The straw men come out to play … with reception history

After slipping by without notice, my little piece ‘Against Reception History‘ over at Bible and Interpretation has put the wind up both Christopher Heard and John Hobbins. Heard, webmaster for the Blackwell Bible Commentaries (and hailing from that toothpaste-sounding university, Pepperdine) has penned a longish piece on the actual Blackwell site called ‘In Defense of Reception History’. Hobbins, meanwhile, reckons Heard has ‘corrected’ my little misunderstandings – here at Ancient Hebrew Poetry.

The criticism boils down to saying that I created the proverbial straw man – reception history – whom I then cut down. But reading the posts by these worthy gentlemen, it seems that the straw men have come out to play. Except that the straw men disagree with one another.

After trying a weak encirclement movement – ‘but you too are doing reception history, my dear Roland, but you simply don’t realise it’ – Heard’s singular criticism is that I misrepresent what all those worthy reception critics are doing. How so? Do they give priority to determining the meaning of the text in its original setting (whatever the fuck that might be)? No, no, no, says Heard: they simply allow every interpretation equal validity. In fact, to quote that lovable fossil, John Sawyer, the text doesn’t really ‘exist’ without a reader.

What is also new is the notion that the reception of a text is more important than the text itself, and even that a text doesn’t really exist until somebody reads it.

Um, Chris, my dear smiling man: that used to be called reader-response criticism. But does that mean we are all caught in that dreadful mush sometimes called ‘post-modern’ (so Hobbins)? No, no, no, says Heard:

To be sure, reception history treats biblical texts as ‘originary’ with respect to later uses thereof, but only in the undeniable and rather uninteresting sense that a biblical book must exist before it can have any effects or influence precisely as a book, just as you can’t use a dictionary or be affected by a sentimental love song until those textual objects exist.

Now Heard simply refuses to see the philosophical issues at stake in the very use of the terms Rezeptionsgeschichte and Wirkungsgeschichte, issues that were at the core of Gadamer’s method and the very meanings of those terms. While Heard bends over backwards, forewards and sideways to show that reception history is really just as postmodern as the rest of us, that those dreadful German biblical critics no longer call the shots, Hobbins is less than impressed with Heard’s gymnastics.

For Hobbins, reception does indeed refer to everything that comes after that beautiful, glistening original moment of the text itself. And you should indeed aim to find out what a text meant in its original context:

I defend the right of an ancient text to have a meaning specific to its time and place, a meaning that deserves to be understood as primary even if we can only seek to recover it, as opposed to know it for certain down to the last detail.

I might defend the right of animals to become clergy, or perhaps for amoeba to vote, but that doesn’t mean it is realistic. Come on, John, do you really believe that crap? Citing the old Renaissance slogan, ad fontes, betrays your hand: the very possibility of imagining an originary text in its time and place, and the desire to understand it as such, is itself enabled by the conditions that assumption denies in its universalist pitch. In other words, the very method Hobbins espouses is itself anachronistic and alien to the text’s ‘original’ situation. So we are back with that old, worn and highly suspect search for pristine origins – the bane of biblical scholars, theologians … and Renaissance men. It is a nice interpretive fiction, but dangerous if you believe it.

All of which leaves me with one last question for Heard-Hobbins (sounds like Bilbo Baggins), wtf is reception history?


51 thoughts on “The straw men come out to play … with reception history

  1. I am a bit puzzled by this Hobbins paragraph:

    “I defend interpreters who reconstruct such meanings from the charge that their reconstructions inevitably contain an admixture of content which depends on them and not on those they assign it to – as if such an admixture were not constitutive of all interpretation, even auto-interpretation of one’s own texts.”

    How can you defend them against the charge if you insist that everyone must be ‘guilty’ of said charge?

    1. Are you suggesting, John, that not everyone is guilty of said charge?

      I assume not. And if all are guilty, then by all means, let him who is without sin cast the first stone.

      That was my point, that the charge is not discriminating.

  2. I don’t personally find the distinction between reception history and the history of effects very helpful, especially if you are not a protestant essentialist.

    As you know, Roland, I don’t find your argument in the Bible and Interpretation piece particularly threatening to my own work (maybe I should 🙂 To my mind, you are not targeting straw men because such people are indeed among us; Tony Thiselton’s Blackwells commentary on the Thessalonian correspondence might be a good example, as is Brevard Childs’ use of reception history. Essentialist reception history is a problem because it means the modernist exegete can eventually only fault the interpreter they are looking at for not being like them. Hardly the kind of empathetic approach that will bring much insight to us in my view.

    My own take on this stuff is pretty much laid out in the December JSNT piece. Reception history is, I think, the study of a dynamic interpretive situation in which a text, an interpreter, and a context meet. This includes the study of original readings just as much as later readings; the modern interpreter tries to get inside a situation and work out what was going on when the text was read/recited and heard. This can’t be done in any absolute sense, but who cares about that; I am trying to be persuasive about what I think I see, not correct in some more absolute sense. It also seems to me that seeing the variety of good things that people have done with these texts should breed a certain humility in modern interpreters, but I won’t hold my breath too long waiting for that to happen.

    I am still wondering what doesn’t count as reception history, and so far I am thinking that being inside a given situation, either as expositor an audience, is not a type of reception history, because the people involved are not trying to analyze the situation but are rather merely inhabiting it existentially. As soon as anyone tries to analyze what just happened though, you slip into a reception historical mode of thinking. Or so it seems to me.

    That’s kind of as far as I’ve got… 🙂

    1. John, you have hit that nail hard, squarely and surely: the arguments put forward concerning the nature of reception history are actually those concerning scholarly biblical interpretation as such. Now that either makes the term redundant, since reception history = biblical criticism, or it is a sign of yet another wholesale effort the discipline (always worthwhile). The problem is that the taking a German term with a very specific history, emptying out its meaning and refilling it with new content, does not dispense with that history and its associations. Why choose that term?

      By the way, ever heard the pick up line: you can’t drive a ten-inch nail into piece of plywood.

      1. I’ve not heard the chat-up line, but I am guessing ten inch nails are quite hard to come by, are they not? 🙂

        Why choose the term? To some extent it was chosen well before my time, and I am making the best use of the hand that I have been dealt; I could reject it, but for what?

        In fact I do happen to think it is a politically useful term for now. The baggage you mention does bring a risk, especially that of encouraging the straw men (the essentialist reception historians) and those historical critics who would agree with them that they are doing something other than biblical criticism. But I also think there is great potential for shifting the gateposts here, and that is something that MUST happen, I think. What I am trying to do is gain a wider acceptance among historical critics that they are really doing something that is ‘identical’ to what they currently think of as reception history. Once that begins to happen, then the term reception history will be increasingly defunct because, as you say, everything that we are talking about here is really biblical criticism. The key change would be that the traditional discipline would no longer be able to define itself as biblical criticism and the others (e.g. feminist, marxist, post-colonial, reception history and so on); it would have to get down and dirty with the rest of us. The types of biblical interpretation that are left over (what I have described as exposition), well, we can argue about whether or not that is a biblical criticism worthy of the name later on.

        So, trying to be sneaky…

    2. C’mon! Leave the Tonester out of this. You’re just jealous that he’s written a Blackwells commentary and you haven’t!

      If 2000 years of Christian commentary on Paul doesn’t show that Paul must be trusted when Paul says “trust me”, then why would you believe some femmos instead? Answer that one, Mr Relativist!

      1. TFC: go lick the Tonester’s arse.
        John: That’s essentially the argument you make in the JSNT piece, feeling it is a better angle than the one taken by Aichele et al in JBL. What’s interesting in all this is why some terminology, why a specific approach gains traction and others don’t: postcolonialism – in combination with empire studies and liberation approaches – is another big catchall. If you can use ‘reception’ as a lever to get the hc’s (and everyone else) to agree that everyone is in the same boat, well and good. The trick, however, is to get the blinkered hc’s to agree to your argument. Will that work?

      2. As for terminology gaining traction and yet remaining practically vacuous at the same time, here is a fine example:

        “First, if I were writing Jesus and the Victory of God today I would certainly want to highlight economic issues more than I did… I loved the way Sylvia drew out these dimensions of the text. I am slightly concerned that several of her secondary sources have such a clear agenda, but then so, of course, do all…”
        – Bishop N.T. Wright, Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright, p. 89

      3. Dear TFC (why anonymous? Out yourself, please),

        That’s hilarious. But jealous of the Tonester? How little you know me…

        Incidentally, Chris, this is exactly the kind of response that Roland was targeting in the original piece.

        Roland, that is the big question, and I am not holding my breath. But it felt worth trying.

  3. I’ll admit I haven’t read Hobbins’ piece. I read Heard’s on his blog and left a comment (saying more or less what I’m about to say here), that has yet to be moderated. Am I missing something, or are you basically just suggesting in your B&I article that it’s all reception history? What I took from your article was not an attack on the “reception” project, so much as an attack on a false distinction between something that was originary and something that was later “received”. Seemed like more of an assault on the modernist project of pushing back to pristine original meanings than an assault on the practical concerns of reception critics. And hey, I’m all for assaults on the modernist project in biblical studies ;).

    1. Colin, it is becoming more and more obvious that reception history = biblical criticism in the eyes of some. See my comment above. If that is the case, why use the term at all, since it has no relation to its German meaning? As for Hobbins, I think the search for origins goes back (!) before the modernist moment and is constitutive of Renaissance.

  4. Seems to me, Roland, that you’re trying to have your cake and eat it, too. You seem to be saying that the very terms Rezeptionsgeschichte and Wirkungsgeschichte have inherent, stable, essential “meanings” (your word) that are unavoidably shackled to Gadamer’s “core issues”—but this precisely in the context of arguing against any such stable, essential “meanings” for biblical texts deriving from intentions on the part of biblical authors. Why do you liberally sauce the goose but insist on eating the gander dry?

    1. Chris, you seem to have a one-track mind – for food (cakes, geese and ganders …). But your comment is a jumble of non-sequiturs: meaning by no means implies essentialism, even though I am in favour of essentialism in a way that you may not expect –; I do not argue against such meaning or authorial intention, since I am not a caricatural postmodernist; I even allow room, a very small room, for authorial intention, but the catch is that meanings do not derive from the putative intentions of biblical authors (a very sad, restricted sense of meaning that is deeply theological).

      1. And now you know, Roland, why I am perpetually overweight. But I still don’t think you’ve quite answered my question—or least not with anything but another question. If the “meaning” of a biblical passage not derive from the putative intentions of its alleged author(s)—a point with which I can agree—why must the meaning of a term like “reception history” remain forever tied to the putative intentions or even non-intended philosophical presuppositions of Gadamer or Jauss or whomever we choose to consider the “originator” of the term(s) in question?

        Since you asked (admittedly, you asked Colin, not me), here’s why I think the term “reception history” (or something like it) is useful: it helps to distinguish between studies of things like “dynamic interpretive situation[s] in which a text, an interpreter, and a context meet” (Lyons, above) and “archaeological” studies that attempt to trace a text’s literary and traditional prehistory (á là form criticism, source criticism, etc.).

      2. To my mind, Chris, those are also forms of reception history. To say otherwise runs the risk of keeping the segregated nature of biblical studies in place. To increase the attractiveness of that kind of work, your decision is to accept the divide and stress the exciting nature of the work. Since the other stuff has been done to death, it is certainly one way to go. But there is a deep prejudice against reception history in biblical studies (that is lessening but only very slowly) and so I question whether that will really work long term. My thinking is to break down the distinction instead because that seems more likely to get HCs off their hobby-horses and into the kind of work you, I, and Roland find so interesting. Technically, I think you lose anyway. The emphasis on audiences these days means that even source criticism must deal with the dynamic that you quote. If that is so, why not call it what it is, a form of reception history.

      3. I think one way to push this issue is to ask more closely about the logic in this paragraph:

        “To be sure, reception history treats biblical texts as ‘originary’ with respect to later uses thereof, but only in the undeniable and rather uninteresting sense that a biblical book must exist before it can have any effects or influence precisely as a book, just as you can’t use a dictionary or be affected by a sentimental love song until those textual objects exist.”

        But biblical texts aren’t quite like the modern conception of a sentimental love song that was published and copyrighted and disseminated in identical recordings. Instead, we are dealing with texts whose production spans many different contexts, so that the line between when a book “exists” and when it begins “having effects” is precisely in question. Take, for example, the story of Noah. We already have layers of text within the text itself, and these even build from previous stories emanating from at least one different culture. At what moment among these many different moments do we say that the text began to “exist” and “have effects”? In my own opinion, it seems that, in many cases, it is “reception all the way down.”

      4. As for the meaning of the phrase “reception history,” I don’t like the Gadamer/Jauss baggage that it comes with, but at some point we have to recognize that people have some passing familiarity with that term, and that the work put into coining competing neologisms would be better spent carving out and re-defining the term itself. Perhaps most important here is that most biblical scholars have no knowledge whatsoever of Gadamer or Jauss, so depriving the words of this philosophical baggage will prove quite easy. (For example, lots of people seem to believe that Gadamer even coined the word Wirkungsgeschichte, which just proves that they don’t know much about it.) As for me, I have found the thought of Gilles Deleuze to be quite helpful for thinking about whatever it is we are talking about, since he focuses on identity as an effect of open processes, but I’m not going to find some Deleuzian term (“the differential repetition of the biblical text” or “Virtual Multiplicities” or something like that) to label my work. I think I can adequately express my dislike for philosophical hermeneutics and still use their term. I understand folks wanting to avoid words that are so loaded you can’t possibly change the predominant signification, but I think this one is fairly open.

      5. Brennan, I absolutely agree with you that

        biblical texts aren’t quite like the modern conception of a sentimental love song that was published and copyrighted and disseminated in identical recordings. Instead, we are dealing with texts whose production spans many different contexts, so that the line between when a book “exists” and when it begins “having effects” is precisely in question.

        And yes, I absolutely agree that “it’s reception all the way down.” If, however, we are specifically talking about the reception history (implying diachrony) of biblical books, then it makes sense to try to locate the earliest demonstrable reception of the text as a book and start from there—not to mystify that particular interpretive “moment,” but because we have actual data with which to work from that “point” forward. (And, yes, of course we have to wrestle and reckon with such things as multiple versions of Jeremiah and so on.)

        Once we start breaking biblical books apart into theoretical earlier components, we’re now into things like the reception of J (if such a thing ever existed) or of certain traditions or whatever, which is a different and much more speculative enterprise.

      6. Chris,

        I would dispute both your insistence that the reception of J is “different” and that it is “more speculative”.

        1) If those who talk about J must now talk about its reception, just how is this theoretically “different” to any other task in reception history?

        2) The reception of J It is obviously more speculative that any number of reception historical projects. But there are lots of possible examples in reception history that are not just unavoidably speculative; they are in fact downright impossible for us to be sure about! We don’t have the information to answer every question we might have about the reception history of even a single biblical text. Lots of responses have been lost over time, for example. But if we choose to guess, to speculate, about that what an event might have looked like, then the gaps can be filled in and a speculative explanation of the dynamics of the situation offered; and it will be more or less convincing depending on how well or how far we speculate.

        It is too easy to shoot for a speculative J while ignoring the speculative imaginative elements of reception history. Sure there are many, many examples in reception history where speculation is kept to a bare minimum, but you can’t talk about global theories and differences based on your best examples. And that is why I think you eventually lose out on technical grounds, Chris.

        It is a fight I would not, in your place, even want to win, however.

  5. Roland, I’ve been puzzling over this debate all day… if I’ve understood you correctly, your logic is somewhat like the Eldon J. Epp article in the Harvard Theological Review (1999) called “The Multivalence of the Term ‘Original Text’ in New Testament Criticism.” i.e. we should abandon the idea of an “original” because it’s impossible to define. It then follows as night follows day that you can’t have a distinction between “original” and “non-original”, which the concept of “reception history” demands we have.

    I’m with you on that, but aren’t we stuck between a rock and a hard place here? The act of reading requires us to postulate a “text”, so that we have something to read… and the act of critical reading demands us to have some sort of objective criterion for validity. For instance, what does it mean to speak of a “sensitive” reading if there is no original text to be sensitive to?

    Which being said, doesn’t that imply that there is some grounds on which to postulate an original text, if only as a regulative principle which enables a reader to say “this is what the redactor of Matthew was up to… and this is the effect the text had on later readers”? That doesn’t necessarily entail any specific claim that the “original” is constitutive of the present text, but it does allow for discerning reading to occur.

    1. Karl, there’s at least three issues here.
      First, is it actually possible to find an original autograph? In biblical criticism that is well nigh impossible. In the areas in which I mostly work now, on Marx and Engels and Leni et all, you would think it easier, given the piles of manuscripts. But is the original of Capital Marx’s massive collection of notes from 1861-3, is it Grundrisse, the first full draft, is it the first published German version (with all of its mistakes), the much revised second edition, the revised French translation and so on?
      Second, the search for origins (as we agree) is highly suspect form an ideological perspective. Christianity in particular is prone to this, since supposedly ‘original’ = ‘authentic’.
      Third, of course we talk about a ‘text’, but that is an unstable notion given all of the above.
      Fourth, what do you mean by a ‘regulative principle’? That the text sets boundaries as to what counts as a good reading or not? That the supposed author/redactor’s hand is determinative? The catch is that at times a creative misreading can be far more insightful than a ‘faithful’ one.

      1. I would say, it is possible to reconstruct a postulated autograph. I mean that’s the whole idea of a critical text. They’re not perfect, but I don’t see many scholars returning to the Textus Receptus in protest.

        By “regulative principle” or “regulative ideal” I’m referring to a Kantian concept, that an ideal or principle does not have to be “out there” in the Platonic sense in order to be a guiding principle in our thinking. The number seven, for instance, doesn’t really “exist”, but it sure helps in the practice of mathematics to have one. “The original”, I’m proposing, is like that – it may not “exist” (whatever ‘exist’ means) but we postulate it because we’re screwed if we don’t.

        I think it cuts deeper than that. i.e., when you read a text, the human mind acts as though communication is occuring – that is, we postulate an “author”. I’m not suggesting at all that “authors” exist, and I don’t want to argue against the stubborn postmodern fixation that authors are just an invention of the white male bourgeoisie. What I’m saying is, even if there wasn’t one to begin with, the act of reading would make one!

        Finally, I don’t think that these “insightful creative misreadings” are a catch at all. In fact, the very way you frame them seems to demonstrate my point – there is a distinction you seem to be aware of between “creative misreadings” and other kinds of readings… ‘sensitive readings’ perhaps? Without making any judgment about which is “better”, Paul’s “creative misreading” of the Hagaar story in Galatians for instance is somehow doing a different thing than historical criticism of Genesis does… otherwise it couldn’t be called a “misreading”. What is that difference?

  6. Hi! I’ve been absolutely FASCINATED by this discussion. I am the receptionist at Humber, Humber and McInvey (Attourneys at Law) and I had no idea that there was all this serious academic discussion about us. LOL!!!!

    I don’t have much to add, but IMHO, I know that I like to move the furniture around in the foyer from time to time, depending on the feng shooey.

    Just my two cents.

  7. We wish to make it quite clear that the opinion of our receptionist in no way represents the opinion of Humber, Humber and McInvey, and should not be relied on for any puposes whatsoever and hencetoforth. Should you require legal advice concerning receptionists, please contact our office.

  8. Are we at the point, as WTF says, that ‘reception history’ is gaining traction and remains practically vacuous. The divide (there are actually many) between traditional biblical scholars and those interested in more open and better things is by no means new, nor is it restricted to biblical criticism – witness literature (of any tradition), anthropology, legal studies, economics, to name but a few. Reception history thereby becomes one slogan that attempts to overcome the divide. Yet maybe it is better to see the divide, as well as various struggles for hegemony and inclusion (if you can’t absorb them, crush them) as symptoms of wider changes and struggles taking place. The parlous state of UK universities may be one, the pressure on humanities in the USA might be another, the fact that you can’t teach biblical criticism in Australian Universities unless you are a Roman Catholic might be one more, or the fact the NT Wrong closed his blog but keeps commenting on my posts.

    Oh and Karl, I love the idea of a ‘text’ I read, but I know it’s a convenient fiction.

  9. Chris: ‘If, however, we are specifically talking about the reception history (implying diachrony) of biblical books, then it makes sense to try to locate the earliest demonstrable reception of the text as a book and start from there—not to mystify that particular interpretive “moment,” but because we have actual data with which to work from that “point” forward. (And, yes, of course we have to wrestle and reckon with such things as multiple versions of Jeremiah and so on.)’

    You are close to Karl: ‘I would say, it is possible to reconstruct a postulated autograph. I mean that’s the whole idea of a critical text. They’re not perfect, but I don’t see many scholars returning to the Textus Receptus in protest.’

    But then Karl is closer to me with this: ‘The number seven, for instance, doesn’t really “exist”, but it sure helps in the practice of mathematics to have one. “The original”, I’m proposing, is like that – it may not “exist” (whatever ‘exist’ means) but we postulate it because we’re screwed if we don’t.’

    Not sure if we’re screwed if we don’t, but a text may be a convenient fiction, a construction and so on, but that doesn’t make it any less or more real.

    Brennan, it used to be called ‘new literary approaches’, is still called ‘postmodern’ in many circles, the journal I edit calls it ‘critical theory’, since that’s what they call it in literary criticism, sociology, anthropology, cultural studies etc. Not wedded to any particular term, but imply extraordinarily curious as the why ‘reception’ is preferred by some, albeit with an attempt to empty and refill with very different content.

  10. I guess I would say that critical theory is an umbrella term, but looking at the… let’s say, cultural uses of a text would be a particular facet of that sort of inquiry. Just as gender criticism is a facet of critical theory, I would say this is a part, not the whole, right?

    1. That’s my sense as well, but John Lyons et al want to argue that all biblical critics actually do reception – as a way of outflanking boring old historical-critics and traditional ‘exegetes’. If that can be achieved, and they can be dumped and pensioned off from all hiring committees, heads of department positions and so on, then I’m for it. In the end, I suspect that it is a turf war, over money, positions, etc. At that level, I’m a Leninist throuhg and through.

      1. Aw, Roland, it doesn’t always have to be about the money, you know. 🙂

        But in a way you are right. I wouldn’t pay for historical criticism to be done in the Universities. I would like to see people paid to look at Lenin and Theology/Bible, however, since that is a rather large and interesting subject. That kind of thing seems very unlikely to happen much in western Unis at present; you are the exception that proves the rule.

        One option is to abandon the universities–especially perhaps the UK ones–as places where interesting work is done, and I know you are partial to that view yourself; I have days where I think you are absolutely right. But I generally think it slightly premature for me to settle for the victory of the status quo.

        That said, thank you for the et al above, but you know there really isn’t much if an et al, if one at all. Almost everyone I know has a vested interest in keeping the distinction going. At SOTS, for example, David Clines and Cheryl Exum wanted to rename the thing reception criticism and have it as just another tool in the bag. Chris has made his position clear here. Even you want to reduce it to just a meaningless turf war. So I am just a lone voice…,

        Nah, you are right it is hopeless. 🙂

        PS what would Lenin (or a Leninist) do?

        PPS Confession time: I actually do this kind of work because I like it, and the other stuff increasingly bores me to tears. No great theoretical justification, just lots of wide open spaces for an academic hedonist to look into. So, enough politics for me, and now I am just waiting to see what the future holds. Want to take a guess at that for me, Roland?

  11. I don’t think I’m happy being placed in a mediating position between Boer and Heard. As I understand this debate, you are BOTH ultimately trying to do metaphysics here. Heard is claiming there are original texts (“a biblical book must exist before it can have any effects”), but they should not therefore be privileged, and Boer is saying there are no texts (they are a “convenient fiction”).

    What I’m saying is categorically different to both of you. I am simply asserting that readers experience texts, without making any metaphysical claims about the reality or non-reality of those entities. I don’t pause during love-making to speculate on the physical existence of my lover… I’m hardly about to throw down a great literary work because I’m not sure whether it exists!

      1. Ahh see there is the difference between you and me – if I start doing metaphysics while ploughing through a good book, I just go soft and have to pull out 😦 Although I have heard of some people doing metaphysics to delay their (narrative) climax – perhaps that is your strategy? 😉

        I’m fascinated by the concept of something being real and fiction at the same time. I have these bloody dictionary definitions in my head which make those things seem like mutually exclusive cetgories.

  12. Karl, not only are the Latin terms for fact and fiction closer than you might think, but the whole question of reality and illusion is, well, a little murkier than appears to be the case (how solid is that table on which you lean?). But my point is actually directed at the constructivist position: just because something is coailly or discursively constructed makes it even more real. Or I could simply invoke Hegel to point out that the most concrete moment is that which is entirely and utterly abstract. Etc etc.

  13. Well, if words are defined by their Latin etymology, and arguments are settled by invoking German philosophers like holy scripture (even when what they say is absurd), then you certainly have a tour de force!

    I think that you’re contradicting yourself on a more insidious level than just claiming there are texts and no texts. The more pressing issue is this: you admit to postulating texts as a “convenient fiction” for yourself – so why do you argue it is invalid for the reception history people to do it?

    1. Karl, you did ask the question about reality and fiction … As for convenient fiction, if and when those who claim to be doing ‘reception history’are willing to admit that the text is such, then we will no longer disagree with one another on that score.

      1. I did ask the question yeah 🙂 I guess if I’m waiting for a non-contradictory answer, and you prefer contradictions, we’ve reached the point where we’re not going to be able to communicate very effectively.

        I do like the point you make about reception history people not admitting the text exists themselves. That does clarify a lot…

  14. But “dialectical” and “contradictory” are totally different things. Hegel, Marx and Lenin all knew that. Dialectics seeks out contradictions for the purpose of resolving them into a higher level of thinking. Can you imagine Lenin saying “We need bread, land and peace, but we also do not need them”? No – he looked at the way that particular need contradicted the demands of the Tsarist state, and sought to resolve them by the creation of higher unity in a Soviet Republic. Contrast that with the trendy Marxist philosophers of today, who love reading Marx and mass-consuming the latest fashion/technology/fast-food item… and feel no discomfort about the contradiction! Postmodernity has left the Left pretty helpless! Our culture no texts any more… so how are we meant to have values? 😦

    1. Bullshit, Karl, Lenin and co. weren’t about creating come caricatural ‘higher unity of the Soviet Republic (!)’. He knew perfectly well that there was no resolution in that way: time and again he points out that creating communism is unbelievably more complex and riven with way more contradictions that capitalism. Hence the NEP etc. And your depiction postmodernity leaves much to be desired.

  15. Could you perhaps point me to a description of postmodernity which does not leave much to be desired? A movement which refuses to be defined or identified clearly is immune to criticism – but that’s hardly a solid defense of the movement.

    On Lenin (I realise you are immensely more well read than I on this), the point I am trying to make is that a dialectic materialism does acknowledge the existence of contradictions, but it is a science of progress because the struggle between those contradictions is what creates change. In the case of Marxism, social change!

    So in “On the Question of Dialectics” Lenin says,
    “The unity (coincidence, identity, equal action) of opposites is conditional, temporary, transitory, relative.”

    That’s hardly being “all for contradictions” as you claim to be, which I am saying is NOT dialectical at all.

    The NEP strategy, like all kinds of market socialism is necessarily a temporary measure. And not (IMO) for any contradiction within socialism, but because when a revolution comes to a pre-industrialised society like Russia was in 1917, there are some powerful relics of FEUDALISM left in place. The contadictions of Feudalism must be resolved before the contradictions of Capitalism can be fully resolved in Socialism… which as you point out will have its own contradictions. That’s why dialectics is a theory of development.

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