Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Is There a Meaning in the Text

VanHoozer, Kevin J. Is There a Meaning in this Text: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-310-32469-0
Originally published in 1998.

Is There a Meaning in this Text is VanHoozer's response to Postmodern critics declaration that both the author and textual meaning are dead. VanHoozer, in contrast, believes that there is meaning in a text and it is based on the author's intention. The author bases his defense on Trinitarian and Augustinian theology. Is There a Meaning in this Text is divided into two parts. The first part is a thorough critique of postmodernism, concentrating mainly on Deridda, Rorty, and Fish. VanHoozer believes that the "undoers" are atheistic and that the death of the author follows the death of God. In the second part, the author presents his apologetic for textual meaning in response to the postmodern critics discussed in part one.

Kevin J. VanHoozer is professor of theology at Wheaton College and Graduate School.

VanHoozer defense of intentionalism is based on Speech Act Theory. He describes the intentionalism of Hirsch but thinks it is a naive realism. VanHoozer identifies himself a critical realist. He does not think we find the author's meaning in the author's head, but embodied in the text. VanHoozer's purpose is to find a mean between absolute knowlege and despair. In some sense, the text seems like a multi-text. In one part, he seems to be identifying himself with Hirsch and in another part, separating himself from him. Maybe, he wrote the book over a long period and changed his opinions.

Another point VanHoozer makes that there is one specific meaning, but he seems to argue that we can never be absolutely sure that we discover this one meaning. He believes the reader needs to cultivate humility and other interpretive virtues. In addition, he argues for thickness in interpretation. This calls for the contributions of many interpretors to get the full meaning of the text. I like this idea and believe it myself.

Is There a Meaning in a Text is a plausible defense of intentionalism or discovering the author's intention in a text. I favor the idea of discovering that meaning in the text and not in the author's head. The author does a good job in showing the need to cultivate virtues of humility, listening, respect and a hermeneutics of love. VanHoozer does a good job discussing postmodern hermeneutics and what we can learn from it. For example, that we all come to the text with presuppositions and biases. This is not the last word on the subject, but an important voice in the discussion.

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