Friday, April 06, 2007

A Musing on Textuality and Reading/Interpretation.

I have been puzzling out my own approach to books and text. Part of this has to do with my perception that when I discuss a book or text with someone that we often aren't simply talking about the text, but about whether or not the book or the author of the text has addressed them. I find this odd because I do not expect to be addressed by a text in this way. I approach a text expecting difference, expecting that the book will not have been written to me.

Derrida has this very interesting text called The Postcard, in which one can never be sure who is being addressed nor from whom the texts (Postcards) come. This was the first of Derrida's books I read. In some sense the "point" was the effect the text had, both of giving one a sense of a correspondence between people, but also, the inability to identify who the "authors" were, and whether or not there was anything in the texts that revealed "Derrida."

I found in this something analogous to how I always read Scripture. Does it matter that Paul addressed 1 and 2 Corinthians to people long dead? Yes and no. I read the Bible, and 1 and 2 Corinthians, meaningfully long before I read any sort of critical accounts of the books. Now granted the critical accounts give some insight into the book, but they don't actually give us either Paul or the addressed Corinthians, rather we have more texts about Paul and the Corinthians. Texts that I believe are helpful in our understanding Corinthians and other writings of Paul, but these texts do not in fact bring us closer to anything or anyone.

I guess I have always seen the distance of textuality as the place of meaning. Thus I don't expect to be addressed but to be drawn into an interaction that might be called "textuality".

None of the above has to deny the existence of authors and/or audiences, rather it is admitting that the need to interpret, to have meaning, to communicate already presupposes distance. If all was immediate, if it was possible in some way for me to have access to an others interior, there would be no writing, no speech, no communication and perhaps no concepts, especially those about truth.

I am not you. Thus we communicate, which in some sense means that you will always miss the mark of directly addressing me. We thus seek to correspond, but that is an unending activity that can never obliterate the distance.

So, I don't expect Corinthians to be "relevant" to me, though I do find Scriptures and other texts full of meaning, precisely in their "irrelevance", or rather that I encounter that which never quite hits home.