Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Interpreting Interpreting

Gorgias undertakes to excuse her by arguing that if she followed Paris,
she could only have done so for one of these four reasons:
(1) she obeyed the gods' commands;
(2) she was carried off by force;
(3) she was persuaded by speech;
(4) she succumbed to love.

--Laurent Pernot, La rhétorique dans l'Antiquité
(Rhetoric in Antiquity)

This is another 15-minute post. As Plato and Aristotle seemed to be threatened by sophists (such as Gorgias and Isocrates), some people today seem threatened by postmodernists. Aristotle didn't care much for women either; neither do some of the same threatened people, who seem angry at feminists today.

At issue, it seems, is interpretation. In a couple of blog posts around, there's the assumption that interpretation is just wrong, especially when one is reading the Christian Bible. The presumption is that God's inspiration of the male author locks the whole thing down to what he intended: the set of texts is unified as the "canon," and the meaning is singular for the author's targeted audience so that no other audience, contemporary or future, can quite read it otherwise. Get a male author intending something that God breathes, and you never need to question your own (likely sinful) interpretation again.

(Helen was always and only in Troy because of the divine commands. Why should Gorgias ever question?)

The irony (especially if you're not interpreting as a platonic modernist or an aristotelian sexist) is this: that the one around whom Christianity has formed encourages interpretation, and subjectivity and humility and ambiguity. And his parables that have been translated into Greek we must interpret, about the god seed 1) that falls by the wayside; 2) that loses its force against a rock under shallow soil and a heat under the sun; 3) that gets choked out by the speech of the weeds; 4) that dies in love in the ground for the hungry. There's a lot of love, and women, in his stories (i.e., "gospels" and "parables") for those who have ears to hear (i.e., interpretation), not just a big man stick (i.e., canon).

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