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Against Interpretation

Speaking of Jesper Juul, the other day a bunch of us were standing around after a lecture, and I was loudly complaining (as usual) about how often progressive game criticism overvalues expression of big ideas as the primary indicator of greatness. And Jesper quietly mentioned this essay by Susan Sontag.

I must have read it years ago and forgotten about it. Or, more accurately, never forgot about it. Reading it now is an inspirational mind-blower. This is what I meant to say.

4 Comments

  1. noah wrote:

    “In a culture whose already classical dilemma is the hypertrophy of the intellect at the expense of energy and sensual capability, interpretation is the revenge of the intellect upon art”

    feels good man

    Saturday, November 7, 2009 at 11:36 pm | Permalink
  2. Charles J Pratt wrote:

    I gotta say, while I agree with the sentiment behind the essay I think it gets taken too far.

    The history Sontag tells about the ascendancy of interpretation is interesting but to me seems pretty suspect (the dangers of story-thinking!). It seems to me that there’s a much simpler explanation, which is that it’s deeply pleasurable to the human mind to find patterns and meaning, even if neither is actually there. As such, the dangers of interpretation are that we mistake our own readings for an objective ‘truth’, hidden by the creator, that anyone can find if they know where to look, and seek to only socialize with those that share some or most of our interpretation (confirmation bias).

    To my mind interpretation by itself is harmless and is actually a wonderful way of taking a work and making something individual and personal from it. How interesting that someone could see a tank rolling down a street as Freudian symbolism! As long as we keep in mind that that says more about the interpreter than it does about the work!

    Where I do agree with Sontag is that there needs to be more commentary on the ‘form’ of works rather than their ‘content’. In my experience though often the only people who are interested in the form of a work are those who have tried to create one of a similar type. Which is why I say that game critics need to try to make games!

    Sunday, November 8, 2009 at 4:21 pm | Permalink
  3. Matthew Weise wrote:

    “As such, the dangers of interpretation are that we mistake our own readings for an objective ‘truth’, hidden by the creator, that anyone can find if they know where to look, and seek to only socialize with those that share some or most of our interpretation (confirmation bias).”

    You just described religion.

    Monday, November 9, 2009 at 6:28 pm | Permalink
  4. Charles J Pratt wrote:

    Bingo

    Monday, November 9, 2009 at 7:57 pm | Permalink

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