March 29, 2014
March 27, 2014
It has become commonplace these days to speak of unpacking texts. This is a book about packing that prose in the first place.
I'm speaking of a prose that often gets left behind. Fiction has guidebooks galore; journalism has shelves stocked with manuals; and certain hybrids such as creative nonfiction or New Journalism have evolved standards, aesthetics, and justifications for how to transfer the dominant modes of fiction to topics in nonfiction. But history and other serious nonfiction have no such guides. Nonfiction - apart from memoir - is not taught in writing workshops or MFA programs, and its standards and aesthetics are not discussed on freelancer listserves. Neither is it taught as part of a professional training by academic guilds. While scholarly historians are eager to discuss historiography, they ignore the craft that can turn their theses and narratives into literature.
This curious omission places beyond the pale of taught writing whole realms of serious nonfiction that do not rely on reportage or segue into memoir. It dismisses scholarship based on archives and printed literature. It ignores writers who do not make themselves the subject, overt or implied, of their work. It relegates texts in the field of history, in particular, to the status of unlettered historiography or unanchored prose. They exist only as conveyers of theses and data or as naive exposition.
This book is for those who want to understand the ways in which literary considerations can enhance the writing of serious nonfiction. In their search for new texts to deconstruct, literary theorists have in recent years seized on nonfiction to demonstrate literature's critical primacy over all kinds of texts. It's time for historians, especially, to reply. History is scholarship. It is also art, and it is literature. It has no need to emulate fiction, morph into memoir, or become self-referential. But those who write it do need to be conscious of their craft. And what is true for history is true for all serious nonfiction. The issue is not whether the writing is popular, but whether it is good, which is to say, whether it does what it intends. Here are my thoughts on how to make this happen.
March 24, 2014
From what I've read about midrash criticism and studies of NT intertextuality, this work should be a welcome addition to discussion in Gospel studies from a literary perspective. To illustrate why this is so, and since the book is difficult to find, here are some of my favorite excerpts from Chapter 3 of the conference papers' collected volume, Editing Greek and Latin Texts.
Had the major cause of misquotation been, as is commonly supposed, the difficulty of tracing a short passage in a papyrus roll... one could have anticipated an improvement in the quality of quotations in later antiquity [with the codex]. But is there any evidence of such improvement? (p.64)
It was not a part of Plutarch's objective to preserve for posterity the fragments of texts which he quoted, but only to exploit them according to current literary convention. (p.65)
The identification of quotations and allusions, both in and out of context, has been a sort of literary sport or intellectual exercise in many societies with a strong literary tradition. (p.66)
The tragedian wrote [x]. Plato has reversed the sequence of the verbs, and has also attached the adverb... Both a knowledge of the original and a certain quickness of wit, enhanced by much practice, are called for before one can recognize, in flight as it were, the allusion. (p.66-7)
[on a key text preserved in Eusebius:] Porphyry calls upon the gods to witness that he has added nothing to, nor subtracted anything from the *sentiments* which have been oracularly communicated... Porphyry goes on to list the various ways in which he has indeed revised the wording... corrected an erroneous reading... altered the text in the interest of clarity... completed a line in which the metre appeared defective... on occasion omitted what seemed irrelevant to his own purpose... In spite of all which alterations Porphyry goes on to swear that he has preserved intact the spirit of the Oracles... Nor does Eusebius offer any criticism of Porphyry's editorial principles... Theodoret, on the other hand, fastens upon this very passage of Porphyry, not for its editorial libertinism, but because of its implications for the Pythian Oracle... Theodoret has no word of criticism, however, for Porphyry's editorial procedure, which by his own standards he presumably found unexceptionable. (p.69-70)
Josephus claims [cit.] that from the time of Artaxerxes onward no one had added, subtracted, or altered a word of sacred scripture, whilst Tertullian [cit.] implies that Gnostics had falsified scripture in precisely these three ways... (p.71)
Reversals of word-order are a dominant feature of the style of the Didaskalikos, where they occur so thick and fast that they must be intentional and not the consequence of carelessness or defective memory. (p.72)
Modification of word order is the most elementary fo the four categories of textual change. To modify the word-order is, in a sense, to make no change at all. Every word still stands intact. They simply follow each other in a new order, the very novelty of which, by flouting the expectation of the reader, strikes him more forcibly than would the familiar original. (p.73)
it is an easy step from reversals in the order of words to reversal in the sequence of ideas... We may conclude that such modifications were not considered improper, even where in the case of alteration of the logical sequence, they might necessitate changes in the grammatical forms of words." (p.74-5)
On the one hand, displacements of word-order are amongst the commonest of scribal errors, but on the other they are, as we have just seen, a common form of literary adaptation. (p.75)
[cites examples of omission, reversal and substitution, which are] "products of conscious calculation... [with] no immediate relevance to the establishment of the text... Their utility lies rather in the scattered light they diffuse, indirectly and tantalizingly, upon a lost tradition of scholarship. They are of more immediate value to the history of ideas than to the history of texts. (p.78)
we must bear in mind Porphyry's conception of his role as editor of the Oracles, and conclude that there was rarely any deliberate will to deceive, but rather a desire to restore to an author, or bring out more lucidly what one was convinced had been his original intent. (p.80)
the commonest types of substitutions in his experience are "cognate terms and synonyms... compound verbs for simple verbs or vice versa... different compounds, variations in the degrees of comparison of adjectives and adverbs, the substitution of singular forms for plural or vice versa, or, more drastically, the substitution of cognate nouns or participles in place of verbs, or vice versa. The list might be easily extended. ...such phenomena crowd so copiously upon each other in [the Didaskalikos] that they cannot all be ascribed to the inattention or faulty memory of Alcinous. (p.83-4)
The desire to modernize must have been a powerful force behind the substitution of cognates and synonyms. In some instances we can see that this was the case, in others we can only surmise that it was, since [we cannot] know with precision how the nuances of individual words shifted from century to century in the ancient world." (p.84-5)
[After Whittaker shows how Alcinous (and Plutarch) frequently updated Platonic references with Peripatetic and/or Stoic terminology, he states:] "The evidence indicates that substitutions were an integral and intentional constituent of commentary and exposition." and "the natural consequence of changing trends in technical jargon and literary usage." But W also suspects "as in the case of other phenomena we have considered, the desire to put a personal mark upon the material one comments, expounds, or otherwise appropriates. (p.85)
substitutions expose the textual critic to potential danger... treating as genuine variant formulations that belong exclusively to the realm of interpretation and exposition. (p.86)
The meat of the argument is in the illustrations and examples, so there are many good reasons for interested parties to go procure the book for themselves. However, the copious liberty I just took may be necessary to convince Googling scholars that this material belongs in discussions of how the NT writers constructively misquote the OT/HB. Again, though Whittaker's focus was textual criticism (the whole title is "The Value of Indirect Tradition in the Establishment of Greek Philosophical Texts or the Art of Misquotation") it seems to me that his focus on the mechanics of misquotation should add a helpful amount of literary precision to studies that focus on midrash or intertextuality in the Gospels, especially Matthew.
The bottom line for my own study and interest is this. If misquotations exhibit creativity instead of inaccuracy, then we can analyze such texts not just to provide support in a war between critics and apologists, but (what is far more important) to gain insight into the sense of what nuance a creative writer/author was attempting to communicate... and how such writers/authors may have done so by deliberately introducing an incongruity into the recognized form of the quotation.
I'll close with the synopsis of Anthony Grafton, himself a contributor to the conference and its collected work, because it was his richly helpful and entertaining book The Footnote: A curious history which tipped me off to the study by John Whittaker. When I read this, I came out of my seat.
in ancient literary prose[,] the well-educated author cited texts from memory, not from books, often introducing a slight change to show that he had done so. [Citing Whittaker, natch]Consider these things. Anon...
March 18, 2014
Did oral tradition align Jesus' chronology with John's imprisonment? I hadn't particularly considered this question in detail before today, but I was just making notes while re-reading my kindle highlights of Bauckham's chapter, John for Readers of Mark, in the so far excellent The Gospel for all Christians. At any rate, here is the highlighted excerpt, followed by my reflection:
"It is not very likely that readers/hearers of the Fourth Gospel would be expected to know from oral Gospel traditions that Jesus' Galilean ministry followed the imprisonment of John. The chronological sequence in Mark 1:14 (followed by Matt.4:12, but not by Luke 4:14 is more likely to be Markan than traditional."
To which, I began musing:
If he means [that John's readers' knowledge of this could be expected to come] 'less likely from tradition than from Mark' I agree of course, but [if he means this detail itself was] straight up "unlikely" [to be pre-Markan, then, why]?
Why? Because it's too particular? As opposed to what? We can't declare it likely, but if we can imagine a scenario where word spread simultaneously then it's possible these memories were linked. Again, I'm not saying it's "likely" but I'm not convinced that it's necessarily "unlikely".
On second thought...
What other explanation do we have for the fact that John and Jesus became linked in the first place? I suppose the traditional answer is that the apostles were privy to an early connection, but what about the population at large?
The Gospels not only align Jesus' Galilean ministry with John's imprisonment, they also portray JtB as a frequent talking point of Jesus' public ministry both during and after that time. Suddenly, it seems to me that John effectively graced Jesus with a two stage martyrdom, and (since Jesus' public position as a supporter of John obviously could *only* have come out in Galilee *during* his Galikean ministry) it appears that support very likely was a key part of how Jesus built up such notoriety so quickly, during John's imprisonment, in the territory of the Herod who imprisoned him.
Not to be circular, this thesis is conditional on historicity of the alignment. IFF the Gospels are accurate in reporting that Jesus' Galilean ministry began after John was imprisoned, THEN it looks like early memories of Jesus' ministry very well could have been tied to that time period by anyone who lived through those days and heard Jesus speak about John.
Two more notes, since I decided to blog this...
First, as I said Monday, this is starting to feel apologetic (which really isn't my thing) but my interest is to confirm whether things like this alignment are actually solid enough to build on. Is there something more substantial than merely narrative sequence? As I sought to ask in the past, are sequenced events also purported to be contingent upon one another? Or, in this case, is the purported alignment plausible in reconstructions of memory, as well as history?
Second, I realize these thoughts are fresh, that they lack rigor, and that my understanding of memory theory has a long way to grow. But this is what I can do. New thoughts, free to plunder. If they're worth anything, I'll be glad to nudge the professionals with a key idea (on my best days, perhaps). If not, I'm leaving a record for myself to track later. And if this inspires any other non-scholars to think more about Jesus' connections to John and how that impacted people in Galilee and Judea, then welcome to the party!
We learn by doing. We think more when reading, and we think more rigorously when we try writing with care. Oh, yeah, and hey... This is still just a blog.
One I hope you're enjoying.