Natalie Solent

Politics, news, libertarianism, Science Fiction, religion, sewing. You got a problem, bud? I like sewing.

E-mail: nataliesolent-at-aol-dot-com (I assume it's OK to quote senders by name.)

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I also sometimes write for Samizdata and Biased BBC.)

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005
What Bible criticism tells you about "Rahila Khan". This is the email my computer ate out of malice for humankind. The alternative explanation, that I filed it in completely the wrong place, is fit only for those craven souls willing to submit to the Silicon Peril.

Harry Powell writes:

The article you quote by Theodore Dalrymple on the
Rev. Forward's literary labours got justifiably wide comment on the right wing of the blogosphere, much of it taking delight in the embarrassment of Virago but which missed a subtler point that Dalrymple glides over. The money quote is this: "Was he not in fact telling us, as presumably a good Christian should, that mankind is essentially one, and that if we make a sufficient effort we too can enter into the worlds of others who are in many ways different from ourselves." Well on that thread hangs a great deal of biblical scholarship and controversy dating back at least to Dilthey and Schleiermacher and which turns on a carefully drawn distinction between meaning and interpretation.

If we confine ourselves to asking what a text says there can be no room for misunderstanding; that understanding must be either true or false and therefore there can be no account in differences of interpretation except in terms of error and wanton accusations of stupidity. What hermeneuticists, however, claim is that meaning is construed out of methodologies of interpretation and as such knowing who says what, where, when and in which cultural context is crucial.

Much of contemporary literary theory is the heir to this kind of biblical eisegesis and is by no means an intellectually dishonest position to hold. Imagine if we learnt that the Merchant of Venice wasn't written by a protestant actor from the Midlands but a jewish businessman from the Veneto surely it would profoundly change our view of the play, yet how could we be expected to derive that biographical fact from the text alone? This seems to be what Dalrymple is condemning Virago for, the book in question purports to have the authenticity of lived experience, indeed Dalrymple is at pains to point out that Forward's life parallels the lives of his characters, yet inescapably Forward's work is an act of imagination - he is not an Asian teenager. Forward did change the meaning of his work by misrepresenting himself to Virago and if it had no literary merit beyond social documentary they were quite right in pulping it. Dalrymple's position is untenable one unless he means us to make a bonfire not just of Dilthey but Nietzsche and Heidegger too.

I want to get back to this subject, partly agreeing and partly disagreeing, when all the ideas sloshing around my head have had a chance to settle down.

Incidentally, for a moment I "corrected" Mr Powell's 'eisegesis' to 'exegesis'. Fortunately some good instinct caused me to check. This site explains both words, and 'hermeneutics' besides. That last word falls into a special mental category: words for which I can never remember the definition however often I look it up.