Détourning the Christian Text

            Détournement is the practice of hijacking, distorting or simply plagiarizing a political message or advertisement.  The term détournement has fallen out of use in recent times in exchange for terms like “culture jamming.”  However, here, the term détournement is most appropriate.  Détournement is two fold, in one sense it is rhetorical.  One may détourne a message into strategic for a radical end.  However, the second mode of détournement is the practice of communicating subversive themes through radical practice.  Examples of détournement can be seen in many places and can be done among many media, though can the Christian text, that is biblical scripture and church tradition, be détourned?  Certainly, those not invested in the church and Christianity parody and perhaps détourne Christian texts and tradition, but can the Christian perform a détournement?  To what extent can Christians play with their own texts and traditions?  Here, I want to set up three goals of this project.  First, can Christian scripture and tradition be détourned?  Second, ought scripture and tradition be détourned?  Maybe, one can détourne Christianity, but to what end and why would a Christian want to hijack the text?  Third, what might it look like for Christianity, the bible or church tradition to be détourned.

            Christian texts and tradition can be détourned.  In fact, if one is to look at the life of Christ, the archetypal figure for a Christian ethics, one may find détournement in the text already.  Perhaps, Christ is not as witty of a culture jammer as one may find in Banksy or AdBusters.  Though, Jesus has an interesting rhetorical style one might make note of.  “You have heard it said…but I say” and “but who do you say I am?”  For example, in the gospel according to Matthew in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ lays down a number of You-have-heard-it-said’s. 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.”

Clearly, this is a highjacking of a previous commandment.  It is using one statement or maxim to convey a different counter-message.  If one is to take up an ethic of Christ, then perhaps there is some ethical practice to be found in the rhetoric of Christ.

            Can Christian scripture and tradition be détourned?  It is the case that we can find examples of Christ détourning ideas, but can the Christian détourne the Christian text?  This is to say, does the Christian have the authority to hijack, plagiarize or distorting the bible?  In truth, this questions runs far more philosophical than can rightly be discussed here.  What is the text? What does it mean to read and interpret a text?  The assertion I make here is that whenever the bible or Christian tradition is “read” one may highjack, plagiarize or distort the text.  However, it is the case that this is the only way to interact with a text.  Détournement is simply overt, honest and intentional about this hijacking.

            For example, when the fundamentalist says, “God hates X” is this not a hijacking of the text?  Likewise, when the so-called progressive Christian calls for “social justice” according to the gospel, is this not also a hijacking?  Certainly, the purity of a meaning through any medium is impossible. 

            Détournement, however, is not the same as interpretation.  Détournement can be simply the rhetorical plagiarizing or hijacking of a message.  However, this is something fleeting: one plagiarism among a sea of advertising or other public messages and communications.  Détournement is also a playful subversive action.  Détournement is not simply a rewriting or rhetorical play, but the creation of an event or situation that flips things on their head.

            What would it look like to détourne Christian texts or tradition?  At least, a little bit blasphemous and certainly revolutionary.  The détournement of a text can target any injustice and work at creating a situation that implodes certain relations of power.  Jesus uses the phrase “You have heard it said…but I say” to détourne a certain message in the Sermon on the Mount.  Christ invites a similar play later in the gospel when he asks Peter “Who do you say I am?”




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