Gender Readings: “Co-habitating the Texts”

genderstuiesCiting the concurrent flow of feminist literary criticism with feminist biblical criticism, Janice Capel Anderson sets forth a clear and concise vision for how gender filters readings of essentially androcentric texts.

This far-reaching essay  (The Gospels and Acts: Fortress Press Bible Commentaries Aymer & Kittredge editors. Fortress Press, 2016.) has much to offer amidst this tedious and rambling collection of agendized essays not worth your trouble.

Anderson argues that texts may be invisible to both sexes in significant ways (necessitating what she calls a “revisionist rereading” but one very much unlike many under that general banner (this is not an imaginative re-writing.) Hers is simply an acknowledgment of “cohabitation” of contexts. A richer understanding can be gained by comparing notes between gender-readings.

“when presented with a certain type of story (Kolodny) the men were unable to discern the motives for the wives murdering their husbands but women were – as they were clued into “arenas” of meaning not known or perceived by the men.”

Building a very strong case (that goes beyond what I can summarize here), Anderson argues that men and women are able to perceive or read different things from the texts as they occupy the space as the “implied reader.”  Some of her examples are even funny, as in how when presented with a certain type of story (Kolodny) the men were unable to discern the motives for the wives murdering their husbands but women were – as they were clued into “arenas” of meaning not known or perceived by the men.

Many men are red/green color-blind (as an example). A Feminist hermeneutic that bringings forward colors latent in the text could be pretty amazing. I appreciated Anderson’s “revisionism” not as a re-write in some “wishful thinking” recasting of scripture that does violence to the texts; but rather as one with a true eye for greater accuracy. Those women in Kolodny’s study  really did know who the murderers were and the men were clueless (just as the woman in Luke 7 knew who Jesus was but the men were clueless.)

It is the implied reader that Matthew is presenting Jesus to. Anderson sets this at odds with the “normal” audience of the day:

 The Jewish leaders, the story world’s male establishment, are judged negatively; the male disciples positively and negatively, and so on. While it is true that the disciples become the new establishment with special teaching and governance responsibilities (16.18-19; 18.15-20; 28.19-20), their strengths and weaknesses are revealed. This reinforces anti-hierarchical aspects of Jesus’ teachings on discipleship such as 20.25-28 and 23.8-12. Marginal characters including women receive fairly positive evaluations. (p.47)

I am often critical of Modern and Postmodern impositions on biblical texts because they strait-jacket them and impose currently en vogue agendas that in ten years will mysteriously shift to new ones.* But this seems exactly the opposite—a literary approach that opens things up for further exploration that is not transitory. In fact, what it promises is a whole new set of lenses – a truly Feminist biblical set of lenses that might act positively – not seeing scripture as adversarial or pro-patriarchal (especially where it is decidedly not), but rather seeing, as Anderson clearly does, as having been prepared for an “implied reader.”

How else do we explain the Gospel writers choosing to include the witness accounts of the women to Jesus’ resurrection? In the day it was of little or no value in that society. Yet there those accounts are— front and center. Sure, we can argue they were included simply because that is what happened (I agree with this) but also, along with so many other subversive factors found in scripture, perhaps it’s meant for the implied audience. Anderson would argue that. A superb article,  I found Anderson’s argument profound and it will be of lasting value. 

If this were not enough, Postmodern interpreters who insist they are escaping a Postcolonial interpretation demonstrate the very same spirit of domination in their hermeneutic (one of conquest) when they impose current notions of Western “identity” and Post-Enlightenment “advances” on 1st and very early 2nd Century Middle Eastern texts – essentially “colonizing” them to their own views rather than struggling with organic meanings in fresh situations. 

four gospels mako

My first thought was that I am a very blessed man to be paired up with a brilliant interpreter and long-time student of scripture. My girlfriend Laura brings areas of prowess I do not possess, and I the same. Add to that this new revelation of being clued into different “arenas of meaning” and our vast experience now (over 100 years between us, yet are we not spry?) and we have the makings of something of an interpretative juggernaut— well, if not a juggarnaut, at least something that laughs loudly and can rip open a text and explore.

Which is good. For Christmas I purchased Laura Fujimura’s “illuminated”  (illustrated) Bible – which is amazing. GET a copy while you can via Amazon. The Four Holy Gospels, Originally $100, it is now $150 – but you can actually now get for less. Later, (a decade from now) they will be worth a few grand) – but they are worth their weight in gold now.

 The rest of the Fortress book? So far…meh. Don;t bother. If you want the Anderson essay, write me or IM.

*What’s wrong with what is en vogue?  You run the serious risk of your theology wearing a 1970’s lime green polyester leisure suit and having to defend it.  It is best to seriously example the roots (tools and a priori assumptions) of your approach to scripture and reality..otherwise? Well…you get what you pay for. It’s not instant karma – but pretty close. 

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