Found essay from 1988, when I was immersed in the academic study of religion. This was not the only tool in the toolbox, of course, but it’s funny for me to see the way I thought about things from that perspective. It was during my first year of graduate school, and I always tried to find something of value in everything I read, always tried to rescue something from a text even if I disagreed with many of its points. I was struggling to situate my thoughts in a context that was still very strange to me. There are a couple of good bits but it’s hilarious how ungrounded this really was, and how I floundered with the idea of understanding itself. It’s also interesting the way I sidestepped the issues of gender, race, class, and even geography. Still, there’s something from that time that does live on in me. I was perhaps kinder then, and more curious.
Scientific methodology in the human sciences, including the study of religion, is shaped by a scientific ideal that excludes the observer from that which is observed. The use of objective methodological tools to analyze and control key texts places the interpreter above the realm of the examined. The participatory aspect of humanity and tradition is often not taken into account, and so a dead representation of the original meaning, wrenched from its rightful place, is transmitted in a rehashed form inappropriate to the experience of the time. Gadamer, in Truth and Method, outlines an ontological shift which seeks the reintegration of “belongingness” as a way to vitalize and reunify the truth obscured by the alienating “distanciation” of method.
“Effective-historical consciousness” allows us to recognize our present reality as part of a tradition that cannot be done away with. We cannot wish it away (although we may sometimes ignore it and assume an ivory-tower stance). We stand in a context in which we pose questions of a text that may have contributed to the context in which we are standing to ask the question. The sphere of understanding shown within texts from the past (or even of a different and contemporary community) has a different “horizon” from the one in which we are asking questions. Likewise, professors in an academic context provide the shape (to some extent) of the horizons of students and other colleagues. The interpreter, through a creative and responsible interpretation of texts, opens new horizons yet becomes part of a particular tradition.
A historical and reflexive consciousness is particularly appropriate for scholars who study religious and philosophical works, which have shaped the academic world in which we find ourselves. Individually, we play with academic traditions and we are played by them, but we must also find common ground to discuss the “something” called religion if we are to consider ourselves as composing a distinct discipline within a pluralistic society. An examination along the lines of methods and theories in the study of religion is one way to explore the ways discussion is currently proceeding.
In the study of religion, we consider important cultural texts, language captured by signs called words, wholly abstracted from a particular place and time and let loose on the world. If the text speaks in such a way as to expand the current horizons of the individual reader, it also speaks dialectically to and through the interpreter in the form of a dialogue of question and answer. The text may become (or may already be) part of a human tradition, and it may shape the questions and answers of the future in ways that were never intended by the author. Hermeneutics seeks to retain the unity of the original meaning while letting the text speak to the current constellations of meaning. The text has the possibility of becoming a hermeneutic event at any time, and–if it is published–for anyone who cares to read it. In addition, the text may have the power to shape the world view of a community.
Gadamer is often perceived as a conservative because his emphasis seems to assume the rightful authority of a present tradition. He is, after all, playing with and being played by his own context, which may be a privileged one. If the tradition of which Gadamer speaks must necessarily be limited to being for and about only a small portion of the human population (as critical theory would have it), then it is possible to see flaws in his philosophical-hermeneutical thought. However, if one applies Gadamer’s insights to Gadamer’s own work, it is possible to argue that his emphasis on a certain type of Western tradition (in which he lives, and must speak from) is not fundamental to his understanding of being and knowing. Rather, his hermeneutic approach is part of its own historical dialogue and opens the doors to a better understanding of our present consciousness.
In questioning institutional authority, one takes a stance against a certain type of prejudice as it is expressed by power, but to do so necessarily expresses another in relation to the opposed viewpoint. Gadamer may be a bit idealistic in presenting dialogue as a universal possibility–as though all sides would sit down amicably, discuss political ideology, agree on a plan of action, and peacefully change the world. However, one cannot criticize effectively without coming to a dialogic understanding of the claims being presented. To put this another way, you have to grok it somehow to be able to translate it at all into another context, even if it’s to critique the claim.
Without the language of experience expressed in the claims of the oppressed, critical theory could not exist. The interpreter of culture permits the subject matter to have its way, without losing a sense of hermeneutic validity. The claim of the text or artwork must be allowed to score its own points, and the interpreter tries to become as conscious as possible about how their own pre-understandings may be obscuring or cloaking their interpretation. Pulling in every kind of approach you can – existential, poetic, etymological, sociological – within and outside the text brings better questions to ask. Empathetic common ground, then interrogation. Gadamer does not go so far. He does reinscribe, so that his welcome is slightly cyborgian.
It is impossible to avoid the historical context; history and understanding proceed onwards and around–together. Gadamer’s reflective moment is in a continual dance with the historical one. Creativity and imagination are born of language that has its home in a particular place. Although Gadamer phenomenologically links authority, prejudice, and tradition, his elucidation of the interaction of these terms attempts to rehabilitate these terms from their negative connotations. Each individual voice–in becoming itself–decides what “authority” means before, through, and as one speaks in language in which we “articulate the experience of the world in so far as we are in agreement.”
The dismantling of barriers to understanding can be accomplished only through language based on hermeneutical experience. Social criticism and more importantly, cultural understanding, would only be supported by full and complete interpretations of key texts through an open (but careful) dialogue with them. Hermeneutic approaches encourage bridges of understanding in our pluralistic society by encouraging the voice of the alien, the voice of a stranger in our strange land, to become in some sense “at home.”
Situating human consciousness is a continuous dialogue that rests on an event of understanding that places the experience and the interpreter/participant within an interstructural world of language. The hermeneutical event is as much an ordeal as a subject for study. Religious thinkers and writers and artists deal with precisely these issues. The interpreter of art, culture, psychology, and religion must seek the self in the alien and become at home there, partaking of another worldview, which in turn informs a changed self, one that has reshaped its presuppositions, in order to begin to translate those claims into the continuing dialogue outside the self. This is the hermeneutical circle. Without a dialogue (language) based on both methodological approaches and grounds and subjects for discussion, no community of scholars could exist.
Careful attention to language is a way to create a keen understanding of this community. Whether it is specialized branch of academic study, or a global community, the group or individual projects possibilities for itself and reshapes its own presuppositions continually. For instance, memory as an idea has an history of its own. The concepts of remembering, forgetting, and recalling were formed in and into traditions of common use, they were not created in a cultural vacuum. Ideas, as expressed in words such as memory, fact, truth, God, and religion have histories which cannot be ignored if the words are to be employed. In addition to the history of ideas, the individual or group who “remembers” has to learn what it means to do so at roughly the same time as he/she/they are actually remembering. If the academic study of religion–in using memory as a tool, supposing facts to be self-evident, asserting truths, and describing previous and current ideas of humanity and God–forget the subject matter at hand in the manipulation of information, then the sometimes-present spirit of technocratic professionalism has played it pretty roughly. Without a sense of the history of ideas as well as the consciousness of historical dialogue, each scholar’s work can only become disconnected and airy, narcissistic and atemporal, leaving out too much of the lived experience and realities that can’t bow down to universal claims.
It is because scholars of religion must themselves wrestle with the “big” questions, (i.e., what it means to be human, how meaning and ultimate concerns are constructed and why) that they can be at all qualified to examine how others did and do so. Imagination and good scholarship, like a good poem, suppose a common ground, that of language as experience. When the history of the reception of ideas and their effects begins to obscure the claim of the idea, it is the scholar’s job to reconstruct what went wrong and present a new interpretation with the integrity appropriate to serious discussion.
The finitude of understanding is never overcome, but students of religion can re-perform or re-tell insights to give them better light. It is an art to learn to take a claim seriously and to restructure your presuppositions based on a recognition of the truth of that claim. It is not an art that is commonly taught, but it is an art indispensable to the study of religion. The opposition inherent in an exploration of the alien, especially as regards the normative claims made in religious texts, requires a way to create bonds that become productive and constructive of new meaning that better “speaks” to an audience that can be very culturally removed from an original text. Hermeneutic understanding does not stipulate the end of imaginative endeavors in the interest of consensus. Rather, it is a way to bring some measure of consensus of meaning into scholarship, despite its ever-incompleteness.
Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method
Paul Ricoeur, Hermeneutics and the Social Sciences
For the second time in two months, I’ve had to spend time with an AT&T customer service representative. It’s still not sorted out. You have structural issues. This time, I did it all in text. Observe, exhibit A (slightly altered for privacy):
Thank you for choosing AT&T. A representative will be with you shortly.
You are now chatting with S.
S: Hello my name is S. Thank you for allowing me to be your specialist today. How may I assist you?
Heidi: Hey – I had a long conversation with a rep last month on the overcharges – it was supposed to have been adjusted to $200-something, but you guys auto-charged me 426.10.
S: I apologize for the inconvenience you have experienced.
S: I apologize for any inconvenience you have experienced regarding billing concern. You have reached the right person. I can help you with that!
S: Please allow me a moment, while I access your account.
Heidi: Was my conversation documented? It took a while to straighten out,.
S: I will check your notes.
Heidi: I’m supposed to be charged something like 240 a month. The current bill looks over as well, but I can’t believe after all that there was an autopay of $426 last month.
S: I am checking it.
S: Please allow me a moment, while I access your account.
S: Heidi, as I can see that your U-verse bill is correct. That is $64 plus taxes.
Heidi: Previous Balance $493.78Payment – 08/10 $426.10CRAdjustments $67.68CRBalance $0.00New Charges $285.92Amount to be Debited $285.92
Heidi: 426.10 – charged last month
Heidi: 285.92 charged this month
S: Heide, regarding the adjustment, I can help you to reach our wireless department.
S: Your inquiry requires contact with a specialist who handles billing and payment requests for wireless accounts. I apologize that I do not have access to your records to assist you in my office. Allow me a moment to connect you to a representative who will be able to assist you. In that event that you may be disconnected, please contact a representative at 1-800-xxxxxxxx or visit the wireless website at: http://www.att.com/wireless
Heidi: I am on a share plan – why is one phone costing a lot more than the other two?
Please wait while I transfer you to an operator at AT&T Wireless Customer Care.
Welcome! You are now chatting with ‘V’.
Heidi: Wow, ok. So can you read the transcript so far?
V: Heeeeey there Heidi , good evening! I will be happy to take a look at this .
V: I am going to take up the notes
Heidi: I went through this last month, and was quoted a figure of 200 something after adjustment, but my account went autopay for over 400 – and this month, it’s 285, with one phone being charged a lot more than the other two. I do not have international, and although there is no charge here, it’s on there twice for some reason. Lots of problems here and I am quite unhappy.
Heidi: I have had other things now tied up because this money was taken, despite my being told it would not.
V: I apologize for the inconvenience .
V: Let me pull up your account so we can get this taken care of.
Heidi: Last month they said it was because the changes to my account were on some kind of cusp date and it messed everything up. I thought that my time spent last month on this was going to be my last major issue.
V: Can you provide me your 10 digit phone number?
Heidi: I have a share plan – two other lines belong to my husband and son.
V: Thank you
Heidi: For some reason, mine is more expensive
V: Hey Heidi lets try to get one thing handled at a time I can assure you we will get this handled today.
Heidi: ok. I’ll give you a chance to read and examine for yourself then. 🙂
V: Thank you
V: I am in now reviewing the bill
Heidi: Look at this month, and last month.
V: Already ahead of you
V: Let me break down some things
V: One line can be any line really has to be charged for the plan plus the price of the phone . In your case it was your husband who was charged for the plan and his line and you were only charged for the price of the line.
Heidi: No – I am charged for everything.
V: Okay so your husband is the one who is charged for the line correct?
Heidi: And it’s my phone line that is more expensive, not his.
Heidi: No – I pay the bill. No one else pays the bill. We recently created a new number, along with one for my son, to take advantage of the 99 cent phones and the share plan.
Heidi: I have always been a customer.
Heidi: My husband switched companies to you.
V: Okay Heidi just a moment
Heidi: He shouldn’t be charged anything at all.
Heidi: One bill, three lines
Heidi: I pay
V: I understand completely
Heidi: It’s supposed to be about 230-240 a month total for the three lines and home wireless, provided that we do not go over the data plan, which we have not.
V: I definitely see that. I do see you are on the wrong plan as well
V: I see you can save about 20.00 by just switching to the 6gb plan.
Heidi: I am supposed to be on a share plan, allowing for 10gb
Heidi: The bill last month is wrong. At the end of my conservation, I was quoted a figure of 240 or so, then I was still charged 426.
Heidi: The woman I spoke to said she fixed everything. Clearly she did not. I gave her a good customer service survey too.
Heidi: Perhaps you have documentation of that conversation.
V: Please I am already looking at these notes please allow me a second to catch up lol I do understand how this could be a little frustrating . I am a customer too and promises are all you have as a customer
V: I can assure you I will get to the bottom of this for us today.
V: I am reading the notes now
V: I have reviewed your plan and your bill but I need you to bear with me.
Heidi: This is infuriating after having already spent time on this.
V: I need you to give me time out the kindness of your heart to get this handled for you
V: I understand completely!
V: I do see that you were credited from your wireless to your landline
V: I see that credit for 429.29
Heidi: 8/10 had a payment of 426.10
Heidi: That’s what I’m questioning first, since that was not the figure by a long shot.
Heidi: And given these continuing issues, I would like to cancel autopay.
V: No worries I can walk you through this
Heidi: I’ll need to vet the charges before the company takes the cash.
V: I understand
V: What page are you on ?
Heidi: pdf of this month’s bill for 285.92, showing a payment last month of 426.10
Heidi: and adjustment credit for only 67.68
V: Okay can you hover over Billing and usage at the top of the page?
Heidi: So I’m asking that the credit adjustment they said they already did by applied to my account. By my calculation, you owe me close to 200.
Heidi: And this month’s bill is also too high, just not by as much.
V: You were also credited 221.43 at 11:19 on 08/06
V: This was added to your landline as well.
Heidi: I don’t have a landline
V: You do have uverse correct?
Heidi: My landline was XXX-XXX-XXXX – it was cancelled a couple of months ago. My Uverse cable was also cancelled. I only have home wireless and three phones.
Heidi: cell phones
V: Okay yes combined bill correct?
V: Quick question: Have you spoke to uverse yet?
Heidi: yes – they transferred me to you
Heidi: $51.00 Total U-verse Internet Charges$51.00 Total U-verse Charges $64.49
V: Okay they have nothing on file about these credits?
Heidi: No idea, they said they didn’t have access to my record.
V: I do see these credits I am not sure why they do not but I am getting my team on it right now
Heidi: may 14 – 390, june 14-124, july 14 494, aug 14 286
V: Okay just a moment
V: While my team takes a look at this would you like to cancel your auto pay?
V: Do you see My att in the orange bar up top?
V: Hover over that and then hover over Billing and Usage
V: Select Manage Autopay
Heidi: That is not an option
Heidi: Billing/Payments/Usage, none of which with that option,.
Heidi: Bill Details, Paperless Billing, Bill History, Bill Reports / Arrange Late Payment, Payment History / Usage since last bill, usage reports
V: Okay go ahead to the overview page
Heidi: Ok – I got it. Cancelled Sept 9 payment, discontinued autopay.
V: Woot woot!
Heidi: Now we just have to figure out what the correct amount is.
V: Already ahead of please allow them a few more moments . We are investigating now
V: Thank you
V: So we have came to the conclusion that you were conversing with uverse you need to be conversing with combined billing. Your combined bill has its on ban that is why no one can see your adjustments .
Heidi: Why wouldn’t my combined bill have been updated with the adjustments to my… um… bill?
Heidi: Otherwise, what is the point of the combined bill?
V: This is something that you need to speak with our specialist about.
V: I can provide you with the number or I can conference you in .
V: Which ever works.
Heidi: Conference me in please – we need everybody on the same page. This seems to be a service gap on your side.
Heidi: My job is business process improvement in high-tech… lol
V: Okay just a moment
Heidi: Am I going to have to go through this whole story again?
V: No you can give them a brief summary of what is going on basically saying I want to see where these credits are
Heidi: It seems like the person who did the credits last month ought to be on the line for accountability to fix it.
V: I wish it was that simple.
Heidi: If it was put onto a bill that never actually credited me and isn’t on my combined bill.
Heidi: In some kind of weird silo situation.
V: Okay just a moment while I get this handled .
Heidi: Then – why am I the one having to straighten out your process?
Heidi: For the second time in two months.
V: I am giving them a call now please hold a moment
V: Thank you
Heidi: I can take direction… I’m just going to give you all that valuable customer feedback. lol
Heidi: And recommend escalating this conversation to see where these gaps can be remediated, and to ensure visibility for better decision-making at a higher level.
Heidi: This isn’t the sort of thing that should be happening to loyal customers.
V: You are totally correct
Heidi: I give my permission for the text to be escalated and communicated up any management chain you like. 🙂
V: Thank you
Heidi: Perhaps that could save hours on both sides.
Heidi: It’s really a cost-savings, efficiency measure as well as a customer satisfaction and loyalty issue. Might even affect NPS score.
Heidi: Some leader may wish to ride that wagon. One would hope so.
V: I understand
Heidi: I feel badly that you have to listen to this sort of thing and figure out how to fix it for the customer when the problem is clearly a structural one. You’re doing fine.
V: Thank you so much ! I am calling and making sure we get this handled but it seems that every department is closed right now >_< Heidi: of course! lol Heidi: And you get that most people can't call during regular business hours V: Of course it kind of but you know what I wont give up! Heidi: Thank you. V: No probs Heidi: We're just people. We just have to try to navigate as best we can given whatever constraints there are. V: You are so right! V: I do see that every department you can go to is closed 🙁 V: The best thing I can do is give you the number so you can give them a call tomorrow. V: Do you work during business hours? Heidi: Right. So... let me ask you this. Is there a way to continue the issue to tomorrow, saving the notes you have taken or whatever action is on your list so that I don't feel like this was a complete waste of my time? V: Definitley Heidi: Yes - I do. I could probably call on my lunch, but in my experience it takes longer than an hour. V: definitely V: I have already been writing these notes as we went Heidi: And whoever I'm to speak with tomorrow - will they have ACCESS to these notes? lol V: Correct Heidi: Well, thank goodness for small favors. Have you written a summary with a recommendation as a big headline at the top? Heidi: (laughing helplessly) V: Lol yes I actually did it in caps so they can see it Heidi: Too funny, but you know how that works V: Yes I sure do V: lol Heidi: Ok then, who is the proper person for me to call tomorrow, and what is the best thing to say to efficiently propel them into action? V: Just tell them to check out the notes. Here is the number XXX-XXX-XXXX Heidi: And they will know what I mean by "the notes" right? V: Yes Heidi: Ok, then. Thank you V for your efforts on my behalf. You do the company proud. V: Thank you so much ! V: Heidi, you have been a absolute pleasure to help today! On behalf of myself & your AT&T family we hope you have a amazing day. We are always here for you:) Heidi: I hope you have a great night - and thank you.
Our puppygirl Maya went into cardiac arrest on Wednesday (August 20, 2014) and even the excellent doctors at St. Francis were not able to save her. Evidently she had ingested enough of the skin cancer medication that her major organs failed. We had hoped that just the residual amount in the tube that she got into would limit the damage and give her a real chance at survival. She was young and strong.
The last time I visited with her, I got in real close and held her cool paw in my hand. She let out one of her sweet little sighs, and I’m hopeful that even under heavy sedation she might have known I was there. I can only hope that she felt comforted in some way.
We’ll have a small family remembering tomorrow after we get her ashes. We are in deep mourning.
Thank you for all the love and support during this nightmare. It has been humbling.
Now that her “forever home” takes on a different meaning, I’m remembering our first days with her. She was an extraordinary companion from the start, and we will miss her so very much.
Season’s greetings from VirusHead and her family! May your celebrations be filled with joy, peace and love.
See our JibJab video for 2013! Maca-reindeer!
I am sick of it
There’s always it about which one is sick.
Does it even really matter what the content within it might be? It is morphing, moving, ever-changing, like the ubiquitous they.
There is only the acknowledgement of the crossing of the threshold, over into the complete sickness of it, and for a while, we simply quit. Systems shut down. Whatever you can identify as some aspect of yourself – all those endless bleeding heaps of body, mind, soul, consciousness, sense, interpretation, mood, preference, style – all of these fuse in a rare moment of union at the moment when you cross that boundary condition.
Everything, everything says “that’s enough.” We – I – Us – are one! SICK of IT.
Danger, danger! Bad things could happen here. Voices: Run! Snap! Attack! But the best among the limited choices is probably – down! SLEEP!
Sometime later, we recover enough, find that we have regained the ability to navigate around again, through and despite “it.” Wordlessly – without a sound or a thought – we slipped back under that threshold. Or maybe it just backed off to regroup, waiting for another weak, dark (hormonal?) moment.
It is an ever-mutating cluster. To be able to look at the current constellation without despair or anger or fear is difficult, sometimes impossible. This is why we have spiritual heroes – because we think maybe that they can, however flawed they might be otherwise.
You might be able to subtract feelings, but what is the method to transform or add? All these years – all these studies – make me spit in disgust when IT looms. Worth nothing. Meditation, empathy, dreamtime, ritual, positive thought, body position – deflectors, not solutions. Everything seems pointless, meaningless – even hostile, murderous.
- Where is your it in the spectrum of the people you know, the people you’ve read, the people you’ve heard of?
- Do you avoid knowing about it?
- Is there any value in at least registering and recognizing it?
My it might look like small beans to one person, and as an insurmountable mountain of horror to someone else.
All that I can do anymore is either monitor the reality of the hovering it – or else lie, and perform a happy happy dance (but happiness is momentary, not like this recurring, slimy, creepy encroachment always already ready). I understand how people have projected demons. It almost has a presence of its own.
Although the emotional feeling is of something over and against me, it is mine. It can only be mine, the construct of all the current struggles, real or imagined, the ad nauseum repetitions of argument and ignorance and all the things that bring disgust and anger and hopelessness and depression and alienation and – there are too many words for this separation and conflict. Spare me any platitudes about control or self-determination, I beg of you.
- I slice it with a flaming sword.
- I blow fire and smoke at it from my dragon’s mouth.
- I try to charm it, or absorb it.
- I try to dismiss or ignore it.
How many methods can there be for continuing on despite it? I don’t have the talent or the spiritual maturity or the delusional stance that could accept it. All that really matters to me now is that I keep recovering from the sickness shutdown, that every time I cross the threshold into the infinite sickness of it, that I continue to choose shutdown, not flight or fight or self-destruction. Just isolate, nest, sleep, reboot.
IT will be better in the morning. IT will be better tomorrow. Bits of progress against IT, but then SLAM! backslide! Again, again, hope as a dream of an escaped Sisyphus. And then I look around and pray that there’s something better, in another dimension, up in space. And I understand why people cling to ideas of an afterlife.
IT is IT.
IT never becomes Thou, not ever.
IT will kill you if you turn your back. There is no “between” to construct.