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The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic [Paperback]

By James K. A. Smith (Author)
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Item description for The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic by James K. A. Smith...

Many philosophers of the past century have focused on the problem of hermeneutics. Theologians have shared this concern because of their interest in interpreting biblical texts. As postmodern critics have challenged the possibility of understanding any texts, the issue of how to respond has become acute.

Among myriad approaches to hermeneutics, both secular and Christian theorists have often assumed the same thing: that the need for interpretation is a lamentable, scandalous, even fallen affair. In an ideal world there would be no need for interpretation, since communication would be immediate, instantaneous and errorless.

James K. A. Smith, in this provocative book, cogently surveys contemporary hermeneutical discussion, identifying three traditions and how they understand interpretation: a present immediacy model, an eschatological immediacy model and a violent mediation model.

Questioning the foundational assumption that these models share, Smith deftly draws on and reworks Augustine's biblical understanding of the goodness of creation to propose a creational-pneumatic model of hermeneutics. In his words, such a hermeneutic "would link [Augustine's] insights on the temporality of human be-ing and language with his affirmation of the fundamental goodness of creation: the result is an understanding of the status of interpretation as a 'creational task,' a task which is constitutive of finitude and thus not a 'labor' to be escaped or overcome. Such an 'interpretation of interpretation' revalues embodiment and ultimately ends in a ethical respect for difference as the gift of a creating God who loves difference and loves differently."

"The ineluctable plurality of interpretation, both of texts and of the world, belongs to creation in its goodness and not (merely) to the Fall. That is the thesis of this bold challenge to a whole spectrum of thought, which ranges from evangelical theology to deconstructive philosophy, that finds interpretation to be inherently fallen. On the basis of an Arminian Augustinianism and a Kuyperian Calvinism, Smith sketches a creational interpretation of interpretation. Both the critique of the contemporary consensus and the constructive alternative deserve widespread discussion. The scholarship is impressive and the writing is lucid." Merold Westphal, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Fordham University

"The Fall of Interpretation represents a major contribution to the ongoing discussion between Christian theology and contemporary continental philosophy. . . . This is a brilliantly argued book from a major new voice in contemporary hermeneutical theory." John D. Caputo, David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy, Villanova University

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Item Specifications...

Studio: InterVarsity Press
Pages   228
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.21" Width: 5.34" Height: 0.69"
Weight:   0.55 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 30, 2000
Publisher   IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN  0830815740  
ISBN13  9780830815746  

Availability  0 units.

More About James K. A. Smith

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James K. A. Smith (Ph.D. Villlanova University) is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College.

James K. A. Smith was born in 1970 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Calvin College.

James K. A. Smith has published or released items in the following series...

  1. Pentecostal Manifestos

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > Epistemology
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Philosophy > General

Christian Product Categories
Books > Bible Study > General Studies > Exegesis & Hermeneutics

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Fall of Interpretation: Philosophical Foundations for a Creational Hermeneutic?

violence...  Oct 9, 2007
This is a wonderful little book. Smith's criticism of positivism and Hegelianism (i.e. the teleological overcoming of finitude) are sound and welcome. In my own intellectual journey, Smith has been a very helpful guide in what I take to be the strongest point in this text: his critique of the `violent mediation model' ala Heidegger and Derrida. If finitude is a decisive feature and enabling condition of being-in-the-world, then it is fair to question why this condition should be thought to be violent. Lurking under this determination is the very figure of the `other' or object as a `transcendental signified,' as a worldless entity, present-at-hand, and so forth. Once such a figure is put into question, the force and significance of `violence,' as understood in modern philosophy, must itself be put into question, and new notion of violence articulated. Smith gestures in this direction without developing it further, and while this is understandable given the focus of the book, the question of violence followed me as I read his own proposal. As interesting as Smith's own `creational' hermeneutic may be, it suffers from a rather severe lacuna. Insofar as Smith's hermeneutics is, in specific ways, indebted to Heidegger and Derrida, it is not surprising that this gap is precisely POLITICAL.

Post-structuralism (Derrida, Foucault, et al) and Hermeneutics (Gadamer, Ricoeur, et al) are - in their own ways - the twin-children of Heidegger. If the former revels in extravagant claims concerning the necessity of violence, the redemptive quality of `transgression' and `perversion,' and a general but happy pessimism concerning the possibility of a peaceful and just world; the latter tends toward an overly irenic optimism which politically translates into a mere recitation of and apology for humanist sentiments. Now don't get me wrong, Smith does NOT do this in his book. Yet his model of hermeneutics seems very close to positions like Gadamer and Ricoeur. And while he wants to give the `object' a limiting quality, the general thrust of his method tends toward idealism: language playfully and loving makes us and we playfully and loving affect and transform it. The resistance of the `object' is not sufficiently determinate, and the violence that irrupts in conflicting interpretations of, say, US foreign policy, myths of Manifest Destiny, social Darwinism, etc., is not sufficiently thematized.

What is the nature and force of `negativity'? how do we mediate between mediations (read: interpretations)? Is violence only ever the leveling violence of Enlightened conceptuality? The post-structuralist `critique' of enlightenment may be decisively over-determined; and the hermeneutic critique, somewhat underdetermined.
Jamie seems to incorporate both of these in his own hermeneutic model: overly pessimistic regarding the Enlightenment heritage and overly optimistic about the innocence of method, including his own. In either case, the Heideggerian or postmodern problem of politics haunts Jamie as it perhaps haunts us all.

It seems to me that Smith's hermeneutics needs a companion method capable of thematizing and criticizing socio-political violence, especially structural violence evident in the material reproduction of society. In the 21st century we can no longer think materialism in reductive terms, yet it would seem that institutionally grounded modes of economic organization do in fact play a role in mediating social relationships and the human relation to nature. Such themes might give strategies to lend some force to the limiting quality of the `object,' and suggest appropriate forms of agency in transforming a situation that is fundamentally violent. Again, I am being unfair to Jamie. This is not his project in this book, but these thoughts were provoked in thinking with the book. Needless to say, our hermeneutics must be as critical as it is `creative,' and should be sensitive to the material we go to work on. Jamie opens us in these directions.
Thanx to Smith, I am capable of raising such questions. This review should bot be read as critical per se, but rather raising THE question with which we must cope in current theory. It is clear that Enlightened modernity has severe limits, and as clear that postmodern particularism does too. Where we go from here? This book, and Jamie's work generally, offers some promising directions.

What I wrote in another review applies here as well:

"All in all, in spite (or perhaps because) of my critical questions, I love this book. This is a book that's worth reading, worth arguing with, and worth critiquing; ...Smith is asking the right questions, pointing us in essential trajectories, and opening a site for theological reflection that moves beyond the Biblicism and positivism of so much Evangelical theology. From *Fall of Interpretation* to this book, Smith is trailblazing a new mood of inquiry and questioning. We hope that his work gains a wide reading!!! God knows, Evangelicalism is in need of legible, creative, effective, insightful thinking. Thanks Jamie!"

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