Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Exegesis as Self-Criticism

Exegesis as self-criticism consiously focuses on the reader before it focuses on the text. Because knowledge (and hence understanding of texts), although concerned with objects external to the knower (e.g. texts) is never independent of the knower (it is part of their cognitive framework), the discipline of testing knowledge is first and foremost an exercise in self-criticism.

Thus, this appraoch would begin with the readers intial or current interpretation of a text and then ask questions of the origin, justification, and correctness of it. The reader will ask: Why do I read it this way? and may take a sceptical stance towards their reading, Why is may reading wrong? The reader will examine their logic and judgements, how their emotions and commitments (theological and institutional) may impinge on these, and their knowledge base of the various contexts related to the text.

In the process of questioning the self and the interpretation, the text is examined in all of its contexts (linguistic, historical, etc.) and adjustements are made to the intial interpretation, or it is abandoned altogether and replaced with another. Although the task may seem an overly negative one, the postive side is the response to the findings. Thus, for example, if knowledge of a particular context is found to be lacking, then positive accumilation needs to take place. The reader therefore tests their interpretation by means of the text's various contexts, and the readers various contexts.

This approach acknowledges the role presuppositions play in reading and is conscious of the reception history of texts. One does not read in isolation, either from previous readings (reception history) or from ones own knowledge base and framework. not all presuppositions are hidenrances of cource, as all knowledge constitutes presupposition and factors in interpretation.

I suggest this because as I percieve the state of interpretation in current biblical studies, although the role of presuppositions are acknowledged, they are rarely factored into the intepretive process. Although one cannot "step out of them" and into another set, one can become aware of them and the affect they may have or be having on ones interpretation of a given text. Talk of them being inescapable therefore lets just ignore them honestly frustrates me.


Ben Myers said...

I really appreciate this post, Eddie. Rudolf Bultmann emphasised this aspect of interpretation -- we bring our own presuppositions to the text, and we allow the text to challenge and revise these presuppositions. And Bultmann's pupil Ernst Fuchs once remarked that the goal of translating the biblical text is that we ourselves will be translated!

As a minor point, though, I'm not sure this kind of approach can or should "focus on the reader before it focuses on the text." I think rather this approach involves a constant dialogue, a dynamic process in which the reader's presuppositions interpret the text and the text interprets the reader's presuppositions. Exactly because this is a true dialogue, there is no real "before," but only a simultaneous encounter between reader and text.

eddie said...

True, as dilaogue there is no before. But what I wish to highlight is that because knowledge is "ours", it is personal, we need to constantly check ourselves. When I say focus on the reader first, I mean after the initial reading. So you take your understanding of the text and ask "why do I interpret it this way?" But, as you say, the process of interpretation is a constant dialogue, there is afterall more than the reader at "play".

I simply wish to emphasize the aspect of self-awareness in interpretation.

Ben Myers said...

Thanks Eddie, this clarifies what you mean by "before". Gadamer is very helpful here too, with his emphasis on the "fusion" of the reader's horizon with the horizon of the text.