Sunday, February 4, 2007

The Interpretation Ocean

There once was an English teacher who spoke with enthusiasm and authority about the symbolism of the name of a road in a story. The name was Gun Hill Road and it was obviously named that in the story to foreshadow the pain and death that loomed ahead in the plot. A bright young student with tight curly hair and who sat in the back looking on with skepticism raised his hand to deflate the teachers statement. He said that Gun Hill Road was really the name of a road in the Bronx, where he was from and that maybe it was named that in the story to make reference to an actual place, rather than a fictitious literary symbol that represented things.

I have always thought the above story was a funny and telling one. And I have always had a dark place in my heart for English teachers, for their baseless claims, for their grammar concerns that I never managed to follow and for their ability to accept and praise innovation only when it had been done years and years before. But in their defense, I have always had bad English teachers and I am assuming that there are wonderful, inspiring ones out there like Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society.

I have spent years silently scoffing at people who claim that there is one way to interpret some form of art, be it a story or a painting. Undoubtedly, I have arrived at this feeling because I never seem to see it the way the class or teacher sees it.

Recently, I was talking to someone who was reading my blog who interpreted something I wrote and we talked about how it applied to her example. I admit that I am sometimes purposely ambiguous in my posts, so as not to offend and to get to the purity of the issue without it being weighed down by particulars. But when I wrote the post I hadnt really thought of it the way she had. Now the great part about this was that someone read what I wrote and used it positively and practially for another issue.

Then I thought of how every time someone reads anything that anyone writes it is like a ship is launched going off in its own direction, and this can end up foolhardy and shipwrecked or it can discover new lands, but no one misses the boat.

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