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February 1996, Week 4


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Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Sean Desilets <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 23 Feb 1996 12:44:10 -0500
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
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On Thu, 22 Feb 1996, Mike Frank wrote:
> to me, the only immediately available way of resolving this problem is to
> assume that meaning is ENTIRELY contextual, and a function of the viewer's
> [or reader's] preconceptions . . . but that gets us in to lots of trouble and
> makes it impossible to disagree with, object to, or reject the claims
of a text
>  . . . for in saying that meaning is entirely contextual we paint ourselves
> into a corner where we have to posit that texts really don't SAY anything at
> all . . . and how can you disagree with silence?
When you say this is a complex question you're not kidding, and it may be
sort of out of proportion for a discussion that people are going to
conduct during the short stretches of the day they have to sit and answer
email. THat being said, let me throw a couple of things out there.
        First off, I KNOW we're not going to get anywhere discussing
truth-values of interpretation. We can, though, note that certain textual
elements produce similar interpretaive moves in certain communities.
Western filmgoers have an incredibly complex network of such shared ways
of reading, and without it film would be meaningless to us. We all know
and understand, for example, what to do with stock images like say the
spinning newpaper headline coming out of nowhere to let us in on the
press' responses to big events. Now we can probably go a step further,
even, and admit in this context another level of shared interpretive
moves. For example, we can probably agree that some kind of hetero-erotic
economy is in play in that Coke add that Mike mentioned. I'm not claiming
that these readings are "right," only that they can be reproduced in a
large population of readers who have a certain set of widely shared
experiences (this is, after all, how language itself works on the
simplest level). So texts don't (can't) be "silent"--they are only texts
by virtue of the fact that they ARE interpreted (whether we like it or
not), and very often they are interpreted very similarly by lots of people.
        I suppose that was a pretty simple observation which most people
would probably assume, but I thought we should start from the beginning.
Sean Desilets
Tufts University
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