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Interpreting New Testament Narratives

Recovering the Author's Voice

Series:

Eric J. Douglass

Narratives are the concrete manifestation of an author’s subjectivity. They function as that person’s voice, and should be treated with the same respect that is granted to all voices. In Interpreting New Testament Narratives, Eric Douglass develops this ethical perspective, so that narratives are treated as communication, and the author’s voice is regarded as a valued perspective. Employing a cross-disciplinary approach, Douglass shows how readers engage narratives as mental simulations, creating a temporary possible world that readers enter and experience. To recover communication, readers locate the events of this world in the culture of the intended audience, and translate this meaning into the modern reader’s worldview. Using a staged reading design, this initial reading is followed by readings of critique.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

Chapter 2 engages the topic of communication. As writing is an intentional act, authors begin with the desire to say something in a way that is understandable to their readers. This suggests that communication occurs under specific conditions. First, authors and readers must use the same language. Authors employ the language of the intended audience, using an authorial audience to produce an implied author. Readers choose to employ the language of the intended audience, producing an ideal reader. Second, both must have competence in that language, meaning that the implied author and ideal reader mirror the intended audience. Third, both generally choose to use language in a standard way, without showing resistance or stepping beyond its conventions. Once readers recognize these conditions, they may enter the process in a way that maximizes communication and minimizes distortion. When these language conventions are misunderstood or misapplied, various types of disjunctions arise. This is especially important when authors violate conventions in creating newness, and readers grasp this newness by similarly crossing standard conventions.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

Chapter 4 details how readers enter the storyworld of the narrative. Readers create a storyworld from the opening words of the text, and generally enter that world by identifying with a character. Identification means that the reading-self assigns his or her way of being to that character, and so experiences the narrative’s events from that first-person position. Identification is characterized by three processes. The first is attachment, where the reading-self assumes that character’s perceptual point of view (senses), conceptual point of view (worldview), and interest point of view (interest and goals). The second is investment, where the reading-self takes on this character’s emotions (emotional empathy) and thinking (cognitive empathy). The third is commitment, where the reading-self stays in this relation throughout the narrative’s events, even when this character is flawed or absent. The character of identification is initially constructed as a representative member of the intended audience, but is overwritten by the narrative’s events, sequentially becoming individuated for the text at hand.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

The Introduction examines the claim that readers should follow the cultural conventions of the intended audience. Each cultural position creates a different voice from the text. The present project focuses on an ethic of reading, under the principle that voices should never be manipulated or silenced. As the text functions as the author’s voice, this applies to reading. Hence, the initial reading position should be that of the author’s audience, so producing the voice that the author expected. After giving a brief survey of ethical criticism, this project selects the branch where readers recognize their responsibility to the author. The core components of this method involve locating the narrative in its original culture, following the design of the narrative, translating the story-meaning for a modern culture, and critiquing story-meaning. This is compared with two theorists who use ethical criticism (E.D. Hirsh and Adam Newton). The introduction concludes with a summary of the chapters.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

Chapter 3 focuses on locating the text. Narratives function as mental simulations, and simulations require a counterfactual self, which we call the reading-self. The actual-self produces the reading-self to enter and experience the simulation. Simulations only achieve the author’s ends when the reading-self follows the text without interference from the actual-self. Hence, the reading-self is created without an executive function, and so is overwritten by each line of the narrative. In this way the reading-self becomes sequentially other with relation to the actual-self. When narratives are written for a different culture, the reading-self must be programmed with that culture’s elements. This especially includes that culture’s symbolic universe, cognitive maps, and social institutions. For this reason, the reader’s first task is to identify and characterize the culture of the intended audience, and then to overwrite the reading-self with these elements. When this modified reading-self engages the text, it locates the text’s elements in the culture of the intended audience.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

Chapter 5 examines the problems created by having multiple characters. To begin, readers must determine which character is the character of identification. This is central to interpretation, as this character’s perspective produces a particular experience of the events. Authors prompt readers to identify with a character by employing a collection of narrative techniques, arranged in an overall strategy. But readers still take account of the other characters, developing their perspectives with depth. This allows readers to understand the complexity of various conflicts, to see the ends of alternate paths, and to identify certain ideals through the use of exemplars. Finally, the design of a narrative argument requires the privileging of certain perspectives, creating a perspective structure ‘over’ the events. This results in an evaluative standard that determines the moral rightness of all actions and attitudes. Authors also produce a central set of interests and goals that readers use to evaluate the events.

Series:

Eric Douglass

Abstract

Chapter 1 focuses on the basic assumptions upon which this method is based. First, writing and reading are intentional acts. This implies that texts are designed to be purposive and purposeful. Authors engage in writing behavior and publishing behavior under the desire to say something to their audience. Readers also begin with a desire, and match this to a method that is designed to produce the object of that desire. Hence, readers tend to find the content of their initial desire. Second, authors and readers are subjects. This implies that authors are capable of crossing their culture’s horizons in the production of ‘the new,’ and that readers are capable of crossing their culture’s horizons in the retrieval of the same. Third, the relation between authors and readers is ethical in nature. Authors and readers are each a Thou (Buber) with a face (Levinas), and so have equal intrinsic value. For this reason, each has a responsibility to treat the other with respect, and not to manipulate or silence the other. They show this respect by treating the other as a subject for conversation and not an object for manipulation. This means that our model readers begin with the desire to hear the author’s voice, and match it to a method designed for communication.