The semester is ready to begin at Earlham School of Religion and I am again welcoming the combination of the intellectual, creative and spiritual that the school offers as I prepare for classes in Bible and Christian history, writing and spiritual formation. I have never attended a school quite like this and find the synergy exciting and energizing.
I have stumbled across the Dutch thinker Mieke Bal, who I vaguely remembered as an art history critic who wrote an essay I once read about Vermeer and the navel. She's also a specialist in narratology and has written a book about women in the Bible called Lethal Love. The book is old, dating to the late 1980s, I believe, but I am playing catch-up. Bal is "out there"--and I don't agree with her reading of the Adam and Eve story-- but it is precisely her challenge to everyday thinking that I find stimulating and provocative.
A quote from her chapter in Lethal Love on Eve speaks to my heart (and, as I realize she theorizes about "quotation," I recognize that I am re-contextualizing her):
The alternative readings I will propose should not be considered as yet another, superior interpretation that overthrows all the others. My goal is rather to show, by the sheer possibility of a different reading, that "dominance" is, although present and in many ways obnoxious, not unproblematically established. It is the challenge rather than the winning that interests me. For it is not the sexist interpretation of the Bible as such that bothers me. It is the possibility of dominance itself, the attractiveness of coherence and authority in culture, that I see as the source, rather than the consequence, of sexism.
What do you think? I love the idea of a space of equality and integrity, for the play of ideas without a "winner;" I fear the "too neat" package (why I am ever railing against formulations such as "religions are different paths up the same mountain"); I also fear (as do Bal, and Derrida, whom she is reacting to) a mindless chaos, an anything-goes individualism, a Tea partyism gone off the deep end.