November 4, 2012

On Interpretation

Last weeks discussion of interpretation of an image brought up several different ways to view and understand images and images within images. The meta-picture was discussed as a picture within a picture, and I even made the connection that the meta-picture within the picture was contingent on the original picture in the same way that the irony of something is contingent on the first statement being made/heard before the second statement. However, examining the double pictures (duck-rabbit, double cross, my wife and my mother in law) made me really think about this concept in a different way. I can see both pictures in all of these pictures, but I can only see one at a time, and - of much more importance - I always see the same thing first. I have an immediate reaction of a rabbit when I first view the picture, and then have to show myself the duck through my own trained eye. The same goes with the double cross (I see the black) and the woman (I see the wife).

It actually reminds me of the professor/author/philosopher Jonathan Haidt, who made the claim that we have an instant reaction, and then make up reasons to support/explain our gut reaction after it happens. When applying this to text, do we have an instant interpretation of the text that we just assume to be what the text actually means?

When I first saw the rabbit, I only saw the rabbit, and assumed it was only a picture of the rabbit. my instant recognition of the rabbit was so fast that I never questioned if there could be multiple pictures within one picture. Back to applying this to text, I wonder if after our instant interpretation, do we then see entire words and paragraphs in a way that supports/explains our own interpretation? I think the answer has got to be yes, but this is a stunning realization for me. I have always seen myself as understanding the meaning of the text, not understanding one capable interpretation. In branching this out to the author, who is to say what the author's intention is (or if his/her intention is of any importance, when we already have the text and our own interpretations), if every claim in support of the supposed intention can be interpreted differently?

It certainly gives an explanation of why so many people disagree on the meaning behind various art forms (namely, songs, photographs, and paintings come to mind), and why the explanation by the author is not always needed - or even desired. You have supplied the form of art. Now let my own mind interpret it.


Michelle Macchio said...

I find much value in the realization you made in this post. By applying the idea presented by Mitchell in Metapictures--that an image can be experienced and interpreted in multiple ways and is based on our individual way of viewing the world--to text, you have pointed toward the direction in which theorists such as Barthes, who discuss the death of the author; Foucault, who examines the psychological constructs created by epistemes and maintained by institutions that contribute to the way we understand things; and similarly, the Marxists, who view thought as derived from societal forces and modes of production.

Shanae Simon said...

Reading this makes me ask a similiar question to yours that is is the initial reaction the one the author wants us to see and what we have to force ourselves to see is our own interpretation of the text or the picture? I believe that our intial reaction is the our own and what we are framed to see is what the author wants us to see. Therefore, I believe it is the opposite of what this question suggests. Our interpretation omes first because we see or read into something based off of how we think and what we think is the meaning behind the text or image. Then, we ask ourselves well what is the author trying to portray. It can also depend on the person because maybe there are peopl who as the authors interpretataion first.

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