Wednesday, 11 August 2010

WordPlay: a sumptuous video

A friend sent me this sumptuous video this morning: 

I watched it the first time and just enjoyed the pageant of sounds, images, and evocations. I felt that there was an inner logic but it evaded me, until my astute friend suggested I pay attention to how one scene after another portrays a different dimension of the semantic range of a given word, and then the lights went on. Still, the blurb on the web page seems to promise something more philosophically profound:
In this stunning video, filmmakers Will Hoffman and Daniel Mercadante bandy visual wordplay into a moving exploration of how language connects our inner thoughts to the outside world.
How does the video help us see this? I suppose it highlights the logic involved in expanding a basic meaning of a word (e.g. "fall" as a type of movement) to more metaphorical extensions ("fall" means "autumn" because that's when leaves fall).* But is that the criteria for their connections? In what sense are "light" as "luminescent" and "light" as "not heavy" connected? As far as I now their homophony is coincidental, as the two meanings seem to have two different roots. Is the idea rather that regardless of the etymology of a word, the fact that we now use a "word" (whatever that is: are "light" and "light" the same word?) to refer to a range of referents leads us to subconsciously see some kind of inner connection between the various referents? But that is bad linguistics, something that James Barr called "illegitimate totality transfer." As an Englishman I don't call Autumn "Fall," but that fact alone doesn't mean that I therefore perceive Autumn differently to an American.

Or maybe I'm missing the deeper point altogether, so please feel free to enlighten me. Yet even if the video doesn't have a deeper philosophical point, it's still beautiful to watch.

Check out their other awesome videos here.

* I'm aware that some debate the existence of "basic meanings." See, e.g., Clines' introduction to the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. I side, however, with the views expressed by Michael Fox in his article on the semantic field of folly.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Third Isaiah, intertextutality, and history

In my post The Biblical canon and Biblical referentiality, I stated that, as far as Childs is concerned, the final form of the canon of Scripture is not a totally hermeneutically sealed unit, such that one can make sense of the parts without reference to extra-textual realities. He certainly credits the final form of the text with far more integrity than many of his colleagues, but nevertheless the meaning of this final form is contoured to a large degree by the particular manner in which it came to existence. This calls for a subtle form of exegesis, one which takes into account the different "levels of consciousness" present within the "final form."
"First, Third Isaiah remains a prophetic collection, both in form and content, which means there is an encounter with actual historical realities, albeit seen in the light of the divine. This dimension dare not be flattened simply into a type of learned scribal activity dealing exclusively with literary texts. Second, not every occurrence of a parallel [with Second or First Isaiah] can be assigned to an intentional reuse. A critical assessment must be made that reckons with the theological substance at stake beyond merely identifying formal parallelism discovered by the perusal of a concordance.1"

Childs' reference to the "theological substance" of the text here highlights another dimension of his concern to respect the historical nature of the text. Christianity claims that the Old Testament is a witness to a divine reality that was ultimately revealed in Christ. This was the concern of allegorical exegesis. Historical Criticism rightly retains this sense of extra-textual referentiality. Rejecting the constraints of the historical dimension and treating the text as a space for free-floating signifiers risks dampening its ability to point beyond itself the the reality that undergirds both past, present, and future.

1Childs, Isaiah, 462. S

Friday, 6 August 2010

An intoxicating song

I hope to get back to more theological/Biblical posting in due course. In the meantime here is the most intoxicating song I've heard in a long time. I can't get enough of it:

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Thiselton on the canonical approach

any suggestion to the effect that a 'canonical' approach is harmonizing or ahistorical rests upon a mistaken mythology generated by critics who have never properly engaged with it ("Canon, Community, and Theological Construction," p. 9).
Stark but true.