FRIDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2021
The past isn't even past: Way back in 1966, Susan Sontag literally almost wrote the book on the important subject.
"On Interpretation." That's what the title of her famous book almost was.
The actual title of the book was perhaps somewhat different. According to all critical sources, the actual title was this:
Against Interpretation and Other Essays
As it turns out, Sontag's famous book was a collection of essays. The leading authority on this topic describes the book as shown:
Against Interpretation is a collection of essays by Susan Sontag published in 1966. It includes some of Sontag's best-known works, including "On Style," and the eponymous essay "Against Interpretation." In the latter, Sontag argues that the new approach to criticism and aesthetics neglects the sensuous impact and novelty of art, instead fitting works into predetermined intellectual interpretations and emphasis on the "content" or "meaning" of a work.
Few will argue with the eponymous essay's central thesis, the one about the sensuous impact and novelty of art. So too with the Sontag's final statement concerning the question at hand.
Sontag's essay contains ten sections. The final section of her essay is exactly one sentence long:
10. In place of a hermeneutics we need an erotics of art.
Everyone agrees with that assessment—and no one knows what it means!
Our society's highest-level discussions, or possibly our imitations of same, are often extremely highfalutin. These discussions, or imitations of same, are conducted by our greatest minds.
No one in the wider society is likely to have the slightest idea what they're talking about. Nor is it clear that those highest minds know what they're talking about!
Having stated these basic points, we can offer a basic bit of information concerning the nature of interpretation:
In the end, there is no ultimate way to say that some act of interpretation is actually "wrong."
Any interpretation of any event can be clung to, by its adherents, to the bitter end. A justification can always be offered for the interpretation.
There's never a way to force adherents to agree that their viewpoint is wrong. In the end, for better or worse, there is never some ultimate way to say that some act of interpretation is either "right" or "wrong."
We pondered this point during last evening's 9 o'clock hour, as we watched the appalling Chris Cuomo conducting his TV show.
Alas! Our judgments concerning Cuomo's performance won't be shared by others. Similarly, we thought Claire McCaskill's performance was appalling on today's Morning Joe. Others will think she was grand.
Let's return to the basic nature of interpretation:
In the end, no interpretation can be "proven" to be wrong in a way which compels agreement. Last night, this thought came to mind when we watched the former head of the NAACP state his view, on Cuomo's program, concerning the Rittenhouse trial.
We're speaking of Professor Cornell William Brooks, whose status as a (Harvard) professor was cited several times. His interpretation strikes us as tragic and borderline sane. To others, it's right on target:
BROOKS (11/11/21): What I believe is yes, I believe that Kyle Rittenhouse, along with the murderers down in Brunswick, Georgia, literally represent, not merely vigilantism. They represent the old-fashioned slave patrol.
Forget the part about the three men on trial in Georgia. According to Professor Brooks, Rittenhouse doesn't just represent vigilantism. He also "represents the old-fashioned slave patrol."
Indeed, Rittenhouse doesn't just "represent" the slave patrol, whatever that claim might mean. He literally represents the slave patrol—or so says Professor Brooks.
No interpretation can be fairly assessed until it's fully stated. Below, you see the start of the fuller statement made by Professor Brooks:
BROOKS: What I believe is yes, I believe that Kyle Rittenhouse, along with the murderers down in Brunswick, Georgia, literally represent, not merely vigilantism. They represent the old-fashioned slave patrol.
That, is to say, white men who deputize themselves, or were deputized by government, to literally hunt down black people or white people who sympathize with black people and stood in the gap in terms of preserving and protecting black lives.
So the fact that there were three white people who were shot in Kenosha, two of whom died, and all of whom were white, does not suggest in any way that this is anything less than a racially-infused and inflected crime. In other words, white people are not safe from white supremacy.
That was the start of the professor's fuller interpretation of what happened in Kenosha that night. That's his account of the way Rittenhouse "represented" the old-fashioned slave patrol.
Brooks seemed to say that Rittenhouse had been deputized, perhaps by himself, to literally hunt down white people who sympathize with black people. He was deputized to hunt them down. That's how those shootings happened.
That was the professor's interpretation of what happened in Kenosha that night. Rittenhouse had been deputized to literally hunt people down.
In fairness to the professor, his fuller explication of his interpretation continued on from there. You can read it in the CNN transcript. We will only say this:
On the merits, the professor's interpretation of these events strikes us as deeply tragic but also as tragically strange. Beyond that, it almost strikes us as exhibiting a type of blood lust which has always been a part of the wiring of the human race.
That said, many others will find his interpretation to be spot on. In the end, there is no ultimate way to show that his interpretation is actually "right" or "wrong."
To some, the professor will seem to be making good sense. To others, he will seem to be crazily wrong—and the problem doesn't end there.
In the past few days, we've seen behavior by cable news stars which we've found appalling. To cite one example, McCaskill is a former prosecutor. Watching her today on Morning Joe, we thought again of the reasons why our prisons and jails are full of innocent people.
(In saying that, we don't mean to state a view concerning the appropriate verdict in the ongoing Kenosha trial. We only mean to say that prosecutors who are willing to behave in the way McCaskill did this morning have sent many innocent people to prison.)
We've been appalled by the behavior of major "cable news" stars. It seems to us that Cuomo needs to be taken off the air. Last night, Don Lemon may have been even worse.
In the past two days, Joe Scarborough's interpretations of events in Kenosha have struck us as astonishing. Yesterday, Mika played her standard role, chiming in with three-word slogans designed to support Joe's frameworks.
(On Morning Joe, you can't repeat the pointless words "crossing state lines" often enough. Rittenhouse lives in Aurora, Illinois. It's one mile from the state line.
(Yesterday morning, Joe even played the old Skittles card again, in the most irrelevant way possible. According to experts, we humans are wired to say the things we want to say when we want to say them.)
The larger point which gripped us last night involves a possible "fire bell in the night." It involves the question of whether a sprawling continental nation can expect to function and survive when operating as a type of Babel.
Long ago and far away, William Faulkner composed an interpretation of "the past" which is frequently quoted. The lines appear in Requiem for a Nun. Spoken by one of the novel's characters, they go exactly like this:
"The past is never dead. It's not even past."
The interpretations being offered today involve this nation's brutal history. Those slave patrols are never dead. As in the Balkans, so too here:
Those slave patrols are never dead. In reality, or perhaps in some people's minds, they're not even past!
Tomorrow: Cable stars spin the Kenosha trial in competing ways
Next week: We hope to return to Rachel Maddow's work—to her well-disguised and highly popular "forever war," concerning which our failing tribe could possibly take some lessons. We definitely plan to move ahead to an important question, one which leads in many directions.
The past has never been less dead than it is at the present time. Our important question would be this:
Who died and made Jonathan Capehart, a good decent person, lord god of all he surveys?