Mimesis and Narrative

The approach being adopted needs some clarification, at this point. Mimesis has the body of an eel and a literary/reader—response analysis of the Gospel is far from original.9

Mimesis concerns the character of representation. That character can be understood in three inseparable ways: the kind of world presented in the narrative; the way that world is portrayed and communicated to the readers/ listeners; and the way that kind of world and its portrayal is reconstituted and reportrayed in the minds and imaginations of those who read/listen.10 Mimesis is, then, both a literary and a social praxis. Aristotle already saw this: 'imitation' was both what the text did vis-à-vis the world 'out there' (Poetics 1448a) and an anthropological a priori whereby human beings were educated and socialised (Poetics 1448b5). It is the nature of the correspondence between aesthetic/rhetorical activity and social activity that has provoked so much debate over the centuries since Aristotle. The work today of René Girard, Paul Ricœur, Jean-François Lyotard and Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe indicates that mimesis remains at the forefront of contemporary debates on representation or the symbolic process. For Aristotle, there was an analogical relationship whereby words referred to a world distinct from them and so — 'art ... imitates the works of nature' (Physics II) — it represents them. But Aristotle also saw that 'art ... completes that which nature is unable to bring to completion' (ibid.). Art, therefore, idealises and, in this sense, does not strictly mirror what is but imitates what should be or will be. Art here presents rather than represents, for it moves beyond what it repre

9 Literary approaches to Mark's Gospel began to proliferate from the early 1970s, in the wake of and partly as a reaction to redaction criticism. At the same time, historico-critical scholars revisiting the historical Jesus question began to examine closely the community in which and for whom the Gospels were being written (see H.C. Kee's attempt to reconstruct Mark's community in Community of the New Age, London: SCM, 1977). The extent of how established and interrelated these approaches now are can be seen from studies of Mark executed in the late 1980s. Mary Ann Beavis's Mark's Audience (Sheffield Academic Press, 1989) employs reader—response criticism to identify the kind of audience Mark is writing for. Christopher D. Marshall's Faith as a Theme in Mark's Narrative (Cambridge University Press, 1989) uses literary analysis to show how the text's representation of the disciples speaks also for and to all subsequent followers of Christ. Morna Hooker's commentary on Mark (which appeared in 1991) repeatedly draws attention to literary aspects of the text and its effect upon readers/listeners, although in 1950 R.H. Lightfoot was already calling for an appreciation of the Gospel's literary language, ordering of the pericopae and use of rhythm. In 1951, as we have already noted, Austin Farrer published his literary appreciation of Mark (building, in part, on the earlier work of Lightfoot).

10 These three aspects correspond, to some extent, to Ricreur's anaysis of what he terms mimesis 1, mimesis 2 and mimesis 3. See Time and Narrative vol. I, tr. Kathleen Blamey (University of Chicago Press, 1984), pp. 52—8. The extent of that correspondence can be judged by referring to footnote 42.

sents to the presentation of an ideal form that is otherwise unavailable. The complex character of mimesis begins here — for the aesthetic/rhetorical activity mediates between presentation, representation and absence. Language (or whatever the artistic medium) mediates the natural, the ideal and the unnameable. It mediates several orders of the real.

Mimesis, the character of this mediation, is, then, associated with knowledge and the process whereby we come to know (Aristotle's imitation). It is also associated with form, for all representation (or presentation) is the representation of something. The form represents an object, but an object caught between the way it acts upon (the one who represents it) and the way it is acted upon (by the one who represents it). The object is always and only imitated through the twin activities of reception and projection — that is, within the economy of response. The form is always of an action, and is, therefore, an element in a narrative. Hence in Poetics all the roads of representation lead into a discussion about drama. Mimesis is inseparable from muthos and poiesis (the process whereby language bodies forth its representation). Some philosophers would take this further and claim narrative as a fundamental category for epistemology — that there is no knowledge that is not mediated and part of 'the way we tell the story' of what we know. As John Milbank put it towards the end of his magnum opus: 'narrative is simply the mode in which the entirety of reality presents itself to us: without the story of the tree, there is no distinguishable, abiding tree'.11 This is a shift in part away from Aristotle who, at one level, maintained that language referred to nature, it did not invent it.12 But it is also a development of Aristotle's notion that art presents what is otherwise unavailable to us (the idealised reality). It presents by performing, and the negotiation between performance and reception facilitates a discovery, a disclosure of what is otherwise absent.

Mimesis is, therefore, a slippery term, but by foregrounding the mimetic operation in Mark's Gospel I wish to show how the narrative as a whole not only imitates the character and teaching of the Christ within it, but through the economy of response it provokes and engages our imitation of that character and teaching of Christ (our discipleship). Furthermore, I wish to show how this 'imitation'is one of the most comprehensive understandings of the Gospel. For it relates Jesus's role (and subsequently our role) as the representative and presentation of the Gospel, to the Gospel as a representation and presentation ofJesus and the process of following him.

This is not, therefore, simply another reader—response analysis of Mark's

11 Theology and Social Theory (Oxford: Blackwell, 1991), p. 358.

12 Though it has to be emphasised here that John Milbank is no linguistic idealist, as he himself makes plain in the introduction to his book.

Gospel. It is not primarily concerned with Christology as a story or narrative theology. Others have already done that and I enter into their labours.13 I wish to build upon the awareness that narrative theology provides for us; that parables and stories always generate a surplus of meaning and that any final grasp of Mark's Christology is always beyond us because of that. I wish to engage theologically with the way the narrative has conscious designs upon its readers/listeners, calling them to participate in its telling, and how Mark's awareness of this informs his Christology, informs his understanding and presentation of the economies of response, discipleship and salvation. Robert Scharlemann has distinguished between theoretical, practical aesthetic and acoluthetic forms of reason. He equates acoluthetic reason with Christological reason. 'Christological reason is ... that form of reason in which the inward I is related to the existential I through the authority [exousia] that enables the following.'14 My argument is that there is a relationship between this acoluthetic reason and Mark's narrative. Scharlemann defines aesthetic reason as similar to acoluthetic reason in that both perform relations within an exstantial I, but aesthetic reason identifies so completely with this exstantial I that it forgets itself. Acoluthetic reason maintains this tension between the inward I and the exstantial I. I would argue that in Mark's Gospel there is a continual movement between Scharlemann's aco-luthetic and aesthetic reason, Christological reason and mimesis; that it becomes impossible to separate the two. The nature of narrative and mimesis, I wish to argue, is being read by Mark Christologically. The sending, the

13 Several of the literary analyses of the text have pointed to the mimetic character of the narrative. The acuity of the perception and yet the limits of its detailed examination are evident in David Rhoads's and Donald Michie's pioneering Mark as Story (Philadephia, Penn.: Fortress Press, 1982). Here the recognition that 'the writer has told the story in such a way as to have certain effects upon the reader. The reader experiences much of the same bafflement and reversals as do the characters' (p. 1) is analysed in terms of the poetics of narrative, the rhetorical techniques employed by the author. The reader's experience is again foregrounded in the Conclusion, which expands the observation that 'The reader experiences a story-world in which God's ways are hidden' (p. 137) and 'the narrative leads the reader to be a faithful follower of Jesus' (p. 139). But these observations are not examined theologically in relation to the Christology that is the main focus of the Gospel and what Morna Hooker describes as 'Mark's story [a]s a story about the meaning of discipleship' (The Gospel According to St Mark, 1991, p. 21). The same can be said of observations such as Christopher D. Marshall's: 'By the use of irony, paradox, chiasmus and intercalation, framing verses and duplication, suspense, shock, surprise, riddles, rhetorical questions, ambiguity and double meaning, foreshadowing and allusion, the narrator is able to tell his stories in a way that communicates both the rational content of faith and the experienced feel of such a disposition' (pp. 132—3). Mimesis, in both these analyses, is an end in itself. What I wish to ask in this essay is why mimesis is so important to the writer of Mark's Gospel — what theological end does it serve?

14 The Reason of Following: Christology and the Ecstatic I (University of Chicago Press, 1991), p. 124. 'Acoluthetic' comes from the Greek verb 'to follow'. The 'I'who is summoned by the command 'to follow' lives byond itself. It is in this sense that Scharlemann speaks of the 'exstantial I'.

mediation of Jesus Christ, provides grounds for the very possibility of the Church. What I arguing for is not a narrative theology but a theology of narrative (which is also a theology of reading and interpreting).

We now need to examine how mimesis is the measure of Mark.

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