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Rhetoric, Power and Community: An Exercise in Reserve.

Jasper directs the Centre for the Study of Literature and Theology and edits the journal Literature and Theology. Given his focus on literature, the term "rhetoric" in the title of this loosely-knit collection of essays owes more to its use in literary criticism than to the classical rhetorical tradition.

The book both celebrates and critiques the playful, deceptive power of persuasive language. As a postmodernist, J. enjoys the ironical gaming of Derrida and Fish, and the nihilistic critiques offered by Bataille and Baudrillard. His first chapter offers an appreciation of "Nietzschean Hilarity," while later chapters promote Bakhtin's distrust of vertical models of authority and Kundera's celebration of the decentering power of the novel. But sometimes J. sides with Plato's critique of rhetoric. In particular, he is profoundly distrustful of persuasive language when employed in the service of the Church. Whether the text in question is Mark's Gospel or Paul's Letters, Cranmer's liturgy or the Book of Genesis, J. sees primarily authoritarianism, manipulation, and violence--all deceptively masked as persuasion. Similar (though much briefer) criticisms are directed at von Balthasar, Hopkins, Lonergan, and Newman.

J. recognizes that a theology transfigured by rhetorical theory can no longer make universal truth claims. Yet he consistently faults theologians for being deceptive, illogical, or irrational -- thereby implying the existence of universal canons of truth, logic, and reason. The decision to forgo such universalism is deemed by J. to be a fault among theologians (because it coerces people into submission and conformity), but is celebrated among literary theorists, since the ironic nature of postmodern literary theory makes it inherently unstable and destablizing. Unfortunately, J. explores neither the self-critical, prophetic elements in Christianity, nor the amazingly coercive, self-perpetuating features of the postmodern academy.
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Author:Cunnigham, David S.
Publication:Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Hans Urs von Balthasar.
Next Article:The Christian Sacrament.

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