Intellectual discourse in Mark
The ideological issues at stake in New Testament intellectual discourse are being explored brilliantly at present by Stephen D. Moore. Two major literary figures lying behind the part of Moore's work I will discuss here are Jacques Derrida and Paul de Man. I will present Moore's analysis of them for biblical interpreters in this section, rather than go to the texts of these writers themselves. The interest in this chapter is to discuss biblical interpreters, among whom Moore is becoming a major figure. His distinctive contribution lies in the arena of the ideological analysis both of biblical texts and of interpretations of biblical texts. His first book focused entirely on biblical interpreters of the Gospels in the New Testament, exhibiting the nature and limitations of their work (Moore 1989). His second book explored Mark and Luke from poststructuralist perspectives (Moore 1992). His third book explains poststructuralism through extensive analysis and interpretation of the work of Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault (Moore 1994). For the purposes in this section the reworked excerpts on Mark from his second book, which were printed as a separate essay in Mark & Method: New Approaches in Biblical Studies (Anderson and Moore 1992: 84-102), are most helpful for the investigation of ideology in intellectual discourse.
As Moore explains in the opening pages of his essay, a major problem with modern Western thought is the manner in which it is 'built on binary oppositions: soul/body, nature/culture, male/female, white/nonwhite, inside/outside, conscious/unconscious, object/representation, history/fiction, literal/metaphorical, content/form, primary/secondary, text/interpretation, speech/writing, presence/absence, and so on' (p. 84). I introduced this problem in the introduction to this work in the form of 'mind/body' dualism, and we have seen Castelli's analysis of such oppositions in Paul's discourse in 1 Corinthians 1-4. The practices of Western thinking introduce subordination in each pair rather than equality: the first term is superior to the second, so the relation between the two terms is hierarchical (superior/inferior), not reciprocal. One of the major ways this has influenced biblical interpretation is in the establishment of 'poetic boundaries', an issue discussed in chapter two, where the interpreter sets up a strong opposition between the 'inside' and the 'outside' of the text. Another major influence has been the opposition of 'speech' and 'writing', also discussed in chapter two. These traditional perspectives play into binary Western thinking where the first terms are the 'good' ones ('inside' and 'speech'), while the second terms are inferior, ordinary, lifeless or corrupted imitations of what is most true and real. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, these oppositions breathe through both biblical interpretation and Christian theology--since both are products of Western thought--establishing their agendas, goals and strategies. After addressing some of the oppositions in biblical interpretation, this section will turn to the problem of these oppositions in intellectual discourse, which includes not only biblical interpretation and Christian theology but also the disciplines of history, literary studies, linguistics, sociology, anthropology, philosophy and psychology. Instead of rehearsing specifically what Moore has done, I will use Moore's work as a medium to explain yet further the nature of socio-rhetorical criticism.
To confront the problem of binary oppositions in biblical interpretation, Moore uses the works of Derrida and de Man in the context of interpretation of aspects of the Gospel of Mark. One example he explores is the boundaries of a text. In contrast to clear boundaries that create an inside and an outside for texts, there are ways in which texts destroy their own boundaries. An excellent example is the end of the Gospel of Mark (pp. 86-7). Copyists wrote at least three different endings when they copied Mark in an attempt to establish a secure boundary at the end of the story. At the end, the text says that the women told no one what they had seen and heard at the empty tomb (Mark 16.8). But if they told no one, the narrative itself would not be able to contain the story: there would have been no means by which anyone could have known about the empty tomb. This contradiction breaks open the end of the text: somehow something had to happen, which the narrative does not tell about, which made it possible to include the story about the empty tomb. A major point with this is that 'inside' and 'outside' break down. Evidence that something 'outside' the text had to happen for the story to be in the text is actually 'inside' the text--namely the story of the empty tomb. Unless something happened outside the text besides the women's 'not telling' anyone, the author could not have included the story in the text (unless the author is one of those women, which Moore does not suggest!). At this point, then, opening-middle-closing texture breaks down the 'inside' and 'outside' of the text: the text contains inside-outside interaction 'in itself', as we would say. A key example of a positive manifestion of this inside-outside interaction is the use of the term 'parable' in the narrative. At first the Twelve are told that only people 'on the inside', namely them, can understand the parables; people on the 'outside' are not able to understand them. Soon, however, those on the inside, namely the Twelve, are not able to understand what Jesus says and does, even though 'everything happens in parables' (Mark 4.11). The significance of this is that Markan narrative itself contains a term, namely 'parable', that deconstructs the 'inside/outside' opposition which it sets up near the beginning of the story. This is the kind of term both Derrida and de Man look for, namely a term that contains both sides of the opposition in itself and has no opposite in the language of the text itself. Parable is an 'inner-outer' phenomenon in the text itself that 'deconstructs' the opposition between inside and outside, which a reader may wish to impose on the text.
Another issue is the opposition of speech and writing in biblical interpretation, which suggests that speech is superior to writing (pp. 89-93). In the text of Mark Jesus speaks. According to the high evaluation of speaking in Western thought, speaking is superior to writing because the speaker is there to communicate directly. Communication is clear when it is embodied in the speaker himself; there should be no distortion because the speaker is there--everything should become clear through question and answer if it is not clear at first. In contrast, a written text cannot be clarified: it wanders around like an 'orphan', lost from its author/father. The author is not there to clarify the text, so its meaning has been 'lost'. The reader will anticipate me to know that when Jesus speaks in Mark, the disciples, who are supposed to be on the 'inside' of Jesus' 'speech', cannot understand the meaning of what Jesus says. It is like they are trying to 'read' Jesus as though he were 'writing' and has gone away from his writing. That which is supposed to be true of writing, then, is present in the contexts where Jesus 'speaks' directly to the disciples. Alternatively, the 'reader' of the text of Mark 'understands' what the disciples should be able to understand. Modern biblical interpreters, especially, know what the disciples should have understood when Jesus spoke to them. In other words, those who read the 'written text' of Mark understand it as though it were 'direct speech' to them, while those who hear the spoken voice of Jesus cannot understand it. But is this really the case? The reader of my statements will again anticipate me, to know that Markan discourse deconstructs the traditional opposition between speech and writing in such a manner that the interpreter's belief that he or she can understand what is written is just as deceptive as to think that the disciples had no understanding of Jesus' speech to them.
At this point, Moore moves to the opposition between text and reader, which has become another polarity in modern interpretation. Supposedly, either the reader 'imposes' meaning on the text or the text 'imposes' meaning on the reader. Some interpreters have it one way; others have it the other. For some modern interpreters, the reader is supposed to 'get out' from the text what is in it; for others, the reader 'constructs' what is in the text. But Moore shows that the situation is more complicated then this: we all act out something that is inscribed in the text; the question is 'what' aspect of it we act out. In Moore's words:
In other words, the reader is not completely outside or completely inside the text, nor is the text completely outside or inside the reader. Reader and text interact in ways that break down the traditional opposition between the two. This raises interesting issues not only about my own analyses but about Castelli's and Sch�ssler Fiorenza's analyses of Pauline discourse and Wordelman's analyses of Acts. In what ways are all of us acting out some interpretive role insribed or dramatized by the text itself as we perform our analyses?
As Moore nears the end of his essay, he begins to play with the word 'cross'. The purpose is to show the fragility of language, to show how language is also not either one thing or another. Words are always in motion, meaning partly one thing here and partly another thing there, as well as partly one thing and partly another both here and there. Mark's theology is a theology of the cross, and the cross crisscrosses through other things said and done in the narrative. In other words, the cross 'crosses out' and 'crisscrosses' through the entire narrative, making Jesus absent where he seems to be present and present where he seems to be absent. Also, it makes the author absent where we might have thought he was present and present where we might have thought he was absent.
From: Vernon K. Robbins (1996) The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse: Rhetoric, Society and Ideology, London: Routledge: 208-212.
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