Gay Christian Geek writes about reading, authorial intent, and whether there are limits to what can be read into a text:
I don’t like telling people what they can and can’t do with texts. Of course you can do any of those things. You have a find and replace function in your word processing software. And I take a First Amendment approach to reading texts – I believe you have the right to read any way you want to. I also believe that everyone in the entire world has the right to tell you that your “Get thee to a ham sandwich” reading of Hamlet is utterly ridiculous.
But you know what? You don’t have to listen to the entire world. If you find more meaning in “Get thee to a ham sandwich” than in “Get thee to a nunnery”, you can do that to Hamlet. Really. It’s called fanfiction.
I’ll note that we’ve frequently discussed the dangers of reading things into the text (eisegesis) rather than reading what is actually in the text (exegesis) in my scripture studies classes. Of course, sacred scripture is different from other texts because it is held to be authoritative. But moving on,
At its best, fanfiction is a glorious corrective, an enactment of what-might-have-been. “Get thee to a ham sandwich” is a flippant example, but there are countless examples of people rewriting texts that spoke to them, and making them speak better.
This is a really interesting take on fanfiction. I’ve actually not written any SF fanfic, but I realized a few years ago that a number of the poems I’ve written on religious themes are, essentially, fanfic on the Bible! (Which was a very cool realization to come to.)
What I was doing with these poems was consciously and deliberately playing with the texts of Christianity. Exploring other possibilities, enhancing or emphasizing other directions, filling in what maybe happened off the borders of the text we have, or what might have happened differently.
I’ve been told that the Jewish practice of midrash is very much like this: that a midrash is an exploration or a development or an extension of a received story in a way that clarifies or enhances or extends something that is authentically in the original story, even if only embryonically.
That is, I think there are limits to the liberties which a midrash would take with the original text: I don’t think “rewriting” it would qualify. But again, this is because of the authority that the sacred texts are understood to have: rewriting a text to make it speak better to you is akin to remaking the text in your own image. The reason we are warned against doing that in our scripture classes is that we are supposed to be re-made in the image of God, not the other way around.
But there are contexts in which there’s a case to be made that there are some scriptural texts — particularly the “texts of terror” that have been used violently against certain kinds of people — which we should not allow to shape us; some would argue they should simply be repudiated. I wonder if those texts could be rewritten to “make them speak better.”
And now that I think about it, isn’t this part of what preaching is all about? The preached word doesn’t just reiterate the elements of the story: it breaks them open and re-tells them in ways that connect with the hearts of the gathered church.
Hmm, preaching as fanfiction… I’ll have to find a homiletics prof to ask about that…!