Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Question of Method...

In the comments to the preceding post, PamBG asks a very good question:

Just clear something up for me. This is a mediation on the painting? Or an exegesis of Isaiah? Or are you using the painting as an illustration of your exegetical points? (Not being critical, just wanting to understand.)

Let me respond briefly, and then invite reader comments:
the blogging professor
Thanks for this question, PamBG! No, I have no idea whether the painter had in mind Isaiah or any of these particular theological reflections. Responding to the painting, the art brings up Isaiah's theology for me and seems to express it visually. I guess what I have written is my "viewer response" as a theological thinker. Do you think this mode of reflection is legitimate? I am trying to craft a way of studying an artwork such as this as an exercise that is both spiritual and disciplined. Comments on method are most welcome... ---Steve


Anonymous Anonymous said...

For what it's worth, I think that this sort of thing is defintiely 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.

Just my two cents. Maybe one cent.


Tue Jan 30, 09:32:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger PamBG said...

Yes, I absolutely think it's legitimate. However, I just wanted to know what you were doing as much of this blog seems to focus on exegesis (what's the plural?) of biblical passages.

I don't think I can offer such an intellecutal response as the first poster, but this approach reminds me of the Ignatian approach to prayer. Sometimes such an approach leads to God speaking to us in ways that have nothing to do with exegesis of a passage or "the meaning intended by the author", but that's OK. If I'm preaching that way, though, I like to make it clear that I'm not doing an exegesis as I find that people often tend to assume that a sermon will be exegetical even if it's not intended that way. In British Methodism they do, anyway.

Wed Jan 31, 04:40:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hearty thanks to you both for taking the time to make such thoughtful comments. RBP, I am elevating your comment to a regular post above. I really appreciate your engaging this question! ---SLC

Wed Jan 31, 07:18:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


I really appreciate your comment on the Ignatian approach to prayer. You have given me a lot to think about. I think you're absolutely right in thinking about the Ignatian approach. The Base Community Bible Study methods from Latin America and the "African Bible Study method" (which I put in quotes because that title has been criticized for a multitude of reasons and has many alternative titles now) also come to my mind when you mention the Ignation Approach. They are very focused on reader response. How is God speaking to me personally?

It reminds me of stories like Augustine whose conversion came when he heard children chanting "Pick it up, read it; pick it up, read it" and so he opened the "the apostle's book" and read "Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lusts thereof" and felt that the text was speaking to him directly. (Check out http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/aug-conv.html for Augustine's account). Obviously, the author did not have Augustine in mind, but in that interaction between the author and the reader, something occured.

It also reminds me of the story about Jonathan Daniels who was a seminarian at what is now Epsicopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA. He was in chapel praying Evening Prayer and they said (perhaps sang, I can't quite remember) the Magnificat and he felt as if God was speaking directly to him to go South and march for Civil Rights. He went and became a martyr in the process of protecting an African-American woman from being shot. Obviosuly, the author of the Magnificat did not have Civil Rights in mind when writing it, but when the author met the reader, a new, valid meaning was created, forever connecting the Magnificat to Civil Rights.

In both stories, the author's intention isn't invalidated, simply that the reader's reflection from their location in history is elevated.


Wed Jan 31, 09:35:00 AM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

<< Home