Friday, February 7, 2014

These Essays: Communing with the Bible

The Spanish Jungian scholar Adres Ortiz-Oses has gone a bit further with our notion of language itself as empathic, as language always already accomplishes in his understanding so much of what it tragically fails to do in Kristeva’s. Where Kristeva posits semiotic and symbolic as two halves of language whose fracture disrupts the self, Ortiz-Oses posits desdoblamiento instead.
This Spanish term describes the ubiquitous dual nature of the universe as simultaneous actuality and ideality as understood by the human mind. It thus gives us sentido, truth-sense, as the consequent overloading of words with meaning which far outstrips their logical signification. So words which cognitively denote one thing rationally and verbally connote far more, and express far more, in their emotional, non-vocal symbolic connotation.

That such meaning is Jungian and archetypal in Ortiz-Oses’s understanding matters less for these essays than that that meaning is as present, saturating, and expressive as much as it is unacknowledged. The problem, then, is not that we may fail to join affect to cognition in language, but that we will fail to realize our essentially reconciling position in the universe.  

“Man is not the measure,” writes Ortiz-Oses, “but is the mediation of all things.” Through sentido, language is always already present not as the failure of human beings to communicate, to empathize, but as the only means by which such understanding ever happens.

If Ortiz-Oses were to answer our question as to why the Bible, one can imagine him responding “because He had to.” The God of Ortiz-Oses is the God of maximal involvement, and language is that which involves us in the universe. So, unfortunately for more traditional thinkers, in Ortiz-Oses God and the universe end up seeming very much the same.

Perhaps a more particular example will suffice to conclude our survey. It is no accident that in her work Schneiders borrows Paul Riceour’s unfolding of linguistic sense and reference. In this schema, “sense refers to the propositional integrity of the sentence,” while “reference is the proposition’s claim to reach reality.” Meaning, in the linguistic sense, occurs in the dialectic between them.

Fittingly enough for our study, Schneiders uses the example of the parable of the Good Samaritan being sensical in and of itself but meaningful only as Jesus uses it to explain the love commandment. Of course we can ask historical questions about the parable, notes Schneiders, and we must, but its full imaginative meaning only occurs in conjunction with the commandment.

Its meaning for us is what it means for Jesus as the New Testament itself understand him, how the text allows us to imagine it fitting into Christ’s moral and spiritual world. This would be the beginnings of a Christian reading of Scripture with both the tensive and empathic qualities of language in mind.

In Riceour, the reader, through interpretation, reconciles the logical denotation of the parable of the Good Samaritan within its affective, emotional context by understanding the parable as the text imagines Jesus understanding it. The successful reader incorporates the holistic symbolic world the New Testament is in the business of creating through its language. 

That world, the reality that the New Testament has Jesus imagining as the kingdom of God, and which Paul refigures as the new family and polis of the Christian church, is what human healing looks like. It is what our empathy with the world of the Bible is to help us understand. 

But we are a long way from knowing any such paradise. To get there, to arrive at any such place, we must find ourselves transformed. How interpretation might occasion this, and do so comprehensively, will be the subject of our final essays.

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