Saturday, January 23, 2010

Eco's Limits and the conclusion of the MTS article

In an earlier post, I wrote that I regretted being unable to call on a couple constructs from Peter Westergaard's Introduction to Tonal Theory. Today I will say the same about Umberto Eco's Limits of Interpretation -- the point that I attribute to Jonathan Culler in the conclusion of the MTS article was made earlier, more forcefully, and we probably should say more famously, by Eco.

Where I seek to link the uncontrolled proliferation of themes, and therefore thematic reading, by citing Culler on the heuristic value of interpretive frameworks (319-320), Eco says that his goal in Limits is to
make clear that the notion of unlimited semiosis does not lead to the conclusion that interpretation has no criteria. To say that interpretation (as the basic feature of semiosis) is potentially unlimited does not mean that interpretation has no object and that it "riverruns" for the mere sake of itself. To say that a text potentially has no end does not mean that every act of interpretation can have a happy ending. (6)
Undoubtedly, the question has less significance now than it did fifteen years ago, when Eco felt obliged to note that "Even the most radical deconstructionists accept the idea that there are interpretations which are blatantly unacceptable" (6). If one is willing to make this acknowledgment, then one must allow that "the interpreted text imposes some constraints upon its interpreters." He identifies "the limits of interpretation [as coinciding] with the rights of the text (which does not mean with the rights of its author)" (7).

Eco's claim itself has heuristic value (a point on which he is by no means always clear). Note that he uses "unacceptable" -- the constraint on interpretation is partly the material dimension of the work, but partly also the moral dimension always implied in interpretation -- for comments to these points, see these posts: (1), (2), (3). The problem, of course, is that the moral dimension tends to be rooted in the prescriptive, which would seem to leave interpretation with no other option.

Final note: Today is the 100th entry in this blog. I have gotten a bit off the path of directly constructed close readings of D779n13 in recent weeks. After finishing up discussion of Schachter's "Hat" over the next several days and commenting on Richard Cohn's article on Schubert's Bb Major Sonata, I plan to post some of the following (in no particular order): a pitch-space reading, several recomposition exercises (including one modeled after Matthew Bailey-Shea's article in Music Theory Online), a dense motivic reading after Daniel Chua, the substitution of D779n13 for another piano piece of Schubert's in a movie scene, a reconsideration of cycles and tonality as Arthur Komar construed them for Dichterliebe, hommages to Leonard Meyer and Wallace Berry, and closer consideration of harmonic transformations (after Kopp and Hook).