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The contemporary zeal for the project of interpretation is often prompted by an open aggressiveness… The old style of interpretation was insistent, but respectful; it erected another meaning on top of the literal one. The modern style of interpretation excavates, and as it excavates, destroys….

Theory Content Essays by Jerry Fodor, First Edition

Interpretation is not as most people assume an absolute value, a gesture of mind situated in some timeless realm of capabilities. Interpretation must itself be evaluated, within a historical view of human consciousness.

In some cultural contexts, interpretation is a liberating act. It is a means of revising, of transvaluing, of escaping the dead past.

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In other cultural contexts, it is reactionary, impertinent, cowardly, stifling. Interpretation is not simply the compliment that mediocrity pays to genius. It is, indeed, the modern way of understanding something, and is applied to works of every quality. Interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art.

Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world.

Externalism and Self-Knowledge (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

As if there were any other. In a spectacular answer to the eternal and elusive question of what art is and what its duties are , she adds:.

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Real art has the capacity to make us nervous. By reducing the work of art to its content and then interpreting that, one tames the work of art. Interpretation makes art manageable, conformable. Interpretation, based on the highly dubious theory that a work of art is composed of items of content, violates art. It makes art into an article for use, for arrangement into a mental scheme of categories.

What is needed, first, is more attention to form in art.

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If excessive stress on content provokes the arrogance of interpretation, more extended and more thorough descriptions of form would silence. What is needed is a vocabulary — a descriptive, rather than prescriptive, vocabulary — for forms.

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Sontag points to cinema as the perfect example of a form that resists the violence of interpretation. She writes:. Perhaps the way one tells how alive a particular art form is, is by the latitude it gives for making mistakes in it, and still being good… In good films, there is always a directness that entirely frees us from the itch to interpret… The fact that films have not been overrun by interpreters is in part due simply to the newness of cinema as an art.

Interpretation takes the sensory experience of the work of art for granted, and proceeds from there… Ours is a culture based on excess, on overproduction; the result is a steady loss of sharpness in our sensory experience. In his eloquent introduction Fodor shows how the two areas are thematically united and epistemologically related, highlighting his concern in finding alternatives to holistic accounts of mental content. Fodor's philosophical essays develop an informational view of semantics that offers the possibility of atomism about meaning; his psychological essays present a modular view of cognitive architecture that offers the possibility of atomism about perception.

These ideas, he points out, are joined in epistemology in way that the books last essay begins to explore. Taken together, the essays represent Fodor's lively attempt to knock the underpinnings from the currently popular relativism to show that the arguments for semantic and psychological holism are insubstantial and that important alternatives exist to be explored. Rocco J. Search Search.


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