“Camping around the Canon” by Elizabeth Stuart – Take Back the Word (4 of 23)

Take Back the Word book cover

Goss, Robert E., and Mona West, eds. Take Back the Word: A Queer Reading of the Bible (Cleveland, OH: Pilgrim Press, 2000).
AZ | BN | WC

This post is part of a series of posts on the anthology Take Back the Word.


Today’s reading is chapter 2 of Take Back the Word, an essay titled “Camping around the Canon: Humor as a Hermeneutical Tool in Queer Readings of Biblical Texts.” Stuart claims that while humor has been seen as a hermeneutical tool, she is the first person to use laughter as such. Camp is one way that queer populations can incorporate laughter into interpretation because it subverts the status quo. It is “the lie that tells the truth” (Philip Core, qtd. in 28). She calls her camp/laughter approach “queer-response criticism” (29).

Biblical reader-response critics have generally failed to appreciate that meaning is generated in and by the act of reading, which is always contextual. Queer readers, on the other hand, should have no difficulty integrating postmodern insights into their reader-response criticism[. . . .] The whole notion of “queer” challenges the understanding of the concept of the stable self and replaces it with an understanding of the self as unstable and constituted by “performance” and improvisation within and in resistance to dominant discourses. [. . .] To read as a queer is therefore to join the swelling ranks of resisting readers who read against the grain of the reading traditions we have inherited, not only resisting the de-queering but also all other racist, sexist, and classist strategies. [. . .] To read as a queer is also to learn to laugh at a reading of a text, whether yours or another’s, to learn to accept one’s body as a site of epistemology. (30)

Queer reading is contextual, unstable, embodied. She has a lot of hope for the efficacy of laughter as a hermeneutic.

Perhaps there will be a Stonewall-type moment of laughter when queer Christians sitting in a cathedral hearing the intonement of Romans 1:26–7 one more time or one of the stories of the biblical eunuchs or Jesus’ words about marriage in heaven in Matthew 22 told “straight” will begin to laugh, quietly at first but building to a crescendo that will sweep the queer world and disturb, disorder, and transform the straight church and its relationship with the biblical text. (31)

She offers a reading of Eph 5:21–23 that uses disarming laughter to undo the heteropatriarchal tones or intention of the text (based off a prior reading by Gerard Loughlin). We can laugh at a harmful text’s undoing.

in this passage Christ himself is represented as transgendered—a male with a very female body, and the church is represented as a female body with a “male head.” (32)

I find her suggested hermeneutic fascinating, if underdeveloped. To be sure, this short essay does not have the space to fully explore her reading techniques, but this is a very interesting start. Her hermeneutic is very subjective, so the results can be as numerous as there are funny passages. If you can laugh at it, there are no limits.

Making laughter a criterion for interpretation is a little strict for me, but camp has even more possibilities. Stuart Macwilliam uses camp as a hermeneutical tool in reading Ezekiel in Queer Theory and the Prophetic Marriage Metaphor in the Hebrew Bible, but I’ll save that for another post. At this point, I merely find camp and humor interesting possibilities, but I would need to see more of it in action to be able to use it to its fullest extent.


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