Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
JETS 28:3 (September 1985) p. 343
A Hermeneutic Critique of Structuralist Exegesis, with Specific Reference to Lk 10.29-37. By Sandra Wackman Perpich. Lanham, MD: University Press of America, 1984, ix + 253 pp., paper.
Perpich’s book attempts to bring together structuralism and phenomenological hermeneutics and to apply the synthesis to the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29–37). She finds deficiencies in classic French literary structuralism (Bremond, Greimas, Todorov) and therefore undertakes to supplement structural analysis with phenomenological reflection on a text’s references to the world, reader involvement, and application. P. Ricoeur’s hermeneutics provides a philosophical and hermeneutical framework, and K. Rahner’s view of divine mystery provides a theological framework for the task.
Perpich rightly criticizes classic structuralism on several grounds: its reductionistic philosophical assumptions, the assumption of the closed character of linguistic systems, the lack of attention to a discourse’s reference to the world, the ambiguity and sometimes falsity of some of the claims about universal principles of discourse (pp. 27-72, 90). Her criticisms as well as her supplementary phenomenological reflections on the parable of the Good Samaritan are full of useful insights. But Perpich herself, relying on Ricoeur, falls into reductions and sloppy overgeneralizations, so that the positive theoretical potential of her work is vitiated.
First of all, a number of fairly obvious distinctions appear to be simply slid over or blurred over throughout most of the work. Denying that a text refers to the world (in the narrowest forms of French structuralism) is not the same as denying (in a particular case) multiple reference, ambiguous reference, or indirect reference (as in a parable’s reference to the kingdom of God). Allusions or significant connections are not the same as direct reference. Reference using a metaphor is not the same as reference to a fictional world (though both can occur together). Application to oneself as a reader is not the same (in every sense) as reflection on a text’s reference to the real world. People are capable of talking about God and other matters of religion directly as well as indirectly, both by fictional and nonfictional, metaphorical and (relatively) nonmetaphorical language.
In addition, fictional and nonfictional works are both capable of altering our convictions (1) about parts of the real world, (2) about the real world as a whole, (3) about ourselves, and (4) about God. To be sure, these four are involved in one another, but it is needlessly befogging not to keep in mind the ability of texts to do primarily one of these.
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