Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Vintage Chris Rosebrough – Deconstruction Deconstructed, a.k.a. Having Fun with Words

On the May 17 edition of the Fighting for the Faith radio show, host Chris Rosebrough had a little fun deconstructing deconstruction.

The idea behind deconstruction is that any given text has no fixed meaning. Truth is experienced as the reader is in conversation with the text. There are infinite possibilities in interpreting the words scribbled on the page, and thus no ultimate truth, but rather your own self-made truth. What's true for you is just plain true, and what's true for me will also be. What’s handy about this hermeneutic is that it frees you from the thorny issue of having to limit yourself to what the author actually meant. This is of course a ridiculous premise. If it were true, there would be no point in attempting to communicate with anyone. But fortunately most normal people generally try to grasp the original meaning which the author intended, and are able to carry on a conversation with at least a modest degree of success, while avoiding all the intellectually charged undercurrents of deconstruction. There are, however, some postmodern people who insist on assigning their own meanings to a given text. One of these people is George Elerick.

Elerick is a journalist who writes for The Huffington Post and Wrecked online magazine. He certainly seems to uphold the postmodern tradition on his blog The Love Revolution, skipping social conventions such as capitalizing the first letter of the first word in sentences, giving the reader a bit of a head start on assigning their own meaning to the text. Links to Brian McLaren and John Dominic Crossan’s websites, and sites such as Queermergent and The Burning Man add to the postmodern ambiance.

Chris relates his own postmodern “experience” after receiving an email from Elerick inviting him to read Elerick’s blog post titled “throw away the cookie cutters.”. In this post George deconstructs the Genesis account of Adam and Eve, musing that “it isn’t a story just about two literal people, in fact, their [sic] is archaeological evidence that demonstrates the story originated on a scroll in ancient Mesopotamia. one of the many deeper layered meanings could be about judging others.” His story comes complete with the eisegesis of Hebrew words (actually “hebrew” to George) and a truly postmodern climax:

judging others in the traditional sense doesn’t allow much space for healing the world or broken relationships, in the traditiona [sic] sense it is the opposite of cheering and more like how adam and eve might have got it wrong. and so if judgement [sic] is about justice and setting things right, maybe we can stand shoulder-to-shoulder and believe in and dream out the kind of world god intended. i hope we can.

Hopefully I don’t have to explain to you how George Elerick’s deconstruction of Genesis departs from the meaning that God intended for the text. This point wasn’t lost on Chris either, who after another email exchange with Elerick responded with his own deconstruction of what Elerick said in his post, thus demonstrating the absurdity of deconstruction using the technique himself. The beauty of this is, as Chris points out, the postmodernist can’t refute or quibble with what you’ve said. You’re using their own rules, therefore your conclusions are perfectly acceptable, no matter how whacky they are.

Here’s Chris’s response to what George had to say:

George, remember that once a text is written there are a limitless number of interpretations that the reader can experience while in conversation with the text. Ironically, while I was in conversation with your text, the one that you pointed me to, the one on your love revolution dot com, love revolution blog, funny enough, I felt in my heart that this text was saying that homosexuality is a sin, that Ronald Reagan was the greatest president in the United States that has ever lived, that increased oil consumption by the world is a great thing for the environment, that Arianna Huffington is a ditz, and that non-dialectical judging is divine. You see, the key to unlocking this interpretation was found when I discovered that the Aramaic words for “Adam” and “Eve” are directly related to the Spanish word for mud, and everyone knows that mud looks like oil, and that Ronald Reagan had to deal with oil embargoes very early in his administration. So I think your post was an excellent example of a colonial imperialistic apologetic with metaphorical implications that can be applied toward further raping and ravaging of mother earth.

Wow! What a revelation. I didn’t know that the Aramaic words for “Adam” and “Eve” are directly related to the Spanish word for mud. Now it all makes sense.

As Chris says, “Friends don’t let friends go PoMo” (or CoWo). And that’s all I have to say about that. Stay Confessional my friends.

photo credit: oddsock


T. Emmett Bramwell said...

I was just catching up on my F4F yesterday and was listening to this particular episode. I was working on my car and had to pause for a second and rewind the segment to catch what Rosebrough was saying. I laugh at how ridiculous the PoMo mindset is and yet people take it seriously. Chris did a bang up job highlighting the absurdity of deconstructionism!

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

See, all this makes me sad - because I love proper, reserved Post-modern thought. The roots of Postmodern thought is that you can look at texts and learn from them - you can see the bias present in writing and learn about how a culture thinks. Of course, part of Postmodernism is that somethings that we assume to be true are not necessarily true (hmm, we can be deceived, or deceive ourselves, fine so far). This type of "deconstruction" works well - Elerick's words belie his general disdain of any tradition and convention - his "truth" is that these are false, and that is a false truth.

However, in popular American academia (and to some extent in Europe) the idea that a perceived truth may not be true morphed into "there is no absolute truth" - implying we can just make stuff up. I love reading Focault, I am strange in that - but things like this make me sick. It is said that Rosebrough's parody of deconstructionism actually hits close to how things actually are done by the so-called thinkers of the day.

Anonymous said...

I loved it. The sheer irrationality of PoMo thinking has been hoisted on its own petard. Ultimately this kind of thinking falls in on itself, as Chris so aptly demonstrated.


Andrew, Esq. said...

"Stay confessional, my friends." That is brilliant! You need to keep that sign-off.

Scott Diekmann said...

I tend to think of the "proper, reserved Post-modern thought" that Pastor Brown refers to by a different phrase - call it good scholarship combined with common sense, or God-given reason.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

God-given reason is often abandoned most quickly when random statements of dubious quality allow us to feel justified in giving into our varied and sundry passions.

(You should do a commercial about "the most interesting layman in the world")