[ilds] authenticity and borrowing

James Gifford odos.fanourios at gmail.com
Tue Dec 4 00:17:51 PST 2007


Hey Bill,

This is fun -- if only I had a class that would ask me hard questions 
like yours!

In response to my naive attempt to make a clear statement (leaving 
myself wide open):

 >> 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?

you answered

> May I come back to my darling daughter? She finds
 > reading her "easy kids' books" just as difficult as
 > reading /War and Peace/, not that I've tried to get
 > her to do that. So here the difficulty rests with the
> reader, not the intrinsic difficulty of the book
 > itself.

Still, I wonder about that.  Isn't there some kind of combination 
involved, even with the precocious and darling reader?  What I mean is, 
how would this play out if you gave her /War & Peace/?  Would the 
difference be in kind or in degree?  Is it possible that we could have 
multiple and mutually possible forms of difficulty, such as the reader's 
limitations, the difficulties posed by the text even for a trained 
reader, and the difficulty a reader may face with his or her 
interpretation.

Your daughter likely has difficulty with actually reading, not with 
interpreting what the words "tree" or "frog" mean, which would be a 
different kind of difficulty from a reader who cannot decide the import 
of the last line of Keats' "When I have fears."  But, your daughter's 
difficulty in reading "Hello Moon" versus a chapter book is likely one 
of degree not kind.  And wouldn't her degrees of difficulty suggest that 
she's not the only origin of that difficulty?  It must be an 
interaction.  Difficulty walking when you don't know how is just as 
surely a difference in kind from difficulty walking when you're tired, 
the latter of which differs only in degree from walking when you're well 
rested.

I'm not debating that the difficulty can come from the reader, but 
surely the reader is not the sole origin in all scenarios and to the 
same degree.  Are there any books that your daughter finds easier than 
others, and does the difference reside only in her own traits rather 
than any characteristics of the books?  Perhaps it's the combination of 
her own traits *and* the characteristics of the books (I think).  Or, by 
extension, why not give her /War & Peace/?  If the difficulties only 
resider in her, wouldn't it be just as hard as _I Love You Forever_ (a 
book that seems far harder on the parent)?

 > The best reader is the reader who knows the most.

Perhaps, but best for what use for which book?  Aren't some books best 
used by a reader who knows less than others?  How about a reader who 
doesn't know about your discovery of the /Anabasis/ in /Justine/?  Is 
that person mis-reading or are there two viable readings in that moment? 
  I'm certainly open to a plurality of interpretations, but I think 
interpretations that contradict the language and text will run into 
ever-increasing difficulties.  Those difficulties are, however, distinct 
from a text being difficult to read.

Bill, is your best reader Gawd?

> In my office I have the head of Michelangelo's
 > David in granite on a pedestal. It's a nice copy. So
 > the evaluator says. But was that head of David
 > (inauthentic, mind you) intrinsic in the uncarved
 > rock?

In other words, is /Hamlet/ intrinsic in the English language?  I think 
not, just as the head isn't intrinsic in the granite (a real rock head). 
  Yet, this is again not quite the same thing.  Now we have an artist, a 
creator, to deal with: someone who brings hir own vision to bear on the 
raw materials, even if only to copy.  The reader/interpretor isn't that 
same artist.  I encounter the combination of words we collectively agree 
to label /Justine/ (enforced by copyright), so I am not faced with a 
blank slate (okay, granite, if you say so), am I?  Likewise, I'm 'faced' 
with your nice copy of David's head (authenticated or not by the social 
authorities), which I then interpret according to my own provisional 
schema, which may be forced to adapt in order to easily accommodate the 
nature of your bust -- I'm not faced by the uncarved granite that 
initially faced the artist.

But, if I choose to interpret that bust as a replica of one of the 
Caryatids, from from her porch to yours, will I have difficulty making 
my interpretation work when I see Michelangelo's David?  Does that 
difficulty exist only as my own creation without reference to external 
things?  If so, how did it come to exist?  Moreover, does the granite 
blockhead still lack any intrinsic features, such as contour, weight, 
dimensions, or other features that could be identified as independent of 
my aesthetic interpretation?

Also, if we found one of Oliver Sack's patients who couldn't recognize 
Old Mickey's head, nor even recognize it as a face as opposed to an 
orange, on what basis would I say his interpretation differs from yours 
if I cannot access an object that has features independent of our 
interpretations?  On what basis would I even agree it's the same block 
or that either of you had expressed interpretations (themselves texts)? 
  I think we do have texts/sculptures, and they do have features -- we 
just interpret them differently.

Yet another fine distinction might lie between a music score and the 
block of granite that granted your David or the language that granted us 
/Hamlet/.  A music score is open to interpretation, yet it's also 
limited to a virtually mathematical series of relationships that 
constrain that interpretive agency.  I can read it however I like, or 
change its granite into a head, but I cannot add granite nor can I 
interpret in a way to contravenes the language (I *can* but it's fraught 
with ever-increasing difficulty).  Perhaps the music score is closer to 
a notion of actualizing, which I think is distinct from sculpture or 
writing but is perhaps more akin to interpreting a text.

Best,
Jamie

ps: what of Darley's interpretations of the world around him and the 
texts he finds throughout the Quartet?  Are we witnessing the education 
of a good interpretor, one who eventually finds that no matter how much 
he knows, ambiguity and plurality remain in the text?  How could Darley 
come to realize that if he's the only source of information in his 
interpretations.  Could ambiguity or uncertainty even exist in the same way?

pps: are we perhaps in disagreement over moments in which the text's 
ambiguity is such that resolution or clarity cannot be sought in the 
text itself and must be sought in the reader's interpretations?  If so, 
wouldn't a better reader recognize that this is the case and acknowledge 
that interpretation is provisional?


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