A LOVE SUPREME

I am now blogging at a new blog: erdman31.com

If you post comments here at Theos Project, please know that I will respond and engage your thoughts in a timely manner.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

PoMo and Metanarrative Class - 1

Part of my reason for posting on Biblical Metanarrative last Thursday was to get some feedback in preparation for leading a discussion on Postmodernism for a Christian apologetics class at Grace today and this Thursday.

In class today we started with the question, "What is Postmodernism?" My position was that there is no such thing. Rather than thinking of "postmodernism" as a "philosophy" or "worldview," it is better to examine the very diverse strands of postmodern thought. I suggested that putting together a particular "postmodern philosophy" was a little like going around to a bunch of different houses and taking one piece of furniture from each and putting them all in a different room. Instead, each room must be appreciated, examined, and understood in its own setting and on its own terms. Similarly, it can be counterproductive to cut-and-paste a conglomerate group of very diverse and eclectic beliefs and assume that this is what "postmodern" thinking is all about.

Someone raised the question about whether there is talk of "postmodernism" on secular University campuses. A transfer student said that he was at a secular institution, and that he had never heard "postmodernism" discussed until he transfered to Grace. This is an interesting point. Are Christians simply wasting time on a debate on the validity of a "postmodern perspective" that does not exist?

So, we next transitioned into discussing the idea of "metanarrative." We started with Lyotard (referred to as "that guy" due to my inability to pronounce the French!), and then narrowed "metanarrative" down to usable definition - something that reflected contemporary usage. The general idea we settled on was that a metanarrative was a theory that explains all experience. A metanarrative has explanatory scope: It is totalizing. It is a framework used as a reference for interpreting our reality and the world around us.

One aspect of metanarrative that seems to be important is that a metanarrative is a theory that is expressly known. That is, it is something that we are consciously aware of. A person can say, "I am a Marxist," or "I am a Christian" and in saying so they understand that there is a theoretical framework that explains all stories and all narratives.

One of the trends of thinking in this postmodern age is to be incredulous (skeptical, suspicious) toward metanarratives. I suggested that it may no longer be incredulity (which implies that there may be something of a negative reaction); rather, I wonder if it may be a simple disinterest in metanarrative. Who, anymore, is really all that concerned with a theoretical framework that explains all aspects of reality???

That a metanarrative is something that is consciously constructed seems to differentiate it from a worldview. The term "worldview" grows out of German thinking (Weltanschauung). As I understand it, a worldview includes both the ideas and theories and values that we consciously hold, but also a variety of values, fears, hopes, dreams, etc. that we hold on a subconscious level. A worldview includes both the things we are aware of and the things we are not aware of.

What is next on the agenda for Thursday are two things:
1) Does the Bible teach a metanarrative. (We discussed this at Biblical Metanarrative.)
2) If it is true that in the postmodern era many are disinterested in metanarratives, then what are the implications for Christian apologetics? Is it necessary to appeal to a biblical or Christian metanarrative when discussing issues of faith with a non-Christian?

Here is a link to the outline I handed out in class:
http://erdman31.googlepages.com/2007-FallApologeticsClass-Metanarrat.doc

I scanned the notes I took in to class:






55 comments:

Daniel said...

Hi Jon,

Your classroom discussion sounds interesting, however I wonder how you came to the conclusion that a meta-narrative is "expressly known"?

Does the power of the meta-narrative not derive from its invisibility, embedded in narratives that are assumed to be connected but where this connection (meta-narrative) is never clearly articulated?

It may have been a modernist tendency to unearth 'meta-narratives' as part of the application of positivist methodology in an attempt to ground thought in science. And now, a postmodern move towards "incredulity" as you have highlighted.

But to say that the meta-narrative is a conscious framework for making meaning in the world is to equate it with modern self-consciousness, a legitimating fiction of man's sovereignty.

This seems a point made earlier when asking if the Bible 'has' a meta-narrative, or do we read it in? Could the Bible 'have' a meta-narrative, and we don't get it, because of all the schemes we've superimposed?

Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.

[side track: I wonder what Barthes would say...'readerly' or 'writerly' text? I don't know his work well enough to speculate how he relates to this discussion. I like your metaphor for pomo, the furniture in the house - spot on. Are we groping for a pomo meta-narrative, applying our modernist paradigm to these thinkers?]

My question simply stated: Is there not a way of approaching meta-narrative that emphasises instead its relation to meaning outside of human subjectivity? I'd kind of been picking up that kind of approach from the earlier meta-narrative post.

I was thinking along the lines that maybe Lyotard's 'meta-narrative' has the same function in his thought as 'ideology' does in Althusser.

Melody said...

So you're Prof Erdman now? Is that a seminary class or is it one of the undergrad electives?

Sounds like it went well, you're not on here ranting about how the pimply faced kids or balding men (undergrad = pimply, seminary = balding...I'm not sure how you escaped with all your hair)couldn't get their minds around the metanarrative indifference or whatever.

Thanks for posting your notes/outline, they're easier to follow.

I am curious though, why did you assign them to figure out whether or not the Bible has a metanarrative/worldview when you've already told them that it doesn't?

You're just going to get a whole bunch of poeple regurgitating what you've already told them, but in different terms, to your delight and amazement that you have such brilliant forward thinkers in your class.

Or you'll be annoyed and wonder why they didn't give it more though.

Either way, seems like you've set yourself up.

Oh and incidentally, I think I feel a little relieved knowing postmoderism doesn't necessarily exist as a philosophy. For the longest time I just felt dumb for not being able to figure out what postmodern thought entails. If it's more like your furniture theory maybe it's not so bad that I find it confusing.

Emily said...

Congrats on the first part over and done! I can just see you standing in front of a class with your hand to your face as you ponder what a student just said. And you put multiple question marks on even your handouts???

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody: I am curious though, why did you assign them to figure out whether or not the Bible has a metanarrative/worldview when you've already told them that it doesn't?

Sorry for the lack of clarity. I didn't quite get through my notes - only about half way. So, I didn't talk about how I did not believe the Bible teaches a metanarrative. They will be tackling that topic on their own, and then when we get to class I will explain my position and we will go from there.

ktismatics said...

I was thinking about Lyotard's metanarrative idea, and his applying it to science. I think that regarding science as a totalizing system of thought is symptomatic of European structuralism. Working scientists schooled in American empiricism regard science as a loosely-knit collection of concepts, studies, journal articles, variables, hypotheses, researchers, etc. rather than as an overarching structure of knowledge and theory. As you say, scientists might share a zeitgeist, but at least in the USA they don't ordinarily embrace anything like a metanarrative. Science is so specialized even people in the same field often don't understand each other.

You've surely observed that most of the PoMo philosophers are European. It's kind of an effete taste in America, shared by literary and film studies people more than by philosophers or scientists. We Americans might live in postmodernity the zeitgeist, but we don't necessarily think about postmodernism the collection of philosophical furniture.

Daniel said...

Before I became a Christian, I was a Marxist. Amongst the 'lefties', there is the same spectre of 'postmodernism' that we find amongst Christians.

I suspect this has something to do with the attack of postmodern thinkers on grand narratives.

People without an adopted metanarrative (or ideological positioning) find postmodernism benign and normative (the philosophy matches the Zeitgeist to quote Ktismatic's Hegelian perspective).

Maybe this is where your transfer student is coming from?

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:
Your classroom discussion sounds interesting, however I wonder how you came to the conclusion that a meta-narrative is "expressly known"?....to say that the meta-narrative is a conscious framework for making meaning in the world is to equate it with modern self-consciousness, a legitimating fiction of man's sovereignty.

I came to define metanarrative as a "conscious" framework that is "expressly known" by examining the way the word was used by Lyotard and others since. Additionally, I began to compare "metanarrative" with "worldview" (from the German concept of Weltanschauung) and concluded that although a worldview might include both conscious and non-conscious elements, and metanarrative seems to be a framework that we consciously think through. For example, Marxism is a metanarrative. As such, it is something I can use it to relate my experience, the experiences of others, and all of human experience; that is, Marxism is used as a framework to explain (to my conscious mind) everything that I observe.

A worldview, on the other hand, includes a metanarrative (if one chooses to ascribe to a metanarrative), but it also would include the "invisibility" of which you speak: The subconscious elements of my narrative that influence my perspective.

Daniel:
This seems a point made earlier when asking if the Bible 'has' a meta-narrative, or do we read it in? Could the Bible 'have' a meta-narrative, and we don't get it, because of all the schemes we've superimposed?
Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.


This is a good question. But if the Bible has a metanarrative, but I am so blinded by other things that I can't truly get at it, then would it not follow that I would reserve judgment? Or should we just plow forward and do the best we can, knowing we are going to fall short?

D: My question simply stated: Is there not a way of approaching meta-narrative that emphasises instead its relation to meaning outside of human subjectivity? I'd kind of been picking up that kind of approach from the earlier meta-narrative post.

Very, very good question. One that I can't completely answer, much as I would like to.

Here is my question in response: Is it possible to escape our own subjectivity? This is a key philosophical question that has dominated concerns, particularly beginning in the Modern era.

Daniel, you also mentioned the autonomous human subject of Modernity. For Decartes and others in the Cartesian tradition this autonomous human subject seemed to be the starting point to try to escape one's own subjectivity via rationality and/or reason and/or empiricism.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Melody:
Sounds like it went well, you're not on here ranting about how the pimply faced kids or balding men (undergrad = pimply, seminary = balding...I'm not sure how you escaped with all your hair)couldn't get their minds around the metanarrative indifference or whatever.

I did escape with hair....but with a bit more gray....am grateful for the Just For Men company.

Melody said...

I did escape with hair....but with a bit more gray....am grateful for the Just For Men company.

I've never understood that as a concept. Does men's hair dye differently than women's hair?

Emily said...

Melody, I was just thinking that, too, the other day! Maybe our products are too girly for them. They don't want to feel metro or anything.

Emily said...

And like they need the millions of shades that are available to us. All they need is dark brown/black, brown, red, blonde. They don't need the extra frilly colors. They are men after all.

Daniel said...

Jon, thanks for opening your classroom to us!

You asked:

Is it possible to escape our own subjectivity? This is a key philosophical question that has dominated concerns, particularly beginning in the Modern era.

Daniel, you also mentioned the autonomous human subject of Modernity. For Decartes and others in the Cartesian tradition this autonomous human subject seemed to be the starting point to try to escape one's own subjectivity via rationality and/or reason and/or empiricism.


I've heard a postmodern reference to "self-reflexivity", where one's own subjective position is taken into consideration before any truth claims.

A thinker like Levinas would then ground meaning (transcendence) in intersubjective encounters between self and other. There is lots of furniture in this room.

However, a thinker such as Foucault is questioning the knowing subject altogether. There is a category in Foucault that may correspond with meta-narrative in Lyotard which he terms 'episteme'. The equivalent of 'narrative' in this crude comparison between L and F is 'discourse'.

Here's a quote a found on the net:
(http://www.mun.ca/phil/codgito/vol4/v4doc1.html)


By episteme, we mean... the total set of relations that unite, at a given period, the discursive practices that give rise to epistemological figures, sciences, and possibly formalized systems; the way in which, in each of these discursive formations, the transitions to epistemologization, scientificity, and formalization are situated and operate; the distribution of these thresholds, which may coincide, be subordinated to one another, or be separated by shifts in time; the lateral relations that may exist between epistemological figures or sciences in so far as they belong to neighbouring, but distinct, discursive practices. The episteme is not a form of knowledge (connaissance) or type of rationality which, crossing the boundaries of the most varied sciences, manifests the sovereign unity of a subject, a spirit, or a period; it is the totality of relations that can be discovered, for a given period, between the sciences when one analyses them at the level of discursive regularities (Archaeology 191).

Foucault's critique seems the most radical. It is evident that reason/ rationality/ empiricism does not ground the subject in relation to self-knowledge, however it may ground the disciplines by which the subject seeks to know. In this tension F locates discontinuities that reveal epistemic shifts or changes in the status of knowledge.

samlcarr said...

Though we speak of metanarratives as though these have at some time been in existence, I guess I have my doubts. Perhaps the fact that we named it something and then deny that we are any longer interested in "all that" makes us think that we have undergone some major change.

It seems to me that while many Christians think that they have and apply a unifying philosophy not just of Christianity but also to subclassifications within that, e.g. Calvinist or Anabaptist, or Emerging, really does not amount to much. Those that self identify like this may do so for a variety of reasons none of which mean that they really understand what their chosen label actually stands for.

A feeling I got at the discussion that took place between Ktismatics, OST, Theos Project and Mike Macon on his "Inerrancy" blog illustrated very well that this was hardly a philosophical position and was much more a label of exclusiveness.

In this sense, of having some sort of a self-identifier that we vaguely could define, or at least say what it is not, I do believe that we of a PoMo bent also fall into the same category of broadly using PoMo categories and filters that help us to identify and be identified and thus despite our best efforts, we too subscribe (de facto) to a metanarrative. But in a rigorous sense we do not have and never have had a real metanarrative.

As John Doyle pointed out, in a premodern setting the Christian metanarrative may have 'really existed' simply because of its ubiquitous and totalising hold on the entire culture, but today, or even since the enlightenment shook the foundations a bit, I sort of doubt it.

samlcarr said...

Sorry, forgot to link that almost 'discussion' on inerrancy:
http://mikescape.wordpress.com/2007/10/31/perfect-example-of-pomo-epistemology/

Just in case someone may have the patience and the inclination...

ktismatics said...

Daniel, per your commendation I've been reading Hardt & Negri's Empire -- it's available online. I've skipped ahead to the last section, where they talk about the immanent emergence from within Empire of the multitude, for whom work is the power of creation without limit. I'm persistently curious about whether Christianity can participate in this sort of secularized utopian vision of the "new creation."

ktismatics said...

Hardt & Negri propose that one characteristic of cultural hegemony is that people can no longer imagine an alternative to certain features of the status quo, which they regard as "natural" or intrinsic to "reality." Are there hegemonic metanarratives in American culture? Christianity certainly isn't one -- we can imagine other religions as well no religion. Science isn't one either -- most people barely know anything about how science works. How about the capitalist economy? Isn't there a sense that free market exchange, with prices and wages determined by supply and demand, is the natural way people behave when freed from government interference? How about democracy, where government representatives compete for votes through alternative ideologies and deals with interest groups and response to citizens' demands, maybe eventually leading to citizens directly voting on laws and bills? Does democracy seem like the natural form of governance to us?

Daniel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Daniel said...

Hi Ktismatics

Your question posits an understanding of metanarrative as something that is taken for granted, not adopted consciously because it is so ingrained, or "natural" as you mention.

Alternatives to democracy and capitalism are not engaged within a broader category of politics or economics, because they have become the metanarrative of such categories.

In this sense the metanarrative exerts an invisible hold on narrative, or as Foucault would perhaps put it, the episteme constrains and conditions discourse.

What I like about Erdman's earlier blog on this topic is that faith is seen as disruptive towards and non-contingent with the metanarrative. It's like the Church is conducting a funeral and in walks the Christian full of faith to raise the dead.

Glad you are finding Empire a good read.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Sam,

One of the things that Lyotard mentions (and that seems rather self-evident to most) is that the so-called "postmodern" person has a greater appreciation for diversity.

You mentioned Mike's blog. This would be a good example of a lack of appreciation for diversity! Mike's sense of humor is good - certainly better than his ability to reason - but he essentially remains something of an Idea Imperialist: Conquest of all opposing ideologies. That's cool, I guess, if you're in to that kind of thing.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
Are there hegemonic metanarratives in American culture?

Good question.

If a metanarrative is something that is somewhat systematic and a conscious framework for interpreting all of reality, then I would say that there is no one, dominant metanarrative in American culture.

I would, however, suggest that there are certain mass impulses that we all have, i.e. we all seem to share the impulse to consume.

There are also certain values that many of us (though not all of us, by any means) still share, namely, freedom of speech and the ability to voice your political opinion via an elected representative. The interesting thing about this, though, is that in our era of advertising manipulation we do not really believe that our politicians represent us or even represent themselves. They are produced by spin machines: The best advertising wins. So, I think we still value "democracy," but don't really believe it operates anymore. This may explain the downward trend in voter participation.

Jonathan Erdman said...

From Lyotard and other uses of the term "metanarrative," I gather that it is something that is consciously constructed and referenced.

I distinguish this from a "worldview," which may include both conscious thought as well as unconscious or subconscious elements.

If this distinction holds, the American thirst to consume may be better included as a part of our worldview.

Daniel said...

Hi Jon,

I'm curious to see where Lyotard refers to metanarrative as conscious and constructed because whenever you mention that I feel like I've missed something. That is not my reading so far.

I read metanarrative as ordering narrative at a structural level. So I could have a narrative about going to school, leaving and finding and job, and you could have yours, and they would be different, but the metanarrative would be the unifying factor that was beyond our control i.e. rites of passage in globalised society.

Thats a sociological example, but in thought it would be similiar. The narrative is what one "expressly knows", and the metanarrative is behind this producing the subjectivity that allows one to narrate.

That's honestly my take on it but I'd love to hear from you if I've got the wrong end of the stick, like I said I may have missed something. From your classroom blog there weren't references to Lyotard's text but instead to "contemporary usage" which I took to mean a kind of popular usage of the term meta-narrative. Your earlier blog was clearer in this regard.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Hello Daniel,

So sorry to be so long getting back to you. I have been working on my final project for school.

I don't know that Lyotard ever explicitly uses the term, "conscious." That's kind of my term that I use to distinguish a metanarrative from a worldview. I think the sociological example you cite on the rites of passage perhaps would be more closely related to "worldview," at least as far as I can see. These terms are often debated back and forth.

Here is a quote from the Introduction to The Postmodern Condition:
"I will use the term modern to designate any science that legitimates itself with reference to a metadiscourse of this kind making an explicit appeal to some grand narrative, such as the dialectics of Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or working subject, or the creation of wealth."

Lyotard here speaks of a science "legitimating itself with reference to a metadiscourse." This seems to me to be a conscious process. Furthermore Lyotard mentions that this is an "explicit appeal." An explicit appeal seems to me to be more of a conscious and deliberate attempt to justify an area of human experience based upon a reference to a grand narrative or metanarrative.

Again, sorry to be missing in action.

Daniel said...

Hi Jon,

I do not want to appear to be purposefully obtuse on this issue. For the sake of clarity, consider the following examples that I've been thinking through the past few days (and forgive the simplistic syntax - I wish we could discuss this face to face, normally):

The "great white hunter" narrative: hunters come to Africa, and hunt game to extinction. They have their stories and they cling to them, display their trophies, an aspect of their 'hunter' identity. Do they consciously adopt a meta-narrative of exploitation of the environment? No... for to do so would be to admit a kind of guilt...

The "racist" narrative. Today, in South Africa, nobody will consciously adopt a meta-narrative of racism ("scientific racism"). To say that there are fundamental differences between races and superiority of a certain race is beyond most people, even under Apartheid in the past. Yet, daily language is infused with racist narrative and stereotype.

The <"salvation" narrative: many Christians will tell you they've been "saved". But when pressed, will tell you that they don't believe that God would send anyone to hell.

To my mind, the meta-narrative is deduced from multiple narratives of the kind mentioned above by the modern perspective, an attempt to join the dots, to make narrative conform to a grand plan. Meta-narrative is not a phenomenon of daily life to the extent that it consciously informs our daily decisions and attitudes, or in the sense that we can choose to adopt a meta-narrative. It is instead a complete fiction. We are not moved by it in an intrinsic sense.

But in the modern world meta-narrative exerts a certain power over what is possible in the realm of narrative. Meta-narrative is enforced by institutions of modernism and inscribed on the social body through laws, media, education etc.

So the post-modern position differs from the modern in saying that we don't need meta-narrative to understand narrative. Meta-narrative is unnecessary, we can be content with localised language games). Pomo looks at modernist adventures in meta-narrative (like Marxism, Nazism and Apartheid) and recognizes that these were a co-option of the motives of personal narratives - totalizing, explicit, 'discovered' (or invented) by modernist analyses in part to found the human "sciences" but leading to disastrous consequences.

This is what Max Weber says: "The fate of an epoch that has eaten of the tree of knowledge is that it cannot know the meaning of the world from the results of its analyses".

Your first post was really great in that it pitted faith against the meta-narratalogical exegises.
As the Bible says "we know in part" and "God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith".

But what you presented to the class seemed to normalize meta-narrative and place it in the realm of experience. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I got from your interpretation.

While I agree that there is an "explicit appeal" in Hegel, Marx, Kant etc. as part of the "think therefore I am" movement, this is a philosophical move and a questionable one at that.

In this context, I'm not sure why you brought worldview in as a counterpoint to meta-narrative. Does Lyotard do that? It seems like furniture arranging...(love that metaphor!)

Basically, and please forgive me, it seemed like you had not read the whole of Lyotard's book (and who am I to talk because neither have I!) You mentioned your library doesn't have it... did you compile your lecture from secondary sources as a result?

(I hope that doesn't sound like a rude question.)

One more example... last night I had a dream of a person playing the piano for a party with two fingers. In walked a third person: "Don't you know Beethoven?" he asked.

That's like a meta-narrative coming in to question the narrative. The meta-narrative wants to locate the local knowledge with reference to the canon, to the time-line, to the developmental model etc. Postmodernism questions the validity of that. If the guy is playing the piano with two fingers, why should he justify himself with regards to someone elses narrative/tradition? Why should he face another instance of localised language game upheld as meta-narrative?

This is my reading Jon, and I don't believe we are far apart, even though we are missing one another. If you feel inspired to reply, we can keep discussing but if I do not touch sides with this post, we can drop it. As a last word may I add I have gained a fresh approach to the Bible with this thread, albeit perhaps according to my idiosyncratic tendency. I'm grateful for that, its renewed an aspect of my faith.

Your pointer was back to the tree of life, and away from the tree of knowledge. Back to faith, away from meta-narrative.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Daniel. Never apologize for your insight! It is stimulating.

You said: Your first post was really great in that it pitted faith against the meta-narratalogical exegises.
As the Bible says "we know in part" and "God has chosen the poor of this world rich in faith".

But what you presented to the class seemed to normalize meta-narrative and place it in the realm of experience. I may be wrong, but that is the impression I got from your interpretation.


I am wondering you mean by the fact that I appeared to "normalize metanarrative and place it in the realm of experience." Could you expand this thought?

I think that a metanarrative is imposed on Scripture by those of us who want a metanarrative. Personally, I don't feel the need for a metanarrative.

To answer your question: Yes, I did read Lyotard. I had to order it via interlibrary loan!

The reason I brought in "worldview" was that a person's worldview seems to be the description of their whole perspective - both conscious and non-conscious elements. The worldview terminology comes from German philosophy of the early 20th century, while the term "metanarrative," on the other hand, is a term first popularized by the Frenchman Lyotard in the post-structuralist era to describe the Modern craving for a totalizing description that would explain all of reality.

In my opinion, your above examples (Great White Hunter, Racism, and Salvation) are better classified as subconscious values or influences that compose the worldview of certain individuals. Now, if they were to consciously and deliberately develop a Great White Hunter Metanarrative to justify not only their hunting but also all aspects of the reality they experience, then in that case they would have a metanarrative. As it is, they merely have the desire and impulse to hunt, and I would say that the Great White Hunter Impulse is a part of their worldview, rather than saying it is a grand explanation. A key word from Lyotard (as I interpret him) is explain. A metanarrative has explanatory scope that covers all of reality as experienced.

You also said:
So the post-modern position differs from the modern in saying that we don't need meta-narrative to understand narrative.

I would add that for many of us in the postmodern world, we don't believe that we can understand the narrative at all, let alone with reference to a metanarrative! This, I believe, lines up well with our friend Qohelet:
"No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it." Qohelet 8:17

The above Scripture passage would seem to be in conflict with many Christians these days who claim that Christianity can provide all of life's answers.

Feel free to keep poking away at the definitions. Not all agree on defining the terms in this way. Everything is always being debated!

Daniel said...

Thanks for your post Jon, I feel we are on the same page again. As I suspected, it was a mild case of misunderstanding. Of course, a meta-narrative is explaining everything and is adopted by the modern mind precisely because it appears to have the power to explain reality in a superlative way.

When I said your classroom presentation seemed to "normalize meta-narrative and place it in the realm of experience" it was because I seemed to pick up that you were appealing to the classes' own normative understanding of what meta-narrative is - and, of course, you were. Did you problematize this in any way by trying to unravel how a meta-narrative gets presented or adopted? By looking at why the modern consciousness would 'need' meta-narrative?

This exercise would show that even though we don't feel a need for meta-narrative personally, meta-narrative still influences our lives.

So that, I may not need a meta-narrative to live in the world today - but a meta-narrative of a certain kind continues to exert a containing force on possibilities for narrative (even counter-narrative plays off this by being against the mainstream of thought conditioned by meta-narrative).

The example of race is pertinent because despite not having the need for meta-narrative, people still "narrate" conditioned by that meta-narrative of race that fixed certain races inherently superior and others inferior (to focus on but one example). People do this without any conscious reference to a meta-narrative of racism, and were one to be articulated they probably would be scared of it if not horrified. Yet, their narrative fits in...

"Some of my best friends are Jewish"...

Now you may call it worldview, but I see the meta-narrative gaining the power to police narrative by means modern institutions. It is not on the same plane as worldview which can differ within modernity on key points. Meta-narrative is more constitutive of that particular way of knowing we associate with modernity, and worldview more a trans-historical category imo.

Lets talk furniture: Worldview is your bed and meta-narrative is a table... it would be foolish not to sleep on your bed (that's normal). We want to eat on the pomo couch and watch tv but the food's on the table! So we are still having to get our food from there...

Admittedly, I'm probably influenced by Foucault and Marx in this conclusion but seeing I've already admitted to not having read The Postmodern Condition (A Report on Knowledge) I can continue to innocently request that you keep blogging on this one!

BTW I'm glad you've read the book, my question was a little flippant but you kept using the same quotes and I got suspicious :)

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:
When I said your classroom presentation seemed to "normalize meta-narrative and place it in the realm of experience" it was because I seemed to pick up that you were appealing to the classes' own normative understanding of what meta-narrative is - and, of course, you were. Did you problematize this in any way by trying to unravel how a meta-narrative gets presented or adopted? By looking at why the modern consciousness would 'need' meta-narrative?

No. Unfortunately we didn't get that far, but it would be a good topic for discussion. What are your thoughts????

So that, I may not need a meta-narrative to live in the world today - but a meta-narrative of a certain kind continues to exert a containing force on possibilities for narrative (even counter-narrative plays off this by being against the mainstream of thought conditioned by meta-narrative).

A fair point. If I understand you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that although we may not consciously adopt a metanarrative, the fact that we live in a postmodern culture necessarily implies that all distinctively Modern ways of thinking (including references to metanarratives) affect us, even if only indirectly. For example, a person may reject the faith of their father, but they must still deal with the faith of their fathers, even if it is only in order to choose not to live by it. Similarly, the postmodern deals with the faith (in the metanarrative) of their modern predecessors by rejecting it.

Is that a fair evaluation?

Daniel:
Admittedly, I'm probably influenced by Foucault and Marx in this conclusion

In what way does your Foucault reading affect your thinking on this issue?

Daniel:
Lets talk furniture: Worldview is your bed and meta-narrative is a table... it would be foolish not to sleep on your bed (that's normal). We want to eat on the pomo couch and watch tv but the food's on the table! So we are still having to get our food from there...

Is it possible to go to the table, get one's food, and then eat it on the pomo couch?

Daniel said...

Hi Jon,

Thanks for your response. I'm writing of the cuff... I guess Foucault is influencing my tack on this thread because he questions the basis in thought for the knowing subject. So when you speak about knowing something, it kind of sets alarm bells ringing.

If I may summarize my starting point, I see a power relation at the heart of narrative. I see those who are permitted to speak, and those who remain silent. The power to narrate emerges within the boundaries of representation and knowledge.

Is it possible to go to the table, get one's food, and then eat it on the pomo couch?

This is possible, this is what we want, and this is what we do. We have our cake and eat it too. We want to represent the unrepresentable within the institutional framework of postmodernism.

Here are some quotes from Homi Bhabha, 2004 The Location of Culture (Routledge). Hope you find them pertinent:

(an armchair I happened to bring with me today to add to our already crowded room)

(Such) negotiations between politics and theory make it impossible to think of the place of the theoretical as a metanarrative claiming a more total form of generality... It is precisely that popular binarism between theory and politics, whose foundational basis is a view of knowledge as totalizing generality and everyday life as experience, subjectivity or false consciousness, that I have tried to erase.... (p30)

Most significantly, the site of cultural difference can become the mere phantom of a dire disciplinary struggle in which it has no space or power. Montesquieu's Turkish Despot, Barthes' Japan, Kristeva's China, Derrida's Nambikwara Indians, Lyotard's Cashinahua pagans are part of this strategy of containment where the Other text is forever the exegetical horizon of difference, never the active agent of articulation... Narrative and the cultural politics of difference become the closed circle of interpretation. The Other loses its power to signify, to negate, to initiate its historic desire, to establish its own institutional or oppositional discourse. However impeccably the content of an 'other' culture may be known, however anti-ethnocentrically it is represented, it is its location as the closure of grand theories , the demand that, in analytic terms, it be always the good object of knowledge, the docile body of difference, that reproduces a relation of domination and is the most serious indictment of the institutional powers of critical theory... (p31)


(emphasis Bhabha's)

What I 'get' from this is that we identify the meta-narrative and become critical of its role in modern consciousness. Then, we critique the link between local and other narrative and the meta-narrative. Then we ignore the meta-narrative as if it doesn't still condition how our interpretation is represented within the world.

We are "incredulous" towards meta-narrative of scientific racism (forgive my harping on that one), and agree that it is mistaken. And yet, it continues to exert an undeniable influence on daily narratives around crime, migrancy, job opportunities, etc.

Am I getting closer to making a point? :)

While I was writing out Bhabha's prose, I was struck by an amazing instance of narrative in the Bible. Satan comes into God's presence and asks permission to narrate a different story for Job. He will no longer be the great success and will find himself ruined. Job is faced with a choice. Does he "curse God and die"? No - instead, he affirms his faith in God's sovereignty.

Is Job's faith an alignment with Biblical meta-narrative? Did Job know that there was this constraint on the disaster that had overtaken him (that Satan could not touch his life)?

Satan tried to prove that Job's faith was based on the quasi Biblical meta-narrative you spoke of Jon (serve God and everything will work out fine), but Job showed his faith was not based on this assumption.

What do you think Jon? Are you refining your idea of meta-narrative?

Does the Bible have a meta-narrative... this is a great question to ask. What is a meta-narrative... I'm still grappling with that one too!

Love in Christ

Daniel

Kevin Winters said...

Ok, coming in quite late in this discussion, but how did the second day go? What kind of resistences came up?

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

Kevin, I see on your profile a favourite book is Ricoeur's Time and Narrative.

Do you perhaps have anything to add? I'm all ears on this topic.

Kevin Winters said...

Daniel,

From what I gather, the dominating question has been whether metanarratives are necessary? I would say yes.

Proximally and for the most part (to use Heidegger's fun phrase) we dwell in our worlds in an inauthentic manner: in a leveled and unnuanced grasp of the world, the people in it, and the objects that we interact with on a daily basis. While this is not explicit in the sense that Jon is defining "metanarrative" (which may be a good definition) it does have the totalizing effect: everyone (das Man) knows that thus-and-such is the case, so we don't need to discuss it, examine it, or have a crisis in relation to what it is, means, or entails.

The other difference that inauthenticity has with Jon's understanding of narrative is that it is essentially multiple: it does not necessarily rest on a single theory, approach, or method (e.g., Marxism, logical positivism, etc.). The bases on which one will understand (in a leveled way) interpersonal relationships can and probably is different than the bases on which one understands electrons and neutrons. So perhaps inauthenticity poses a third term that stands between Jon's understanding of metanarratives and authenticity/dwelling with things. I don't know how relevant this is, but it came to mind.

Someone else has brought up Levinas and I think he is a great example here. Though Levinas does understand our encounter with the Other as irreducible, infinite, beyond description (in fact, it makes description possible), he also understands that our understanding of the Other does rest in the totality, in the totalizing and, thus, inadequate (if we grant the existence of the infinity in the Other) generalized understanding of the Other. In this case, the totalizing grasp we have of the Other is certainly present and necessarily so (we would not have understanding if we did not have this finite grasp of things/people; the infinite is necessarily enigmatic), but it also sits in tension with the infinite that is present (as a trace) in every encounter. So it is not an either/or, but a subtle interplay between the two modes of encounter.

On Ricoeur, I will admit to still being rather new to his work, so I don't quite know what to say. Given his view of the narrative structure (three-fold mimesis) and its place in human existence, he would certainly disagree with any view of things that would reduce them to a single factor--the production of goods, matter in motion, rationality. Ricoeur accepts Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of embodiment as an essential aspect of human being. In his later work, he accepts (though perhaps tentatively) Heidegger's grounding our understanding in being-in-the-world (his earlier work was primarily Husserlian). He accepts the place of suffering (as it is also found in literature) as central to human existence, perhaps tying this in to Merleau-Ponty's prise (grip) that we have on the world that is partially constituted by tensions.

Beyond these broad aspects of his thought, I don't know what else to say. Is that helpful at all?

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

Our room is now crowded with furniture!

inventory list:

Lyotard
Derrida
Foucault
Levinas
Ricoeur
Barthes
Bhabha
Althusser
Heidegger
Hardt & Negri
Merleau-Ponty
Husserl
Marx
Weber
Hegel
Descartes

To be honest, my depth in reading these thinkers leaves much to be desired. However I am interested to find them all gathered in a room called meta-narrative.

Re-reading all the posts, it seems like broadly speaking Jon and Kevin are considering meta-narrative from a more personal point of view, how the individual grapples with meta-narrative and how it operates as an index of knowledge of self and other. On the other hand, I seem more concerned with meta-narrative at the level of knowledge production - is this an empiricist/structuralist distinction like Kt alluded to?

Of course these categories may be wrong, and perhaps I'm the only confused person in the room? Is it because I don't know where to sit?

There are some different emphasis emerging in the posts and I guess I am intrested in the cross-currents of postmodern thought. Unlike many, I don't believe we live in a postmodern world, insofar as we still live with modern institutions (nation-state, university, media, police, hospital, capitalist economy, courts of law AND THEIR FICTIONS eg. citizenship, knowledge, information, order, health, wealth, law etc.)

Also I don't believe this modern experience to be unique to our period of history - it was pretty much the same in the Roman Empire into which Christ was incarnated.

No matter that thinkers see a horizon of post-modernity, I dispute that we live in it other than in our imaginations.

Jon said:

If I understand you correctly, you seem to be suggesting that although we may not consciously adopt a metanarrative, the fact that we live in a postmodern culture necessarily implies that all distinctively Modern ways of thinking (including references to metanarratives) affect us, even if only indirectly. For example, a person may reject the faith of their father, but they must still deal with the faith of their fathers, even if it is only in order to choose not to live by it. Similarly, the postmodern deals with the faith (in the metanarrative) of their modern predecessors by rejecting it.

Even though we may live in a post-modern culture (debateable), it is a culture at odds with the modern world it occupies. It may just be an intellectual trend for all that, if the change is not in the real world. Many societies around the world are moving into a heightened modernity and fundamentalism, (the other of postmodern project of the west perhaps?)...

Edward Said just entered the room!

Jon, I really like this thread, and join with Kevin asking for a report of day 2 (when you have a chance). Kevin, I hope your interesting post draws out some more good discussion of the points raised.

Kevin Winters said...

Daniel,

First off, just for clarification, I am not starting at the level of the individual. If we begin in inauthenticity and we simply do what one (das Man) does, then we are necessarily social and interrelational. My being--understood as what I meaningfully do within my world--is proximally and for the most part determined by the quasi-omnipresent-omnipotent "one"--I do things the way I do because that's what one does, not what I do. We cannot start with the individual and, in fact, individualism is false from the start (for other reasons as well: that we are essentially ecstatic, not minds 'projecting' meaning onto a world; that motile embodiment is essential to my being, not simply/contingently tacked onto an immaterial mind (Merleau-Ponty); that I deal directly with beings, not with representations or propositions; etc.).

Second, your interest in the foundations of knowledge is important, but insofar as so-called postmodernity starts with figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, the question of being is prior to the question of knowledge. Jon and I both agree that the so-called postmodern emphasis on questions of epistemology (even in citing Heidegger in the process while ignoring his call to being!) is a misappropriation of many of those thinkers who are supposed to be representative of so-called postmodern thought. If you're interested, email me (metatron99 (at) hotmail (dot) com) and I'll send you a review I put together (and hopefully Philosophia Christi will publish it) of Moreland's chapter on so-called postmodernism in his Kingdom Triangle. There I discuss the Heideggerian emphasis on the question of being, its ramifications for truth, and, overall, say that if Heidegger is considered a quintessential "postmodern" then Moreland et al. need to reconsider how they are characterizing that movement (i.e. because Heidegger does not fit their at least 85% of their stereotypical categorization, which also puts into question the other 15%).

Either way, interesting stuff!

Jonathan Erdman said...

A quick thought here on something Daniel mentioned:

Unlike many, I don't believe we live in a postmodern world, insofar as we still live with modern institutions (nation-state, university, media, police, hospital, capitalist economy, courts of law AND THEIR FICTIONS eg. citizenship, knowledge, information, order, health, wealth, law etc.)

This is an important observation. One of the things that might signify something of the pure spirit of the postmodern age is captured in the movie Fight Club where the objective of Tyler is to demolish and destroy all institutions. He does this by literally blowing it to bits. The modern culture economically operates with the electronic flow and circulation of money. So, in the end of the movie, Tyler blows up the banks.

Those in a postmodern world who feel anxiety, angst, and dissatisfaction with the established Modern institutions must still operate within them in order to live and move and have their being. There is no greater illustration of this than within the American church.

ktismatics said...

I didn't realize you all were still carrying on this conversation. Has anyone read The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann? Written in 1966, this book has been around awhile and it's not in the postmodern canon, inasmuch as the authors are both Lutheran religious studies guys by profession and Berger at least is more of a mainstream democracy-and-capitalism liberal, which maybe puts them in Weber's trajectory.

Anyhow, it's good stuff, and I've been writing summaries and brief observations about it for the last week or so (though I don't think anyone's reading it, and surely no one is engaging in discussion, having taken to heart the announcement that my blog is DEAD and has been now for more than a month). Today's installment is about "legitimation" of socially-constructed reality. It's essentially a 4-step program for building a metanarrative, which they call a "symbolic universe." Here's an excerpt:

"Symbolic universes constitute the fourth level of legitimation. These are bodies of theoretical tradition that integrate different provinces of meaning and encompass the institutional order of a symbolic totality… The symbolic universe is conceived as the matrix of all socially objectivated and subjectively real meanings; the entire historic society and the entire biography of the individual are seen as events taking place within this universe.

“What is particularly important, the marginal situations of the life of the individual (marginal, that is, in not being included in the reality of everyday existence in society) are also encompassed by the symbolic universe… The provinces of meaning that would otherwise remain unintelligible enclaves within the reality of everyday life are thus ordered in terms of a hierarchy of realities, ipso facto becoming intelligible and less terrifying. This integration of the realities of marginal situations within the paramount reality of everyday life is of great importance, because these situations consitute the most acute threat to taken-for-granted, routinized existence in society.

“If one conceives of the latter as the ‘daylight side’ of human life, then the marginal situations constitute a ‘night side’ that keeps lurking ominously on the periphery of everyday consciousness. Just because the ‘night side’ has its own reality, often enough of a sinister kind, it is a constant threat to the taken-for-granted, matter-of-fact ’sane’ reality of life in society. The thought keeps suggesting itself (the ‘insane’ thought par excellence) that, perhaps, the bright reality of everyday life is an illusion, to be swallowed up at any moment by the howling nightmares of the other, the night-side reality. Such thoughts of madness and terror are contained by ordering all conceivable realities within the same symbolic universe that encompasses the reality of everyday life — to wit, ordering them in such a way that the latter reality retains its paramount, definitive (if one wishes, its ‘most real’) quality.”

This last bit is related to Daniel's observation via Bhabha, that the central discourse even establishes a place for "otherness," thereby taming it by establishing its derivative importance as a counterpoint or place of commentary on the metanarrative. A really effective metanarrative always assigns meaning to otherness, be it racial, moral, political, religious, etc.

It's difficult for these other realities to uphold their integrity, which importantly includes their ability to ascribe their own meanings to themselves rather than having meaning assigned to them. So, e.g., is Chavez really a blowhard bully trying to establish a totalitarian regime in Venezuela against democratic protest, building unholy and dangerous alliances with Iran and Cuba, a potential target for embargo and perhaps even military intervention, as the Western politicians and press repeatedly impress on us (if we can be bothered to pay attention)? How do we ever get a direct read on him from a viewpoint outside of the metanarrative in which we're embedded?

And so on. For Berger and Luckmann, a symbolic universe isn't something that can be summarized in 500 words that everyone understands. In its most totalizing format it's distributed across many domains, continually revised and added to by specialists whom the average Joe can't even understand. The symbolic universe operates at the societal level, while the individual gains access to only those components of it that are relevant to the roles s/he plays in society. The symbolic universe is thus alienating in its universality and its impenetrability. It makes the individual believe there are no alternatives. It's the Matrix, dude!

This was long -- sorry.

Daniel said...

I am really enjoying the way this thread draws in so many different perspectives.

Kevin said:

Second, your interest in the foundations of knowledge is important, but insofar as so-called postmodernity starts with figures like Nietzsche, Heidegger, Derrida, and Foucault, the question of being is prior to the question of knowledge.

This may be correct, and a epistemological reading tout court could well be a misappropriation of Foucault and others... point taken. I shall think this over and read more!

There is so much to sift through. Ktismatics excellent post highlighted for me that working with a model for narrative/meta-narrative vis-a-vis "socially constructed reality" often pre-supposes a political agenda or at least an ideological position on social issues, of which we should be aware. That is, there is a worldview inscribed in every analysis of meta-narrative or "symbolic universe".

Jonathan Erdman said...

Ktismatics:
I don't think anyone's reading it, and surely no one is engaging in discussion, having taken to heart the announcement that my blog is DEAD and has been now for more than a month

I find this to be an interesting comment. First, the "blog is dead" rhetoric reminds me of Nietzsche's "God is dead" rhetoric.
Said N: God is dead: but given the way men are, there may still be caves for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we - we still have to vanquish his shadow, too.

Ktismatics is dead: but given the way men are, there may still be caves called "blogs" for thousands of years in which his shadow will be shown. And we - will seek refuge in these caves.

Second, the "blog is dead" statement also strikes me as a self-fulfilling prophecy. We live in an age where it is more important what kind of buzz you can generate for a product, rather than if that product has substance. Buzz and substance are not always mutually exclusive, but for the "herd" (Nietzsche's term) would prefer to do what the other animals are doing (buying the same laundry soap, driving the same cars, working in the same offices, etc.) than to do something substantive. There is an assumption that the herd is going in the right direction. As such, the reason that your announcement was a self-fulfilling prophecy may be due to the fact that you deliberately killed any possible buzz. As I think about it, after you announced that your blog was dead I stopped contributing--not entirely, but there was less interest.

What is even more interesting is that your blog really wasn't dead. Perhaps you noticed a decline in hits, or you were not happy with the quantity or quality of your comments. But you still had substantive posts with substantive interaction. What if you had said, "This blog is alive!" and invested in the life of the blog? Well, in that case you would have generated buzz, and, most likely, the blog would have many hits and much commentary--a buzz of activity, if you will.

Ktismatics:
The symbolic universe operates at the societal level, while the individual gains access to only those components of it that are relevant to the roles s/he plays in society. The symbolic universe is thus alienating in its universality and its impenetrability. It makes the individual believe there are no alternatives.

So, for example, several hundred years ago, an American slave working in the fields would not have access to the metanarrative that offered a grand explanation for the societal order that reduced some races to slave races. However, the slave "knew his place." But he knew his place, not because he had privy to the metanarrative, but because he felt the whip on his back and the wrath of the master. As you say, there were no alternatives for the slave.

ktismatics said...

I like the blog-is-dead meditation, Erdman. Curiously enough, it's had as many visits/day since its death, but fewer page views, no doubt due to less comments for people to keep track of. For awhile after the death I wrote no posts, but there was no decrease in traffic.

Since the blog's death it's been haunting the blogosphere with a ghost of itself, its own spectral remainder. I've been nominated for one of the annual blog awards on Parodycenter for making this particular self-immolative move.

Yes on the slaves: they were territorialized behaviorally by the metanarrative praxis, whereas the owners had access to the Law by which the territorial markings were theoretically justified.

Daniel said...

Jon said:

We live in an age where it is more important what kind of buzz you can generate for a product, rather than if that product has substance. Buzz and substance are not always mutually exclusive, but for the "herd" (Nietzsche's term) would prefer to do what the other animals are doing (buying the same laundry soap, driving the same cars, working in the same offices, etc.) than to do something substantive. There is an assumption that the herd is going in the right direction. As such, the reason that your announcement was a self-fulfilling prophecy may be due to the fact that you deliberately killed any possible buzz. As I think about it, after you announced that your blog was dead I stopped contributing--not entirely, but there was less interest.

This point relates to something I have been thinking about: the short attention span of most blogs (and bloggers?).

"The herd" wants to keep moving on to the next thing, rather than spend substantial time on one topic.

It cannot be denied there is a quantitative approach to blogging (hits, page views, contacts etc.) rather than the qualitative approach we endorse in other areas of our lives.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel:
This point relates to something I have been thinking about: the short attention span of most blogs (and bloggers?).

"The herd" wants to keep moving on to the next thing, rather than spend substantial time on one topic.

It cannot be denied there is a quantitative approach to blogging (hits, page views, contacts etc.) rather than the qualitative approach we endorse in other areas of our lives.


But, Daniel, perhaps this is where the true genius of Ktismatics lies. He has deliberately shunned a herd mentality and essentially said that only those who are interested in qualitative or substantive discussion should read his blog. He said, "my blog is dead." This declaration did not mean that he would stop posting substantive thoughts (as anyone can see when they go to his blog), nor did it mean that he would not continue to actively maintain it. What did it mean? It meant that the Ktismatics blog was dead to quantification: The herd would be disinterested.

My earlier comment to Ktismatics now reads as something of a confessional: As I think about it, after you announced that your blog was dead I stopped contributing--not entirely, but there was less interest. I was not interested in the substance, but was more interested in being a part of a blog with buzz.

At this point, I can now only drop my head in shame.

Daniel said...

Hi Jon,

No need to be ashamed, when you were sharing an honest response to the news. We are all caught up in the hype.

Thinking further, the quality/quantity opposition is misleading. If we look in nature, we see quality as a result of quantity - look at how many sperm are required to fertilize an egg for example. If we look at disciplines such as music or art, consider how many hours of practice or painting go into the technique of a master. Should it be any different with blogs?

My problem is that I'm a "slow" blogger... cannot keep up with the herd... on the fringe of the blog community... vulnerable as an easy picking perhaps?

One of the issues is how far one goes in baring all. Any one of us can only have so many so-called "substantial" things to say per week, and some more than others naturally. Linked to this, is the question: what is the priority in one's blog, developing relationships or ideas? (Both is an option too!)

ktismatics said...

Be VERY ashamed, Mr. Danger. Actually when I killed off ktismatics I stated the intention of perhaps occasionally putting up a new post if something interested me. What I wanted to quit was the self-imposed demand that I come up with something new on a consistent basis. I wondered to what extent I was trying to feed the appetite of an audience that probably didn't care anyway. And I did want to give you permission, if you like, to stop commenting without that feeling of guilt, that you had to prop up my hit rates and pay attention to stuff you wouldn't otherwise just so I wouldn't feel deserted.

Interestingly, since I "killed" ktismatics I've written a whole long string of pieces on Open Source Theology, partly to allow myself to engage other people's topics. I find, however, that except for Sam I'm talking to myself over there, that my particular Christian topic doesn't seem to be of interest to anyone else there. Informative as well.

ktismatics said...

Oh and by the way, the current topic of discussion on my dead blog is the Marxist critique of Hardt & Negri's Empire. You, Ron, were the cause of my desire to pursue this topic and you, Mr. Danger, were the host of the original conversation. This is an illustration of H&N's potentia emerging into a creative mini-multitude.

Daniel said...
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Daniel said...

Jon, Kevin, Sam and Ktismatics, have any of you read "On the Concept of History" by Walter Benjamin?

*Just asking*

Sometimes it seems the best way to think about an important topic such as this one that Jon raised (meta/narrative in the Bible) is to see how others are motivated in the same way and find different words and categories to express the same kind of concerns in a different context. This is how I reread Benjamin after being a contributor to this thread.

And it has me asking the question: what is our context?

H&N attempt to create a framework that contextualises global struggle for a new, equitable and free society, mobilizing and unifying diverse pomo thinkers along the way.

A different approach to context is to keep it all local and specific, i.e. with no way of verifying my idea of "Christian" and yours to be the same, and our terms of reference "world's apart", why seek to answer universal questions about the Christian as a subject (or "multitude" or whatever)?

I suppose this is where I was coming from on one's worldview being inscribed in the response to this meta-narrative question: for some of us and according to how we think, Globalisation is a reality; to others, completely not so. This could be more emotional than conceptual, if I am more comfortable than identifying with the Other than you are...

Without such identification even if only as an ideal, unifying different thinkers is just absurd. Referencing anything outside of ones experience completely irrelevent. The discussion would not immediately resort to the theoretical, as it has tended to all along.

This is how Emily and Melody keep things fresh around here, by seldom jumping to conclusions - instead, they tend to speak their own point of view.

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel,

I have not read Benjamin in this regard. What are your thoughts. You seemed to stop short of connecting Benjamin with our current line of discussion.

I pulled this quote off of the Wiki entry on WB:

Fascinated by notions of reference and constellation, Benjamin's goal in much of his later work was less to articulate a coherent position than to use varied intertexts to reveal aspects of the past that cannot and should not be understood within larger, monolithic constructs of historical understanding (the so-called "grand narrative").

Daniel said...

I've thought it better to leave the connection as an open ended one, my feeling is that we could tag a inexhaustible list of thinkers to this topic, and that the more useful insights are not to be had this way, when it comes to the initial question of meta-narrative in the Bible.

If you are interested in Benjamin's piece it is short and will take you less than 3o minutes to read, you can read it here:

http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/depart/media/staff/ls/WBenjamin/CONCEPT2.html

You've also disproved my claim that commenting in an "older post" would not generate reflection!

BTW, at the moment I'm considering the "metanarrative" of the Bible to be God's sovereignty, insofar as He continues to narrate our lives and to the extent that His authorship is recorded in the Biblical accounts, as a kind of example for us to refer to in our own walk of faith.

Daniel said...

The entire URL for WB quoted above does not appear in my browser, but when I try copy and paste it from the published comment it comes out in full. Let me know if you can't link with it; still need to learn how to insert links in my comments with the a> tags...

Here goes a try with the a> tags...

http://www.leedstrinity.ac.uk/depart/media/staff/ls/WBenjamin/CONCEPT2.html

Jonathan Erdman said...

Daniel: You've also disproved my claim that commenting in an "older post" would not generate reflection!

Commenting on older posts usually generates some of the most in depth discussions.

Every comment comes to my inbox as an email, so I know when someone comments on an older, and I always enjoy interacting b/c it is usually just myself and the person who commented.

Daniel: BTW, at the moment I'm considering the "metanarrative" of the Bible to be God's sovereignty, insofar as He continues to narrate our lives and to the extent that His authorship is recorded in the Biblical accounts, as a kind of example for us to refer to in our own walk of faith.

Can sovereignty, itself, be a metanarrative? Or is that just a theme that can develop into a metanarrative?

If I continue to work with my original definition of metanarrative, then a metanarrative would be an explanation that totalizes all of history and human experience. Does sovereignty provide that, in and of itself? I think that it possibly could, but it would have to be fleshed out more so as to provide more explanatory scope. For example, how does God exercise his sovereignty? That is likely the starting point. Is God's sovereignty definable, or is it undefinable? Will God act in accordance with the laws of logic, laws of nature? Does God have a nature that he acts in accord with?

If God can act in any way that he wills, then this radical sovereignty could not be a metanarrative, as far as I can see, because God could theoretically choose to call "evil," "good" or to reverse morality on a whim.

Do you see what I mean? If sovereignty is radically undefinable, then it cannot provide a predictable explanation. I think that would disqualify it as metanarrative.

Incidentally, this seems to be the BIG problem with Modern Calvinists. They cannot truly say that God can do "as he will, when he will," etc. because then God could, theoretically, act against his nature. Calvinists have to qualify sovereignty to mean that God can do anything he wills, in accord with his nature. Sovereignty is qualified. But "his nature" is usually a matter of interpretation and is closely related to the theologians own Philosophical (specifically Ethical) biases.

Daniel said...

Hi Jon

So we are now in a cloistered compartment of your blog, leading a more private conversation. Most fascinating! Your blog must have some interesting corners to explore. The crowd/herd could pass right on by and miss the whole thing!

On the sovereignty of God operating within the bounds of His nature, my spontaneous response is to say that God's sovereignty is the supreme and unlimited power to narrate, to author, to create.

Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails.
Proverbs 19:21

In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.
Proverbs 16:9

This Sovereignty as I see it is defined as an action foremost.
How much can we really say about God's nature? Concepts of 'good' and 'evil' seem pitifully bound to this world, and malleable in the eternal purpose of God's sovereign will. The scripture that clinches it for me:

You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
Genesis 50:20

Also, part of this idea of God's sovereignty is Christ's victory over death. Jesus is alive! His sovereingty is found in the fact that He lives.

Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Hebrews 7:23-25

Jonathan Erdman said...

You have chosen a more radical form of sovereignty. I like that. But now In have two questions for you.

The first goes back to my previous post. I was wondering how a radical sovereignty can serve as a metanarrative. If we use my definition of metanarrative, then there needs to be some sort of explanation of all of reality. A theory that totalizes all experiences and history. How does radical sovereignty explain history and experience? As far as I can see, all that radical sovereignty can say is "God did it. That's his sovereign right." I'm not saying that this is not true--I like the idea of radical sovereignty--I just wonder if it is an explanation and whether radical sov. can serve as a metanarrative.

Second question. What do you do when you encounter other believers who can swear up and down that there is another metanarrative.

Take the following quote, for example, from the upcoming issue (18.1) of the Bulletin for Biblical Research:

“My major concern has been to develop an approach to biblical hermeneutics that sees the mission of God (and the participation in it of God’s people) as a framework within which we can read the whole Bible. Mission is, in my view, a major key that unlocks the whole grand narrative of the canon of Scripture” (p. 17). [From the review of Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative by M. Daniel Carroll R. Here Wright is being directly quoted from p. 17 of his book.]

So, someone may claim that "mission" is the metanarrative. What do you say?

Daniel said...

Hi Jon

I will keep the radical sovereignty tag, although must add that however dangerous our "knowledge of good and evil" may be, God is good in an absolute sense from my sinful vantage point.

I don't quite get the "mission" metanarrative from your post and would need more information to know what the idea consists of, but can detect a certain proposition of "mission" as a (proper) noun when I would take it at face value as a verb.

I see the action of God primarily as his Omnipotence manifesting in Creation, Salvation, Redemption, etc. not as "things" but as activity, process, etc.

Did find it interesting that the author seems to have a need for a "key to unlock the grand narrative" though - because Jesus Christ is himself the key to all mysteries -

In him lie hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Colossians 2:3

All the richest treasures of wisdom and knowledge are embedded in that mystery and nowhere else (The Message)

***

Here is a review of a book by (another) excellent thinker that may deserve a place in our little pomo metanarrative canon/ furniture collection:

The work of Giorgio Agamben, one of Italy’s most important and original philosophers, has been based on an uncommon erudition in classical traditions of philosophy and rhetoric, the grammarians of late antiquity, Christian theology, and modern philosophy. Recently, Agamben has begun to direct his thinking to the constitution of the social and to some concrete, ethico-political conclusions concerning the state of society today, and the place of the individual within it.

In Homo Sacer, Agamben aims to connect the problem of pure possibility, potentiality, and power with the problem of political and social ethics in a context where the latter has lost its previous religious, metaphysical, and cultural grounding. Taking his cue from Foucault’s fragmentary analysis of biopolitics, Agamben probes with great breadth, intensity, and acuteness the covert or implicit presence of an idea of biopolitics in the history of traditional political theory. He argues that from the earliest treatises of political theory, notably in Aristotle’s notion of man as a political animal, and throughout the history of Western thinking about sovereignty (whether of the king or the state), a notion of sovereignty as power over “life” is implicit.

The reason it remains merely implicit has to do, according to Agamben, with the way the sacred, or the idea of sacrality, becomes indissociable from the idea of sovereignty. Drawing upon Carl Schmitt’s idea of the sovereign’s status as the exception to the rules he safeguards, and on anthropological research that reveals the close interlinking of the sacred and the taboo, Agamben defines the sacred person as one who can be killed and yet not sacrificed—a paradox he sees as operative in the status of the modern individual living in a system that exerts control over the collective “naked life” of all individuals.

Daniel said...

Link to above review of Homo Sacer:

http://www.amazon.com/o/asin/0804732183