Tuesday, September 22, 2009

What is it about biblioblogging...?

What is it about biblioblogging that invites misreading, mischaracterizations and negative assessments of other bloggers' posts? Is it the speed by which a post is 'read' or the desire to sensationalize everything written or the wish to inflame readers and spread fear among them or the easiness of stereotyping and plugging every argument into an either-this-or-that category when in fact the argument is complex?

What did I say yesterday? I said that as a historian I find the combination of historical-criticism, literary criticism and social-scientific approach to be the most advantageous. I said that I felt that nothing can replace historical-criticism and if we are going to recover history this is not going to be done via literary criticism alone. We must continue to train our students rigorously in historical-criticism even though post-modern interpretation is sweeping the academy.

I laid out the principles of historical criticism as I use them, so that all can see the assumptions I start with. I do this in every book I write too, because I want my readers to know what my approach is and what my presumptions are. There is no neutral text, and there is no neutral interpretation as I have said countless times (so often in fact that I am getting tired of needing to continue to write it, but I guess I do because other bloggers keep criticizing me for missing this very point?!). However, this does NOT make all interpretations equally valuable for the historical endeavor. This is where I draw the line on theological interpretation and confessional perspectives. They are fine for certain discussions, as long as they are not being paraded out as historical or confused with the historical.

As for the historical-critical approach and feminism. There is nothing anti-feminist about the historical approach in and of itself. What is anti-feminist is its application which has been controlled by white (mainly European) males since only recently. So the kind of history that has been recovered and written has been the history of the dominant group, and it is the history that justifies and sustains that group. Here again we are talking about white males who are in power and who wish to remain so. When our histories, whether religious or social or political, have been written and put into text books and taught to our children, it is the history of the dominant group - their master commemorative narrative - that we are disseminating. Now this is not new news. It is ho-hum by now and I imagine you are yawning.

So what have we done about this now that we have recognized it because feminist scholarship and literary critical methods have brought this to our attention? We have gone back and added a paragraph about important women in our textbooks and we have minted coins with Anthony's face on it, coins that we never use! But we haven't rewritten our histories to reflect what we are learning about the hidden histories and the marginalized past nor have we commemorated it as a society (this is especially true of our religious histories - which is why I am writing Sex and the Serpent). Why not add a paper dollar to those we use already, and put Anthony on it? Why not make a government holiday commemorating the Suffrage movement? Why not rename important boulevards with the names of women we wish to commemorate? Etc.

So the biggest "new" piece to the historical-critical puzzle which I included yesterday in my ten principles, is that the historical-critical method I use has been opened up to be aware of the marginalized histories, that - as my mom used to say - there are always two-sides to a story. As a historical-critic, I recognized a long time ago that the dominant story we are told in most of our texts is not the way things were (or for that matter 'are').

This is the call of our generation - to understand our past more fully and appreciate the variety and complexity of it. We need to give proper credit to the marginalized histories for their own sake, but also with the recognition that the dominant stories would not be what they are if those it marginalized had not lived.

13 comments:

smijer said...

Welcome to the internet!

mike said...

What is it about writing that invites misreading, mischaracterizations and negative assessments of other writers posts?

That's probably the better question. I'm sure you're quite aware that this stuff happens all over the places.

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Honzo said...
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Honzo said...

April, I appreciate this post (as I do most of your posts).

Signed,
A recovering white male of European stock.

Mike - Yeah, it happens everywhere, but in this new thing that people are terming bibioblogging (or blogging) the ability for immediate response drives down the quality of responses.

Most of the so called bibliobloggers (bloggers) are new to the field of blogging (so much so that they have set up a special name for themselves) and are used to the temporal distance of responses of journals and books.

So, in a way, all of the above can be seen as a denigration of tact, eloquence, civility, and all that Jazz.

Jared said...

Here's to the combination of methods!

J. K. Gayle said...

"But we haven't rewritten our histories to reflect what we are learning about the hidden histories and the marginalized past nor have we commemorated it as a society (this is especially true of our religious histories - which is why I am writing Sex and the Serpent)."

Thanks for continuing to blog, and thank you very much for writing Sex and the Serpent. We can't wait to remember, to read histories by a (yes especially feminist) historical-critical approach that is willing to include marginalized women's voices, the voices of one-half of all of us, and not just tokens of some females!

Pastor Bob said...

Only two sides to a story? I have a suspicion there are usually more.

Steve Wiggins said...

I recently attended a lecture here at Rutgers by a colleague who suggested that many of the foundational aspects of civilization may well have been created by women, including metal smelting. While I was pleased to hear this, I couldn't help but wonder if there is any way such information can really make a difference. Power structures in society are so deeply entrenched that suggesting a historical first for women (or even presenting evidence that the church early on had women priests) seems to glance off the armor and things continue on as they "always have." Your book will indeed add an important voice to the debate, but can we build a more equitable society without starting all over?

Leon said...

I don't see that any NT scholars uses a geunine historical-critical method. They seem rather bent on violating every principle of science. They constantly use assumptions to rewrite the evidence — like assuming Judas betrayed, Jewish leaders persecuted Jesus, and Jesus was above and beyond Jewish wisdom, including Torah.

They misrepresent theories as facts (the so-called betrayal and Jewish trial of Jesus are theories, not facts), they use little or no evidence to "prove" some mighty big theories, they leap to conclusions, and more. Theology still rules in NT studies. Until we face that, we are never going to have historical study of the NT.

Leon Zitzer