3) Example invovled arguing from a universal probable truth

The second part of judgment, arrangement of arguments, involved the collection and refinement of the conclusions through definition and division--a process which purported to arrive at the proper linkage (arrangement) of arguments. Axioms are relatively absent from this method, but rather the two activities of definition and division represented the "glue" to "hold" arguments together. Dialectic in this stage becomes a mapping of knowledge that sets out (lays bare) the "field" whereby one has "room" to "see" the things of the mind. In the third step of judgment, the religious, the method goes so far as to arrive at the mapped field of God's mind (178-190).

The understanding of dialectic as use or exercise was divided into three activities:

1) Interpretation (interpretatio)
2) Writing (scriptio)
3) Speaking (dictic)

Reading the poets, orators, philosophers, and all arts and writing was conditioned for the purpose of and in service to dialectic. The approach to any textual interpretation was twofold: "What is the question?" and "What is the argument?" Within this hermeneutic, ambiguity is a bane, a vice, because the question and argument are mapped out syllogistically as per Ramist dialectic method. Within Ramist interpretation, there are three steps of judgment:

1) With arguments in place, one examines the position of the middle term for weakness in structure
2) Defining the collection of arguments' end and causes (division)
3) Mystification that will also later drop from Ramism.

The steps of interpretation are very like the steps of judgment in dialectic itself. The ubiquitous nature of dialectic method for all subjects and objects is remarkable. The end goal of such interpretation for the student is memorization (facilitated through the simple structure and arrangement) which was the only real understanding that occurs. Such mapping of the mind and of knowledge is the end goal of Ramist dialectic method (190-195).

One of Ramus' critiques of Aristotle was that Aristotle did not provide a classification of the arts that make up all of philosophy -- a classification that Ramus estimates as the starting point of all philosophy. Out of this critique, Ramus turns to Cicero and technology -- what was originally a systematic treatment of grammar becomes the art of arranging the contents of the curriculum in proper fashion under Ramus' deviations (197-198).

Ramus' meticulous dichotomizing, unlike Plato and the majority of Neo-Platonist divisions, does not engage in any attempts to theoretically examine or support his two-fold divisions; nor were they derived from theoretical exploration. Ramus' work was born out of pedagogical exigence and appeal, evidenced by subsequent editions of Ramus' work spreading his dichotomization by subject, art, and ultimately all reality (199-202).

The corpuscular mental model arranged knowledge in clusters of spatial relation (genera), which were also clustered together in larger groupings (clusters of clusters) that represented all intellectual operations. For Ramus, the genus/species dyad was always understood equivalently to the whole/part dyad (i.e. never common/proper) (203-204). All teaching proceeded from genus to species so that definition became the starting point followed b division into "specific" parts, though no principle of division appears to guide the method save perhaps the principle of division itself (204-205).

Ramus also had several misunderstandings and misrepresentations of Plato. There appears to be an ignorance of the noumenal realm; a reduction of Platonic ideas to the most simple species of a thing; and an adoption of a transcendent knowledge, but one further separated from Plato than even Aristotle was (whom Ramus accuses of just such a misrepresentation) (205-207). In truth, Ramus' divisions are more Aristotelian than they are Platonic and his method is only adequate for distinguishing elements without concluding on any final resolution of how those elements are to be understood (207-208). Nominalist/Realist issues were passed over in favor of topics more "suitable" for teaching youth (208-209). Ramus's work ignores propositional and judgmental modes of argument and takes terms themselves as fixed validities. Thus, "man" is a true term and "non-man" is a false term, though when placed in a propositional statement they cannot always maintain a fixed validity because terms are neutral. Consider the example:
"Ass is a man" is invalid and "man" constitutes a false predicate of "ass is", though for Ramus the term "man" is supposed to always be a true term (209-210).

Another consequence of Ramist dialectic is the subsumption and dismissal of the four parts of oration: exordium, narratio, confirmatio, and peroratio. The four parts are included in the 2nd step of judgment, where they become examples of the method of definition and division. Further, rhetorical commonplaces are changed into dialectic arguments (210-212). Decorum and the three styles of rhetorical style (plain, middle, high) are also subsumed and effectively discarded by Ramist dialectic method. Decorum's relation to adaptation and ethos are seen as superfluous to the complete and pristine spatial diagrams produced through dialectic. Amplification and memory (storing and recall of examples, circumstances, paraphrases, etc.
for the purpose of enlarging a theme) are marginalized or reduced to simple recall of the classifications mapped out by the Ramist method (212-213).

There were two major critical responses to Ramus' dialectic method. Gouveia argued that Plato's dialectic (from which Ramus says he draws from) was not an art of disputation at all, but a prince of the arts and sciences. He also recognizes that Cicero (whom Ramus also uses) praises Aristotle on invention and judgment (which received some of Ramus' most harsh criticisms of Aristotle). The Gouveia model of Aristotelian dialectic was unlike Ramus:

[T]hat part of the art of discoursing which provides us with the arguments with which we can dispute either side of a question with a certain probability." (216)

He also criticized Ramus' notion of natural dialectic, which he saw as a fake concept since dialectic is necessarily an art applied to mental reasoning. Gouveia noted the difference in Galen's method of dialectic: with the end in sight one is to break it down by its means and teaching can define and divide or it can proceed by composition and progression (215-220). The other major critique of Ramus came from Charpentier. He noted that Aristotle's dialectic was concerned with discussion/debate and not with scientific reasoning. He distinguished three aspects of reasoning in Aristotle:

1) Analytic: logic of strict scientific proof
2) Dialectic: opinion and general aspects of reality
3) Metaphysics: perfect knowledge of 1st principles

Charpentier does agree with Ramus that art is a kind of explanation or teaching (220-223). The final edition of Ramus' dialects ended up dropping the 3rd step of judgment, as well as the preoccupations with definition and division. Judgment is still conceived of as arrangement, either of enunciation or of syllogism and method (223-224).


The understanding of the "method" was still germinating in the 16th century. As a term it was not used or understood as we use it now, but rather discussion about method was a discussion about routine and efficiency -- thinking and discourse were the routine. In Aristotle, method had to do with the pursuit of knowledge or of an investigation or the mode of prosecuting such an inquiry. The emphasis was on logical procedure. In Socratic tradition, method was fused with dialogue and dialectic. Medicine was where method developed most prominently in Classical Greece where a more personalized, rhetorically informed orientation existed. The emphasis in the classical period on method as a procedure of logical orientation directed toward knowledge shifts its focus to curriculum organization and pedagogical procedure by the Medieval period (225-230).

Ramus' own turn toward method developed out of the realm of rhetoric rather than logic or science. He draws from Hermogenes through the reading of Johann Sturm. Hermogenes discussion of the pattern of rhetorical irresistibility contains nothing of Aristotle's use of method. The medievals of the 15th and 16th centuries that pick up Hermogenes identify methods with language rather than with science or abstract thought (230-232).

Sturm's method (drawn upon heavily by Ramus) appeared in a dialogue on one of Cicero's rhetorical treatises. Method, for Sturm, is a "short cut" or teaching procedure. The are three parts of method in discovering an art:

1) through simple things to art
2) through art to simple things
3) division of definitions into parts

The last of these parts Sturm identifies with Plato and Socrates and was used in medicine during his own time. Sturm's categories come from Galen, but his terms are derived from rhetoric rather than medicine or logic. He relies on medical examples but supposes a broader scope for method than medicine alone (232-236).

Another influence on Ramist method comes from Melanchthon's observations on method. He saw method as a way by means of reason, but a way that is primarily a habit of a science or art which seems to clearly arrange confused matters. Melanchthon's method dealt with categories, but not as predicates (as in Aristotle). Instead, they are treated as receptacles, like Agricola's loci. In both Melanchthon and Agricola there is a concern for local motion: the former is drawing out content from its container whereas the latter is putting content into its container. Melanchthon's method proceeds by way of questions related to topical considerations (236-239).

Aristotle's own method of arriving at scientific knowledge is the following:
1) Start with the knowledge of causes -- why things are so
2) Examine sense data through inductive reasoning to arrive at principles that can explain the data
3) From the principles posed, one works back down through the data deductively.

Ong notes that for Aristotle: "Syllogistic reasoning is less a way or a substitute for discovery than a sequel of and complement to it." (242) Yet in Ramus, syllogistic reasoning was less about scientific demonstration of knowledge arrived at through induction, deduction and logical rigor but it was rather about a didactic method for conveying (arranging) accepted conclusions (240-245).

Ramus' own method is the tool by which one arrived at knowledge that is properly arranged. He relied heavily upon spatial metaphors in the arrangement of intellectual "atoms." Method is also a curriculum subject which can be extended to apply to any treatise on any matter -- thus the requirements of method applied (mutatis mutandis) to the teaching of any discipline. Ramus' terminology surrounding method is confusing and often misplaced with no intelligible reasoning for certain uses (e.g. the term "axiom" for method) (245-252).

Ramus derides poetry, oratory, and history because they do not follow his prescribed method of arranging bits of knowledge. Probabilistic reasoning (classic enthymeme) fade altogether in Ramus in favor of spatio-linear organization. The spatio-linear organization did not allow for regressive steps however (i.e. middle to first), which hampered it severely (252-254).

There is also a reduction of all priorities in thought to the absolute priority of nature itself -- the order of knowledge will always correspond to the order of nature (254-257). Ramus' method closely connected to the notion of structure and he mistakenly assumed that induction and deduction were reciprocal intellectual processes of the same psychological nature (257-258).

The three laws of method that were restricted originally in Aristotle (and later in Johann Caeserius' principles of demonstration) to scientific demonstration were universally applied by Ramus. They appear below, with their alternate labels:

1) de omni -- law of universal application
alt.---law of necessary truth
alt.---law of universal necessity
2) per se -- law of essential application
alt.---law of homogeneity
alt.---law of justice
alt.---law of necessary relationship
3) de universali -- law of total application
alt.---law of wisdom
alt.---law of necessary association

In Aristotle, the 1st law requires the subject to be treated in its full extension; the 2nd law requires the predicate to be referred to the subject essentially; the 3rd law requires the predicate not to be extended beyond where the subject is extended (258-262).

In Ramus, the 1st law requires that any art must admit no restriction or exception in being extended; the 2nd law requires that in an art all statements must "join" things necessarily related; the 3rd law requires all statements in an art to be converted into simple logic -- i.e. definitions constitute all statements. For Ong, the entire substance of Ramist arts are represented in the unsupported diagrammatic division and definition of things into spatial relationships (258-262).

Ramist art and method, so severely entrenched in topical logic, leads to understandings that are confusing and relatively useless as knowledge: e.g. disposition is the grouping of arguments and method is the grouping of groups. Grammar is treated geometrically rather than aurally (as symbols rather than as phonemes) (262-263). In practice, the activity of textual analysis is a way of operating on a text didactically -- for pedagogical use or exercise. Genesis is the reverse of analysis -- rather than deriving didactic arrangement out of a text, one is now didactically constructing a text from imitation (synthesis) (263-267).

To sum up Ramist method then:

Everything is arrangement through perfect method as perfect art, through perfect method as perfect discourse, through perfect method as perfect method. The method is art is discourse is arrangement. With Ramism we have the arrival of the scientific approach to literature and a newly developed hermeneutic, as a fully developed approach to textual analysis (267-269)


Ramist rhetoric only preserves two of the traditional five canons: elocution and pronunciation (style and delivery). The other three are subsumed by dialectic. Invention and disposition (or judgment, also called arrangement) are included in dialectic, while memory is subsumed in the second step of dialectical judgment (270-271).

Ramist rhetoric initially follows from Quintillian: eloquence is the power of expressing oneself well. However, Ramus divides rhetoric into three stages or steps, as in dialectic:

1) Nature, or origin: thought, reason, discretion (as in dialectic), and embellishment
2) Art, or method of teaching: style and delivery
3) Exercise, or teaching applied: interpretation and imitation

The lack of focus on delivery occurs because of its refusal to fit neatly and exclusively into the diagrammatical forms of the written word. In addition, style is reduced entirely to tropes and figures. Interpretation and imitation are dropped in later treatments of rhetoric (271-274).

The five canons in Greek and Roman culture were taught in the vernacular language whereas in Medieval and Renaissance cultures they were taught in Latin, which caused them to become secondary to the necessity of learning a non-vernacular language (Latin). Rhetoric courses because courses in Latin as opposed to a more general education in the five canons. Rhetoric-as-style-and-delivery was taught prior to dialectic-as-invention-and-judgment (and memory), which constituted a reversal of the order in which they were taught in classical Greece and Rome (275-277).

Ramist rhetoric is almost entirely reduced to ornamentation. Classical ornamentation in Cicero and Quintillian understood the terms in connection with oral sound: an ornament of rhetoric is also styled as praise, honor, or light of words and sound. It was personalist in focus. The personalist approach to objects is present in the 16th and 17th centuries where the radical distinctions between the internal and external world had not yet arisen and been sedimented as in the modern era (277-279). However, Ramist rhetoric puts ornamentation in more visual terms, arranging spatial and diagrammatical explanations and using spatial metaphors--praise and honor are lost terms in Ramist rhetoric (279-281).

For the ancients, rhetoric and dialectic polarized toward sound and sight respectively:

1) Rhetoric: resonance and auditory
2) Dialectic: silence, abstract, diagrammatic

They are artistically different tonally, but they are not distinct in any other way definable (i.e. topically, categorically, etc.). By specializing the world rhetoric and dialectic had to be made rigidly distinct, since extended items in space cannot occupy the same space (as people experience it superficially). This distinction becomes defined, in Ramism, as Solon's Law: clear lines of distinction to separate things into singular spaces or places (279-281).

Rhetoric and Poetic are not widely separated until Ramism either. Rhetoric and Poetry both dealt with the probable:

1) Rhetoric: probability and probable conclusions
2) Poetic: feigned conclusions and semblance of conclusions or of truth

Ramist poetry was quantitative and diagrammatic, solidifying poetry quantitatively into rhythm (length of lines) and meter (kind of feet). Renaissance scholasticism relegated all linguistic training to "low-level" preparation for higher level non-literary curriculum (281-283).

Ramist "plain style" represents a non-rhetorical style and rhetoric is considered dissimulation reserved for recalcitrant audiences (283-284). The rhetoric of Ramus did not prescribe itself to the world through open advocacy so much as it was adopted for its ability to lay forth an entire mental field and approach to cognition. Ramist rhetoric neglected sentence (theme), amplification, and decorum as well. As Ong puts it:

Ramism assimilated logic to imagery and imagery to logic by reducing intelligence itself, more or less unconsciously, in term of rather exclusively visual, spatial analogies. (286)
Ramist rhetoric influenced poetic thought of its adopters through a turn from dialogic modes of expression to more contemplative, didactic, and metaphysical modes (284-286). Ong again notes:

By its very structure, Ramist rhetoric asserts to all who are able to sense its implications that there is no way to discovery or to understanding through voice, and ultimately seems to deny that the process of person-to-person communication play any necessary role in intellectual life. (288)
The nature of Judgment (orally and aurally undeniable) was transmogrified into spatial arrangement (method = syllogism) -- world of sound to world of space -- by way of visual analogies.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Renaissance Rhetoric of Ramus Part 2: Backgrounds

The following post is a continuation of my comprised notes written on Walter Ong's book "Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"

Background: Setting the Context

Medieval Scholasticism and Renaissance Humanism
Medieval logic is suggestive of modern logic in its attention to detail, technical language, concern for real or apparent impossibilities (insolubilia, impossibilia, sophismata), and its innocence of empistemological commitments (53-54). Renaissance logic is more concerned with epistemological and psychological issues and less concern for Medieval "properties" (syncategorimatic terms--all, each, every--and supposition, ampliation, and restriction).
There was a general assumption that Aristotle's logic (through its Medieval additions) was essentially flawless (54).

The works of Peter of Spain became the most influential Medieval tradition on logic, which was directed more toward medicine than theology and related more toward natural science and psychology (55-56). The major work of Peter of Spain is Summulae Logicales which implicitly conflated logic and dialectic:

"Dialectic is the art of arts and the science of sciences, possessing all the way to the principles of all curriculum subjects." (56)

It was Peter of Spain, not Bonaventure or Aquinas (who were theologians) who drew the ire and criticism of Renaissance humanists. Despite their criticisms, the influence of Peter of Spain is striking, especially in his topic and probable logics, which are drawn from Aristotle and Boethius. These works continue to blur dialectic and logic by considering dialectic as an instrument of scientific certainty or of probability, or of both (59-63). Aristotle clearly marked of dialectic as dealing with the realm of the probable, leaving a more certain logic to the realm of scientific demonstration.

Peter of Spain rereads Boethius' misreading of Aristotle's enthymeme, which was simply that it began from probable ground of argument and arrived at a probable conclusion. Boethius took the enthymeme as an implicit, but understood proposition (i.e. truncated syllogism), which led Peter of Spain to take it as a probable argument that led to a certain conclusion.

There is also a greater influence on quantification in Peter of Spain than was ever in Aristotle. Peter's suppositional theory of logic treats terms as substances themselves (unlike modern logic) though it still retained predication (which Ramus will largely reject) (65-72).

Ong also does a brief excursus in this section on the affects of the printing press on logical models, especially focusing on the spatializing of representation and the geometrization of logic that developed more out of the Medieval period than out of the classical period. However, Medieval and Ramist logicians ignored Aristotelian use of variables (letters of the alphabet for e.g.) and the algebraic possibilities for logic (which developed later), favoring geometric structures and approaches more keenly (74-83).

The pedagogical bent of the Renaissance had roots in Medieval practice as well. Murner's redevelopment of Peter's logic for teaching children is an example. Ong states that the work did much to obscure and defeat what it sought to instruct -- it used symbolism for memorization purposes (not even ideographs, but simply pictures to supplement as visual memory), but did little or nothing toward teaching understanding of the concepts. The simplification-for-recall rather than simplification-for-understanding approach led up into the developments of Ramism, which sought to put words into simple geometric patterns (with little theoretical support for the divisions) . Murner's diagrams are still relatively tied to a storytelling sensibility and to sound (i.e. the telling of a story) whereas Ramist diagrams were simply spatial representations or maps with nor oral or aural connection (83-91).

In the movement from Medieval Scholasticism to Renaissance Humanism, the logic of Peter of Spain was generally replaced, or read through, the work Rudolph Agricola. It was through Agricola that Ramus' logic came and Agricola's logic represented a shift from Aristotelian logic to Ciceronian logic (through the Stoic tradition). The work on dialectic was Agricola's major contribution: Dialectical Invention in Three Books (92-95).

In Agricola there is evidence of the shift from scientific soundness to pedagogical exigencies as well as the emphasis on typographical representations (96-98). The layout of Agricola's Dialectical Invention is as follows (98-101):

Book 1: Loci or Commonplaces

Book 2: I. Dialectical Use: question as matter
II. Division of Oration
A. Teaching
1. Narratio
2. Confirmio
B. Moving
1. Exordium
2. Peroratio
III. Argumentation: Syllogism
A. Major Premise (MP): expositio (Agricola's own term)
B. Minor Premise (mp): assumptio (drawn from Cicero, et al.)
C. Conclusion (C): conclusio (from Aristotle)

Book 3: "Effect" or Emotional Appeal
I. Expansion and Condensation
II. Facility/Copie or Imagination
III. Arrangement, Order, Parts
IV. Application and Dialectic

Of these, Book 3 constitutes the greatest departure from Peter of Spain and represents the further conflation of Rhetoric and Dialectic.

Though Thomism has been much discussed in the subsequent histories, his works were much less widespread during his own time because theology was a relatively specialized area of academic study that was only pursued after an initial Masters was attained by a student. Thomistic divisions of logic are as follows (101):

1. Logic of Scientific Demonstration (formal logic)
2. Logic of Probability in Debate (dialectic)
3. Logic of Probability in Practical Decisions (rhetoric)
4. Logic of Less Probable "As-If"Concerns (poetic)
5. Logic of Bogus Probability (sophistic)

Aquinas more nearly preserves the Aristotelian divisions with some of the minor adjustments that come through later readers and commentators. Agricola's limitation of the loci to dialectic with no consideration of their place in rhetoric is a major departure from Aristotelian divisions. In this decision scientific demonstration and rhetoric/poetic logic are subsumed into a dialectic that is either less than scientifically certain (Agricola) or more than rhetorically exigent (Ramus).
Rhetoric is reduced or confined to ornamentation and all the goals of speech (which also becomes essentially and primarily didactic in nature and intents) are subordinated to the dialectic (which are really pedagogical) motive and aim (101-104).

Agricola's emphasis on topoi or loci lead to a neglect of Aristotelian categories. Aristotelian topoi included: definition, genus, species, wholes, parts, adjacents, relatives, comparisons, opposites, and witnesses--and these were to be visited or consulted for any speech occasion or subject. Aristotelian categories are less concrete (i.e. particular) than the topics, but are concerned with universals in terms of their attribution to some object:

Category: relation vs. Topoi: related items
Category: likeness vs. Topoi: like items/things

The ignorance of these distinctions leads to complications in Ramus; the seeds of which are firmly planted in Agricola. His expansion of the limited scope and objectives of the topoi to constitute application upon all knowledge (that is, a universal application of the topoi rather than their particular application) leads directly into Ramus' topical logic and dialectic that becomes the paradigm of all thought processes. Ironically, the exaltation of the topoi makes logic and dialectic a subset of rhetoric (as Aristotle taught it) at the same time as they are being passed off as a pristine dialectic (104-112).

Ong once again comments upon the differences between Aristotle and later commentators in terms of the oral/aural vs. visual/spatial differences. For Ong, Aristotelian pre-printing press logics are concerned with enunciation and less interested in spatial formulations whereas post-printing press logics grow weary of enunciation and seek a more "pure" and static visual representation. Ong writes:

"A word is more than a sign of something, even of an intelligible something such as a concept. It is a cry, a voice, something which comes from the interior of a person, who as a person can never be "explained," and which somehow manifests this interior." (110)

Ong discusses and interesting distinction between the cognitive processes of invention and judgment in dialectic. The former is analogous with highly visual and spatial components (hence, why Ramus and others focus on it primarily) and the latter is more Hebraic, judicial, and aural in nature (hence, why Ramus and others have difficulty working it out in their method) (112-116). Evidence of the spatializing of intellectual organization is seen in the analogies used to discuss the topoi, or loci. The use of "woods" or "forest" and later "field," "boxes," or "containers" reflects the typographically conditions shift to mental spatial images rather than aurally connected notions (117-121). Out of the spatial shift resultant from the technology of print came an increased emphasis on linguistic structure (i.e. concerns for print layout) and spatial tables with a resultant loss of acceptance for ambiguity (a necessary component of oral and aural realms) (126-130).

As alluded to in my earlier comments about Aquinas, arts scholasticism was more prominent and influential than theology or metaphysics during the Medieval and Renaissance. Philosophy and Theology were split into two distinct disciplines of teaching, the former being disallowed to teach the latter. Theologians also tended to be less schooled and unskilled in formal logic while Philosophy was relatively uncommitted to theological matters. Nominalism or terminism in Philosophy and its connection to highly quantified formal logic contrasted with Theology and its greater connection to rhetoric and metaphysics (132-136).

In Ramus' context, the Trivium (Grammar, Rhetoric, Logic) and the Quadrivium (Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music) had lost their savor as pedagogical arrangements of conveying knowledge to the youthful students. Also, Latin was the primary language of study, leaving Greek as a lesser known and Hebrew as a rarity. (136-139) The fact that youth were the primary target audience of the curriculum led to the use of simplified logic driven primarily pedagogical motives. (139-140). One of the reasons Ong points to as a cause for the avoidance of theology and metaphysics mentioned above is the authoritarian control asserted by the desire for unified doctrine. For an arts scholastic to step on the toes of a theology master could result in serious repercussions, and thus a sense of distance was maintained between the two disciplines (140-142). When metaphysics was approached by arts scholastics it was done so in narrow terms of physical interest--the workings of the mind, senses, and physical objects--as opposed to the more traditionally metaphysical questions of interest (142-145). Ramus is aligned along this trajectory of Arts Scholasticism that comes through Agricolan topical logic (145-146).

To review, the characteristics of Arts Scholasticism can be summarized generally as:
1. physical/quantitative in nature
2. physical/spatial in cognitive understanding
3. nominalist/terminist in terms of theology
4. unconcerned with epistemological commitments or questions

Ong periodically discusses terms of importance in Ramist thought (recall commentitia). One of the words he discusses is scholae, which reflects the fusion in Ramism of philosophy and pedagogy. Scholae were both the lectures that were delivered and the classroom in which they were delivered. True "scholasticism" thus meant "classroomism" in its Ramist context. Scholastic philosophy was thus classroom philosophy, wherein the process of thinking was subsumed in the process of teaching--a didacticism that emphasized application over contemplation. Again, Ong points to the source of influence as splitting at the aural/spatial dimensions--knowledge based on disputation and teaching (oral/aural) toward knowledge based in visual and diagrammatical representations (spatial/silent) (149-151).

There is also a bifurcation of teaching roles that Ong points out. The personal, interactive, dialogic role of the teacher was augmented (and perhaps largely altered?) by the addition of a corporate, apersonal, abstract role of the teacher that resulted from the growing understanding of knowledge as a commodity that was transmissible and verifiable in quantitative terms (151-152). The bifurcation saw dialectic abstracted from its original dialogic context and made to represent the entire pedagogical apparatus. Renaissance humanism also altered its practical exercises away from oral disputations toward written exercises (152-156).

Terminology was also rather indistinguishable during Medieval Scholasticism and up through Renaissance Humanism. Certain terms were interrelated shifted according to the predominant guidance of teaching (doctrina). The terms included teaching (doctrina), learning (disciplina), method (methodus), art (ars), science (scientia), and nature (natura). An example of the interrelation can be seen in the conflation of teaching as a science (a kind of proof or proving) and in Peter of Spain's synonymous use of art and science (156-158).

Out of these considerations emerge the realization that logic was not understood as the governor of thought (intellectual processes related to their object) but as the governor of (didactically motivated) communication (the verbalized relationship of thought to the object in the presence of another individual) (158-160).

Like Peter of Spain and others, Ramus conflated terms, for example, art and teaching, method and teaching, to the point where dialectic itself was understood as both something to be taught and the teaching (method) of teaching (art). Discourse or speech becomes something essentially didactic (160-163).

These influences and currents are the context into which Ramus is educated and develops as a thinker, teacher, and theorist.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Renaissance Rhetoric of Ramus Part 1: Issues

The following post is comprised of my notes written on Walter Ong's book "Ramus, Method, and the Decay of Dialogue"

Issues: What's Going on anyway?

Ramus was a 16th century academic who had an acute concern for logic with a distaste for symbolism, but who was eminently concerned with language (4). Ramism is a kind of logic, or dialectic (the two were essentially synonymous for Ramus), but it is unlike the more rigorous ones the precede it during the Medieval period (which were more concerned with scientific rigor and complexity) (7). Ramism was decried by strict logicians on this count. Ramism, as Ong likes to put it, is a set of mental habits, a conditioning of the mind toward a certain disposition or orientation toward the world and toward thought itself (7-8). Ramus' popularity was not universal, but his influence was ubiquitous throughout Europe, though in varying degrees. His name became synonymous with Rhetoric (9).

One of the issues that Ong will trace throughout his book is the fact that Latin was the predominant language of the academy, rather than the vernacular languages of any particular country (i.e. German in Germany, English in England, French in France, Italian in Italy, etc.) (10-11). Latin dominated the academy on all educational levels and subject as the primary language of discourse through the 16th, 17th, and up into the 18th century (10-11). It was only during the 18th century that vernacular languages began seeing frequent use in academia (12). Interestingly, Ramism was at the forefront of the vernacular movement in England, France, the Netherlands, and Germany, despite the fact that most of his own works were read in Latin only.

The intellectual heritage that Ramus inherited considered Rhetoric, Dialectic, and Logic to be synonymous in practice, even if distinctions were attempted in theoretical treatments (21). Medieval rhetoric, which was practical in orientation and motivation, was being replaced in the humanist tradition by a more elaborate art, in order to teach Latin expression as a literary or stylistic instrument (21). The connection between Rhetoric and probable argument, as well as the connection between Rhetoric and Dialectic, was gradually replaced by a very narrow and largely ornamental rhetoric. The art of Dialectic subsumed classical understanding of Rhetoric, but did away with probabilistic argument altogether.

There was also a movement in the humanist tradition toward an organizing principle of pedagogy. The exigencies of teaching young boys whose mental development was unprepared for the problems and issues of mature fields of study led to the reorientation of teaching material (22-23). The mantra of "is it true?" was replaced by the mantra of "is it teachable."

Ramus' own work represented a singular challenge to Aristotelian philosophy and method (23). Ong continually charges Ramus with misunderstanding Aristotle, and even owing Aristotle much debt for much of his own work. The later chapters explain in detail where Ramus' orientation and approach to Aristotle lead him to misunderstand and reformulate his philosophical observations.

Ong separates Ramus' career into four periods:
1. Rhetorical (largely Ciceronian)
2. Dialectic/Methodical
3. Dialectic on Mathematics
4. Religion

One of the key issues that recurs throughout Ramism is its desire to be as free from Rhetoric (which it deems mere ornamentation) as possible.

Ramus' self-proclaimed reforms were centered on logic for use of erudition, with a special focus on reforming Aristotle's Organon (41). One of Ramus' novelties was his application of logic throughout all curriculum levels, a result of the Renaissance influences rather than Medieval ones (41). Ramus' views on Aristotle are largely filtered through later commentators. Ong traces his intellectual heritage thus (from p. 42):

1) Dialectic in Cicero
2) Dialectic in Quintillian
3) Agricola's Dialectic in Humanities (particularly influential)
4) Galen
5) Hippocrates
6) Aristotle--with extreme dislike
7) Plato--esp. the dialogues
8) Aristotle--viewed as deceptive
9) Aristotle--relies upon the matter and form distinguishing categories heavily

Ramus is not first, not is he alone in his conflation of Aristotelian dialectic (logic that deals with terminating probabilities) and scientific logic (geometrical reasoning that deals with certainties), for the Medieval tradition was first to mark them as one form (44).

Ong marks out Ramus' use of the word commentitia as characteristic of his understanding from 1543 onward (45). He used the word in various references to Aristotle to mean inconsistency, arbitrary usage, irrelevant material, and poorly systematized description. Of these, perhaps the last is most informative of Ramus' mental sensibility. Systematization through dichotomies and diagrams come to epitomize the visual representations of his mental adjudications of knowledge (though he would not consider it making a judgment at all) (45-47).

In addition to his rejection of Aristotle's approach to knowledge and teaching, Ramus' history of dialectic ignores much of the Roman and all of the Medieval periods, arguing that the classics had a "true dialectic" which his age had revived (47-48). While Ramus prizes Socratic and Platonic dialectic, his own dialectical method will reveal itself to be radically distinct from either. Ramus was also critical of the Italians, giving little credit to their influence during his own period (48). He was particularly antagonistic toward their emphasis on rhetorical eloquence (Ramus prized dialectical logic, though he himself was an eloquent speaker). The tension that exists in Ramism is largely a tension between the traditions of logic and rhetoric (49).

Monday, January 30, 2006

Narrative and the Secrecy of Hermeneutics Part 6

Summary and Review of Frank Kermode's "The Genesis of Secrecy"

Chapter 6: The Unfollowable World

The opening pages of the final chapter are spent revisiting the bipolarities of hermeneutics and the focal point of Kermode's estimations on interpretation. What his project seems to aim for is not a harmonizing of different and diverse perspectives, but a situating of them according to their reaction to an inescapable principle:

"Yet all practice divination, however intermittently, erroneously, dishonestly, or disappointedly; most of all, disappointedly. For whether one thinks that one's purpose is to re-cognize the original meaning, or to fall headlong into a text that is a treacherous network rather than a continuous and systematic sequence, one may be sure of one thing, and that is disappointment....There are certain conditions which make the task more comfortable: more or less acquiescent in the authority of institutions, more or less happy that we have an acquired taste for fulfillments, for a state of affairs in which everything hangs together, we accept a measure of private intermittency in our interpretation -- unless we are unhappy because such acquiescence is an acceptance of untruth, and prefer antinomianism and the unhappiness of an even more complete isolation. In any case, a sense of mystery is a different thing from an ability to interpret it, and the largest consolation is that without interpretation there would be no mystery." (126)

Kermode seems to be indicating that in order to make coherent, one must have the thing which is received incoherently. And it would also seem that part of the incoherence that is present in any text is at least in part identical with the incoherence of our own selves -- staring into the words on the page is like staring into a mirror:

"[W]e cannot avoid the reflection that we ourselves are intercalated into the story in precisely this way, between the long past (which we recapitulate) and the imminent ending, which is our own, and, like Mark's, no parousia but a matter of fear and silence." (127)

Notice how the earlier decision regarding his interpretation (that Mark's Gospel ends at v. 8) is played out here in his discussion of how interpretation proceeds. The incorporation of
interpretation within interpretive theory is not simply reflexive, not even predominantly reflexive, but is rhetorical -- purposed and intentionally directed. Kermode intercalates at precisely the point where he is discussion intercalation, as a kind of self-validating exercise or example. What are we to understand of such decisions and practices? How are we to interpret Kermode's interpretation of interpretation (to allow ourselves to be tossed into the vicious cycle for a moment)? Is what is going on here demonstration or advocacy or both, or neither? At least one thing can be said for certain, which Kermode's example reveals quite clearly -- decisions must be made about the questions that hermeneutics asks, even if those decisions are only temporary or are tossed aside later. And what Kermode may leave underdeveloped is that the questions that the hermeneut asks are every bit as important as the assumptions and decisions that get made before and in the process of engaging texts. Kermode says that without interpretation there would be no mystery, but it could be put in the reverse order as well; there could be no interpretation without a mystery, without a question, without a concern. And though concerns are often conditioned by one's presuppositions and institutional assumptions, they can also arise from the text itself, and at many times unbidden or unsummoned. And even those questions and concerns that do not initially inquire of the mysterious sense will often end up there.

And so Kermode desires to take up the issue of intercalation in his final chapter, of those insertions that do not make a lot of sense on the surface level of the Gospels. First, there is the death of John the Baptist in Mark's Gospel, then there is the story of the woman with the hemorrhage. Kermode questions so far as to whether Mark itself is an intercalated story. His mode of operation is one that is probing what possibilities seem warranted by the structure of the language. But Kermode does seem intent on having a controlling or influential telos or principle that hedges the expansiveness of inquisitive possibilities:

"I have been proposing that the device of intercalation in Mark's narrative is an emblem of many conjunctions and oppositions, which are found at all levels of the discourse. Like Starobinski, I think these should be attended to, and not dissolved by recognitive hermeneutical tricks [what does that mean anyway??]; for these conjunctions and oppositions reflect something of what the gospel presupposes [can language presuppose, or only persons?] of its own structure, and the structure of the world. The pursuit of such interpretations is not merely a matter of method; there has also to be divination, and divination is an art related only very dubiously to rules. When Eliot said that they only method was to be very intelligent he was both exaggerating and saying too little. Method, he meant, is secondary, for first there must be divination. Having divined, you must say something by way of explaining or communicating the experience of that bewildering minute, and then method is useful. Of course, no divination is adequate to the whole task of interpretation; it may only record a radiance." (137)

Divination, as I understand it, relates directly to the subject of questions and questioning. Divination is in large part response. It is a response to the text, to what it may mean, and such response is conditioned by the question it asks of the text. Those "radiances" are what come from asking the right questions. And, as divination is difficult to organize by rule, so too are the right questions for any given text. It may also be said that though a plurality of right questions exist for any text, their are some whose radiance is brighter, as there are divinations that are brighter, as there are interpretations. But I am saying nothing here that Kermode and others haven't already said, though perhaps in different words. Though I would offer that by returning to the questioning of what one's questions of the text are provide a corrective for the interpreter who is accused (by others or by self) of serving a method or an institution blindly.

Kermode himself seems uninfluenced by certain original questions:

"[W]hatever we may find to say about the community for which it was originally written (and the evidence will come largely from the gospel itself, in defeating circularity) it is far beyond us to reproduce the tacit understandings that existed between this dead writer and his dead audience. Those accords are lost. We cannot know the original generic set of Mark; and to read it against our own is to read it differently. We have internalized expectations created by kinds of narrative, historical and fictive, and by kinds of poetry, quite unfamiliar to those original readers. We should remember this, and allow our sense of difference to exercise some control over our divinations; but in the end we have to think of the book as a sample of what we take literature to be, and avoid all means by which that confrontation may be prevented." (138)
Is it possible that Kermode's questions are somewhat institutionalized here, as a literary scholar? Why is what we take literature to be the confrontation that must be permitted? Why should the original confrontation of the literature with its readers be passed over? Is it very much less certain to attempt to recreate an historical world than it is to try and wrap one's mind around the present one? Even to accept that an estimation of literature is central, why is our present take more central than any other historical take? Kermode's skepticism toward the historical setting of Mark is unwarranted, and his conclusion that the largest amount of evidence comes directly from the Gospel is neither self-defeating circularity nor does it make that evidence the most revealing. Here is not the place for a lesson in historical backgrounds of the New Testament, and I am not the one to be giving such lessons anyhow, but I am aware enough of the subject to know that a wealth of historical material exists that helps us to identify "an original generic set" for Mark. What I am not attempting here is to paint Kermode as ignorant, fallacious, or uncharitable in his analysis, but what I am attempting is to point out where he is being selective as an interpreter. His interests are more recognizably literary than they are historical, theological, or even cultural. And the history of Biblical studies (especially in the 19th century) I would agree very well warrant the kind of focus Kermode is offering, but not to disillusionment or disavowal of the kinds of questions that have come before. It seems best, at least to my feeble judgment, that it is to the broadest range of lived and living human history which belongs the interpreter's most reasonable controlling context -- and for the particular text, where it originates is that point from which the larger applied interpretation springs forth.

To put it enigmatically: What a text means is more than what it is meaning and a text's meaning is always less than meaningful when it ignores what a text was meant to be.

More simply: The attempt to understand a text's meaning is always more than what present interpreters are saying it means and a text's meaning is always more meaningful when it attempts to consider what that text was intended to be, as well as what is has come to be.

Perhaps I am beating a dead horse, or perhaps what I'm saying is as simple as saying sugar is sweet and should be so. I do look forward to days when my own thinking is more clear, if such days are ahead.

To bring things to a close, it is fitting from where I stand someone who writes to leave the writer with the last word, since he is unable to defend himself or correct understandings that mistake his intentions (can you sense where I stand upon the hermeneutical playing field?):

"What is the interpreter t make of secrecy considered as a property of all narrative, provided it is suitably attended to? Outsiders see but do not perceive. Insiders read and perceive, but always in a different sense. We glimpse the secrecy through the meshes of a text; this is divination, but what is divined is what is visible from our angle. It is a momentary radiance, delusive or not, as in Kafka's parable. When we come to relate that part to the whole, the divined glimmer to the fire we suppose to be its source, we see why Hermes is the patron of so many other trades besides interpretation. There has to be trickery. And we interpret always as transients -- of whom he is also patron -- both in the book and in the world which resembles the book....World and book, it may be, are hopelessly plural, endlessly disappointing; we stand alone before them, aware of their arbitrariness and impenetrability, knowing that they may be narratives only because of our impudent intervention, and susceptible of interpretation only by our hermeneutic tricks." (144-145)

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Narrative and the Secrecy of Hermeneutics Part 5

Summary and Review of Frank Kermode's "The Genesis of Secrecy"

Chapter 5: What Precisely Are the Facts?

The fifth chapter seeks to treat the Gospel exclusively as historical accounts. It deals primarily with the tension between typology and historical validity, between figura and fact, as Kermode puts it. Here is how he lays it forth:

"[T]he discovery of recondite figurations in history-like narrative is a normal activity of secular criticism. By convention we tend to look for them not in narratives presented as having some transparence upon historical fact, but in fictions that reconcile a mimesis of reality with a more or less elaborate internal structure; but this distinction is more arbitrary than it seems, and figurations, usually of an ideological origin whether acknowledged or no, will be found in history as well as in the history-like. And anyway, if God writes the plot, the potential compatibility of narrative and figura is infinite." (105)

This last observation becomes the standard hermeneutic supposition of Christianity for centuries to come. The fulfillment claims of the Gospels upon Hebrew Scriptures is carried into the interpretive approaches of the early church fathers:

"[T]he earlier texts are held to contain, possibly in a disguised or deceptive form, narrative promises that will later be kept, though perhaps in unexpected ways. [paragraph break] The habit of finding such clues was not confined to the evangelists, and the search continued after their narratives were established and canonized. The same use of types and testimonies persisted: as proofs of divine organization, they were also proofs of the historicity of the narratives." (106)

Kermode remarks on how the extreme forms of christologizing the Old Testament leads to a loss of the OT's own historical character, and though modern assumptions might assume that such typology would invalidate the historicity of the narratives, the opposite occurs within the particular hermeneutic approach to the Bible--the typology confirms the narratives' (Old and New) historicity. Acknowledging this particular stance in the early church (and some interpreters today) Kermode takes his own stance a bit later:

"Yet we have seen that literary forces of the kind that operate in fiction certainly affected the design of the gospel narrative. The recognition of such an influence entails consideration of the degree to which the chronicles is shaped into history by other extraneous forces which may be called theological or ideological, depending on where one stands; whatever we call them these forces must, insofar as they affect what is said and the manner of saying it, assume rhetorical forms." (109)

Kermode spends a few pages discussing some of the passages that have been criticized as historical impossibilities or improbabilities. I will not address them here, though it is important to note that historicist approaches to the Gospels are more likely to discover discrepancies than to highlight harmonies. Ever since the Historical-Critical movement that came out of the 19th century German scholars, history (and especially Biblical History) has been viewed as a mass of discontinuities that only achieve continuity in being narrated, poetized, or otherwise written about.

Kermode finishes out the chapter with a return to the question of fiction and history. He provides a brief description of the nature of historical discourse and fictional discourse (specifically the novel):

"In general, history-writing, even more than fiction, relies on third-person narration. Novels quite often have first-person narrators, but their presence in an historical account gives it a different generic feel -- it becomes a memoir. The advantage of third-person narration is that it is the mode which best produces the illusion of pure reference. But it is an illusion, the effect of a rhetorical device. We cannot escape the conclusion that 'the fact can exist only linguistically, as a term in a discourse,' although 'we behave as if it were a simple reproduction of something or other on another plane of existence altogether, some extra-structural "reality"'." (117)

Whether or not such linguistic skepticism is warranted is most likely to vary on the precision one assumes to exist between description and reality, and wherever one lands may hold only in a particular case under examination. What Kermode points out, or actually, what he describes as the attempts of historians to narrativize factual data into readable accounts is that narratives convince by way of their structure and followability and its ability to reassure its reader of the impartially accurate rendering of reality. All of this to get to the final assertion that historians do not write and readers cannot read without prejudice. Welcome to the world of human nature. And under this view what occurs is that, "as Jean Starobinski neatly puts it, to ignore what is written in favor of what it is written about" (118-119). But Kermode says he wants to flip the priority in his book, which appears to me to be where we are now, where the priority of language over reality is reaching rather disturbing proportions, insofar as my observation and intuition are able to decipher.

And Kermode acknowledges Spinoza's separation of meaning and truth as most influential in the shift of priority. And with it came a new hermeneutics which tried to understand how meaning could be separated from truth and to utilize it methodologically to interpret biblical texts. The advent of "history-likeness" apparently led to some rather illogical conclusions, which Kermode quotes from Herder:

"[H]istory can mean 'the kind of consciousness represented by a specific kind of account...To be account need not be of any specific occurrence that had actually taken place'...What he needed was the right to affirm the factual truth of scripture without having to decide whether its meaning lay in its having happened or merely in its having been written." (120)

Aside from being illogical from a position of epistemological realism (i.e. perception does not determine reality) such conclusions reveal the hermeneutic shift toward a subjective hermeneutics that allows meaning to be made rather than discovered. The Christian should mark well here that if one tosses out the historical validity of the scriptures, one tosses out any objective elements of faith beyond language. The conclusion reduces to the choice of having faith in faith (solipsism) or faith in the words themselves (meaning that is linguistically determinate--"the words mean me") or faith in oneself (meaning that is a subjective creation--"I mean the words"). The separation of truth from meaning leads effectively to the loss of truth; being altogether replaced by whatever meaning is without truth (which to me seems to be nothing at all, or else very little).

Kermode seems to want something more centered than either a logically precise validity or a transient and ephemeral meaning/truth separation. He does recognize the ramifications of the choices:

"All modern interpretation that is not merely an attempt at 're-cognition' involves some effort to divorce meaning and truth. This accounts for both the splendor and the miseries of the art. Insofar as we can treat a text as not referring to what is outside or beyond it, we more easily understand that is has internal relationships independent of the coding procedures by which we may find it transparent upon a known world. We see why it has latent mysteries, intermittent radiances. But in acquiring this privilege, the interpreters lose the possibility of consensus, and of access to a single truth at the heart of the thing. No one, however special his point of vantage, can get past all those doorkeepers into the shrine of the single sense." (123)

But Kermode is certainly of the more modern modes of hermeneutics in the following concluding statement: "The pleasures of interpretation are henceforth linked to loss and disappointment, so that most of us will find the task too hard, or simply repugnant; and then, abandoning meaning, we slip back into the old comfortable fictions of transparency, the single sense, the truth." (123)

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Narrative and the Secrecy of Hermeneutics Part 4

Summary and Review of Frank Kermode's "The Genesis of Secrecy"

Chapter 4: Necessities of Upspringing

Chapter four takes up the topic of character and characterization in narrative (especially its relationship with plot), and how character plays out in hermeneutics. Kermode springboards off of Henry James because James highlights character over plot as his "necessity of upspringing" or, to put it plainly: for James, stories grew out of characters rather than characters out of stories (plot). Kermode notes that the priority of character is a recent development (broadly speaking) of the last 300 years, for it was before that (he traces back to Aristotle, though he could go further back and further East) when plot had priority. Neither is dispensable, which Kermode explicitly points out, though one generally tends to carry the emphasis (more or less throughout) in an overall work.

Kermode's focus on the Gospels in this chapter narrows upon the Last Supper, the Betrayal, and the Arrest--those portions where characters become more conspicuous (Judas Iscariots' betrayal, Peter's denial, and Pilate's posturing all receive attention for their characterization). Kermode revisits the tension between an historicist approach and a formalist approach, and he draws upon Ricoeur's observations that structural analysis out to lead to interpretation rather than to a structuralist analysis. In other words, there is a danger of simply reproducing method or institutional theoretical assumptions and standards in place of a hermeneutic that seeks a more complete understanding of the text in historical context(s). A brief synopsis of the various ways in which characters have been explicated as functional types reveals how thorough structural analysts are in relates (and reduces) character to narrative structure.

Brief aside: I might add here for anyone interested, there is a biblical studies journal devoted to literary and structural approaches to the Bible: Semeia. The journal lives in the borderlands between Biblical Studies and Rhetorical Studies (primarily from literary disciplines, but not without some harmony with communication disciplines).

Kermode adopts a presupposed order to the Gospel accounts which draw upon some undiscovered original work that preceded them all. The order is: Mark, Matthew, Luke using Mark, and John who used an unidentical but similar original. There is a fascinating, though short, discussion of midrash (a subject which I am still getting my feet wet in) : the proposed hermeneutic method of the Gospel writers. I will include it in full here:

"All we are doing is imagining what it was that the evangelists set out to interpret. I say "interpret" because the redaction of an existing narrative was, in these circumstances, a pre-exegetical interpretive act; instead of interpreting by commentary, one does so by a process of augmenting the narrative. It is quite widely agreed that the evangelists used methods continuous with those by which, before the establishment of the canon, ancient texts were revised and adapted to eliminate or make acceptable what had come to be unintelligible or to give offence. The practice is known as midrash; among other things it entailed narrative alterations or interpolations, sometimes very free. They might be made not only in the process of updating texts, but also in translating them into another language, say Greek or Aramaic. The evangelists were perfectly familiar with this practice....[paragraph break] An Old Testament text used to support the veracity of, and given narrative interpretation in, the New Testament is called a testimonium or testimony. A book of testimonies was a collection of Old Testament texts brought together in a notebook for the use of preachers. Some think such books existed, in codex form for ease of reference, before any of the books of the New Testament was written....It is also reasonable to suppose that narrative interpretation of the texts so collected should have had a part in the shaping of the gospel stories, including the Passion narratives. That is to say, parts of the gospel narratives may have been composed as midrashim on testimonies." (81-82)

I've only read bits and pieces on midrashic method and am not up to speed on the scholarly discussions about the Gospels' relationship to Midrash. Kermode remarks that disputes on the relation between gospel and midrash continue to be pursued. I am aware that midrash is not a unified method, but encompasses a wide range of interpretive freedom and constriction. What is most interesting to me is the historical importance of the fact that these writers are using Jewish interpretive and writing methods as opposed to Hellenistic methods. While there may or may not be expansive differences between the two methodologically, there is a foundational difference in the fact that Jewish methodology was institutionally or traditionally subjected to interpreting the Hebrew Bible, with a focus toward relating their present world within its redemptive, covenantal, and progressive history. Later Gentile converts to Christianity were more likely to approach the Hebrew Bible through the revelation of Christ as opposed to approaching Christ as the revelation of the Hebrew Bible. In other words, I suspect that even Jewish converts to Christianity would have subjected their hermeneutic to the authority of the Hebrew Bible (the book of Hebrews is perhaps the primary place where this is seen) whereas Gentile converts would have subjected their hermeneutic to a post-revelatory understanding. Again, it is difficult and dangerous to assume too much discontinuity here, but it seems rather ignorant to assume that Gentilic understandings of the Hebrew Bible would correspond exactly with Jewish converts (even Gentiles under direct apostolic teaching would be encountering a tradition they were largely if not complete ignorant of). I must admit that my suspicious rest almost entirely on intuitive application of the things I have read and conjectures based on my own assumptions about cultural influence on human understanding.

Kermode uses structural forms to identify Judas within narrative structure. He is approaching the gospels from a more fictive stance: "The necessity, in a circumstantial and history-like story, of having a character to perform the Betrayal is obvious enough" (84). Only a bit later Kermode reduces Judas and the disciple characters entirely to an element of narrative progression: "So Betrayal becomes Judas. In the fully formed narrative the scheme is more complicated, for all the Twelve, and especially Peter, are Betrayers and Deserters (prodotes, a traitor, one who abandons in danger), and this fact has to be got into the narrative" (85). Conservatively taken, Kermode's observations highlight the effect of narrative structuring upon the historical material the Gospels are representing. More radically, Kermode's observations could be taken as the Gospel writer's rhetorical/poetic figurations of more benign historical events. Again, we come up against the question of what hermeneutic stance the gospel writers took: subjected more to historical validity or to rhetorical coherence. And there is the question of whether the two even ought to be understood as mutually exclusive (i.e. fact is "stranger," that is, more intriguing, than fiction; or conversely, fiction that is "true to life"). It may be that where one falls on either side or somewhere inbetween rests, however finally, on the assumptions or presuppositional stance of the analyst--even after rigorous compilation and study of the historical evidence.

Another interesting discussion that Kermode develops is the difference between codex and roll (or scroll). A codex was a page which could hold writing on both sides and bound as a book, and could be opened to any page. A roll or scoll could only have writing on one side and had to be unrolled entirely to read end portions of a work. When the change-over from scroll to codex was accomplished is up for debate, but Kermode seems to prefer an earlier change for his purposes in analyzing Mark: "Just how early they made the change [from roll to codex] is, as I have said, debated; but it is at least possible that Mark first circulated in codex" (88-89). Kermode makes the argument that the change from roll to codex is significant: "The transfer of the Hebrew scriptures to Greek codices enacts an appropriation of those writings for Christian purposes. It made possible the use of the Jewish account for the peculiar purpose of establishing the validity of the Christian version not by, or not only by, reference to the Law and the Prophets, but also by reference to the testimonies, scattered apparently at random in the ancient texts, and having occult senses that now emerged" (89). The attachment of such import to a technological development in literacy is not new (Walter Ong and Marshall McLuhan are two who have done much in that arena), though my own present suspicion is that the importance of such changes are more likely to have their effect over a broader period of time rather than in a brief historical moment. Kermode may fall to close toward arguing a king of technological determinism in the change from roll to codex. The differences between Hellenistic culture (specifically Roman in this context) and Near Eastern culture (specifically Jewish in this context) seem more influential than the roll/codex technological development.

The remainder of the chapter discusses the various narrative and character differences between the Gospels and the later historical choices made by interpreters who desired to speculate about the characters of Judas and Pilate and their peculiar relations within the broader story of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Kermode summarizes the important point of his chapter quite explicitly:

"The matter of this chapter is really quite simple. Of an agent there is nothing to be said except that he performs a function: Betrayal, Judgment. When the agent becomes a kind of person, all is changed. It takes very little to make a character: a few indications of idiosyncrasy, of deviation from type, are enough, for our practiced eyes will make up the larger patterns of which such indications can be read as parts." (98)

In my previous studies of Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling there is clear indication of this highlighting and focus on character rather than role. Abraham is the Knight of Faith, a character role in Kierkegaard's narratival argument against Hegelian philosophy, but Abraham within the narrative of Genesis, and even with the Akedah, is not taken up as a role in the narrative, but as a character of specific and integral interest. Abraham is not the father of Judaism or Covenant or even God's chosen, but he is the individual relating to the Absolute. Kierkegaard's hermeneutic approach to the Akedah and to Abraham reveal the particular priority of character over plot. To this, perhaps Kermode might say:

"The key to all this development -- from fable to written story, from story to character, from character to more story -- is interpretation....But the new narrative itself generates character, and the characters generate new narrative beyond any immediate need, though the new narrative again takes its form from those more ancient texts in the first part of the book. It is only when the canon is closed that the work of interpretation becomes the work of exegesis, and even that, as we know, can be pretty inventive." (98-99)

Friday, January 27, 2006

Narrative and the Secrecy of Hermeneutics Part 3

Summary and Review of Frank Kermode's "The Genesis of Secrecy"

Chapter 3: The Man in the Macintosh, the Boy in the Shirt

The third chapter of Kermode's book compares an obscure character in James Joyce's Ulysses (Macintosh) and an obscure character in Mark's Gospel (the young man who shed his clothing). The central question under question seems to be about why it is that we (human beings) are compelled to make sense of the obscurities, to invest them (whether through recognitive discovery or cognitive imputation) with meaning. Kermode sets it up this way:

"Another view is that MacIntosh is absolutely gratuitous and fortuitous, a mere disturbance of the surface of the narrative. So Robert M. Adams, who says that Joyce is just playing with our 'unfulfilled curiosity'....The real question is, why do we want to solve it anyway? Why does the view of Adams commend itself to us not at once, not as intuitively right, but as somehow more surprising and recondite than the attempts to make sense of MacIntosh? Why, in fact, does it require a more strenuous effort to believe that a narrative lacks coherence than to believe that somehow, if we could only find out, it doesn't." (52-53)

Kermode's initial preliminary answer: "[W]ithin a text no part is less privileged than the other parts. All may receive the same quality and manner of attention; to prevent this one would need to use metatextual indicators (typographical variation, for example) and there are no such indicators in the present instance." (53)

He goes on to discuss the various approaches to such "fractures" in a text's coherent surface, which fall into the extremes: one of trying to reconcile into coherence everything in a text and the other of trying to see the fractures as the only meaningful elements meant to allow for the most interpretive freedom. And overarching these is the institutional power that has set and solidified the standards for "normal" research regarding Joyce in particular and literary studies in general.

From here it is on to the Mark text where Kermode revisits a fundamental hermeneutic principle: "[W]here enigmas are credibly thought to exist in a text, it is virtually impossible to maintain that some parts of it are certainly not enigmatic. This is a principle important to the history of interpretation, and it was by carefully violating it with his fractured-surface theory that Robert Adams upset people." (57)

Kermode then discusses two interpretations of the difficult passage, one of which takes its departure from historiographical materials and the other which takes its departure from literary critical materials. Kermode indicates that the "establishment" and/or "institution" (I'm guess this must mean the established consensus of Biblical Studies scholars?) rejected the literary interpretation because it was too literary; running dangerously close to making Mark out to be more artistically fictive than transparently historical.

Then the chapter returns to the question of the desire for coherence and the fact that some see it as occurring as a result of the way language is learned and linked syntactically and redundantly and orally. Others prefer to see deception and disappointment as more honest encounters with narrative. The former stance is more prevalent of course, in the very least because it is more natural, simple, and satisfying--even when a text seems overtly clumsy or ill constructed for coherence.

The final portion of the chapter is devoted to the disputed ending of Mark's Gospel, where the more ancient (typically taken as more reliable) manuscripts stop at 16:8 whereas the less ancient manuscripts have either parts or all of vv. 9-20. The text is more enigmatic if it ends at v. 8 "for they were afraid" and so Kermode investigates the ramifications of the dual possibilities. One of the more interesting comments is:

"Now all interpretation proceeds from prejudice, and without prejudice there can be no interpretation; but this is to use an institutional prejudice (Form-criticism) in order to disarm exegesis founded on more interesting personal preferences. If it comes to a choice between saying Mark is original and upholding 'the whole method of form-criticism' the judgment is unhesitating: Mark is not original." (68)

Kermode will obviously privilege the more literary stance, which takes Mark as the singular constructor of the Gospel we have for the most part, finally intact. But it is at the end of the chapter where Kermode brings in the matter of fore-understanding, which is the most applicable commentary the chapter contributes to the topic of hermeneutics:

"Even at the level of the sentence we have some ability to understand a statement before we have heard it all, or at any rate to follow it with a decent provisional sense of its outcome; and we can do this only because we bring to our interpretation of the sentence a pre-understanding of its totality. We may be wrong on detail, but not, as a rule, wholly wrong; there may be some unforeseen peripeteia or irony, but the effect even of that would depend upon our having had this prior provisional understanding. We must sense the genre of the utterance. [paragraph break] Fore-understanding is made possible by a measure of redundancy in the message which restricts, in whatever degree, the possible range of its sense. Some theorists, mostly French, hold that a fictive mark or reference inevitably pre-exists the determination of a structure; this idea is not so remote from Vorverstandnis [fore-understanding] as it may sound, but it is so stated as to entitle the theorist to complain that such a center must inevitably have an ideological bearing." (70-71)

Kermode points out, and I would tend to agree, that ideological and institutional constraints are inevitable. I would add that the fuzziness of our understandings of the origins of language and narrative preclude us from deciding once-for-all whether ideology precedes or follows language formation, construction, and intention. Yet it is clear that there is no escaping ideological influence in our present and recorded history of language use and interpretation. And as Kermode remarks, it is the institutional and ideological nature of hermeneutics that allows for outsiders to produce "radiant" (Kermode's term) and/or radical interpretations. It remains, and may always remain, that hermeneutics seeks out and calls forth coherence from a text (to whatever degree and for whatever moment in time and space).

Monday, January 23, 2006

Narrative and the Secrecy of Hermeneutics Part 2

Summary and Review of Frank Kermode's "The Genesis of Secrecy"

Chapter 2: Hoti's Business: Why Are Narratives Obscure?

Kermode discusses the nature of parables in the Gospels. There are some interesting observations on hermeneutics and narratives which I will post and comments on below.

"[I]nterpreters, often quite rightly, tend to see the Problems of Interpretation. The sense of the parable, on the view just stated, must be this: being an insider is only a more elaborate way of being kept outside. This interpretation maintains that interpretation, though a proper and interesting activity, is bound to fail; it is an intrusion always, and always unsuccessful." (27)

Here we have again the expression of hermeneutics that seems to fascinate its more contemporary theorists--that interpretation folds out as well as enfolds its own attempts to understand a text's meaning. There seems to be a desire for some sort of absolute closure, knowing all the while that such closure is impossible in any circumstance of language. What exactly is to be gained or lost from exalting the failures and gaps?

Kermode also gets into a discussion about the word choice of Mark in contrast to that of Matthew (which is taken to be a later Gospel that drew upon Mark's Gospel). Again, the central text is Mark 4:11-12 (RSV):

"so that seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear but not understand, lest at any time they should turn, and their sins be forgiven."

The "so that" in Mark is "hina" (a word that also translates "in order that") and in Matthew is "hoti" which is "because." The argument makes interesting distinctions and distinguishing points between Mark's and Matthew's accounts of the phrase (which is a allusion/quote from Isaiah). His conclusion on the accounts:

"Each of them makes the parable a bit like a riddle in a folktale, where to get the answer wrong means perdition; but hina and hoti distinguish them. One says the stories are obscure on purpose to damn the outsiders; the other, even if we state it in the toughest form the language will support, says that they are not necessarily impenetrable, but that the outsiders, being what they are, will misunderstand them anyway." (32)

And what is Kermode's intepretation of Mark's use "hina" supposed to expose? According to Kermode: "My present point is simple enough: Mark is a strong witness to the enigmatic and exclusive character of narrative, to its property of banishing interpreters from its secret places." (33-34)

The immediately following discussion highlights some examples of anagogic (spiritualized) intepretations of the parable of the Good Samartian by the early church fathers and medievals (such as Irenaeus and Augustine). These early Christians have a hermeneutic that reads redemptive history into the characters, the objects, and the narrative elements of the parable. It was Luther who rejected the analogical interpretations and stood as a first step in the movement toward what Kermode refers to as the "era of 'scientific' intepretation." Kermode reveals that sometimes the conclusions of the scientific methodology approaches similarity with the analogical, while at other times it differs greatly (38-39).

There is an especially good section that follows that I want to include in its entirety because it discusses various hermeneutic theoretical stances:

"However, there is a fashion still more recent, which revives, in its own way, the notion that the sense of the text is inexhaustibly occult, and accessible in a different form to each and every intepreter. The object of this kind of interpretation is no longer 'scientific'; one does not try, like Jeremias, to state what the narrative meant in its original, or in any later setting; one does not try to 're-cognize' it, as the more conservative hermeneutical theorists say one should. Rather one assumes, to quote an opponent of this school, that 'the meaning of a text goes beyond its author not sometimes but always' and that 'one understands differently when one understands at all.' The object of interpretation is now sometimes said to be to retrieve, if necessary by benign violence, what is called the original event of disclosure. This is the language of Heidegger; he takes the Greek word for 'truth,' aletheia, in its etymological sense, 'that which is revealed or disclosed, does not remain concealed.' Every hermeneutic encounter with a text is an encounter with Being as disclosed in it. For Heidegger indeed, it is the very fact that one is outside that makes possible the revelation of truth or meaning; being inside is like being in Plato's cave. [paragraph break] Every such hermeneutic encounter is still, in a measure, historically conditioned, though now that limitation is no longer thought of just as a limitation -- it is the prerequisite of interpretation, ech act of which is unique, one man on one stool, so to speak, seeing what no power can withhold from him, his glimpse of the radiance, his share of what is sometimes called the 'hermeneutic potential' of a text." (39-40)

You can spot the clear distinctions between how the more modern and contemporary hermeneutics are alike analogical and anagogic interpretations in the liberty they take with them, but unlike the older formulations, the modern hermeneutic theory is not tied to a tradition, or what Kermode might call an institution, but rather, the only strings attached are that the revelation be persuasive and enlightening enough to those it is offerred up to. Intellectual stimulation (however euphoric or epiphanic) seems to be the organizing principle of critical judgments. Kermode continues by addressing the arguments and evaluations that followers of the modern hermeneutic offer:

"Now that which requires to be disclosed must first have been covered, and this view of interpretation certainly implies that the sense of the parable is an occult sense. Its defenders like to say not that the interpreter illumines the text, but that the text illumines the interpreter, like a radiance [shades of Mailloux's discussion a couple of posts back come to mind here do they not?]." (40)

Strangely enough (or so it seems to me) Kermode traces this newer hermeneutic back to the Protestant tradition that rejected the institutionalized traditions of Catholicism. But more than as a seedling, Kermode sees that tradition as ultimately doomed to passing, because of the indistinguishability between secular and sacred texts that results from it. The above recognition of the radicalizing independence (and determinate principle of intellectual stimulation) of the newer hermeneutic is what Kermode sees emerging from Protestants and convering in the German idealists:

"The tradition is that of a productive encounter between the text and the reader, illuminated by a peculiar grace or, in more secular terms, a divinatory genuis, as far as possible independent of institutional or historical control. That encounter is the main concern not only of modern German hermeneutics but also, though their ways are different, of its French rivals." (40)

And from there Kermode returns to the obscurity of all narrative and the concealing and revealing operatives at work in every interpretation.