Wednesday, March 21, 2007

I hope I don't vanish into thin air

I'm not going to ask for a show of hands, who else practically memorized that great time-travel epic of the mid-80s, Back to the Future. (Sorry--my viewing options were limited.) I've always been kind of opinionated about time travel themes. I'm not sure what I think now, but for a long time, being the good Calvinist that I was, I unquestioningly objected to the premise that a person could travel back in time and change the past so that the present came out different. The sequence of time was a done deal--certainly in the future, and how much more in the past. I therefore considered Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure to be more realistic (I'll pause for a moment so you can get back up off the floor, wipe away the tears, catch your breath . . OK, on we go), because the effects of their time travel were evident before they ever realized such a thing would happen.

Anyway, this metaphor is getting out of hand, so let me bring it back to the point. In Back to the Future, the main character Marty finds himself slowly vanishing, because his interference in the past is preventing his parents from falling in love, getting married, and eventually having kids. There are other, similar theories about the effects of time travel. If you meet yourself in the past, such that you as an individual are simultaneously present in two manifestations, you will self-destruct, or the space-time continuum will collapse, or who knows what other dire consequences. These ideas make for sometimes interesting plot devices--just don't spend too much time thinking about them.

What does all of this have to do with anything? Well, Roland's recent project of posting older writings on his blog has teamed up with a brief trip through my own archives to suggest something similarly spooky. I'm going to debate my former self--specifically, my Evangelical seminary student self from about ten years ago. Actually, "debate" is too strong a word (that would be just a bit insane, wouldn't it?)--maybe "critique" is better. The very idea raises an interesting hermeneutical complexity. I've often said that one of the problems with interpreting an ancient text like one finds in Scripture is that the author (from a human standpoint) is no longer available for comment. It becomes very one-sided when it's just the modern interpreter interacting with a text. (This is, I would say, a major problem with the whole idea of sola scriptura.) But what happens when the interpreter is the author, but is coming from a decidedly different frame of reference? Can we say that the author of a text is never truly available from the moment that the text is finished, because he is, however subtly, a different person?

OK, my head hurts. Enough meta-critique; let's just get down to the thing itself. I make no promises that it will be at all interesting.

No comments: