Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Anxiety of Influence

RBP has made a very helpful comment to my preceding entry, which was my initial thoughts on PamBG's query about the question of method in the theological interpretation of art. RBP's comment is of such interest, that I'm elevating it here to a post:

For what it's worth, I think that this sort of thing is definitely legitimate. I like things that cross disciplinary boundaries. And I think that authorial intention (defining author broadly here to inclue all artists), although important, is not the only important thing out there. Don't get me wrong, the author is important. I don't think that the author is "dead." The reader's perspective on the text (defining text broadly here to include all art), bringing their entire perspective is also important and meaning is discovered in the interaction between the reader with all of their history, knowledge, experience, etc. and the author with all of their history, knowledge, experience, etc.

As to whether or not the painter had the Suffering Servant in his mind: Umberto Eco has a great essay called "Borges and My Anxiety of Influence" in On Literature in which he explores/outlines the concept of influence and all of the different dimensions of influence. He originally gave the essay as a talk at a conference in which scholars talked about his work. He talked about how intrigued he was by the literary echoes and influences that people were claiming his work contained. Some presenters he knew were right on, because he had read the work cited and had had that work on his mind when writing his piece. Some presenters he knew were wrong, because he had never read the work cited. Other presenters, he was skeptical at first, but then he remembered that he had read that work, but had forgotten about it. That work is still an influence, even if he wasn't directly thinking about it. It was in the back of his mind or had shaped him in ways that weren't direct, but definitely influential. The painter likely knew of the suffering servant concept at some level, even if he wasn't directly thinking about it. Eco also goes onto to say that the whole thing is more complicated than all that, because there are works that influence other works that we then are influenced by. At the very least, the suffering servant influenced the writers of the Gospels and the Church theology that influenced the painter.

Additional discussion and comments welcome...


Blogger PamBG said...

Don't let us stop your reflections on The Suffering Servant, by the way!

Wed Jan 31, 10:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding your reflection on servanthood and artwork, you mentioned that you trying get at both spiritual and disciplined study. This also makes me that about your possible influences. You noted that, “The crucified one is a true "Servant" in the sense that both testaments of the Scriptures labor to flesh out the nature of "servanthood." It seems that Childs’ influence is helping you frame your study of servanthood in the sense that you are asking how both testaments are discrete witnesses to their subject (i.e. Christ). Personally, I think a large benefit of Childs project is not ultimately in his specific theological exegesis (only his exegesis is quite helpful and we are lucky to have it) but his ability to create a space for others to do Christian theological exegesis. In other words, by struggling to come to terms with the importance of a two testament Christian canon that sees 1. the relationship between the two testaments more than simply prequel and sequel and 2. our relationship to these testaments as different than that of the prophets and apostles, Childs tries to supply a framework from others to do Christian theological exegesis that is both spiritual (scripture as a witness to God) and disciplined (it takes seriously the notion of canon and fleshes out the consequences of this notion). I mention this because I think his canonical proposals are often unfairly characterized as limiting exegetical work rather providing a framework for it. Partly, I think this is because his “Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testament” did not make as big an impact on the field of biblical theology as his earlier works did, which is unfortunate. Nonetheless, it seems to me that you are showing very creatively how his canonical proposals can help one reflect on/develop a biblical theology of servanthood in both a spiritual and disciplined manner.


Wed Jan 31, 12:37:00 PM GMT-5  

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