[ilds] authenticity and borrowing

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Mon Dec 3 18:25:05 PST 2007


Hi Bill,

Lovely...

> The text itself is not "authentic" until we readers
 > make it so.
> 
> But the second sentence (above) puzzles me. How does
 > the book become "authentic" when we readers recognize
 > ultimate ambiguities in the text? Or am I not
 > paraphrasing correctly?

It's magic!  Actually, I mean something rather shifty, and I ought to 
have put "authentic" inside frightened quotation marks.  What I'm 
inclined to call 'authentic' in the book is the ultimate ambiguity, 
perhaps of Empson's seventh type.  Once the myth of 'authenticity' has 
been dismissed, I'm so tickled pink that just have to bestow the title 
of 'authentic' on the text...  I recognize that it's just plain cheeky 
to do so, but I can't resist myself.

But you also say:

 > Sure, some books are easier to interpret than others.
 > My daughter is four, and her books are rather easy
 > for me to interpret.

Sneaky, Bill...  That's not quite the same thing as what I'm saying, and 
if some books are easy for you to interpret and others (by extension) 
are rather hard, what role do we grant to the book if you as reader have 
all the agency and control?  I suggested that some interpretations are 
easier to put on the book than others, and that's also not really the 
same as some books being more or less easy to interpret.  I'd imagine 
her "Hello Moon" is easier to interpret than, say, Shax's _Troilus and 
Cressida_ (Michael sends his best), but I'm sure both could have a range 
of interpretations foisted upon them by readers (who are free do so); 
however, it would difficult to reconcile all potential readings with the 
text(s), and I think we'd gravitate toward the easier interpretations as 
being more 'viable' than those that would be extremely difficult, such 
as reading the allegory for the horrific Saskatchewanian seal hunt in 
"Hello Moon."

That's not the same as saying we can eventually boil it down to one 
authentic reading, or an authentic notion of the text, but we can't 
quite leave the text either, especially if it has the odd power to make 
our interpretive activities more or less difficult...  It might not tap 
dance, but it does appear to be "doing" something in a very odd way, 
even if it's only an oddity of language that makes us state it that way. 
  The book can't 'verb' anything, but when I 'read' it, I seem to be 
entering into a peculiar activity that has the capacity to introduce me 
to things I didn't already know and to be changed in how I go about my 
interpretive activity.  That would seem to imply some other agent other 
than myself -- gasp!  Is it an author?  Probably not...  But some 
sinister spectre seems to hanging around, and my potential for change 
seems to suggest I'm not only interacting with myself.

As for Dasenbrock, you comment

> I think this is a modification rather than a
 > totally hostile attack.

Okay, but it's a fairly hostile modification, yes?  After all, he does 
describe people who believe Fish as "doomed."

> In this paradigm we have interpretations rather
 > than readings. The reader is still active, in this
 > case interpreting passive texts. Books do not
> interpret themselves.  Even if I give written
 > instructions on how to read a certain text, my
 > instructions have to be interpreted by anybody
 > willing to read what I write.

Yes, the reader is still active, but he or she *does* have a text in 
hand in Dasenbrock's view, and that's a fairly big distinction.  If I 
don't write the text as I read it, and I only interpret it, then there's 
an "it" that influences my scope of actions -- I *can* use a hammer as 
paper weight, but it will be mighty difficult to use it as tweezers.  I 
wouldn't want to say hammering is it's only potential use, but something 
about its nature seems to influence me without it having agency, as if 
its nature restricts the range of uses for which it will be effective. 
For instance, _Titus Andronicus_ might not be used nearly so well as a 
soporific story as would "Hello Moon."

So, I may have full autonomy over opening and closing the book, but I 
don't have unrivalled interpretive agency -- insofar as I have a text, I 
have a spectrum of available readings ranging from the easy to the 
difficult in terms of reconciling them with the text (apart from the 
easiness or difficulty of the text itself as well).  The text doesn't 
have agency, but it does provide an anchor, hence my Zizekian 
interpretation of the hard kernel of the Real in "Hello Moon" is 
'difficult' to reconcile with the text in hand, while my interpretations 
"this is a children's book" is relatively easy.  I still have the agency 
to do that reading as much as I like, but it will be increasingly 
challenging for me to do some readings and to convince others of the 
value in my efforts, while others will be easy and will win me friends 
and worldly influence (or so I keep telling myself).

I'm not willing to walk away from the text just yet, even when it's 
ambiguous, multiple, and given to contradictions or even multiple 
contradictory editions.  I can interpret it any way I like, just like I 
can use my cell phone as a hammer, but it's not quite so easy and it 
might end up restricting my other options (I might also be estranged 
from my community...).

You told me before:

 > I think nothing is intrinsic in words -- especially
 > meaning. Meaning is imposed by the interpreter.

Okay, the interpretor is active, but are not some meanings easier to 
impose than others?  Combined word would seem to increasingly make some 
imposed meanings quite challenging to construct and defend -- also, if I 
have the sole charge and am required to provide *all* meaning to the 
text, how boring such a solipsism it would be.

Also, for the solipsistic interpretor who has a text with no intrinsic 
traits, how can one text be more or less difficult than another? 
Wouldn't that entail something intrinsic, or is that only in the reader 
as well?  Can I have an object like a book that has no intrinsic traits 
or characteristics, or are words distinct from books and texts?  I 
suppose a book without words is boring, so words does seem to be where 
it's at for interpreters, but I'm still puzzled how the interpreter 
could be solely responses and yet still encounter differences in ease 
and difficulty in objects without any traits other than what s/he imposes.

Bertrand Russell has one of the funniest solipsism jokes I know of: 	
"I once received a letter from an eminent logician, Mrs. Christine Ladd 
Franklin, saying that she was a solipsist, and was surprised that there 
were no others. Coming from a logician and a solipsist, her surprise 
surprised me."  I think it's perhaps equally surprising that she mailed 
the letter.

If the reader is the sole source, then how can we have this 
conversations and discussion, with both of us hoping to come away a 
little bit changed?  Perhaps that's the ethics of reading?  And if we 
admit to a text with different interpretations, how can that text have 
no intrinsic traits yet still produce effects in different readers who 
ostensibly agree that they read the same thing and simply disagree about 
how to interpret it?

Best,
Jamie

ps: and how do *you* read "Hello Moon"?  I want something fun...


More information about the ILDS mailing list