Sunday, December 6, 2015

An Interview with Johnson Thomaskutty on Dialogue in the Book of Signs: Part II

Here is the second part of my interview with Johnson Thomaskutty, Dialogue in the Book of Signs. To see part I, click here.

Without further ado, on to the interview!

5. Exchange units within a dialogue are discussed at three different levels in your work. Can you discuss how these function in your reading of a dialogue and perhaps give a brief example of each? (e.g. micro-, meso-, macro-levels) 

As you rightly said, Dialogue in the Book of Signs discusses the phenomena of dialogue at three levels. First, at the micro-level, it discusses the dynamics of the individual utterances of the interlocutors and their interconnection and role, alongside the narrative, within the exchange units. Here, the study looks at how the semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic aspects integrally work together within the exchange units. ‘Exchange’ is a peculiar term I employ throughout the study in order to indicate the independent units of the episode(s). An ‘exchange’ can be identified as: (a) a self-contained unit within an episode; (b) a narrative unit that contains a dialogue either explicitly or implicitly; (c) a narrative unit that decides the plot structure; and (d) a unit of its own characteristics, i.e., setting, dramatic framework, literary unity, rhetorical features, and development. Second, at the meso-level, the current project analyzes how the exchange units work in relation to one another and how they together form the episodes. Third, at the macro-level, it describes the holistic features of the dialogue in John 1:19-12:50. At this level, the entire Book of Signs is considered as a ‘single literary whole’ communicated by the author/narrator to the reader. In all three levels, the narrator-and-reader dialogue is analyzed alongside the character dialogues. Thus, a triadic-layered structure is established in order to decipher the dialogue foundation. For example, our multidimensional analysis of John 4:1-42 enables us to classify the dialogues into different categories. An important feature of the narrative is its use of explicit and implicit dialogues. In 4:1-42, a five-tier exchange develops within the narrative framework (i.e., vv. 7-26, 27, 28-30, 31-38, and 39-42). At the outset, vv. 1–6 frames a narrative setting for the entire episode. There are two explicit dialogues within the episode: (a) between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (vv. 7–26); and (b) between Jesus and the disciples (vv. 31–38). While exchange one (vv. 7–26) and exchange four (vv. 31–38) are mostly composed out of character utterances and dialogues, exchanges two (the disciples’ dialogue at the background, v. 27), three (the rear-of-stage dialogue, vv. 28–30), and five (vv. 39–42; cf. Dodd, 1960: 315) show narrator’s abbreviating tendencies. By incorporating both the explicit and implicit dialogues, the episode as a whole is dynamically coordinated and aligned by the narrator. In sum, the exchanges together form the episode (4:1-42) and the episodes together form the Book of Signs as a macro-level dialogue.

6. John 9 is rich with dialogue occurring at various levels. What is the payoff in your approach in analyzing this chapter?

Yes, John 9 is rich with dialogue occurring at various levels. If we consider 9:1-10:21 as a single unit, 9:1-41 has to be considered as a dialogue-driven section. The first exchange (9:1–7) has a sign- and work-centered dialogue progression. On the one hand, it shows features of a question-and-answer interaction, and yet again it keeps the form of a challenge-and-riposte. Within the overall framework of the exchange, the dialogue leads to a sign performance of Jesus. In the second exchange (9:8–12) the dialogue progresses from the sphere of a community to the level of a group and an individual. Other aspects such as dual-layered development, question-and-answer format, and forensic aspects are also features of the exchange. The third exchange (9:13–17) maintains elements of a false assertion and a subsequent question of perplexity and a question-and-answer dialogue. In this exchange, a reader can observe the way a dialogue functions within another dialogue. In the fourth exchange (9:18–23) the narrator uses elements of a question-and-answer dialogue and that contains a sequence of a forensic question, a knowing-and-unknowing contrast and a response of escape. In the fifth exchange (9:24–34) a juridical and antithetical progression of dialogue is in the view. The sixth exchange (9:35–38) has a belief-invitation, belief-willingness, revelation, belief-confession, and belief-actualization sequence with tenets of a flashback-centric and revelatory dialogue. And the seventh exchange (9:39–41) shows antithetical and ironical natures of the characters through their very utterances. But the seven-tier dialogue of 9:1-41 is incomplete without the succeeding monologue (10:1-18) and the community dialogue (10:19-21). The episode (9:1-10:21) maintains all the features of a U-shaped plot. While Jesus’ sign performance (9:1–7) and its declaration by a minority group (10:21) are at the heightened positions, the trial of the man (and also of Jesus) and the discourse of Jesus are at the lowered position. This sequence helps the story to maintain a beginning-middle-ending order. At the extended level, John 9:1-10:21 has to be considered as a dramatic dialogue leading to a monologue and a community dialogue.

7. What impact do you hope your monograph makes upon Johannine studies? 

That is indeed another significant question. The current monograph may contribute in the ongoing study of the Gospel of John the following way. First, in the field of dialogue studies: the work reveals that John’s Gospel exemplifies dialogue as a literary genre not simply in the isolated pieces (as we usually look at, i.e., Nicodemus event in chapter 3 and the Samaritan woman event in chapter 4) but in the overall framework of the gospel. While the intradiegetic dialogue reveals the dialogue of the characters among themselves, the metadiegetic dialogue functions as a connecting link between the narrator and the reader. In that sense, John as a literary masterpiece is composed primarily out of the utterances (dialogues and monologues) and the narratives. Within the narrative framework, the intradiegetic dialogue functions both explicitly and implicitly. This understanding may help a Johannine reader to read and understand the entire gospel from an exchange/episode/narrative framework and from dramatic angles. Second, in the field of interdisciplinary approaches: the present study attempts to suggest a new way forward with the help of a polyvalent analysis. It makes use of different approaches (i.e., genre, narrative, rhetorical, dramatic, reader response, and the like), different layers (i.e., micro-, meso-, and macro-), and aspects (i.e., content, form, and function), that better qualify it to be called a multidimensional analysis. It further helps the reader/interpreter to look at the text from multivalent angles in order to see myriad possibilities of meanings. Third, the potentiality of the text and the involvement of the reader: the study reveals that the text itself is potential, powerful, and rhetorical to create a world of its own before the contemporary reader. The semantic, syntactic, and pragmatic layers of the Johannine text guide the contemporary reader to create meaning in a dynamic relationship with the internal textual constructs like the narrator, narratee, implied author, and implied reader. Moreover, the study guides the contemporary reader to be engaged in verbal exchanges with the characters of the story. In that sense, a contemporary reader can consider the text itself as a dialogue partner. Thus, the study encourages the readers and interpreters of John to expound the text with the help of polyvalent methods. It also informs them the contribution of the dialogue toward the narrative development of the gospel.

8. Can you discuss other projects with which you are currently engaged?

Right now I am engaged in writing a monograph entitled Didymus Judas Thomas: New Testament, Apocrypha, and Historical Traditions. Prof. James H. Charlesworth of Princeton Theological Seminary is the main motivation behind this work. In June 2013, I spent a profitable time with him to discuss the Thomas project at École Biblique Jerusalem. The whole trip was sponsored by Foundation on Judaism and Christian Origins. I thank the GRI program of The Center for Missiological Research (CMR) at Fuller Theological Seminary, California, for providing a grant for the writing project right now. Upon the completion of the project, I may begin working on another monograph with a title A Polyvalent Analysis of Dialogue in John 13-21 for Brill. I would like to thank Prof. Paul N. Anderson of George Fox University for the encouragement toward this. He was one of the key figures who encouraged me to publish my doctoral dissertation under Brill. As the editor in chief of the Biblical Interpretation Series, Prof. Paul guided me all through the revision/editing processes. Also, I have another project in my list entitled Gospel according to John: A Commentary for India Commentary on the New Testament (ICNT) Series. Thank you, Matthew, for these significant questions.

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