digging deep

In my English Literature class we discussed a literary process called “Deconstruction”.  This, in a nutshell, is breaking down any literary work (story, book, poem) and analyzing it.  In looking deeper, you then decide how you personally interpret what the author is trying to say.

For example, as stated in my literature book, Texts and Contexts, the author, Steven Lynn, uses the example of a sign beside an elevator reading:  SEEING EYE DOGS ONLY. 

A deconstructive reading of this text might point out that although it appears to extend assistance to the visually impaired, it literally should force them to walk up the stairs, for the sign literally appears to say, “This elevator is reserved for seeing-eye dogs.  No other animals or persons can ride”. . .Plus, blind persons obviously cannot read the sign, which suggests that some other intention does motivate it.

Now, I’m not saying we should over-read everything.  Some texts aren’t trying to hide a “secret message”.  They just simply say what they mean.  But I understand how one could become better educated if they occasionally exercized this method.  Basically, don’t always take things at face value.

Let me share another quote from my book explaining the basic result of deconstruction:

A text (of any sort) means ultimately whatever people can be persuaded to believe it means, or what the entity with the most power says it means, or what each individual thinks it means. Language is just that pliable and elusive.

Wow.  That’s a strong statement.  Now think of that in religious terms.  Can anyone interpret the Bible to mean whatever they want?  How convient!  I think you’d have Christians in an uproar over that.

But, as Christians, don’t we that among ourselves?  Isn’t that why we have a million denominations?  So why can we do it but not anyone else?

Let me know your personal thoughts on this one . . .

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3 Responses

  1. No offense to your professor, but this is precisely the kind of claptrap that gives the study of literature a bad name.

    As I used to tell my students (when I used to teach high school English), there is no one right answer, but there are still many wrong answers.

    In other words, if a text is up to interpretation, it doesn’t mean any interpretation of it is valid. The interpretation has to be supported by the text and context. You would have to do some serious analytic somersaults to interpret The Scarlet Letter to be about the impossibility of achieving redemption or about the necessity of self-flagellation.

    Likewise, to say that the New Testament writings say eternal salvation comes only from accepting Lucifer as your Lord and savior would have no support.

    You cannot interpret any text any way you want. You can, however, read texts with different lenses. You can, for example, do a critique of a novel from a feminist perspective or from a Marxist perspective.

    There are basically three currents running through every book: What the author intends the text to meanWhat meanings the text actually hasWhat meanings a reader makes out of a text Now if the writer is a skilled enough writer who isn’t out to make fools of people, then the first and second will be the same. And if the reader is a careful reader, the second and third will be the same.

    Neither is usually the case, though. Some writers do not intend their writings to carry certain meanings, but they have unconscious assumptions and beliefs that make their way into the fiction they write. And many readers decide to make meaning out of meaning that isn’t there, just because they happen to think of something the text reminds them of (for example, Catcher in the Rye inspiring you to shoot John Lennon).

    If any piece of writing can be interpreted to mean anything, then there’s no point in writing at all. Think about it.

  2. Whoops. Those first italicized bits were supposed to be a bullet-pointed list…

  3. Thanks Ubuntu! I agree with you, most definitely.

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