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February 1994


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Sterling <[log in to unmask]>
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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Mon, 28 Feb 1994 15:26:00 EST
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Although I follow and agree with much of Barthes(or at least this
idea of the death of the Author/birth of reader), I'm still a bit
apprehensive.  It's all nice to discuss and art/lit in such terms but
we shouldn't stop short but extend this line of thought to history.
Basically historians are given a number "facts" (1945 Hitler did so and
so, etc) in the same way the events of a text, the plot perhaps, or the
mere "physical" elements (color, sequence, etc.) are "objective."  His-
torians try to interpret some sort of possible cause-effect relation-
ship --or so I simplify.  And then there are times when people try to
"rewrite" history by ignoring/denying/pretending events did not happen
--when it's beneficial it's called "revisionist."  At any rate, it's
not history revisionists dispute but the prevailing interpretation of
history instead.  So is there a distinction between the image and the
referent? -- the interpretation and the history?
   At any rate, this may all sound like standard conservative thought
here, but I have yet to here any adequate defense of this sort of
   I do believe in the authority/autonomy of the reader but there is
a connection between the author and reader.  Although the reader may
draw any interpretation he/she wishes, the author can try to limit the
range of interpretations using cultural codes.  People can read Joyce
and come up with hundreds of interpretations, but people can read a news
paper article and derive at best only a handful.  Although an"artistic"
text may be empowering in its"openness" for readers, any critical essay
on such a text is usually "closed" and clearly not much room is left
for reader response of the critical essay itself.  If we must believe
Barthes wholeheartedly and oversimplistically, why can't I interpret
Barthes to argue for authorial intent regardless of what he says?
   The use of cultural codes brings up the distinction between expres-
sion and communication.  Such a "closed" text as Indiana Jones was in-
terpreted by an Indian guru to be a story about a man overcoming his
fear of snakes.  "Art" shouldn't be measured by how open or how many
possible meanings it may have--this openness depends mostly on the
imagination of the audience.  Implicit in such a measure of "art" is the
cultural, possibly Romantic tendency to let "art/artist" be as self-in-
dulgent as he/she wants to be just because it's "art."
   I find much "political" art to contain this self-indulgent assumption
to excuse its possibly shoddy communication of political statement. Such
art praised for its content but whose ambiguity is excused because of it
s "artistic" status is in my opinion bogus--or at least "wrongly" appre
   At any rate, what is it that we are reading,interpreting, and discus-
sing when we talk about a movie?  We can never escape our own subjective
senses--a near-sighted person sees a different movie than a colorblind
viewer.  But we must also realize that there are enough similarities,
cultural codes to allow communication and that nothing exists in a vacu
um.  It's somewhere between atomized individual relativism and objective
"truth," between the individual and the social--it's this space which
Fredrick Jameson (of _Postmodernism: or the Cultural Logic of Late Capi
talism_) might argue postmod should explore--a space which some feminist
filmmakers who shun the subjectivity emphasized in modernism seem to
work in.  It's not really a helpful answer, but it's the best I've heard
.   ---Sterling Chen