42a Art as Its Own Interpretation

Social Sciences: Philosophy
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   Art as its Own Interpretation  NineteenART AS ITS OWN INTERPRETATION  Nicholas Maxwell Published in  Interpretation and Its Objects: Studies in the Philosophy of Michael Krausz  edited by Andreea Ruvoi, Rodoi!,  ! #$%&'!(ontributin) to this volu*e dedicated to Michael +raus )ives *eenor*ous leasure! -ut I .ind the occasion also extre*elyinti*idatin), .or I roose to resond to +raus/s two *ost recent boo0s,  Rightness and Reason 1RR2 and  Limits of Rightness 13R2! 4 What +raus has to say in these two volu*es is so co)ent, so lucid, so*asterly, that you are le.t wonderin) what could be added, 5uestioned,or challen)ed! +raus is in an esecially )ood osition to sea0 onthese issues o. interretation as, in addition to bein) a hilosoher, heis also an artist and conductor! Proble*s o. interretation arise .or hi*not 6ust as hilosohical roble*s to be re.lected on, but as ractical roble*s that need to be dealt with durin) the rocess o. creation andrecreation, in art and *usic! My only hoe, I have decided, is to be rovocative, no doubt .oolishly rovocative! In this essay I will de.enda version o. what +raus calls 7sin)ularis*!8 The version that Ide.end *a0es what *ay well aear outra)eous clai*s! Not only doesit assert that wor0s o. art have one correct interretation, it has theaudacity to seci.y, in each case, what this one correct interretationis! This view, you *i)ht thin0, exhibits all the overarchin)a*bitiousness, the hubris, in the .ield o. her*eneutics, that clai*s to roound the one and only true 7theory%o.%everythin)8 have intheoretical hysics!As those who have read RR    and 3R    will 0now, +rausdistin)uishes two views, which he calls sin)ularis* and *ultilis*!Sin)ularis* asserts, as I have already indicated, that each wor0 o. art1or cultural arti.acts *ore )enerally2 has 6ust one ad*issible, correctinterretation, while *ultilis* allows that so*e wor0s o. art *ayhave several di..erent ad*issible interretations! Accordin) to*ultilis*, 9incent van :o)h/s  Potato Eaters  1to ta0e one o. +raus/s 4'   NICHOLAS MAXWELL exa*les2 *ay ad*issibly be interreted alon) .or*alist, sychoanalytic, Marxist or .e*inist lines! It *ay be ossible to )ivereasons as to why one o. these interretations is better than another, but these reasons are li0ely to be inconclusive, and it need not be thecase that 6ust one correct interretation exists! Two or *oreinco*atible interretations *ay be e5ually correct!The version o. sin)ularis* that I wish to de.end holds that thewor0 o. art itsel. is the correct interretation o. itsel.!  King Lear   is thecorrect interretation o. Willia* Sha0eseare/s lay  King Lear  ; the  Mona Lisa  is itsel. the correct interretation o. 3eonardo da 9inci/s icture; and <ohann S! -ach/s St Matthew Passion  is the correctinterretation o. itsel.! 7This is nonsense,8 the cry *ay )o u! 7=owcan a wor0 o. art be its own interretation, let alone the correctinterretation>? An interretation is, by de.inition, so*ethin) 5uitedistinct .ro* the wor0 o. art itsel.! A wor0 o. art *ay be a icture, a iece o. *usic, a dance, a lay, a novel or oe*, a .il*, a sculture!An interretation, by contrast, is a iece o. discursive rose that sets.orth a articular view about the *eanin) o. the wor0 o. art in5uestion! Its .unction is to illu*inate the wor0 o. art! An interretationis not a wor0 o. art in its own ri)ht! An interretation is a text thatexounds, 5uestions, criticies, and ar)ues! Aart .ro* those rarecases where a wor0 o. art is itsel. 6ust such a text 1Plato/s dialo)ues, erhas2, an interretation cannot itsel. be a icture, iece o. *usic,etc! No interretive scholar aints, chisels or co*oses to write histext@ he or she writes! The thesis is re.uted!+raus would not, I thin0, a)ree with this ob6ection! RR    oenswith a discussion o. *usical interretation, durin) the course o. which+raus *a0es the thorou)hly reasonable oint that several er.or*ances *ay )ive the sa*e interretation o. a 5uartet or sy*hony! We cannot identi.y an interretation with a er.or*ance, but a er.or*ance 1i. any )ood2 nevertheless yields, or is an exa*leo., an interretation! =ere, an interretation o. a iece o. *usic isitsel. a er.or*ance o. that iece o. *usic! And even when rivalinterretations are bein) discussed, on the radio .or exa*le, toco*are and contrast ieces o. recorded rival er.or*ances, toindicate di..erent interretations, is nor*al ractice! Art historiansso*eti*es do so*ethin) si*ilar! They )ive s0etches o. a wor0 o. artunder discussion to indicate structural atterns, )eo*etrical .or*si*licit in a )rou o. .i)ures! So*eti*es a crossover .ro* one art.or* to another occurs@ conductors, in order to indicate how they wish 4   Art as its Own Interpretation a assa)e to be hrased or interreted, *ay do so with )estures, withswees o. the hand in the air, even with )ri*aces! And this *ay be .ar *ore )rahic and e..ective than anythin) they could say! (onductin)is erhas, in art, the art o. indicatin) an interretation by *eans o. a0ind o. restricted dance! Nothin) here recludes the ossibility o. an interretation bein)in the sa*e *ediu* as the wor0 bein) interreted, and nothin) recludes the wor0 .ro* bein) its own best interretation! In *anycircu*stances, to ta0e the .or* o. a text, erhas with illustrations, is*ore use.ul .or an ad6unct interretationBas we *ay call aninterretation that is not the wor0 o. art itsel.Bthan .or it to ta0e the.or* o. another wor0 o. art in the sa*e *ediu*! This will be the casewhenever the ad6unct wor0 o. art would be 6ust as oa5ue, asinco*rehensible, to the audience, as the ori)inal wor0! -ut this will by no *eans be always true! And in any case, no dee rincile existshere@ 6ust a ractical 5uestion as to what 0ind o. ad6unct interretationwill do the 6ob best, in the )iven context, )iven the nature o. the wor0 o. art, and the level o. exertise o. the audience!3et us concede that an interretation can ta0e the .or* o. a er.or*ance, a drawin), a )esture, and does not need to be a text! Thisdoes not establish that a wor0 o. art can be its interretation! Aninterretation, it *ay be ar)ued, is distinct .ro* that which isinterreted! No wor0 o. art can be its interretation!This 5uestion can be settled by .iat, by 6ust de.inin)7interretation8 as non%re.lexive, incaable o. alyin) to itsel.! -utdoes this .ollow .ro* the ordinary *eanin) o. 7interretation8>+raus re.ers to the  Eng!ish O ford #i$tionar%  de.initions o. interretation as 7exlanation8 and 7exosition8 13R, ! 4#2! Whyshould these not be interretable re.lexively> Why should notso*ethin) be sel.%exlanatory, the best exosition o. itsel.> +raus)oes on to 5uote the O ford #i$tionar%  as exlicatin) interretation insuch ter*s as 7construction ut uon8 or 7reresentation8; and inter*s o. such reositional hrases as 7to exound,8 7to render clear or exlicit,8 7to elucidate,8 7to brin) out the *eanin) o.,8 7to obtainsi)ni.icant in.or*ation .ro*,8 7to ta0e in a *anner,8 7to construe,8and 7to si)ni.y!8 Nothin) here *a0es it i*ossible to construeinterretation in such a way that it can be re.lexive, that a wor0 o. artcan be an interretation o. itsel.! What could 7reresent,8 7exound,87render clear and exlicit,8 7elucidate,8 7brin) out the *eanin) o.87construe,8 and 7si)ni.y8 a wor0 o. art better than the wor0 o. art 4C   NICHOLAS MAXWELL itsel.> I. so*ethin) other than the wor0 o. art reresents, exounds,and so on, the wor0 o. art better than the wor0 o. art itsel., is not thisother thin), whatever it *ay be, a better wor0 o. art in its ri)ht> Noconcetual or de.initional ob6ection has been .ound to holdin) that awor0 o. art is its correct interretation! -ut this does not *a0e it true!Is it ever true> Is it always true>One way o. construin) the *atter would *a0e it onlyin.re5uently true! (onceivably, a wor0 o. art, a novel or oe*, *i)htcontain within itsel. an interretation o. itsel.! The author, usin) hisauthorial voice, tells us in no uncertain ter*s what the overall *eanin)o. the novel is; the oet rovides a stana, which rovides aninterretation o. the rest o. the oe*! That is not what I *ean when Ideclare that a wor0 o. art is its correct interretation! That is a case o. a wor0 o. art containin) an 1ad6unct2 interretation o. itsel.; it does nota*ount to the wor0 o. art, in its entirety, bein) the correctinterretation o. itsel.!So .ar I have considered ob6ections to the thesis that a wor0 o. artis its correct interretation! What ositive )rounds are there .or adotin) this view>One )reat advanta)e o. holdin) that the wor0 o. art is its correctinterretation is that this view auto*atically ensures that, in the worldo. interretive activity, the wor0 o. art has ride o. lace! One dan)er that besets interretive wor0 1as usually understood2 is thatinterretation *ay co*e to aear al*ost *ore i*ortant than thatwhich is bein) interreted, the second bein) no *ore than the raw*aterial .or the .irst! Scholarly literary studies so*eti*es aear toexalt the*selves above literature, and oor students, instead o. absorbin) literature at .irst hand, absorb diverse oinions o. scholarlyacade*ic exerts about literature! Scholarly debates between theexerts can co*e to aear *ore i*ortant than the literature that)ives rise to the debates in the .irst lace! 3i0ewise, history o. art canaear to beco*e a distinct, al*ost autono*ous disciline, with itsarcane rituals, re*ote .ro* the art that art history is intended toillu*inate!The view I a* de.endin) i*lies that, even in the world o. interretation, the wor0 o. art itsel. is sure*e! Ad6unct interretationscan only be, at *ost, ad hoc additions to the correct interretation, thewor0 o. art itsel.! :iven this view, in see0in) to i*rove our understandin) and areciation o. wor0s o. art, to these wor0s o. artwe *ust return, interretive studies bein) used only as ad6uncts! Music 4#
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