Jean-Paul RIOPELLE, L'hommage à Rosa Luxemburg, 1992 (détail) [ * ]

A Portrait of Interpretation

Ruth LORAND [ # ]

The main interest of the present analysis is the differentia specifica of interpretation. It seeks to differentiate interpretation from other cognitive activities and to answer the question: when and how an interpretation is in order? It is rather surprising that in spite of the wide interest in interpretation in contemporary literature, very little has been said about the nature and purpose of this practice. The position that an interpretation "attributes a meaning, [...] a property" to an object,1 or that interpretation "makes sense of something that didn't before make sense" and "seeks understanding",2 or "to interpret X is to say what X means, that is, to assign X a meaning",3 is too general for most purposes. For one, a regular act of creating or choosing a new sign ("let X be the sign of Y") is obviously not an act of interpretation, yet it ascribes (new) meaning to the object in question (X).

It is widely accepted, and almost unquestionable, that verbal texts form natural candidates for (verbal) interpretations. But it is also quite common to regard musical and dramatic performances on stage as forms of interpretation. It is probably less common, but certainly not unusual, to conceive of a painting as an interpretation of its model or its subject matter. This variety in forms of interpretation is not without significant theoretical consequences. However, most of the literature on interpretation pays little attention to the fact that interpretation is not restricted to words but can encompass such disparate means of expression as sounds, body gestures, or brush strokes.

Typically, the common concept that is presented in the literature is either too wide or too narrow. On the one hand, it is widely inclusive: almost every cognitive activity can be regarded as a form of interpretation; on the other hand, it is narrowly exclusive: it is almost entirely limited to verbal (or verbal-like) activity. It thereby does not distinguish sufficiently between problems which stem from the nature of a specific kind of object (literary art, philosophy, music etc.) and general problems which are relevant to all forms of interpretation.

1. Hermeneutics: too broad and too narrow

The tradition of hermeneutics originates in the attempt to decipher hidden messages in holy scriptures and oracles. The general idea is that these verbal objects carry coded messages which are either purposefully hidden or simply inaccessible to the uninitiated. Lacking the required knowledge, the reader cannot decipher the message correctly. Like Hermes, who delivered the messages of the gods to mortals, the interpreter is the mediator between writer and reader (or listener), or text and reader. My disagreement with the traditional position as well as with its post-modern development begins with some basic premises.

1.1. Interpretation - a distinct activity

There is a strong tendency in many of the hermeneutic discussions to amalgamate different cognitive activities and regard them all as interpretation. It was Gadamer who stated that all understandings are interpretations: "Alles Verstehen ist Auslegen."4 Derrida goes further, claiming that there are only "interpretations of interpretations."5 Even if it were true in some sense that all understandings are interpretations, the conceptual distinctions between interpretation and other cognitive activities need to be drawn for theoretical purposes. Without such distinctions, Gadamer's insight or any other claim regarding interpretation would be meaningless. A term which does not draw any borderline among various cognitive activities is of little use.6 In fact, our vocabulary suggests that we not only understand and interpret but also describe, explain, decode, translate, clarify, criticize, etc. Are all these concepts dispensable, reducible, superfluous?

It should be noted that the principal question here is not whether all actual cognitions should be regarded as interpretation or not, but rather whether all these cognitive concepts are synonyms of "interpretation", sub-types of it, or can be eventually reduced to the concept of interpretation. Nonetheless, it should be stressed that clarity and distinctiveness on the conceptual level do not guarantee clarity and distinctiveness on the practical level. If I am asked about the conceptual differences between, say, description and interpretation, or between evaluation and interpretation, I can offer a fairly clear answer. But if I am asked to identify and separate, say, descriptive elements from interpretative elements in a given text, I doubt that I could give an equally satisfying answer. The conceptual understanding may, however, provide an explanation of the difficulties on the practical level.

Indeed, interpretation is always intertwined with other cognitive activities, but this is true of all other cognitive activities. I may agree, say, with Hirsch who regards the bond between values and interpretation as essential.7 However, even if interpretation is always intertwined with evaluation or with other cognitive activity, it does not follow that they are indistinguishable. Likewise, in practice we cannot separate color from shape, since there is no such thing as a shapeless patch of color or a colorless shape. Yet the concept of "color" remains distinct from the concept of "shape" and these concepts can be discussed separately.

1.2. Non-verbal objects and non-verbal interpretations

Most of the philosophical literature on interpretation focuses on verbal, written or oral texts as the main, if not the sole, objects of interpretation.8 This attitude is obviously influenced by the origin of the hermeneutic tradition, and reflects the understanding that interpretation deals with intentional messages which are in most cases verbal.

In the traditional view non-verbal objects, such as non-verbal works of art, dreams, gestures and so forth, are treated as verbal messages when subjected to interpretation. Thus art is regarded as some kind of a language, and any problem in understanding works of art, interpreting them or evaluating them entails mainly semantic or semiotic problems. Dreams have their set of signs, their own "grammar", by which they are interpreted as messages that are sent from one department of the mind to another. It is no wonder that the bond between interpretation and semiotics has become so strong, almost to the point that the two appear indistinguishable.9 Taylor sums this up:

Interpretation, in the sense relevant to hermeneutics, is an attempt to make clear, to make sense of, an object of study. This object must, therefore, be a text, or a text-analogue [...]10  

Clearly, dreams may be construed as messages, and of course body gestures or political actions may be understood as signals. The question is rather how these understandings raise issues of interpretation per se. Signals may require decoding, or clarification, not necessarily interpretation. A musician performing a musical composition does far more than decoding the notes (which in most cases do not need decoding) or clarifying/demonstrating written musical instruction. The musician interprets a non-verbal object without uttering a word.11  

One immediate consequence of accepting non-verbal interpretations is, that interpretations cannot be verifiable arguments (even if they may include such arguments). Non-verbal interpretations, by their very nature, require a different approach, a different criteria for their evaluation. If this point is accepted then even verbal interpretations should not be viewed as truth-claims which are subject to normative truth conditions. This argument, as I will further elaborate, gives the question of the validity of interpretation a different perspective.

1.3. Methods of validation

The traditional debates over the validity of interpretation may be illustrated by rotating the triangle: author-text-reader. The paramount question is which side of the triangle decides the issues.

Those who view the text as a coded message, regard the interpreter as a mediator between writer and reader. The disclosure of the original message requires that the interpreter possess a special knowledge in order to reach the right meaning of the text, the genuine message. This knowledge might include biographical details, historical facts, psychological observations, rhetorical conventions, and so forth. The ideal interpreter becomes the author's contemporary or even "identical" with the author.

This view, which has undergone various modifications, eventually produced a strong reaction, since it focused on the author rather than on the text. The famous intentional fallacy argument pleads for the autonomy of the text. The text, so the argument goes, is capable of carrying unintended meanings that remain vital beyond its original time and space. The author, as well as other "external" elements become thus inessential, even irrelevant. In this case, the interpreter functions as a mediator between text and reader and seeks to enable the reader to see what is inherent in the text, regardless of the writer's intentions. However, in order to see what is actually there, the reader, just as in the previous position, has to qualify by obtaining certain information, using certain tools and cultivating the appropriate sensibility. One of the interpreter's tasks is, therefore, to define the attributes of such an ideal reader (or any ideal conditions) and supply the relevant information that is needed in order to fulfill the ideal requirements. The difficulties inherent in the search for the ideal reader gradually led to a relativistic pluralism, by eliminating the "ideal" and maintaining only a non-specified reader.

The autonomy of the text was thus gradually replaced with the autonomy of the reader. Deconstruction, for one, denies the existence of a genuine hidden meaning in the text, preferring to regard the text as an open set that tolerates innumerable readings. Thus, the interpreter does not mediate between either the writer or the text and the reader, but rather recreates the text. After all, what is a text except black marks on white pages? It is the reader who imbues these marks with meaning and thereby recreates the text in his or her mind. It is the reader, so the argument goes, who determines both context and perspective. The interpreter no longer mediates. In the very act of "reading" each reader becomes an interpreter. Since the author has vanished in the previous stage, and since the text is reduced to mere marks on paper, the triangle now collapses into a vague line of argument. This development gives interpretation the whole kingdom, but at the same time empties it of all treasures: no definite object, no limits, no purpose.

Interpretations of philosophical texts have given a fourth side to the "triangle" which is, in most cases, irrelevant to literature. Dilthey, following Schleirmacher, argued that in philosophical texts the intended idea and the explicit text are not always identical.12 Thus, since the idea is what really matters, the philosopher-interpreter should search for an understanding of the idea behind the text, make it explicit and improve its presentation. The "genuine" idea is not necessarily what the author explicitly had in mind, but rather what s/he should have had. According to Kant:

It is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject [...] to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself. As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.13  

This view does not distinguish between interpreting the text and criticizing it or improving it. Kant apparently did not think of himself as criticizing Plato's philosophy. On the contrary, he expresses an agreement with Plato's ideas (as he, Kant, understood them). It is Plato's text that has some shortcomings; it failed to properly convey Plato's own genuine ideas. In this view, the validity of interpretation is the validity of the ideas which the text allegedly attempts to express.14  

This approach allows the interpreter to disagree entirely with the text while reading into it the interpreter's own ideas in the guise of the "real" or "ideal" intention of the writer (or the text). Moreover, it is not clear why the "interpreter" (Kant, in this case) needed the original text (Plato's dialogues) in the first place if he is interested only in valid ideas. Why make the effort to pull the "right philosophical idea" out of a text that does not express it clearly - or seems even to resist it? Why not re-write it or ignore it altogether and create another, better text?

The following analysis expresses a disagreement with all the above four views: (1) interpretation is the disclosure of the writer's intention; (2) interpretation is the disclosure of the genuine inherent meaning of the text; (3) interpretation is any act of (re)creating the text; and (4) interpretation is the extrapolation of the true idea behind the text.

2. Distinguishing among cognitive activities

One of the basic assumptions that guides my analysis is that distinct cognitive activities have their distinct functions; each aims at answering a different kind of question. The following is a brief account of some cognitive activities. This account functions as a tool for explicating and clarifying my arguments concerning interpretation.15

2.1. Describing

By "describing an object" we usually understand a detailed account of the object's qualities, situation and context, assuming that these are matters of fact. Such an account is taken to be "objective" in the strict sense: it is intended to be about the object, it is meant to be an account of facts; it is therefore subject to truth conditions, whatever these may be. The main function of a mere description is informative: one usually describes in order to inform or remind another person, or to present an object for discussion and to determine its relevant properties. Other purposes may be achieved as by-products. For instance, a description may also have psychological effects (raise emotions, create moods or influence ideological tendencies).

The description of facts (or whatever is taken as "facts") serves as the basis for other cognitive activities.16 All cognitive activities presuppose facts which exist independently of and prior to them and may be described with a reasonable degree of accuracy. If, for instance, it is claimed that the explanandum is generated along with its explanation, then it is not at all clear in what sense the "explanation" actually explains something. One cannot explain, clarify, decode or interpret anything to anyone if there are no common "facts" to explain, clarify, decode or interpret in the first place.

To be sure, the notions of "mere descriptions" and "facts" are explosive mines strewn in the field of philosophy. Goethe reflected that "The highest thing would be [...] to realize everything factual as being itself theoretical".17 Nonetheless, "facts" per se are theoretically and pragmatically indispensable. For our present needs we may consider as fact that which is expected to be common to all relevant agents under certain conditions. Being common does not necessarily mean being free of theories, conventions or perspectives.18 It is a conventional fact that "A" is the first letter in the Latin alphabet. This and similar conventional facts play important roles in everyday life and provide the conditions for other cognitive activities. The idea of "facts" in this restricted sense must be accepted as a postulate.

2.2. Explaining

An explanation is a verbal manifestation of order. It regards the explanandum as an instance of a general principle (a law, a rule or a theory). One explains by indicating the principle that prevails over the explanandum in a given context. Explanations are (or ought to be) systematic; they attempt to connect the relevant facts in accordance with a principle; they regard the particular as an instance of the general. The concept of a "private explanation" which fits only one case is like the concept of "private law" - a contradiction in terms.

An explanation is usually needed when the facts appear random and disconnected and one wishes to unify them by disclosing their common order and by relating one case to another and to other similar cases. The proposed explanation brings into play "hidden" elements which unify the apparently fragmented facts - the theory or the principle. When the principle is given or apparent, there is no need for explanation. Descriptions, by contrast, are designed to express only the apparent.

An explanation is associated with a certain field of interest, such as psychology, physics, chemistry and so on, and with a certain theory or method within that field; for instance, Freud's psychoanalysis, Jung's psychology, and so forth. "How would you explain X?" This question usually invites more than a difference in opinion; it suggests a comparison of theories or beliefs. However, compare it with the question: "How would you describe X?" This question is intended to confirm testimonies, get the facts right, and catch the liar. Offering different explanations for the same phenomenon does not raise logical difficulties; giving two contrasting descriptions, however, suggest that one is either mistaken about the facts or being economical with the truth.

An explanation is neither true nor false in a strict sense. It cannot be verified or disputed by mere facts. It may be "wrong" on two distinct levels: (1) the theory itself may be wrong in some sense (it is too narrow or inapplicable and so forth); and (2) one may hold the "right" theory but apply it incorrectly. Nevertheless, it may happen that one holds the "wrong" theory, applies it incorrectly and yet comes up with a sound explanation...

2.3. Clarifying

A clarification is typically a verbal activity that addresses another verbal activity. Strictly speaking, a clarification is not informative; it is a means of transmitting information. It is not intended to modify the original meaning, but rather to substitute one means of transmitting the original meaning with an equivalent one.

When we clarify, we draw upon a wide range of verbal activities: variations in assertions, variations in the orders of presentation, synonyms, translations, explications of conventional symbols or technical terms, use of examples, and more. Clarification is typically verbal although it may be also non-verbal; it may be achieved through gesturing, tone of voice and other non-verbal demonstrations that may substitute words.

Though clarifications are not meant to be informative, they may carry "indirect" information. Through clarifications one may learn new terms, examples, linguistic structures, and so on. These are only the by-products of the clarification process, not its principal function. This function achieves its aim when the means of clarification are transparent; that is, the perceiver "sees through" these means. When the message is clear, the means of transmitting it, ideally speaking, should be forgotten or thrown away like Wittgenstein's ladder. Indeed, this is how Wittgenstein (rightly or wrongly) regarded the function of philosophy:

Philosophy aims at the logical clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not 'a body of doctrines' but an activity... [it] consists essentially of elucidations. Philosophy does not result in 'philosophical propositions', but rather in the clarification of propositions.19  

Wittgenstein opposes clarifications of propositions with propositions and doctrines. A proposition is informative and hence subject to truth conditions; a clarification is not.

2.4. Decoding

Decoding is typically a verbal activity (like describing, explaining and clarifying). The object of decoding may be verbal or non-verbal. However, the non-verbal object, in the process of decoding, becomes analogous to verbal objects, that is, it is viewed as a set of signals, a language. Each signal carries a specific meaning determined by a certain code. Decoding an enemy's message begins with the belief that the apparently random signals conceal a coherent meaning. A detective working on a murder case regards a selection of facts as clues ("signals") which carry vital information.

As is the case with explanation, decoding aims to unify disparate facts. Yet, there is an essential difference between these activities. While explanation includes the particular under a general law or theory, decoding may be individual to the particular case: the enemy's second message may or may not be written in the same code as the first. The decoder cannot rely on seemingly similar cases to provide the right code - the apparent similarity may be misleading.

Decoding, unlike explaining, allows for only one answer. One may invent as many languages as one wants, but if one wishes to decode the enemy's message, there is only one code, whether one succeeds in breaking it or not. The final product of decoding is an adequate description of the object, that is, its "true story." By contrast, there are many plausible explanations expressing different perspectives, different theories (or "stories") which are not necessarily compatible. One may choose the theory according to which one wishes to explain a given fact; one cannot choose the code according to which a given object is coded. The detective may have different theories or hypothetical "stories" in mind, but only one "story" can be true, and it is not always the most original or the most intellectually stimulating hypothesis that proves to be the case.

Decoding is the intentional attempt at breaking a hidden code. A regular act of reading a text in one's native language is not an act of decoding, since the "code" is already known. A love letter written in a private language (known to the lovers only) may be decoded by the curious intruder; a letter written in English is simply read, not decoded, by English readers.

The association of interpretation with semiotics indicates that the distinction between decoding and interpretation is not commonly acknowledged. Symbols, signs, signals and alike are the objective of decoding. An archeologist attempts to decode - not to interpret - unfamiliar, ancient symbols. Later on, perhaps, s/he may also wish to interpret them, but first of all they must be translated into modern language. Likewise, the endeavor to uncover an author's true intention in writing a particular text is a typical case of decoding: the text is regarded as a coded message; the code may be either intentional or unintentional. If the text was intentionally coded then the author's testimony is probably the best source for decoding it; if the text was non-intentionally coded, one may turn to other sources in order to decode the true "intentions".20 Others turn from the author's intention to cultural intentions or even the particular reader's intention.21 The question, "whose intention?" is a matter of norms, values and interests, yet the activity is the same: revealing intentions is the objective of decoding. Interpretation, as I shall further elaborate, is a different matter.

3. The objective of interpretation

In order to illustrate the specific function of interpretation let us start with a typical case of a Biblical interpretation. The Bible tells us that at the end of each day of creation "God saw that it was good." This pattern has one exception - this sentence does not appear at the end of the second day, but it is repeated twice on the third day. The break in the pattern creates a disturbance, a sense of disorder. One interpreter suggests that the break in the pattern indicates the fact that the creation of water has begun on the second day but was completed only on the third day. Another interpreter suggests that there is a connection between this break in the pattern and the story of the flood: since water is associated with the flood, the consequence of the "wickedness of man", God (to whom the future is already known) regarded the second day's creation (the waters) as less pleasing than the creations of the other days of the week. Which of the interpretations should we accept?22  

Assuming that we cannot know the genuine intentions behind the text (if there are any), we cannot regard these suggestions as decodings. We can, however, approach these suggestions as possible solutions to the initiating problem (the break in the pattern) regardless of any true intentions. We may estimate which is a better solution; which is more interesting, profound and illuminating. To my taste, the first account seems unimaginative but reasonable; it does not reveal much beyond the apparent, but settles the seeming inconsistency. The second is imaginative and goes far beyond the apparent, but less complete, for it fails to account for the repetition on the third day.

Both interpretations imply that the break in the pattern is not accidental or meaningless, but rather an integral part of the narrative, and as such carries vital information. However, it is far from evident that the break is indeed integral to the text. It is the interpreter's task to convince the reader that this is indeed the case, that the "incompleteness" is only apparent, and that the object (the narrative) is in fact complete.

An object is regarded as complete when it satisfies the observer "as it is" - that is, when the object appears whole, coherent, all of a piece. To put the matter negatively, the object is complete when it does not create a sense of disturbance or disorder. A disturbance or incompleteness may take different forms within the object: inconsistency or disconnection among the elements, inconsistency with the observer's expectations or categories, redundancies, gaps in information, and so forth. The interpreter seeks to remove the apparent symptoms of disorder by "digging" into deeper, hidden layers of the object and revealing a latent order. The interpreter has to recognize the problem, distinguish between the apparent and the hidden and show how the apparent anomalies resolve with the hidden order.

The two interpreters of Genesis were responding to the same problem - the break in the pattern. This break, what I shall call disturbance, initiated their engagement in the interpretative activity. The interpreters were clearly capable of differentiating between what the text explicitly exhibits and what, according to their suggestions, remains implicit. Historical evidence tells us that they were also aware that other interpreters had offered different suggestions. They probably did not think of themselves as decoding the author's (Moses'? God's?) genuine intentions; they knew that they were speculating, suggesting possibilities. However, even if they considered their work to be an act of decoding, that is, revealing the true intention, it would still allow me (or any other reader) not to accept their view and consider their suggestions interpretations. The difference is not in the content of the suggestion but rather in the perspective from which one chooses to view it. The disclosure of the genuine intention does not necessarily guarantee a complete object; and equally, the completeness of the object does not guarantee that it fits the genuine intention. Considering a suggestion under one category rather than another involves different strategies, different expectations, different justifications and finally, a different evaluation. For instance, one may argue that as decoding, a certain suggestion is false, but as interpretation it is insightful.

We interpret when we wish to complete what is apparently incomplete (or disordered). We interpret when we believe in the genuine coherence of the object and wish to demonstrate this coherence by struggling with difficulties on its "surface". In modern fiction we often find a disruption in the chronological order - take for example, William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom, Juan Rolfo's Pedro Pàramo, and Yaakov Shabtai's Past Continuous. A narrative may jump back and forth in time without any apparent logic. Confronted with such writing, one may decide that the story is simply confused and therefore not worth considering further. On the other hand, one may suggest that the story obeys a different and perhaps unfamiliar concept of narrative order. The interpreter who assumes the latter case will look for an alternative explanation for the apparent temporal randomness of the narrative (for example, the story's events may follow the subjective associations of memory rather than the objective chronology of calendars and clocks). The apparent disorder presents us with a problem; interpretative reasoning supplies a possible solution.

The act of interpretation presupposes in the light of the present analysis several assumptions:

  1. The object in question is believed to be unified and complete and only appears incomplete (or disordered) in some sense, creating thereby a problem - a "threat" to its alleged unity. The nature of the problem may vary: inconsistency, gaps in vital information, accidental or redundant elements and so forth.

  2. The object and its problem are significant and worthy of the effort of interpretation. Although it may be true that a worthless score can be performed just as a worthy one - still, why waste time on an object of a poor quality? This is an important link between interpretation and values: interpreting an object implies a belief in its worth.

  3. The interpreted object is believed to consist of hidden layers that carry the potential for its completeness. Even if the interpreter uses external aid to "dig" into the object, the qualities thus found are related to the object.

  4. Completeness can be regained through the disclosure of the hidden layers. The object is reordered by including its (so-far) hidden elements among its apparent elements. The result is a presentation of the object in an informative, meaningful order. This order is believed to represent the object in its completeness.

  5. Since the hidden layers are indeed hidden, there might be different hypotheses concerning their nature, and more than one way to reorder a given object.

  6. There is no method, common to all cases, that can guarantee the successful unearthing of the hidden layers. It is a matter of intuition, insight and imagination.

  7. Interpretation is intentional. The interpreter is aware of the problem and the effort to solve it.

  8. Interpretation is neither true nor false; it is not verifiable but it can be justifiable. The justification lies in the conviction that the disturbing elements are resolved by the hidden layers that were brought to the surface. The interpreter is expected to account for the link between the problem and its solution, i.e., the surface and the hidden layers of the object.

  9. The justification is context dependent and involves personal and cultural views. It cannot be generalized and applied further to other cases. There are no norms or rules that necessarily determine the link between the apparent and the hidden layers in all cases.

From these presuppositions it follows that not every object calls for interpretation. Not every object seems incomplete and not every incomplete object is only apparently so. Not every object that can be interpreted is also worthy of the effort. Theoretically, everything may become (under certain conditions) an object for interpretation, but it does not follow that everything actually needs interpretation. Barnes argues that one does not interpret what one finds obvious.23 This may be true, but the reverse is not necessarily the case. Not every non-obvious object calls for interpretation on the account of its being non-obvious. The theory of relativity is not at all obvious to the uninitiated, but it calls for explanation and clarification, before it may become an object for interpretation.

But is there such a thing as a genuine need for interpretation? This question is not simple to answer. Given sufficient time and interest, one may detect in any apparently innocent object all kinds of problems and hidden layers. One may develop "interpretative skills" and regard almost every element as a possible clue to the existence of further, hidden information. In some cases we designate such behavior paranoia. How can the borderline be drawn? There are no rigid rules or characteristics which qualify an object for interpretation. Much of it depends on the beholder's expectations, beliefs, context and, in Kant's terminology, power of judgment.

In general, one may deny the need for interpretation for any one of the following reasons:

  1. One does not notice any incompleteness in the object. The object appears satisfying as it is.

  2. The object is of no value to the observer. It is not worthy of the attention and the effort involved in interpretation.

  3. The object is viewed not as one object but as an assembly of many objects. Its apparent incompleteness is solved by distinguishing and separating the objects instead of unifying them. The order of each object is thus independent of the others.

  4. The apparent incompleteness is a genuine incompleteness (a genuine disorder). The object can only be made complete by some external force or additional elements. It calls for correction and modification, not for interpretation.

Recalling the two Biblical interpretations, it is apparent that both interpreters believe in the significance of the Biblical text (as most of us do), and also in its inherent completeness and unity (unlike some of us). The Jewish religious interpreter, for instance, believes that the whole Bible (the Old Testament) was written by one hand (Moses'), that it expresses one voice (God's) and that it is therefore consistent, unified and informative even when it does not appear to be so. This belief in the Bible's completeness provokes an interpretative effort to settle the apparent inconsistencies, to explain away disturbances, to fill in missing elements and to restore the unity of the text. A Christian interpreter naturally includes the New Testament as an integral part of the Bible and offers interpretations to the apparent dichotomy between the Old and the New Testaments. A secular interpreter would not hesitate to resolve an apparent incoherence by renouncing the unity of the Biblical text (Old and New) and splitting it into many different texts written by different authors in different periods.24 In each case, it is the a priori assumptions of the beholder that determine whether the object is to be interpreted and unified or not.

Whatever the case may be, the pre-interpreted object cannot be meaningless. One has to have some understanding of the object in order to identify its apparent problems or deny such problems. Different understandings (which also reflect different beliefs) may reveal different problems and solutions, but a meaningless object reveals nothing. The interpreter cannot invent or create something out of nothing: the object must be informative and meaningful before it can provoke an interpretation. Decoding, by contrast, may start with a meaningless set of signs that becomes meaningful via the act of decoding.

Interpreting an object is not the act of mending or modifying it. This point is crucial. A slip of the tongue may be considered an innocent mistake. As such, it does not call for interpretation but rather for a polite correction or for tactful silence. By contrast, this very phenomenon, rendered a "Freudian slip", is no longer an "innocent" mistake; it is an "apparent" mistake. This is to say that it is not a mistake at all; it is a complete utterance which conceals hidden information. As such it does not call for correction but rather for interpretation or decoding - depending on the view one holds regarding mental phenomena in general and Freud's doctrine in particular.25  

The conviction that an object is genuinely incomplete in some crucial sense forms the basis for criticizing the object and exposing its deficiencies. It is one thing to mend a damaged object by adding or eliminating some elements, and another to suggest that the resolution of the apparent problem is an integral part of the object. Needless to say, the religious interpreter does not criticize the Bible, nor does he believe that the Bible requires corrections. Likewise, a musician does not alter Mozart's composition nor does s/he criticizes it when performing it. A score that needs correction is not worthy of being performed in the first place. Performing a poor composition or an unfinished one does not mend it, although in some cases a splendid performance may change our view of the original composition.

The fact that interpretation assumes the inherent completeness of the object creates a strong bond between interpretation and evaluation. Let us take this very argument as an object for interpretation. The reader may regard my argument as incomplete in some sense (a half-baked idea) or, worse, as inconsistent. The reader may wish to criticize me, argue with me, expose deficiencies, or discard my arguments as insignificant or useless. However, no reader, I presume, would make the effort to interpret this text and resolve its "apparent" deficiencies without the conviction that there is a worthy and complete idea inherent in my argument. In this sense, criticism (in its original meaning) and interpretation express opposing directions.

Criticism attacks and distorts the object's apparent completeness, while interpretation aims at dissolving apparent incompleteness. Criticism expresses mistrust in the object's coherence and worth; interpretation requires sympathy, appreciation and confidence in the potential of the object to reveal its concealed completeness. This is why I consider "critical interpretation"26 an oxymoron.

4. Objects of interpretation

As already argued, interpretation is not limited to verbal objects or to any other specific categories. Any object which appears incomplete, but is believed to contain the potential for its own completeness, calls for interpretation. A raw potato may be considered complete as a natural product; it is however incomplete as an edible object - it has to be cooked. A potato recipe offers an interpretation, a possible way of revealing its hidden qualities as an edible vegetable.27  

Some types of objects are more likely to be interpreted than others. A musical score typically calls for interpretation. It is incomplete in the sense that it calls for transformation into sounds; it "demands" a performance in order to realize it fully. On the other hand, a person blessed with a musical sensitivity, the right training and a particular taste, may regard the musical performance redundant since s/he can read a score and enjoy it in the way that most of us read a novel - as a complete object of its kind. Such a person experiences the musical composition via an "inner ear". Likewise, one may regard a written play as complete and enjoy reading it as such, independent of any performance on stage.

Is every performance an act of interpretation? Not necessarily. We can imagine a score dictated on the phone, or a melody hummed in order to remind someone of it, or a first year piano student who is still struggling to play the score without hitting false notes. These are obviously not instances of interpretation, although there is arguably some kind of performance involved in each case. When the student masters both the language and the instrument, this is the point where interpretation may begin and differences in quality of performance occur. Likewise, one can easily tell when a student is reading a text which s/he does not understand: the meaninglessness of the "performance" is evident. However, no actual case is indisputable. The King of Siam, so the story goes, was invited to a concert in Vienna. When it was over, he told his hosts that he liked only the very first piece; further inquiry revealed that he was referring to the orchestra tuning up. One person's meaningless noise is another's exciting performance.

The requirement for "facts" as the basis for interpretation does not necessarily mean, as Hirsch argues, that the object is "an entity that always remains the same from one moment to the next."28 Hirsch actually suggests that the text (or rather its pre-interpreted understanding) is entirely indifferent to changes in context. Such absolutism cannot be achieved for both theoretical and practical reasons.29 In order to protect the stability of an object, there is no need for such severe demands. One may adopt a flexible view that discerns in the object a relatively stable "core." Such a core may not be common to all viewers at all times; but only those who recognize a common core may agree or disagree about a proposed interpretation. Those who do not recognize the same core have no common grounds about which to argue.

The view that opposes Hirsch's, when taken to the other extreme, suggests that the text (or any other object of interpretation) is totally sensitive, and keeps changing with every new context and reader - never the same text twice. For similar reasons, this view cannot be accepted either. According to this argument, all readers read a different text when they read the same text.30 Similarly, the argument that "all readings are misreading", clearly works against itself. One may misread only what can be properly read. So, even if every reader sees different things in the text, there must be a text in the class that is agreed upon and read properly on some level and disagreed upon on another level. Indeed, there is more than one understanding of the text. But a variety of understandings does not eliminate the "common core"; on the contrary, it demands such a core. The common core may be composed of conventions and shared perceptions, common cultural associations and alike. There is no reason to accept solipsism when it comes to interpretation if one is not otherwise committed to it.

In sum, interpretation requires a common, factual, meaningful pre-interpreted object; if there were no such pre-interpreted object, there would be no interpretation of that either. If there is no agreement whatsoever about the pre-interpreted object, there can be no dispute over its interpretation.

Margolis describes the conflicting tendencies in interpretation in terms of stability and productiveness:

One [theory] holds that interpretation is practiced on relatively stable, antecedently specifiable referents of some sorts [...] and that the requisite account identifies the practice by which distributed claims about them are responsibly assigned truth-like values of some sort; the other holds that interpretation is a productive practice.31  

Margolis argues further that the second depends on the first. I agree with Margolis but I would go a step further: not only that the second depends on the first, but the two cannot be actually separated; they are mutually dependent. Productiveness in interpretation requires the stability of its object, whereas the restoration of the stability of the object produces a new observation. Interpretation always offers (or attempts to offer) a new insight (the value of this insight may vary), or else it is not an interpretation. In other words, interpretation is always productive. However, there is no new insight unless there is some given, "old", "stable" object to observe. There is no new understanding if there is no old understanding. The "old" raises the question, whereas the "new" and the "productive" supplies the answer. When separated, both tendencies lead to dead ends: total disorder or solipsism. Neither tendency bears much explanatory power.

5. The logical status of interpretation

5.1 Intentions

One of the arguments employed in favor of regarding the author's (or any creator's) intention as the sole criterion of a valid interpretation is that this is the only certain way to validate interpretations.32 Indeed, there can be only one true answer to the question concerning such intention, whether it is a conscious or subconscious intention.33 Problems relating to the methods of achieving the relevant information and validating the true intention, should not decide the theoretical point. However, if we accept that interpretation is a resolution of the apparent incompleteness of the object, we must also accept that the true intention is not the only possible resolution and not necessarily the most satisfying one. Moreover, other possibilities are not eliminated even in cases where the original intention is indeed the best solution to the interpretative problem. Other possibilities may be equally or less satisfying, but even the worst possibility is still a possibility.

The question of whether one ought to follow the author's intentions is, more than anything, a moral issue. One may argue that by ignoring the intentions of the creator one expresses disrespect to the person who actually produced the object in question. An object, so the argument may go, ethically belongs to its creator even if presented to the public or legally sold to another person. By interpreting it as we wish, we trespass on the territory of another person. Be that as it may, moral dilemmas require considerations in the realm of ethics. The conceptual analysis of interpretation cannot settle moral issues. The moral verdict, in turn, even if it supports the authority of the original intention, cannot change the fact that an object may be interpreted in more than one way and that the creator's perspective is not necessarily the most interesting and insightful perspective. In the light of this understanding, the debate over the role of the author's intentions is irrelevant to the conceptual analysis of interpretation; it is relevant to the moral, normative question of how one should deal with works created by others.

Wimsatt and Beardsley argue that the meaning of the work as a complete product may differ from the meaning intended by the author. Since intentions do not always fully materialize, it is the meaning of the work, as given, that should count.34 After all, the work consists of whatever is actually included in it, and not of what was intended to be included (which may or may not be part of the object). It is clear that Wimsatt and Beardsley, like many others, understand the act of interpretation as an attempt to reveal the true meaning(s) of the object (the text). By this understanding, even clarification of words, corrections of typing errors and decoding of symbols are considered interpretative acts. This is why Wimsatt and Beardsley find it difficult to explain away a printer's error in a literary work - one normally turns in such cases to the original intentions.

My argument is directed towards a different point. I wish to distinguish between the debate over the nature of the object as given and the debate over its interpretation. The first is about establishing the object's "surface"; the second aims at the hidden layers. These two levels may be hard to separate in actuality, but if we accept (in accordance with the present analysis) that every object precedes its interpretation, we have to acknowledge that there is a difference between determining the relevant facts of the object and offering an interpretation of these facts.

There may be a debate over the range and nature of the elements of which an object consists. In the process of "constituting" an object we may or we may not include among the object's relevant elements the fact that it was created in 1728, or the fact that it is categorized by the author as a comedy, or the fact that the author was Anglo-Irish. One may interpret a text with or without the awareness of the fact that the author classified it as comedy, with or without the fact that it was created in a certain time and so on. Interpretations that do not take into account those facts which seem relevant to us, fail to satisfy us, but they are interpretations nonetheless.

Two interpreters may differ in their initial understanding and knowledge of the pre-interpreted object. Each case may raise different problems and as a result, different solutions. One may find a dichotomy between the original intention and the apparent object, and offer an interpretation that resolves this dichotomy. The debate over the relevant facts is analogous to the case in which two detective argue about the relevance of certain details of a murder scene before they have solved the case. The fact that the window was open may or may not be relevant to the case. However, since solving a murder case is more like decoding than interpreting, once the case is successfully solved the debate over the relevance of the window will be concluded. In the case of interpretation there is no such final conclusion.

5.2 Facts and possibilities

According to the Biblical story, Joseph decoded Pharaoh's dreams; he did not interpret them. Pharaoh wanted access to the information which was coded and concealed in the oneiric imagery of fat and lean cows. As it happened, the ensuing events in the kingdom validated the code that Joseph proposed. Had Joseph offered Pharaoh an enticing, alluring and imaginative interpretation rather then precise decoded information, he would not have survived to see his brothers again.

Interpretations present possibilities which are, by definition, neither true nor false, but differ in their values as better or worse solutions to their problems. It is one thing to argue that in Anna Karenina, Tolstoy intended his depiction of Levin and Kitty in to be ironic (he probably did not). It is another thing, irrespective of Tolsty's intentions, to suggest that the story may be ironically viewed; that an ironic view resolves some essential puzzles and presents an integrated literary work. The first claims truth, the second claims possibility. Facts are connected to both in different ways.

Facts determine the problem to which the interpretation offers a solution; they cannot determine or limit the scope of the possible solutions. Lauren Stern argues that interpretations "are rejected, if they are contradicted by facts that are considered relevant."35 By contrast, I argue that only decodings may be contradicted and refuted by facts. Interpretations, like explanations, cannot be refuted by facts since they present possible ways of organizing and uniting facts. Facts and interpretations do not really contradict each other because they exist on different logical levels: facts provide the material, the object for interpretation; interpretations express something that is done with the given facts and thus goes beyond them. The material cannot contradict the product; it can manifest its resistance by generating a poor product.

Facts and possibilities not only have a different logical status but the idea of them also effects us differently. We do not tolerate contradicting facts, but we accept "contradicting" possibilities. This acceptance echoes basic logical axioms: "P and not-P" is a form of contradiction, but "P or not-P" is a form of tautology. Different or contradicting possibilities co-habit in the realm of possible worlds. The possibility that it will rain tomorrow, and the possibility that it will not rain tomorrow do not contradict each other as possibilities. Only when we turn from possibilities to actuality (facts), we render such oppositions impossible.

Once the code is broken, we do not look for other possibilities, unless we doubt the results. The detective will look for further evidence only if s/he suspects that the confession of the alleged murderer is false; otherwise the case is closed. By contrast, even if one admires a certain performance of Bach's music, one is ready to accept that this is not the last word, or rather, the last accord on the matter. Audience are willing to watch a new performance of Hamlet, without necessarily expressing thereby a dissatisfaction with former versions. No painting, brilliant as it may be, eliminates forever all other paintings of the same subject matter. Likewise, there is no definitive way of preparing potatoes, and people normally accept more than one recipe and are willing to try new ones. It is a logical demand that the fate of verbal interpretations should not be any different from that of non-verbal interpretations in respect to their logical status.

An interpretation may be based on false grounds, that is, when the relevant facts of the object are not correctly perceived. For instance, the two horns on the forehead of Michelangelo's Moses originate in the inadequate translation found in the Latin Vulgate Bible. The original Hebrew word Karan means irradiating. Indeed, the King James version expresses this understanding by translating the same phrase as "the skin of his face shone." However, the Hebrew word Karan has an affinity to the word Keren which means "horn". The Vulgate translation was probably mislead by this affinity: "cornutam Mosi faciem timuerunt prope accedere" (Exodus 34:30). Cornutam means having horns and this is the understanding that guided Michelangelo.

Michelangelo's powerful sculpture does not stand or fall on this detail alone. However, one could imagine that this detail would be the seminal cause for some observers' rejection of Michelangelo's interpretation of Moses. It might be argued, for instance, that the horned image portrays Moses as a Satanic figure. But this kind of disapproval does not make Michelangelo's interpretation false. The sculpture, as a form of interpretation, is not expected to portray Moses as he really was. Therefore, even if it were an incontrovertible historical fact that Moses had no horns, Michelangelo's sculpture would still be a "legitimate" interpretation. By similar reasoning, we do not reject a caricature (which is also a form of interpretation) just because the nose of the person in question is disproportional or his arms are longer than his entire body. Disproportion, exaggerations, mythological insinuations and alike are legitimate means; they carry meanings that the interpreter may wish to relate to the interpreted object.

6. The problem of evaluating interpretations

An interpretation is expected not only to present a mere possibility in the logical sense, but to teach us something new and significant about the object in question. Touching upon marginal, trivial or accidental features of the object results in a poor, uninteresting interpretation. Determining the value of an interpretation involves therefore two aspects: (1) the appreciation of the problem; and (2) the appreciation of the solution. The contribution of each aspect cannot be easily calculated. A good question does not always result in a good answer, and a good answer does not necessarily indicate the significance of the question or the importance of the object which raised the question.

The main question is, if we rule out truth, how do we know that the new understanding proposed by an interpretation is an adequate one? What is it that convinces the observer that an interpretation is good and justified? Moreover, what is it that convinces one observer and does not convince another? After rejecting the creator's intention, on the basis of the distinction between decoding and interpreting, is there any reliable ground left?

Clearly, the object "as it is" is not a sufficiently reliable ground. A poem entitled "love" is not necessarily a love poem in any conventional sense, and a painting of a bowl of fruit may be interpreted as meaning something different to fruit. Medieval Jewish interpreters suggested that the apparently erotic and secular Song of Songs is an allegory about the relations between God and the nation of Israel: the man represents God, the woman represents the nation of Israel. Every detail is consistently interpreted in this light, and erotic details are loaded with religious meanings and historical situations. This is one of the peculiarities of interpretation: the meaning of the apparent layer may be very different to the suggested meaning of the object as a whole.

The argument that the object itself limits the scope of its interpretations sounds better than it really is.36 It is exactly the apparent qualities which the interpreter wishes to interpret and seeks to go beyond. Moreover, defining the limits of the object and the status of its apparent qualities can in itself be a matter of interpretation. We learn very little about directions to an unfamiliar destination by defining our current location. We must have, in additional to the current location, a sense of direction (a hint, a premonition of it).

External elements cannot guarantee a good interpretation either. An interpretation of one poem cannot depend on the meaning of another poem, even if it is written by the same poet or belongs to the same genre. Analogies can mislead us: the same meaning that re-organizes one poem and turns it into a consistent whole, would not necessarily cause the same effect in another poem. An interpretation that consists of such analogies may result in a poor, unsatisfactory interpretation which fails to illuminate the object and present it at its best.

The allegorical interpretation of The Song of Songs was motivated by the belief that the holy book would never concern itself with profane love. Can "facts", the text "as it is" or any other external fact, undermine this belief? The medieval interpretation does not deny that the text "as it is" is about mortal love; it only argues that this is simply the apparent meaning of the text, and not the genuine complete meaning of it. Moreover, the allegory acknowledges the "facts" of the text by exploiting them as a key to the hidden meaning.

One may claim that the medieval interpretation contradicts the object's "surface"; one may employ historical facts concerning the author and his era in order to render this interpretation impossible; one may argue that the object in its non-allegorical meaning is better (more complete) or more beautiful than the allegorical understanding. One cannot, however, prove the medieval interpretation false. The allegorical interpretation may sound funny, disconnected, irrelevant, and implausible in a secular, twentieth-century context; it is, however, held to be sensible and revealing in Jewish orthodox circles. There are even those who innocently believe that this is not an interpretation at all but a valid decoding of the original intention. One may confront the values and beliefs which inspired this interpretation (or alleged decoding) with a different set of values and beliefs, but then it would no longer be a dispute over a particular interpretation, but rather over a whole world view.

But are there no limits to interpretation? Is evaluating an interpretation a capricious, mysterious act that can never be justified? I would say that the very interpretative questions limit the answers - the factors which determine the questions determine the scope and value of the answers. In order to accept an interpretation as a satisfactory solution one has to recognize the initiating problem and accept it as a significant problem of the object. A secular reader may not see any problem in the fact that a love-poem is included in the Bible, and thus see no need for any kind of interpretative solution of the above-mentioned sort. Even if one agrees that the medieval interpretation is consistent, witty and imaginative, one may still reject the interpretation as being a solution to a non-existent problem.

There are also "quantitative" factors that estimate the "distance" between a proposed interpretation and the object in question. For instance, the difference between a musical variation of a score and its interpretative performance is not simple to define. In many cases it is a quantitative matter - how extreme is the modification? I do not see any straightforward criterion which would decide such issues, but we clearly feel that if it is "too" far, then it is a "variation of", a creation of a new work which is inspired by the original, but not an interpretation of it. The quantity of elements "covered" by the interpretation is another factor: does this interpretation clarify all or most incoherences in the object? Does it unite more elements than another interpretation? How much "external aid" is employed in order to substantiate the interpretation in question?

The very fact that there are no formulae for constructing a good interpretation contributes greatly to our admiration for this practice. We cannot expect that given the object, every rational creature will arrive at the same interpretation. Interpretative observations stem from personal observation, and yet, many interpretations strike us as necessary, convincing insights which ought to be generally accepted. The process of interpretation remains a mystery: how does the interpreter of the Bible, the musician, the actor, the director and the literary critic come to see what they see in the object of their interest? How do they enable us to perceive things we have not seen before when contemplating the same object?

A good interpretation has to exceed the limits of the individual observer and touch upon something that is basic and common to many others. It takes an observant eye and an imaginative mind to see hidden layers in an object which are also there for others to see. It is a fact that in many cases we do come to see hidden layers through interpretations offered by others. This indicates common values and perceptions, and it gives interpretation a seemingly "objective" status. A good interpretation convinces us that the hidden layers which we failed to notice before are "really" there, that they constitute the essence of the object. They compel us to accept the idea of an immediate, intuitive kind of knowledge which cannot be verified by discursive methods.37  

To interpret one needs a "relatively stable" object, as Margolis puts it, and creativity. Being a creative act, interpretation brings about new knowledge but escapes the constraints of fixed rules or patterns; it shows us some truth about the object without being, in itself, subject to truth conditions. It is not a science; it is an art. Indeed, it is my view that art itself is a form of interpretation. A good work of art, like a good interpretation, exposes the perplexities of experience and responds to our vague premonitions. It processes the materials of experience and attempts to present a complete product, a meaningful experience. Art reveals to us unknown elements of experience; it teaches us to question the apparent and go beyond it in order to realize new potentials and contemplate the possibilities of our world.


1. Stephen Davies, 'Relativism in Interpretation'. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 53, 1995, p. 8.

2. Robert Stecker, 'Relativism about Interpretation'. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 53, 1995. p. 14.

3. Eddy Zemach, Real Beauty. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 1997, p. 115.

4. Hans-Georg Gadamer, Warheit Und Methode. Tübingen, J. C. B. Mohr, 1965, p. 366.

5. Jaques Derrida, 'Structure, Sign and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences'. in Macksey & Donato, 1972, pp. 264-265.

6. As Rorty puts it, "interpretation is an exciting notion only as long as it contrasts with something harder, firmer, less controversial - something like explanation or natural science" (Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism and Truth, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991, p. 102).

7. E.D. Jr Hirsch, The Aims of Interpretation. Chicago & London, The University of Chicago Press, 1976.

8. Gadamer, Ricoeur, Barthes and Derrida are among those who explicitly make this point. There are many who do not insist on this explicitly but imply this by the fact that they discuss interpretation only in relation to verbal objects, and in many cases these verbal objects are fictional literature.

9. This is the case with Rolan Barthes, Umberto Eco, Ferdinand de Saussure, and others. Problems of interpretation are transformed into problems of reading a text and decoding its signals.

10. Charles Taylor, Philosophy and the Human Science - Philosophical Papers 2. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1985, p. 15.

11. Gadamer makes it explicit that interpretation is essentially a verbal activity and no interpretation exists outside the linguistic realm. Gadamer, op. cit. (fn. 4), p. 426.

12. Wilhelm Dilthey, Gesammelte Schriften. Leipzig und Berlin, Verlag B. G., Teunbner, 1958, Band V, p.331.

13. I. Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, B 370.

14. De Man expresses a similar view by ascribing to the interpreter the role of disclosing the philosophical ideas of the text and criticizing them. See Paul De Man, Blindness and Insight: Essays in Rhetoric of Contemporary Criticism. New York, Oxford University Press, 1970.

15. This brief examination is far from exhausting these topics or presenting their main philosophical aspects, however, it suffices for the present analysis.

16. Margolis, for instance, argues that true descriptions are the basis for plausible interpretation. Margolis is well aware of the problem inherent to "true" descriptions, but nevertheless stressed the necessity of this basis. In Joseph Margolis, Art & Philosophy. Sussex, The Harvester Press, 1980.

17. Goethe, Maximen und Reflexionen No 575.

18. For a detailed analysis on this point, see Clarence E. Lewis, Mind and World Order. New York: Dover Publications, 1956, pp. 90-116.

19. Ludwig Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. trans. D. F. Pears & B. F. McGuinness, London and Henley: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1961, 4.112.

20. Clearly, this is a paradoxical notion. "Unintended intention" are non-existent entities. But since hidden, unaware motives are also considered in the literature under the category of "author's intentions", this paradoxical expression is appropriate here.

21. See Shusterman, 'Interpretation, Intention, and Truth", The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 46, 1988, pp. 399-411.

22. Both interpretations appear in Genesis-Rabbah, 3. The first was suggested by Rabbi Samuel Bar-Nachman; the second by Rabbi Yossi.

23. See Annete Barnes, On Interpretation. Oxford and New York: Basil Blackwell, 1988, pp. 1-26.

24. This is the case of the Book of Isaiah. Secular scholars, analyzing differences in style, argue that there is more than one writer behind the text and that they lived in different periods. According to the religious tradition, however, it is a single unified book.

25. The question whether science decodes or interprets nature is of similar kind. The answer depends on the agent's philosophical position and beliefs.

26. This term is typically applied to works of art. It denotes a whole range of activities related to the understanding and appreciation of art. See, for instance, Barnes, op. cit. (fn. 23), pp. 158-168 and Stecker, op. cit. (fn. 2).

27. Following a recipe is certainly not an act of interpretation; however, the original invention of a recipe is an interpretation.

28. Hirsch, 1967, p.46.

29. As already argued in the previous chapters, total indifference, just like total sensitivity, form total disorder, an inconceivable state.

30. Stanley Fish has asked: "Is there a text in this class?" If it were true that there is no one text in the class, how could it (or they) be discussed in any way, let alone be interpreted? Stanley Fish, Is there a Text in This class? Cambridge, Massachusetts, London, England: Harvard University Press, 1980. See especially pp. 303-321.

31. Joseph Margolis, 'Reinterpreting Interpretation'. The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 47, 1989, pp. 237-251.

32. Hirsch, for instance, argues that "To banish the original author as the determiner of meaning was to reject the only compelling normative principle that could lend validity to an interpretation". E.D. Jr. Hirsch, Validity in Interpretation., New Haven & London, Yale University Press, 1967, p. 5.

33. Strictly speaking, "subconscious intention" is a self-contradictory expression: it is either intended or it is subconscious. However, this expression should not be taken literally; it is used to indicate the range of subconscious motives.

34. Wimsatt W. K. and Monroe Beardsley. 'The Intentional Fallacy', Sewanee Review 54, 1946, pp.468-488.

35. Laurent Stern, 'Factual Constraints On interpretation', The Monist, 1990, p. 205.

36. This is the core of the New Criticism standpoint: the text determines its true interpretation. However, since interpretations always go beyond the apparent text, it is hard to see the apparent limits of the hidden.

37. This may come close to the kind of knowledge Croce had in mind when he wrote that "Knowledge takes two forms: it is either intuitive knowledge or logical knowledge." In B. Croce, The Aesthetic as the Science of Expression and of the Linguistic in General, trans. Colin Lyas, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, p. 1.

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