"These empirical transcendentals urge themselves upon a plurality of interpreters and resist capricious construal, allowing for a plurality, but not an infinite number, of interpretive possibilities. ... Interpretation is not merely a subjective appropriation: it is a subjective construal of an objective reality."
Saturday, 3 November 2007
Postmodernists Believe in Objective Reality too!
In recent conversations with Stephen from Emerging from Babel, the question has arisen as to the adequacy of postmodern theory in helping us formulate a theological hermeneutic. My purpose here is to argue that the claim that the Bible as an external reality can shape our response to it (Childs' "coercion of the canonical shape") does not contradict the epistemological critique of postmodernism.
My thoughts are taken from James K.A. Smith's book, The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic (2000), specifically the chapter entitled: "The World as Limit: A Phenomenological Criteria".
Postmodernism claims that all articulations of truth function within the specific conditions of human finitude. A great way to signify this is Heidegger's use of the term Dasein ('there-being'; being-there, at a particular point, and not everywhere). Our perspective, shape by our context, inhibits us from ever being able to comprehend anything within the world exhaustively. My knowledge of an object cannot be adequate to the object itself. As such, there can be no normative interpretations.
But to deny that there are no normative interpretations is not to deny that there are no interpretive norms. There is an external reality, there is a given/gift - creation (and in this case God's gracious gift of the Bible) - that every interpreter encounters. This reality stands before our interpretations and is binding upon every construal. It is the phenomenological criterion of every construal, what Smith calls an 'empirical transcendental' (i.e. the world as given and experienced). The 'Bible' is not mine to be manipulated, it is rather the norm that judges my interpretations. The Bible does not prescribe a single "correct" interpretation, but it does preclude an infinite number of interpretations.
The idea that truth is 'subjective' does not mean that it can be whatever we want it to be. Rather, it means that 'truth' is dependent on the uncovering role of Dasein: "All truth is relative to Dasein's being - not "left to subjective discretion".
These thoughts are relevant to the Childs/Brueggemann debate. I hope they can provide us with more precision as we stake out our respective positions.