Writing: Death of the Author (Part 2)

Click here to read Part 1

Wondering why there is a part 2? Because I think this actually goes beyond merely literary critique. Let’s take an example:

The Bible.

One of the big areas I see this is around homosexuality. And it makes me see a little cross-eyed because every verse that gets brought up is brought up either without the cultural context of the time it was written and/or the linguistic context.

I’m not going to break down all the verses (there are 6 and you can Google it for yourself). But when people talk about Sodom and Gomorrah they always talk about man-on-man sex. It ignores the custom that when you feed someone in your house (as Lot did), in that culture – you have taken on a responsibility to protect them.

This is huge. I would compare it to spitting in someone’s face in today’s world. It is such a taboo you’ve probably never seriously considered it except as an act of extremity – to not defend these guests would have been at least as socially grievous. And when S & G are mentioned later – it isn’t the sex that gets cited as their sin. It’s the selfishness, the cruelty, and the greed.

Talking about idol worship and prostitution in the Bible without talking about how other cultures in the region handled worship around the Jews – including temple prostitutes – you can’t read how the prophets extolled the people of Israel and how Jesus, Peter, Paul, and the other early Christians wrote to their followers without that. It’s like talking about critical judgement and emotional intelligence to someone who had 3/4ths of their prefrontal cortex lobotomized.

The same goes when I read Supreme Court cases. You can’t look at Supreme Court cases without looking at precedence (it’s like actually the way the law works) and the context. Context changes. From passing amendments (ie when the 13th and 14th amendments passed) to technology (the introduction of movies & tv impacted copyright) – context matters.

When you look at decisions like the 1986 death penalty case called McCleskey v. Kemp you can see the importance of context – the courts utterly ignored the statistics that black criminals are significantly more likely to be given death sentences than white criminals – and this precedence still holds (as far as I can tell). I mean, they wrote “At most, the Baldus study indicates a discrepancy that appears to correlate with race, but this discrepancy does not constitute a major systemic defect ” (Syllabus 3.C). FYI – the Baldus study showed in 1983 that “black defendants convicted of killing white victims were more likely to receive the death penalty than any other racial combination of defendant and victim” (Here is an overview where I quoted from- here is the PDF of the study)

So when people try to talk about politics and they pull on sources like the Bible or SCOTUS without the context of when it was written and who the audience is/was…. I lose all perspective on their argument because the perspective of their argument is flat – it isn’t a 3 dimensional argument, I have trouble accepting it as a scribbled out napkin argument.

Yes, looking at the context is harder. Looking at the rise of James when considering Hamlet makes the play more complicated. Considering suffragette marches when reading Herland makes it a different kind of story. But it also makes it all more interesting.