Between the Saying and the Said: Speaking Like Children

I’ve been really enjoying Peter Rollins blog lately and was struck by his recent post Did Jesus Speak Hoplandic? In the post he discusses Levinas’ theory about the act of saying something vs. the content of what was said. In it the question, “did Jesus speak Hoplandic” gets at the his point that “Jesus was someone who was always challenging us at the level of the said (taking what we thought was self evident and turning it upside down) so as to expose the nature of religious language as a mode of saying.” In other words, is our preoccupation for getting what is said down correctly disrupting our connection with who we are actually talking to (or about)? As Rollins says, Maybe Jesus was asking us to speak like children where what is most important is the actual connection that is made, not that that which is said. He makes this point, in a way I appreciated, by stating:

This mode of “communication??? is similar to what we see taking place between an infant and its parents. The grammatical non-sense that is communicated by the infant to the parent and by the parent to the infant is a discourse of the saying in which nothing is said but a connection is established or deepened. Indeed is it not the case that when children do learn to speak the constant questioning that comes with it is often less to do with gaining knowledge of the world and more to do with establishing a connection with the one they are speaking with. For instance a child may enter the room of their parents at night with some question or because they want to share something that they were thinking, but any parent knows that the communication is a way of the child connecting with the parents and that what the parents say in response is not as important as the actual fact of saying something. Here the saying refers to an expression of being alongside, of reaching out, of comforting, of connecting with. What is said is important only insofar as it compliments the connection established by the saying.

(Peter Rollins, Did Jesus Speak Hoplandic?)

6 responses to “Between the Saying and the Said: Speaking Like Children”

  1. This is a really interesting way at looking at the relationship between Jesus and his followers. It is almost like he really just wants to have a conversation with us. I think in maturity, however, the Spirit brings what I refer to as the “divine light” so that we can come to understand (at least in part) the divine communion between Father and Son that is made possible by the connection of the Spirit. When we are caught up into the radical community of the Trinity we see how we really were made for communication with one another at the most basic and primary level.

  2. i’m not sure i totally understand rollins (or levinas) on this point, but it seems like an overly psychological view of speech, as if there were something “under” the words themselves, rather than the words enacting that something. i guess i prefer speech-act theory here, the idea that all our sentences do something. that “something” neither is tied to a flat propositionalism, nor does it see words as mere shells for psychological states.

  3. Jamie, You’re right. Rollins and others are using some psychoanalysis to get these questions in a new light. I think that’s what he has done here. I don’t really know anything about Levinas either, but I do agree with Rollins point (I think) that even if the said isn’t correct it is in the saying there a connection can be made. I don’t know how far out we can take this, but his point about the infant speech is what I connected with. I do see how his point works there. But beyond that I’d fall in line with you on Wittgenstein and JL Austin (what I know of them anyways).