. . . makes us stand
like wonder-wounded hearers.
– Hamlet, V,
Bible is the book yet to conjure with. It is the book of shadows and twilights. It is in whispering portal of nights we return to its faith and reason. It is not an infallible book, but even its mistakes are gifts. It is not facts that the authors care about but what Harold Boom calls “facticity”: a kind of brute contingency by which an author’s strength blinds and incarcerates a tradition of belated readership.
Now it is the most violated book, crisscrossed and full of canards, all its mystery is being sort out. It’s shadows which fell upon the reader as lights are blurred. Twilights lost its cantor and color and thereby lost its own unique profile, a profile which lets it survive where the elevated, the universal pale into nothingness. The book that gave birth to indefatigable visions of Shakespeare, Milton, Tolstoy, Dante and Dostoevsky is now rollick toys is in the hands of those professional interpreters.
Everything is solved and put into light by the interpreters armed with prudence and great scholarship, those enemies of myth. Who will tell them that without those myths man will be an animal without soul, Soulless wanderer on a sullen surface?
What is the interpretation? Or what is happening now in the name of interpretation? Interpretation is actually plucking a set of elements (the x, the y, the z and so forth) from the whole work. The task of interpretation is A sort of translation. The interpreter says, look, don’t you see that X is really or, really means A? That Y is really B? That Z is really C? To interpret is to impoverish, to deplete the world, in order to set up a shadow world of “meanings.” It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world.
Why Jesus called his mother, ‘woman’? a perennial question for the interpreters. One of them said it is because in the Old Testament God called Eve, ‘woman’ so in the New Testament Jesus is making his mother the new Eve by calling her ‘woman’. What a fabulous ida!! But what is the use of this moving from one impertinent position to another impertinent position? Other than surprising some minnows.
These sorts of answers say that text is troublesome. So they are prompted not by piety toward the troublesome text, but why an open aggressiveness, and an overt contempt for appearances. The older style of interpretation was insistent but respectful; it erected another meaning on the top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates and as it excavates, destroys, it digs behind the text to find a subtext which is the true one. These sort of behind the text interpretation is trying to prove that Jesus was an opportunist and a machine full of Old Testament corrections and correlations. He cannot move an inch away from his prescribed route, cannot be overtaken by an instinct, an impulse. All the more he cannot make a mistake.
Does he not dance? Some times out of tune, out of feet? Nietzsche said “I cannot believe in a God who cannot dance”. Many matinee prophets and salvation-peddlers turn the deeper rhythm of life implicated words of Jesus in to comforting trivialities. A great mass flock to hear them. They become the victims of a weak nostalgia which give rise to the pathology of hope and false reconciliation.
Interpreters are afraid of the silence and nights of the text, so they, insomniacs of the Day, put everything into voice and the daylight, thus into the deceptive trap of the day. They make this headlong long fall because of their morbid belief in the content and in meaning and forget about the value of form. William De Kooning in an interview said:
“Content is a glimpse of something, an encounter like a flash. It’s very tiny, very tiny, content.” In modern interpretation this search for content and meaning become a hindrance and nuisance, a subtle or not so subtle philistinism. I don’t think our interpretation is hermeneutical, if one is to follow the definition of hermeneutics. Martin Heidegger defined hermeneutics as the “understanding of understanding” which means already every narrative contains an understanding, an interpretation. The interpreter’s duty is to help to see that understanding rather than reading off the sense that is already there. Form is then is the right aural to get in to this understanding than content. Because all narratives in virtue of their form are fictions, yet it is through these fictions that we give a narrative form to our experience, be it individual or communal. If the interpretations which rely up on the meaning and content is right , every sort of interpretation will become right because every interoperation contains some sort of meaning which will make Nietzsche damn correct who said, “There is no truth but only interpretations of truth”. It is the cornerstone of his nihilism. Our construction of meaning with many myriads of pin points actually does not result in meaning but often in meaninglessness. It is like the believer becomes unbeliever by reading the five proofs for the existence of God. Matthew Arnold clearly diagnosed the cancer of this cult of truth when he said, “Our religion has materialized itself in the fact, in the supposed fact; it has attached its emotions to the fact, and now the fact is failing it”. Are we not failed by this cult of truth, facts and dogmas? They have become too weighty a burden upon us, making us unable to move. It is interesting to note the way Luther justify his interpretation of Bible: “I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience” . Through these famous words Luther brought subjectivity to the forefront of Christian thinking.The last sentence expresses the conviction that conscience and truth are the same, the consequence of which is that the concept of truth becomes internalized and has been addressed ever since as certainty. But how can one solve the alienation between the objective sense of truth and the expression it finds within the subject’s certainty?. According to this thinking, the self which has absorbed Gospel becomes a guarantee or certainty of knowledge. The danger of this risk free life is that it will turn in to individual despotism, deploying Gospel for its purpose, turning every belief in to its enemy, convictions. It is what inquisitors believed, when they are killing the unbeliever for the sake of God and Bible. They were full of self and its convictions. They lacked belief, if they had it they would have doubted. More often they enemy of belief is not disbelief but these rocky hard convictions.
The catholic thinker Paul Ricoeur is a revelation for me. it is in him I found answer to these struggles. He speaks of ‘the letting go of the self’: “The letting go of the self is the overthrowing of the guarantee, it is the risk of a life placed under the sign of the cross” again he says, “To take up the cross is to renounce the representation of God as the locus of absolute knowledge. It is to accept knowing just one thing about God, that God was present in and is to be identified with Jesus crucified, God who took up the cross”.
Biblical text is not only a religious text but Literary and mythical. There are many many instances when the literary takes upper hand in the old Testament. The sublime and uncanny Yahwist tradition, the most poignant of all is unusually literary. Because of the literary estrangement, ‘J’ (Yahwist) exceeds all other writers and achieve maximum force. This teller of the tales of joseph, Jacob and of Moses and the Exodus is written in more inescapable than Shakespeare and more perversive in our consciousness than Freud. But we will never be accessible to the actual test of this sublime writer because we lost much of it due to the replacement tactics of redactors and interpreters.
Who can approach this harshest and monitory of writers without fear and trembling? He is the greatest creator of ironies (problems out or interpreters is that the approach them without knowing that they are ironies). ‘J’s most striking characters is that he is not a religious writer though all his revisionists and interpreters presume so. It is surprising to see that many interpreters sort out morality in ‘J’ while ‘J’ does not care morality but personality. He didn’t seem to care cult either. Her forms of worship are poetic tales whose originality is too radical to be absorbed. They cannot be dwindled down into the nominative Godhead of Jews, Christians and Muslims. ‘J’ is extremely proud and self-contradictory (nobody is self-contradictory as the God of ‘J’) and as such beyond any interpretive ken.
It is quite sad to see those charismatic and non-charismatic muddle with sublime and uncanny realms of ‘J’ without knowing her taste, interpolation and literary pursuits. We cannot even ask questions to Self-contradictory and multi-conscious-full ‘J’ because ‘J’ is a sun and sun kills all the questions. We can only just listen with fear and trembling. It is through this fear and trembling that we reach to what Schopenhauer calls “the feeling of the sublime”. Standing as threatening and terrible to the will, they elevate the beholder, the reader to the realms of exaltations. Kant called the sublime a ‘bitter-sweet feeling’ because they reduce us to nought, they remind us that our entire lives are but a blink of the Divine eye. Kafka share this aesthetical vision when he said “A book should serve as axe for the frozen mind within us, it should fall upon the reader like a misfortune”. The ‘J’is the clear example of this writings which humble and make us feel small, in turn taking us to the absolute equanimity where we achieve bliss and delight. It is this double transformation Spinoza has in mind when he wrote, “The mind is eternal in so far as it conceives things from the standpoint of eternity”.
Taking the old Testament together one can still pose a question: Are they really pious stories? “They are not pious stories, they are stories of cunning and murder, the rights of the primogenitor is scoffed at and where the election of the hero depends on the oblique managers of an ambitious young man such as Daniel” (Alter) many of us we don’t recognize Israel’s national consciousness which is darted through the texts, which Jesus cleverly repudiated by telling “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”. There is not tested evidence to show in New Testament that Jesus was co-operating with Jews arrogant claims of Jews for a collective wholeness. More than anybody Jesus was conscious of the fragmentary nature of most men who wants to arrange a society of power in which man naturally fall into a collective wholeness since they cannot have an individual wholeness. In these collective wholeness they feel fulfilled. But if they make efforts at individual wholeness, they must fail for, because of their fragmentary nature (we have clear example of this fragmentary nature of man in the acute groupism which prevail in religious orders, we don’t have much to offer to humanity than our own fragmentariness). Jesus knew it very well, that’s why he said “ For to every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath them”. Are we left with anything?, even that will be taken away. D.H. Lawrence makes a wonderful reading of it and said “but Jesus had forgotten to reckon with the mass of the mediocre whose motto is: we have nothing therefore nobody shall have nothing.” Having said that, is Jesus is harbinger of a collective Christian consciousness?. This is the impression those Interpreters of the book of Revelation give us by showing Christian in morbid hostility to the state, to the world and to the cosmos, at the end willing the end of all. I fear that the Benny Punnathara and his Shalome project is doing an apocalyptic reading by stressing a Christian individualism and by making an isolated Christian kingdom. Thus unnaturally resisting out connection with the world, with the mankind, with the cosmos. They say we must break away from all these and isolate. This Christian self-glorification is suicidal. Without any shame they took up the ‘sealing’ business of Apocalypse. Apocalypse is a single book which requires a ‘reading against’. By wishing the destruction of everything actually apocalypse earns for the Sun and the stars and scarlet and gold splendor, for a passionate love. I cannot remain in an argumentative mode, I need to make a recourse to the original source of my inspiration, D.H Lawrence, “We ought to dance with rapture that we should be alive and in the flesh, and part of the living, incarnate cosmos. I am part of the sun as my eye is part of me. That I am part of the earth my feet know perfectly, and my blood is part of the sea. My soul knows that I am part of the human race, my soul is an organic part of the great human soul, as my spirit is part of my nation. In my own very self, I am part of my family. There is nothing of me that is alone and absolute except my mind, and we shall find that the mind has no existence by itself, it is only the glitter of the sun on the surface of the waters. So that my individualism is really an illusion. I am a part of the great whole, and I can never escape. But I can deny my connections, break them, and become a fragment. Then I am wretched. What we want is to destroy our false, inorganic connections, especially those related to money, and re-establish the living organic connections, with the cosmos, the sun and earth, with mankind and nation and family. Start with the sun, and the rest will slowly, slowly happen”.
The interpretation and reading is no the same. Interpretation presupposes a subtext, interpretation is digging to that text. As such interpretation is a minor art. You require more skill to be a reader than an interpreter. “Reading is an activity subsequent to writing, more resigned more civil, more intellectual”, writes the great reader of those labyrinths, Louise Borges. When we read we know that someone speaks, someone speaks to me in the text, someone addresses himself or herself to me, a voice, which is an instance in the text, but which tells me like the voice to which Augustine attributes the origin of his conversion, “Tolle lege” (take and read).
By interpretation, I always meant a conscious act of the mind which illustrates a certain code, certain rules of interpretation. I am against this interpretation which kills the reading. Instead of aiding the reading interpretation has replaced it. The interpreter is trying to surprise the reader by showing that things are otherwise, which is a fake surprise. But the reader will be surprised by seeing things as they are, which is a real surprise. He will be flooded with happiness to see a ‘white flower is white’. The magical realism, however great it is, does not reach to the precinct that Tolstoy’s steadiness of the vision creates. As Romain Roland noted in his journal for 1887, “in the art of Tolstoy a given scene is not perceived from two points of view, but from only one: things as they are, not otherwise”. He does not sacrifice his vision to the needs of the pathos. Reader can only marvel at his ability to communicate the utmost of grief and terror in perfect evenness of tone.
What about the miracles about which Paschal wrote “miracles are there not to make us to believe but stop us from believing”?. In order to get the clear vision of them, in order to be surprised by them, the reader first of all, must remove the ‘God’ tag from Jesus. If the ‘God’ Jesus is doing those miracles what is there in it to be surprised? Miracles are not extraordinary nature of God but natural. But the reader who meets the Jesus the man, doing those miracles will be at awe and he will ask “How could he do it?”, “How those five breads turned into thousands of loaves at his hands? These will take the reader to the real source of the miracles, sympathy, that heaven encompassing compassion of Jesus and in turn the reader will know that the miracles are not prerogatives of Jesus but of everyone who believes in him. Everyone who believes in Jesus must do those miracles, must multiply the breads. With a saturated heart the reader will recognize that when his mother fed him and his brotheren with a small income which their father brought in, she was doing a miracle with her half filled stomach, she was participating in the multiplication miracle of Jesus.
Interpreters also dig deep into the stories of Jesus believing that the truth of them lies somewhere underneath. Truth lies in the appearance, periphery. Heidegger knows it very well to say “Truth is to walk on peripheries” It is easy to believe in a facts but difficult to believe in stories. Jesus, the sublime storyteller, invites the reader to believe in stories and continue his or her accounts, the itineraries of reading. It is the narrative quality of experience. It is those stories which enable the reader to ask questions to the stories: “what a landowner, in effect, would be so foolish as to send his son after his servants had been killed?” In the end the reader will come to know that all the stories of Jesus signifies the destiny of the one who tells the parable and whose life is told by the Gospel. The Kingdom of God is not what parable tells us but what happens to the parables.
Not any interpreter but only a literary genius of Ben Okri could say, “The greatest miracles Jesus did where he stories”. Jesus is bigger than any truth, dogma, fact because he is a story in which impended all the stories told and all the stories to be told.