Peter Leithart has recently published an article in the Scottish Journal of Theology (Vol 6, Num. 4) on intertextuality and biblical hermeneutics. He uses the example of jokes to serve as a paradigm for affirming both the porous nature of texts and the authenticity of a correct “sense” to them. They do have a meaning, a real meaning.
Leithart kicks the whole article off with a joke about sundry characters walking into a bar, and he then proceeds to wax eloquent on the movie Shrek. While he’s distracted the reader with laughter, he dives into Vanhoozer, Searle, Fish, and Culler. While admittedly not understanding 20% of this article, I can still tell you it is good stuff.
Some helpful bits:
Indeed, the fact that the sentence is intersected by and intersects other sentences and facts is precisely what enables the author to intend to mean in the first place. A text without pores, a text with impermeable boundaries, would be incapable of communicating anything. (pg. 422)
And I especially like:
First, humour is often unintended, and an analysis of unintentional humour might provide a perspective for examining how textual meaning can exceed authorial intention… Prior to the coming of Jesus, Matthew probably did not think that Hosea 11:1 was meant to describe Jesus, and neither did Hosea. Yet, in light of Christ’s coming, a new meaning is disclosed. Now, any reader who does not read Hosea 11:1 with reference to Christ doesn’t get it…
Second, if texts function like jokes, then interpretation depends on the interpreter having something analogous to a good sense of humour. This model of hermeneutics thus challenges any strictly “procedural” hermeneutics, and emphasises instead the character of the interpreter. What can you do with someone who has no sense of humour? Analysis and teaching might improve things marginally, but his main problem is not a technical but a spiritual one: A man without a sense of humour suffers from a contracted soul, and the only real solution is conversion. Similarly, interpretative skills can be taught and improved, but only the glad of heart make good interpreters (423-424).
That conclusion is at least experentialy true. Haven’t you noticed that the more rationalistic a person is, the less creative he is? He often doesn’t get the jokes. He doesn’t see the larger picture. In fact, he’s suspicious at the mere suggestion of it.
When have you ever met a nice hyper-Calvinist? Never, that’s when.