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3858Re: [John_Lit] Re: The purpose of "critical exposition or interpretation"

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  • Bob Schacht
    Dec 2, 2003
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      At 07:38 AM 12/2/2003 +0000, you wrote:
      >Greetings Bob,
      >Just a few short responses to your latest remarks, though I feel
      >we're reaching the point of diminishing returns. At the outset, a
      >kind of exegesis (:-) on your opening paragraph, which begins:
      > > It cannot be true that only etic categories have definitions.
      >Since I don't recognize this either to be the claim I was making,
      >or to be derivable from it, when I wrote:
      > > To my way of thinking, [exegesis] is (or ought to be) -emic,
      > > [definition] -etic.
      >... the task for me was to try to figure out why you would think I
      >was claiming something that I agree "cannot be true". The key turned
      >out to be the phrase 'of course' in your next sentence:

      I don't think that the key is in my sentence; I think the key is in what
      you wrote. To provide the full quote, you wrote:
      >There seems to be an unappreciated difference here between exegesis
      >and definition. To my way of thinking, the former is (or ought to
      >be) -emic, the latter -etic.

      It seems quite clear from this that you think definitions should be "etic",
      and since you do not qualify definitions in any way, it is only reasonable
      to conclude that you think *all* definitions should be etic, whether the
      thing being defined is an emic or etic category.

      > > Emic categories must also have definitions, but of course they
      > > will be in emic terms.
      >The "of course" here gives away the presence of a presupposition,
      >viz. that an etic word or concept must be defined etically, and an
      >emic word or concept, emically.

      This is the natural conclusion to the work you yourself cited, i.e., that
      >...The purpose of "critical exposition or interpretation" ... is to
      >explain what the author meant.

      It seems to me that this entails entering into the author's thought system
      (whether the author is a first century Christian, or a 21st century
      critical scholar). We perhaps differ in that I think the type of
      "explanation" called for in your citation would be an explanation with
      which the author would agree. This is different from what you think the
      author should have meant, if he had only been half as clever as you.
      Therefore, if the author is writing emically, then the explanation should
      be emic, i.e., within the author's own explanatory understandings.
      Similarly, if the author is writing etically, then the explanation should
      be in etic terms, i.e., again within the author's own frame of reference.

      >This would explain why it was that
      >when I suggested that definitions should be etic, you understood
      >that to be a claim that only _etic_ words/concepts can be defined.
      >(On your presupposition, emic words can only be defined emically,
      >hence if definitions are etic, emic words can't be defined at all,
      >which is absurd of course.) As it happens, however, I don't share
      >that presupposition. In fact, it seems fairly easy to show that
      >it's not the case.

      I'm glad you've convinced yourself of this; no need to convince me.

      >... Etic definitions of their
      >emic terms, on the other hand, might be constructed by either non-
      >Tortoisists, or by anyone who wanted to avoid presupposing the
      >belief system of the Tortoisists - including perhaps sociologists,
      >anthropologists, historians of religions, etc.. So I would not at
      >all agree that "of course" emic "categories" must be defined in
      >emic terms. But I would modify my original statement to read that
      >critical scholarship calls for etic definitions of emic terms.

      OK, I've got no problem with that at all.

      >...BTW, since which is which between 'emic' and 'etic' isn't easy to
      >remember, and since they're deadly-dull words anyway, how about
      >something more stimulating and mnemonically helpful?

      Mercy me. Are you asking me to stop being so academic, and to write in
      plain English?
      Deadly dull? Doesn't that describe about 90 % of critical scholarship? What
      makes it seem deadly dull is that it is precise, and academics are taught
      to take pains to not overstate their case, so that academic prose is
      cluttered with "maybes" and "perhaps" and "ordinarily". Furthermore,
      academics are taught that it is bad to become too personally involved with
      their work, so that simple declarative sentences involving first person
      pronouns are re-written in the passive tense.

      The terms "etic" and "emic" were designed, in fact, to be mnemonically
      helpful. They were originally coined by the linguist Kenneth Pike on
      analogy with the difference between phonemics and phonetics, so he was of
      course assuming an audience that was familiar with those terms. The terms
      then got seized upon by anthropologists, especially Marvin Harris (who,
      BTW, was NOT deadly dull).

      >vs. "global"? "parochial" vs. "universal"? "object-language"
      >vs. "metalanguage"? Any of these strike you as acceptable subs?

      Well, if we're shooting for conceptual utility and accuracy, without
      pejoratives, as an anthropologist I'd rather stick with emic and etic.
      However, among the terms you suggest, local vs. global, and parochial vs
      universal both have too much in the way of pejorative overtones.
      "Object-language" vs. "metalanguage" is probably a better (more neutral)
      duality, but I fail to see that they are less "deadly dull" than emic and
      etic. Some people confuse "emic" with "subjective" and "etic" with
      "objective", but that's really not a good equation because emic is meant to
      refer to a community of speakers, whereas "subjective" is meant to refer to
      a personal condition.

      So actually, I think the terms emic and etic are quite appropriate and
      useful. Sorry,

      Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
      Northern Arizona University
      Flagstaff, AZ

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