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Interpretation and Its Object

When we engage with something, we (subjects) engage with something (objects). This goes for knowing, referring to, acting on, being affected by, and other verbal relations. What it is to interpret something - be it a sentence, an event, a melody, or a patch of color - proves just as hard to understand as perceiving it or acting on it. When we interpret, we (as a rough initial approximation) take something up and then pronounce judgment on it. We're given something, and then form a conception of what it means. 

This process can be so fast (near-instantaneous) that such a mechanistic, stepwise picture seems to do it an injustice. But being mechanistic and stepwise in our thinking might help us shed light on what is perhaps the deepest theoretical problem in the arts: what do the products of artistic activity mean? Given a text, or a dance, or a sculpture, am I supposed to look for its significance inside it? In the maker's intentions? In the cultural system surrounding it? In my own spontaneous reactions?

Every one of those options threatens our natural picture of interpretation when pressed too far. If the meaning is just in the artistic product itself, then it seems I no longer play any role at all in the process. (What is meaning without somebody to acknowledge it?) If it's in the maker's intentions, then it seems I am forever barred from understanding it unless I claim telepathic powers. If meaning is in cultural systems, then there is no difference between artistic sensitivity and the understanding of social and symbolic networks. If my own spontaneous reactions dictate the meaning, then the object seems to drop out of the picture, and I'm treating it as nothing but a reminder of what I already think and feel about things.

This meetup will be in an open-discussion format. No reading or other preparation is necessary.

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Tonight I learned that the search for authorial intent freezes any proliferation coming from the seedbed of meaning, violating what I can now say is true meaning of the torahs first commandment - "to be fruitful and multiply"

    2 · March 16, 2014

    • George

      The Other (e.g. art) can sometimes stand meaningfully on its own just because we have already let it emerge thus.

      March 16, 2014

    • Chad B.

      If a "bad interpretation" is one that is somehow unfaithful to the work, then "authorial intent" may just be a way of objectifying success or failure (and avoiding solipsism). I have no doubt that songs exist that were inspired by other songs whose lyrics were entirely misheard. But to suggest that authorial intent "doesn't matter" is at least to foreclose an investigation, and possibly new modes of understanding.

      1 · March 17, 2014

  • K. Scot S.

    Rick wrote "...Why do you think author intent is necessary? Can't we walk away enlightened (whatever that means) without having a clue what the author intended?"

    March 16, 2014

    • K. Scot S.

      It is what I take to be the proto-relational or communicative necessity of authentic art that requires the relative but enduring importance of great, always-relevant (if NOT meaning-exhausting) authorial intent (...that is, in somewhat infrequent, great work

      March 16, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    It was great to listen and meet and converse with this group of wonderfully smart people.. Thanks again! <:)

    2 · March 16, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    My artistic appreciation seems to result from a kind of bifurcation of cultural and personal meaning. I need to think more on this

    February 28, 2014

    • K. Scot S.

      '...Our 'interpretation'­­ begins only upon realizing that the art, as other, is a voice that interrupts rather than confirms our self-same world. Our interpretation then engages, taken away from our dream, and instead seeking to add reality...' Do such tacit antinomies go deep enough? : art = otherness, interuption, not truly regarding the self's world or true sharing in regards to same? This may be a decent opportunity to suggest that, whether of Plato, Augustine, Scotus, Malebranch, Hume, Kant, Phenomenology, Levinas, or others - a systematizing of limit may repeatedly and systematically miss Art's deepest mystery/potential: difference-marking continuity - sharedness as radically subjective objectivity and vice versa - real value/meaning really 'transferred/hosted­/embodied' - that is, shared. ... ..and, perhaps, neither suggestive of 'grid-like compartmentalizing'­ nor 'fusion-as-confusio­n' (as to the cosmological 'economy' such mystery might underscore).

      2 · March 5, 2014

    • Rick O.

      I like the section after 'mystery/potential:­' - and the slashing together of the two words - perhaps part of the key.

      1 · March 15, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    Unfortunately I'll Not be able to make it today. I hope to be a part of other conversations in the future....

    March 15, 2014

  • lynn

    Thanks, but will not be able to attend. Next time.

    March 15, 2014

  • George

    Excellent introduction to another awesome topic.

    The three options offered as alternative to our "natural" one(s) all highlight the (2nd-order?) somewhat removed (if not entirely indirect) experience of an object: the "judgment" or formed "conception" about it (the Other, er, I mean object).

    I suggest that the direct/immediate exerience of an object holds the most significant meaning, which an interpretative step can enhance but remains about (the something we're given).

    1 · March 14, 2014

    • K. Scot S.

      ...hmm? That sounds a bit like the materialist-sensualist reduction against which art's poetic 'roots and fruits' (or arguable imperative) were to stand.

      March 15, 2014

    • K. Scot S.

      (...art's transference/embodiment ultimately defying such reduction and/or 'anti-continuity'­ ...that is, of proto-phenomenological 'compartmentalizing­.')

      March 15, 2014

  • A former member
    A former member

    "An image is interesting, without the slightest sense of utility, interesting in the sense of involving, in the etymological sense [inter-esse = between-be(ings)] - to be among things which should have had only the status of objects" The subject is among things as a thing, as part of the spectacle - as in a dream. -Levinas, Reality and its Shadow

    1 · March 2, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Perhaps, in the first place, art is experienced like a dream as arrested passivity: "[b]y creating beauty out of nature, art calms and quietens it. All the arts, even those based on sound, create silence". Our 'interpretation'­ begins only upon realizing that the art, as other, is a voice that interrupts rather than confirms our self-same world. Our interpretation then engages, taken away from our dream, and instead seeking to add reality.

      March 2, 2014

    • A former member
      A former member

      Maybe this explains how Orpheus almost escaped death!... with his lullaby... 'til he turned back..

      March 2, 2014

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