Friday, 19 March 2010

Who's the BOSS: The TEXT or the READER? prof. Jan van der Watt

Who decides the meaning of a text: the TEXT itself, or the PERSON reading it? There are at least two extreme views on this: the one, as is evident in some African contexts holds that the TEXT itself has magical powers (being like a talisman). The other view, usually associated with the deconstruction of the likes of Derrida and Faucolt, holds that the READER allone determines what the text means.
Two incompatible paradigms. Prof. Van der Watt, if I understood his 17 March 2010 lecture at Radboud University, Nijmegen correctly, proposes an alternative. Within the field of INTERTEXTUALITY, it is possible to give room for both the text and the reader. Not an either-or, but both-and. I will report on this in more detail next time.


Steve said...

I look forward to the follow-up. This aspect is critically important. It's like being in a frozen Siberian wilderness with a map, you're running out of time and supplies, the weather is closing in, and if you don't get to read the map right, you're toast!

Why the dr. dr. in the titles above? Isn't one cyanide tablet enough? :) I maintain the following (from bitter experience): The ratio of the number of titles or qualifications accredited in Christendom is inversely proportional to the Life it purports to contain.

I'm one of many with nothing to show for all my qualifications, just a path of proven stupidity.

I appreciate what you seek to introduce to aspiring and old New Testament academics, we are all in need of Reality! I don't think this Reality is unattainable, untouchable, completely subjective and subject to the relative forces of the frazzled intellect. Reliaty is immanent, transforming, both present and future proof. Glory to Christ, the Lord.

Steve said...

In the following paragraph I have an example illustrating how important it is to get the basics right. A house without a proper foundation will not be safe and habitable for very long. How should we read and arrive at the right meaning of the text?

A college pal, Larry, was telling me about his first year at a company that markets American products in the Middle East. “My initial project, a soft-drink account, was terrific, but very nearly cost me my job,” he said. “To avoid language problems, I erected a three-panel storyboard. The first panel depicted a guy drenched in sweat, standing in the desert. The middle panel showed him gulping down a bottle of our soda. And in the third panel, he’s fully refreshed with a big smile.”
“Sounds great,” I told him. “What was the problem?” Larry said, “I didn’t know Arabs read right to left!”
Quotation from Fred Putnam 2006 Toward Reading & Understanding Biblical Hebrew

A great deal has already been said on the topic, perhaps the time has come to look at the fruit that has come from the lives and teachings of people on both sides of the divide. Tell me about their lives. What is there to know? Help point the way.

Frederik Mulder said...

Thanx for this Steve! I hope my new post helps...
And the dr.dr. - thanx for that. Technically, here in the Netherlands and Germany, people tend to use that often. But I agree with you...

Best regards

Bacho said...


have you read Kevin Vanhoozer's "Is there meaning in this text?" He talks about the author-text-reader triangle where the reader is seen as a disciple of the text.


[NB. I have a summary of it on my blog as well.]

Frederik Mulder said...

Hi Bacho,
Yes! I studied in detail this specific book of Vanhoozer for my MTh dissertation. There is much to be learned from him. Join up and become a follower of my blog if you like - then we can communicate more. Forward your blog details also.

Best regards

Jan van Wijgerde said...

The delicate tension between text and reader has been a dispute for ages. Surprisingly, you didn't mention Gadamer and Ricoeur. Especially the last one is quite interesting.

Your question is: who decides the meaning of the text? Ricoeur tries to answer this question by analysing why we read texts. In short, his conclusion is that the text is reading our life and that the meaning of the text is actually mirroring our existential questions. Whereas we are struggling with our life (prefiguration), the text is confronting us by giving us an opportunity to formulate our questions (configuration), and, lastly make it possible for us to find meaning in our life (reconfiguration).

In my opinion, this point of view makes it perfectly possible to justify the post-modern deconstructive attitude, regarding that *we* have a problem with our existence, but not with the text. On the other hand, the text keeps all authority.

Jan van Wijgerden

Frederik Mulder said...

Hallo Jan,
I know Gadamer and Ricoeur fairly well. Their insights were also part of prof Van der Watt's lecture. I should've expanded a bit more but if you read the next post on "So that we BELIEVE" - there I mentioned Speech-Act-Theory - another interesting avenue...Thank you for this