Submitted by syntaxfactory on January 11, 2013 - 11:28am
There has been a recent discussion of a QJS article on the Religious Communication Association listserv. I paste the messages, anonymously, below, so you can see something of the tenor. I want to be very clear: the initial conversation is not an attack, but a genuine questioning, as I read it.
Colleagues and friends,
I am writing to the RCA list serve as I feel compelled to ask a question about a journal article but am not sure of what venue to use.
I just received my November 2012 issue of Quarterly Journal of Speech and read the lead article "Maranatha" by Joshua Gunn. I was wondering if anyone else has read it yet and what your thoughts are.
I am not sure how I feel. As a person of faith I am uncomfortable with the title (Maranatha being Greek for "come quickly Lord Jesus" referring to the Second Coming) and the focus of the article being about pornographic "money" shots. (The article uses a more vulgar term I don't care to use).
Also, as a scholar, I am discouraged to see that this is what the scholarship in our discipline has become.
Have I missed something in the recent evolution of scholarship? Am I not getting something in the article?
I was just left very numb after reading the article feeling "what is the point of this?" I admit I am not an "on top of things" postmodern scholar, but is this what we can expect to see published in the future?
If you have read the article and have some ideas or thoughts, I am open to a dialogue. I don't get many things, so can someone enlighten me or does anyone else agree with me???
I would love to hear from so many of you whom I respect so much. Help!!! :-)
Thanks for opening up a discussion of Gunn’s recent article in QJS. I have a couple different responses to your inquiry, in particular when you ask “what’s the point” of the piece. However I want to first ask if you can contextualize your initial thoughts a bit more. You make it very clear that the article left you “numb” and that you “are discouraged to see that this is what the scholarship in our discipline has become.” I’m struck by what sounds like your complete rejection of another scholar’s thoughtful (if not at points blunt) reading of a popular text, but I don’t want to let this first impression cloud what I’m sure are legitimate concerns on your part, especially as you identify as a person of faith.
In other words, I’m wondering if you can say a bit more about what specifically troubles you about the article. On the one hand it sounds like you are troubled by the subject of the piece, which is a rhetorical reading of what the author views as a film built around the conventions of pornographic texts? Or are you troubled by the author himself, more specifically his methodology or hermeneutic lens? Or is it some combination of both? Or, are you just offended by the author’s use of pornography jargon that I (like you) feel no need to replicate here? To add one more question to the mix, is your identity as a person of faith part of what is leading you to reject this article?—do you think this is going too far, in other words, for what counts as a legitimate and productive contribution to scholarship focused on rhetoric and religion?
Because I don’t know the answer to any of the above questions, what I offer here is simply a baseline response to your initial criticism. While I’ve never met Gunn personally, I’m familiar with his work and I believe he is a smart scholar, and—perhaps for some of the reasons that you dismiss this piece in question—he’s a scholar who generally pushes against various boundaries in ways that encourage us to think rhetorically about the world around us.
So what is the value of this article? For me, its value is twofold. First, it is a new contribution to generic scholarship, especially to scholarship that interrogates genre in dynamic terms as both a kind of representational form that gets replicated via specific cultural practices and as a kind of affective response that (much like Paul Connerton’s idea of “incorporating practices”) feeds genre conventions through what amounts to a symbiotic, rhetorical exchange of sorts. Second, Gunn picks a popular text through which to think about this rhetorical exchange, one that has influenced and informed a large swath of religious believers, especially Christians. While Gunn doesn’t mention it in this article, Gibson’s film wasn’t just another summer blockbuster hit that a bunch of Christians went to see; from the very beginning it was trumpeted by evangelicals as a film that delivered a sacred experience. When it was released I was living in Charleston, SC and attending a non-denominational “mega” church. That church rented out an entire theater complex and sold/gave away tickets to the premiere. Before the release, the pastors had a sermon series built around not just the Passion story, but Gibson’s Passion story in particular. I even remember one sermon in which the pastor couched congregants about the affective responses they will/should feel. Finally, before each showing of the film, a pastor stood up and prayed for the audience.
Gunn’s article helps me better understand all of this hype and how/why evangelicals championed Gibson’s film to the extent that they did. I’ve always considered the film a kind of pornography, but Gunn helps us contextualize its pornographic conventions by situating within genre theory. Yes, I am startled a bit by the graphic terminology and descriptions Gunn utilizes at points, but I don’t think I’d be off base by suggesting that’s the point. He’s using the very language that, when displayed in a way that uncovers the mechanical workings of pornography, takes all the pleasure away from the object of our gaze—in this case the graphic violence depicted in Gibson’s film.
That’s my initial take, that is. I’d love to hear others.