Friday, June 16, 2006

On Umberto Eco (Updated)

On Literature. Today, in my mailbox, an opportunity to time-travel awaited me. Back in the day--the university days--my favourite courses were often in the area of Aesthetics, sitting in lectures that, ultimately, entailed an intersection of my philosophy and comp lit pursuits. I especially remember in fact--not in appreciable detail--reading Umberto Eco's opinions on interpretation:
Readings works of literature forces on us an exercise of fidelity and respect,
albeit within a certain freedom of interpretation. There is a dangerous critical
heresy, typical of our time, according to which we can do anything we like with
a work of literature, reading into it whatever our most uncontrolled impulses
dictate to us. This is not true. Literary works encourage freedom of
interpretation, because they offer us a discourse that has many layers of
reading and place before us the ambiguities of language and of real life. But in
order to play this game, which allows every generation to read literary works in
a different way, we must be moved by a profound respect for what I have called
elsewhere the intention of the text.
The relationships between the literary work and the author, between the literary work and the reader and the distance between the author and the reader: I realize that it doesn't bear saying that Eco's position is not universally held (these relationships are constant sources of dialogue) but, there, I said it anyway.

Umberto Eco: On Literature
(Translation of Sulla Litteratura by Martin McLaughlin)
Umberto Eco
Softcover, 334 pp
Harcourt, Inc. (2004)

For Richard Rorty's (!) opposing opinion, there's Interpretation and Overinterpretation (published in the early 90s, university-days time). Damn, now I have to buy this. I seem to recall having taken a course on a single paragraph written by Richard Rorty (OK, I'm exaggerating at little) and enjoyed his pragmatism. In Interpretation and Overinterpretation,
Three of the world’s leading figures in philosophy, literary theory and
criticism take up the challenge of entering into debate with Eco on the question
of interpretation. Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler and Christine Brooke-Rose each
offer a distinctive perspective on this contentious topic, contributing to a
unique exchange of ideas between some of the foremost and most exciting
theorists in the field.

I can see where this is leading me. I'm going to end up reading Richard Rorty again. I'm going to end up returning to Eco On Literature again and again.

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