Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
TrinJ 21:2 (Fall 2000) p. 209
Kevin Vanhoozer. Is There a Meaning in This Text?: The Bible, the Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998. 496 pp. $29.99.
There have been plenty of contemporary attempts to write theology and hermeneutics which either take an overdose of postmodernism or display a blindly arrogant conservatism. Thankfully, this is not such a book. This is a text which seeks to listen to what others are saying. This attempt is all the more commendable since the dispute in which it engages is one of the hottest and most controversial debates in the field of hermeneutics, both general and particular: the question of textual meaning. Dr. Vanhoozer wants to argue for nothing less than a recovery of authorial intention, textual determinedness, and the virtues of literary reading.
The first part of the book, “Undoing Interpretation: Authority, Allegory, Anarchy” charts the disintegration of three important figures in hermeneutics: the author, the text, and the reader. This long section (almost 200 pp.) can serve as an excellent guide to the postmodern challenge in interpretation. I will not dwell on this aspect of the book, except by recommending it as one of the most readable introductions available. Vanhoozer retells the story of the death of the author as first told by philosophers such as Barthes, Foucault, Derrida, Fish, and others. The death of the author is quickly followed by the dissipation of the text which is no longer seen as forming a unity, or indeed having an identity. And if our texts are just as dead and de-centered as we are, then postmodern hermeneutics believes that all reading is ideological and anarchical and that there can be no apolitical reading as such.
One of Vanhoozer’s central theses is that underlying this crisis of authorship, textuality, and selfhood is the death-of-God philosophies and theologies. This claim is of no small importance since the rest of the argument flows from it. If the present crisis of interpretation was caused by a perceived loss of the ground of transcendence, then what is needed for the “redoing of interpretation” is the recovery of its lost roots. If the contemporary malaise is theological, then we need theology to overcome it. But is such a task conceivable in the contemporary context? Some readers may indeed be appalled by the ease (some might say rudeness) with which some theologians think that the former queen of the sciences can still throw light around and on other disciplines. Ironically, however, if the present context with its crises is the target of Vanhoozer’s attacks, it also provides him with the theoretical justification for just such a confessional argument. Deconstructive hermeneutics rests on an ontology of absence, the absence of transcendence and God ...
Click here to subscribe