Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

All other historical discussion, ancient or modern, falls here.
Post Reply
User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 228
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2014 6:20 am

Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by lpetrich » Tue Dec 08, 2015 3:19 pm

"Retcon" is short for retroactive continuity, and it is a technique for resolving discrepancies in serial fictional works. What is less well-known is how well the concept works for various theological apologetics.
  • Addition. Of features that clarify parts of the existing story world, usually without contradicting existing features. These may take the form of additional adventures that were only alluded to in the original works, like someone's novels about the Star Trek Eugenics Wars.
  • Modification. Some of the features get revised to make continuity possible. A character who dies in one work and returns in a following work my have their death explained as only a seeming death, something common enough in some genres to be called a comic book death. Monsters that die in some movie but that are liked enough may return in later movies. Two very notable characters have also died comic-book deaths:
    • Sherlock Holmes died in The Adventure of the Final Problem and was resurrected in The Adventure of the Empty House. He had made it seem like he had died at Reichenbach Falls to fool Dr. Moriarty's associates.
    • Spock died in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and was resurrected in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. It seems rather contrived to me, it must be said -- reassembling Spock from his Genesis-Machine-created body and his McCoy-carried soul.
    Comic-book deaths are sometimes criticized as reducing the impact of a character's death by making it likely that that character will return in a later work. I remember some people calling The Search for Spock a cheat ("What's next? A sex change?").

    Likewise, some works may be explained as dreams of some of the characters (Pam Ewing dreamed an entire season of Dallas!), an alternate universe, etc.
  • Subtraction. Disliked works are ignored or written out, and they effectively no longer exist. Perhaps the ultimate form of subtraction is the reboot, that is, wiping the slate clean.
Now for some theological retcons:
  • The two creation stories of Genesis are often retconned together by supposing the second one to be what happened when humanity was created in the first one.
  • The Genesis snake's pre-crawling mode of motion and Cain's wife have been the subject of various retcons.
  • Isaiah's famous virgin or young woman who becomes pregnant is clearly a part of contemporary events, but the authors of the Gospels retconned that account into a prophecy of Jesus Christ's virgin birth.
  • Jesus Christ's Matthew and Luke genealogies are retconned as either of:
    • Only one of them is for Joseph; the other one is for Mary.
    • Each one of them contains only some of the names of Jesus Christ's ancestors back to King David.
  • Matthew, Mark, and Luke make Jesus Christ's Temple temper tantrum late in his career as a religious prophet, while John makes that temper tantrum early in his career. These occurrences are sometimes retconned by supposing them to be two temper tantrums, one early in JC's career, and one late in it.
  • The details of JC's resurrection appearances have been the subject of numerous retcon attempts. In fact, those details themselves may plausibly be interpreted as separately-invented retcons, derived from Paul's mentions of JC's resurrection and Mark's original ending with an empty tomb.
  • Jesus mythicists often argue that Paul had known little or nothing about JC's earthly life, and Jesus historicists often rebut that with the retcon that Paul did not go into those details because he expected his audience to know them.
  • Mohammed had many predecessor prophets who were proto-Muslims, but their teachings became corrupted by their followers, thus retconning their differences.
  • Jesus Christ did not really die on that cross, but Allah lifted him up into heaven, and gave him the appearance of having died there (a Docetic belief; Koran 4:157-8), an obvious retcon for his crucifixion.
So the idea of retroactive continuity makes the nature of a lot of theological apologetics much clearer. Greta Christina blogged on that in Why Religion Is Like Fanfic, along with some broader issues.

User avatar
GakuseiDon
Posts: 643
Joined: Sat Oct 12, 2013 5:10 pm

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by GakuseiDon » Wed Dec 09, 2015 2:02 pm

Also in The The Aeneid, which was written by Virgil around 20 BCE. It's the story of Aeneas, a Trojan, who travelled to Italy and became the ancestor of the Romans. Virgil uses material from Homer for this. In fact, I wonder how much history in ancient books are merely the retconning of earlier stories. What percentage of stories of events and people actually occurred? Not much. Most ancient history is probably as accurate as most holy books.
It is really important, in life, to concentrate our minds on our enthusiasms, not on our dislikes. -- Roger Pearse

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 228
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2014 6:20 am

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by lpetrich » Wed Dec 09, 2015 6:03 pm

The Aeneid is not a retcon of anything but a sort of retelling of the Iliad and the Odyssey that involved Rome.

That sort of retelling can be a problem in some cases. For instance, the early Byzantine historian Procopius tried to imitate the style of Thucydides to the point that some people have proposed that he has forced some of his accounts into a Thucydides mold.

Getting to the Bible, I've seen the theory that the Gospel of Mark contains retellings of parts of Homer's works.

User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 2300
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by DCHindley » Wed Dec 09, 2015 8:25 pm

Aren't retcons the alien spirits L Ron Hubbard says get in the way of clear thinking and clean alpha brain signals? Or was I thinking of the Decepticons in the Transformers movies ...

User avatar
MrMacSon
Posts: 5282
Joined: Sat Oct 05, 2013 3:45 pm

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Dec 10, 2015 1:54 am

GakuseiDon wrote: ... I wonder how much history in ancient books are merely the retconning of earlier stories. What percentage of stories of events and people actually occurred? Not much. Most ancient history is probably as accurate as most holy books.
Exactly.

I read somewhere there is good evidence that the Jonah the whale story was present in a multitude of ancient cultures all over the world.

User avatar
Peter Kirby
Site Admin
Posts: 5207
Joined: Fri Oct 04, 2013 2:13 pm
Location: Santa Clara
Contact:

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by Peter Kirby » Thu Dec 10, 2015 3:37 am

We should distinguish between a "retelling" (or a "literary influence") and a "retconning." There are many unique properties of the "retcon" term that are exactly what make it so interesting and, indeed, different from a mere "retelling" or "influence."

You could expand the phrase to read "retrofitted continuity." The idea is to build on an earlier story, in the universe of that earlier story, claiming to tell more about that earlier story, claiming not to contradict the original story, and cleverly attempting to tie the new story into the existing one, whether finding creative ways to interpret the original, embellishing new details on top of the original, or indeed altering the original (perhaps even physically, by issuing revised editions that accord with the new material).

It would be a a bit of a shame to lose all the flavor of this interesting phenomenon and phrase by applying the term too liberally.

Thanks for the OP, lp.
"... almost every critical biblical position was earlier advanced by skeptics." - Raymond Brown

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 228
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2014 6:20 am

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by lpetrich » Sat Dec 12, 2015 7:03 am

I appreciate that. :)

It seems to me that that both theologians and serial-fiction fans have the same problem. Trying to reconcile a disparate collection of texts, a collection that often had different authors at different times with different styles and opinions and agendas. So it's not surprising that they have converged on the same sorts of solutions.

User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 2300
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by DCHindley » Sun Dec 13, 2015 7:22 pm

lpetrich wrote:"Retcon" is short for retroactive continuity, and it is a technique for resolving discrepancies in serial fictional works. What is less well-known is how well the concept works for various theological apologetics.
...
Now for some theological retcons:
...
So the idea of retroactive continuity makes the nature of a lot of theological apologetics much clearer. Greta Christina blogged on that in Why Religion Is Like Fanfic, along with some broader issues.
Isn't this essentially the process of rationalization of encountered "facts" in order to reduce psychological dissonance? Those interested should see the works of Leon Festinger on Cognitive Dissonance.

WRT the relationship between the nature of historical narrative, fiction, and the rationalizations individuals will make to reduce cognitive dissonance, it should be noted that postmodern linguistic theorists such as Hayden V. White (see the 40 page introduction to his 1974 book Metahistory) and others say that historians and writers of fiction both employ the exact same linguistic rules to create narratives. In other words, modern historians "emplot" their explanations using conventions such as Romance, Tragedy, Comedy & Satire. They also employ Arguments to support their plots, such as Formist, Mechanist, Organist and Contextualist arguments. What is more, historians also embed in their narratives elements of their personal Ideology, such as Anarchism, Radicalism, Conservatism and Liberalism. It is like Mr. Spock's 3D chess game.

In short, it is a phenomenological process: making "sense out of nonsense". Both historians and writers of fan-fiction, then, make sense of the "past" in light of what is important to them (or their audience) today. It does not mean that the past, or the discontinuous statements, do not exist and beg explanation, only that we tend to get what we want to get, so any analysis of fan-fiction or historical narratives requires deconstruction of what was said so the facts can be studied more clearly.

DCH :scratch:

User avatar
lpetrich
Posts: 228
Joined: Fri Jul 04, 2014 6:20 am

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by lpetrich » Tue Jan 19, 2016 12:37 pm

DCHindley wrote: WRT the relationship between the nature of historical narrative, fiction, and the rationalizations individuals will make to reduce cognitive dissonance, it should be noted that postmodern linguistic theorists such as Hayden V. White (see the 40 page introduction to his 1974 book Metahistory) and others say that historians and writers of fiction both employ the exact same linguistic rules to create narratives. ...

In short, it is a phenomenological process: making "sense out of nonsense". ...
So historians are like fanfiction writers and theologians.

User avatar
DCHindley
Posts: 2300
Joined: Mon Oct 07, 2013 9:53 am
Location: Ohio, USA

Re: Retcons - continuity by reinterpretation

Post by DCHindley » Tue Jan 19, 2016 6:56 pm

lpetrich wrote:So historians are like fanfiction writers and theologians.
Yes, but historians are writing historical narrative, and fanfiction writers are writing fanfiction narratives, and theologians are writing theological narratives. To express concern hat they all use plot and argumentative strategies and betray ideological implications is like being concerned that all of them use words or follow rules of grammar.

Tha's jus' the way narrative works. They all "explain" things, just different things, but using the same tools.

DCH

Post Reply