“To confess that one is a listener is from the very beginning to break with the project dear to many, and even perhaps all, philosophers: to begin discourse without any presuppositions. . . . Yet, it is in terms of one certain presupposition that I stand in the position of a listener to Christian preaching: I assume that this speaking is meaningful, that it is worthy of consideration, and that examining it may accompany and guide the transfer from the text to life where it will verify itself fully.
“Can I account for this presupposition? Alas, I stumble already. I do not know how to sort out what is here ‘unravelable’ situation, uncriticized custom, deliberate preference, or profound unchosen choice. . . . But if what I presuppose precedes everything I can choose to think about, how do I avoid the famous circle of believing in order to understand and understanding in order to believe? I do not seek to avoid it. I boldly stay within this circle, in the hope that, through the transfer from text to life, what I have risked will be returned a hundredfold as an increase in comprehension, valor, and joy.”
Paul Ricoeur, “Naming God,” 215.
Paul Ricoeur was a student of Gabriel Marcel, who translated Husserl. He began to note problems with phenomenology, one of which he describes below:
“We have a direct language to say purpose, motive, and ‘I can,’ but we speak of evil by means of metaphors. . . . It seemed, therefore, that a direct reflection on oneself could not go very far without undertaking a roundabout way, the detour of a hermeneutic of these symbols. I had to introduce a hermeneutic dimension within the structure of reflective thought itself.”
Paul Ricoeur, Fallible Man, trans. Charles Kelbley (Chicago: Henry Regnery, 1967), pp. xvii-xix
The article sampled below from James K.A. Smith is worth reading. He is critiquing Alan Jacobs’s “Just-so Stories.” I have a stake in this debate especially because the proposed topic of my PhD research has to do with Ricoeur and “story.” I have to say, I think that this article is a good example of why philosophy is so necessary. As much as I have enjoyed reading Alan Jacobs over the years, I’ve also been maddened by his reasoning at many points, especially his book The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction. (I’ve expressed some of my frustration here: GoodReads Review)
“Story” seems to be the new black. Or the new magic. Or maybe the new black magic.
This is Alan Jacobs’ concern in his recent Books & Culture essay, “Just-So Stories.” His primary target is the “just-so” stories about “story” that are now the darling of “evocriticism”–those (allegedly scientific) accounts that “explain” the power of “story” by explaining them away in terms of reproductive fitness and evolutionary adaptation. According to these sorts of just-so stories,”story” is important because it teaches us empathy, or trains us to have a theory of other minds, or equips us to be able to make predictions–all of which enable members of the species to avoid getting killed and thus find the time to reproduce. Jacobs’ rightly targets and questions such accounts. (I would also recommend Jonathan Kramnick’s essay, “Against Literary Darwinism,” as well as the follow-up symposium in Critical Inquiry (Winter 2012).
But Jacobs’ argument gets a little fuzzier when he turns his critical attention to those Christians who have turned “story” into a bit of a cottage industry. (And I suppose I felt myself a bit of a target here, given the centrality of story for my argument about “how worship works” in Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works.) So I’d like to extend the conversation a bit, on just this point, precisely because I think Jacobs raises important questions and advances the conversation.