Thursday, February 23, 2006

Lactantius and the Importance of Context

The following paragraphs will outline and distinguish five assorted levels of context. For the sake of discussion, one may think of context in terms of that which frames a text or discourse.[1] The term “context” essentially is tantamount to situational relevance; it ultimately denotes “the total environment in which a text [or discourse] unfolds.”[2] The signifier etymologically derives from the Latin contextus, which may refer to a “joining together” or the human act of interweaving.[3] Barry Sandywell analyzes “context” in terms of five levels: (1) internal contexts; (2) problematic contexts; (3) cotextuality; (4) intertextuality; (5) cultural contexts.[4] Of course, these respective taxonomies do not exhaust the manifold aspects of situational relevance. Nevertheless, as this study progresses, familiarity with these distinct levels of context will prove to be indispensable. Therefore, it is necessary to discriminate between the five aforementioned contextual categories.

(1) Sandywell associates internal contexts with grammatical, semantic and stylistic textual structures, which necessarily encompass analogical or metaphorical speech-acts in theoretical or non-theoretical settings. Internal contexts pertain to the mechanics of language or discourse. They make it possible for communicative discourse to obtain.[5]

(2) The terminology “problematic contexts” describes the act of relating a text to questions that the text either replies to or ignores.[6] For example, queries that were relevant during the Pre-Socratic period and that are reflected in texts or fragments from that era later became irrelevant or less pressing in the fourth century BCE discourse universe of Athens. Distinct problematics obtain in particular milieus; social circumstances, cultural exigencies or Zeitgeister thus evidently determine the material content of noetic problemata. That is the reason why Lactantius concerned himself with specific problems of a theological nature. His social and ecclesiastical Sitz-im-Leben informed the questions one finds treated in the Lactantian corpus.

(3) Cotextuality[7] signifies the literary surroundings (e.g. sentences, paragraphs, chapters and sections) of a given text or discourse; the cotext putatively allows a reader to reconstruct (as opposed to deconstruct) a text.[8] (4) Conversely, intertextuality entails the consideration of disparate texts that bear on discourse units being analyzed. One may classify intertextual influences in terms of “internal” and “external” types, which means that texts relating to a given unit of discourse may consist of those written by the same author (internal) or texts arranged by heterogeneous communicative agents (external).[9]

(5) Finally, cultural contexts encompass the socio-religious and political conditions of a text. They include “the wider, extra-discursive social, institutional, and communicative settings of speech and writing.”[10] As mentioned heretofore, these five diverse levels of context will play a significant role in the present study.

[1] See Alessandro Duranti and Charles Goodwin (ed.), Rethinking Context: Language as an Interactive Phenomenon (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 3.

[2] M. L. K. Halliday and Ruqaiya Hassan, Language, Context and Text: Aspects of Language in a Social-Semiotic Perspective (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 5.

[3] Duranti and Goodwin, 3.

[4] See Presocratic Reflexivity: The Construction of Philosophical Discourse c. 600-450 BC (London and New York: Routledge, 1996), 30.

[5] Ibid. 30; Swinburne, Revelation, 64-65.

[6] Sandywell, Presocratic Reflexivity, 30.

[7] DA Black, Linguistics and NT Interpretation, 116; Yule, Study of Language.

[8] See DA Black.

[9] See DA Black, Linguistics and NT Interpretation, 116.

[10] Sandywell, Presocratic Reflexivity, 30.

No comments: