Autofiction: Interpretation

This Is Not A Work Related Post

Interpretation

Just wanted to be clear about that. Apparently it’s important. Perhaps to be even clearer, this is a fictionalised account of the sort of thing that might happen to a person. When I reach out for a name, perhaps when I can’t quite remember someone’s name, or when I allocate a default, it’s usually Dave for a man and Julia for a girl. I don’t really know why. Maybe in my head they are everyman names – certainly they’re fairly common, but more importantly they don’t conjure any specific connotations for me. That makes them useful, I can project what I fancy for characterisation when on stage and since they are average-type names I find them empathetic and sympathetic – they are just like everyone else.

 

Of course, that doesn’t stop other people from having different assumptions. It’s possible that a reader or audience member might think that I thought all Daves were insane skin harvesters or that all Julias enjoyed knitting during stockbroker meetings. They might even assume that since they themselves share a common name that this is in fact a judgement upon them, and respond to it as if they themselves were the focus of the scene. The question, I guess, is which of these opinions is the more important or accurate, and whether we ought to grant the audience member the right to make those assumptions?

Impractical Criticism

I fondly remember the enjoyable pointlessness of GCSE and A Level English Literature in which we were told about the various interpretations there are of characters and themes in Shakespeare, Chaucer, Webster, Austen and many others. We were encouraged to root into those works and dredge up whatever connotations and assumptions we could justify, using the flimsiest or most complex interpretations we could. While we could easily present a case of racism (or whatever) against the author we could equally easily cry post-modern bollockisms and reinterpret the work in the light of the death of a fishing village in Portugal.

Were any of those ideas true? We found evidence, sure, and chose to interpret it along a set of assumptions. Were they what the author intended? We had no way of knowing as the author had not been thoughtful enough to provide a full justification of their work. Even if they had, we were still encouraged to disregard it, interpret their own explanation in the context of the war, the incipient homoeroticism of the age, a letter inn a newspaper that criticised their love of daffodils. So the author’s intent became the least important aspect of their work.

Their Shoes Are The Wrong Size

I personally think that is total bollocks. Sure, you can partly understand a piece of prose in the context that it was written, but ultimately unless you can get into the author’s head (which you can’t) or ask them about it (you probably can’t because they’re usually safely dead before we rip into them), you either like or dislike the piece of art. That’s it. “I like this book because it reminds me of a sheep in a river”. Fine. But “the sheep, stranded in the river represents Nazism stranded at the end of WWII in the faster flowing ideological tide of communism” is just a load of wank.

Incredible Credulity

It gets worse of course. If one abstracts a sentence or two from its natural context and submits it, anonymously (for fear of prejudicing the reading, one can only assume), to some critical body with powers to act upon the content of the phrase – what would we expect to happen? Undated, timeless, free of context and reference – what is the sensible course to take with such a quote? In GCSE history we were taught to analyse the sources of information. Highly prized was the motive in supplying information. Anonymity makes something impossible to check for accuracy (was the phrase written by the named author?), context. Anonymity itself makes the item suspect. Especially if it is possible, or even likely that a remark taken out of context and handed to a prejudiced observer, might seem to imply a criticism or abuse.

Judge. You Must Judge. At Once.

On receipt of such an item what should that reader do? Ignore it? Well, someone has taken the time to draw one’s attention to it. We shall assume the earnestness of that someone – that they are merely trying to be helpful. Without context it would be difficult to judge malice, surely. So this ‘thing’ – with no context, history or evidence of its source, what can we do but assume, assume like banshees shrieking in the wind. It is obvious therefore that the cited phrase is in breach of some agreement, that the unnamed, unreferenced person or organisation that we assume (from the hidden prejudices of our our mind) is in someway ourself, or the organisation that we represent. Therefore the phrase is offensive, and the author (of whom we yet have no proof) must be both blamed and reprimanded.

Our first move must be to censor (admittedly without cause or certainty), to enforce our rules (which we may not have yet read through, to be certain that the quoted offence does indeed transgress those rules, and to thereby attain the moral highground), and to reprimand the individual identified by an anonymous source for an action whose date, context and existence are as yet undetermined.

It doesn’t sound like a great plan does it?

A Polly Oggy

Is it just barely possible that we might have acted inappropriately in our presumption of guilt, of thoughtless credulity at the offered evidence, of ignorance of our own rules, of prejudice in our assumptions about the intentions and meanings of another’s thoughts expressed in ambiguous and non-referential terms. Might we even be considered foolish for such an action, for colluding with the (more likely) malicious intent behind such an action as lifting a phrase out of context and sending it anonymously to one with the power to punish the author (apparently without proof or investigation), for harrassing, bullying and attempting to impinge on the freedom of an individual to express themselves without fear of censure or censorship when they do in fact comply entirely with the rules we failed to check before acting blindly?

Yeah, maybe. Hope that person isn’t really pissed off…

This is a fictional account of something that might have happened somewhen to somebody.

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