Tuesday, January 01, 2019


In my undergrad years and those that followed, I went in and out of institutional religions until I gave it up and went "barefoot" until 1975.  My main mode of everything was narrative and it worked fine.  Narrative as a thinking method is one of the oldest and most effective.  Then I went to the U of C Div School and Meadville/Lombard Theological School where they were a little stricter.  At least the U of C was.  Sometimes I didn't know what anyone was talking about.

Finally it got through to me that they were "Enlightenment" people who went by logic, near-mathematical formulas, precedent, big-named theories.  At this point I had just discovered the Seminary Co-op Bookstore and found the little niche that grouped the History of Science books.  Stephen Toulmin had just given a speech at an event and I was fascinated by it, esp when he talked about being sick as a kid, stuck in bed, and while idly fooling around discovered that one eye saw the drapes in the room as a brighter red than the other one did.  Of course, it's fairly logical that one eye could have had more perceiving "cones" than the other.  The little vignette was both experience and narrative, which count to a thinker like Mark Johnson.

So I went to the library and bought one of each of Toulmin's books.  Read them as carefully as I could, and tried to follow the rules for his kind of thinking, which made my advisor very happy.  Then all the "post" thinking showed up.  I couldn't quite get it, but I tried.  In Richard Stern's class I wrote a paper about Proust (whom I didn't quite get) using French theory from this category of thought.  Stern loved Proust.  He said, "I don't understand this.  Can you explain it?"  I confessed that I really had no idea what it meant.

But earlier, when I had written "narrative-style" about the time Bob and I sat on the porch at the Mad Plume ranch while Agnes Mad Plume was shelling peas, Stern said, "For what it is, this is hot stuff.  But it is NOT a U of Chicago paper!"  He wasn't in the Div School anyway, but we were supposed to be able to take classes anywhere in the school.  Now he said I couldn't take his classes anymore.  Sigh. 

Mark Johnson's and Lakoff's new idea was framed and published a few years after I left seminary, but it must have been in the air.  It would have saved me if it had been a little more developed a little bit sooner.  There was a build-up of ideas in me that went back to Dean Barnlund's "Language and Thought" class at NU in 1958.  When it comes to this stuff, I'm sedimentary -- not volcanically brilliant like some fellow writers I know.

As nearly as I can tell, all this construction/deconstruction/postconstruction strategy begins with Derrida.  "Jacques Derrida was an Algerian-born French philosopher best known for developing a form of semiotic analysis known as deconstruction, which he discussed in numerous texts, and developed in the context of phenomenology. He is one of the major figures associated with post-structuralism and postmodern philosophy."  Issues are framed on the assumption that within an argument is always a counter-argument, so therefore the text is always dyadic.

"Derrida, like many other contemporary European theorists, is preoccupied with undermining the oppositional tendencies that have befallen much of the Western philosophical tradition. In fact, dualisms are the staple diet of deconstruction, for without these hierarchies and orders of subordination it would be left with nowhere to intervene. Deconstruction is parasitic in that rather than espousing yet another grand narrative, or theory about the nature of the world in which we partake, it restricts itself to distorting already existing narratives, and to revealing the dualistic hierarchies they conceal."   https://www.iep.utm.edu/derrida/#H2

This is not only parasitic -- because it cannot begin without a strong statement to oppose -- but it is also perfectly suited for the Oppositional Defiance Disorder, which is the automatic resistance of children to separate themselves from their parents, but also persists in some adults as a life position.  Every time I write about this I get despairing comments about relationships that can't be managed.  But I also read the same kind of emotion from people who feel they are crushed by the established order and therefore must resist as hard as possible.  It seems characteristic of our time, but it is also strongly related to an aspect of Christianity in which Jesus is an example of an oppressed person who never gave up and was saved because of that faithfulness.

So I tried my hand at this with the New Testament story about the vineyard which is being cared for by people who get a little careless and tired and don't do a good job of it.  The owner of the vineyard sends someone to tell the workers that they'd better shape up, because his son is coming and he will bring consequences to bad people.  (This is from someone who thinks of God as Lakoff's strict Papa who has rules that must be followed.  The son is Jesus.)  In my version the people are not being lazy and bad so much as they're being excluded, none of the profits are coming to them, and their understanding of the work goes unheard.  They decide to seize the vineyard and make it into co-op.  They are now post-employed, co-owners.

My advisor was not so pleased.  He was a lot more Christian than Unitarian, but was absorbed by the history of Unitarianism in Transylvania where it meant communal ownership of a print shop and other things.  In the end there was quarrelling and it crashed.  This is narrative, a story but a true history, uninterpreted.

In another narrative I used for a sermon early in the feminist wave, I took a story from a book by an indigenous woman.  In this tale a tribal woman was independent and lived alone in her neat and thrifty little camp  A female black bear took to watching her from the woods, admiring until she fell in love with the human woman.  Finally, the bear proposed that they get married.  The woman thought for a bit.  "Well, we're the same sex, but we're different species, so I suppose marriage would be fine".  Is this post-matrimonial?  Or is it simply transformative?  Or is it consistent with the terms that really matter?

Afterwards I heard a young man protest to his friend, "I don't get it.  Bears don't marry humans!"  He was a little short on imagination, which Mark Johnson believes is vital.  I agree.

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