"There has long been a tension between the practice of the artist and that of the interpreter. From the artist’s point of view, interpretation appears arbitrary and capricious, if not actually superfluous. And this tension becomes all the greater when interpretation is attempted in the name and spirit of science. The creative artist finds it extremely difficult to believe that it is possible to overcome all the difficulties of interpretation by using a scientific approach. The problem of composition and interpretation actually represents a special case of the general relationship between the creative artist and the interpreter. As far as poetry and poetic composition are concerned, it is not uncommon to find the practice of interpretation and artistic creation united in one and the same individual. This suggests that poetic composition has a more intimate connection with the practice of interpretation than the other arts do. Even where we claim scientific status for our interpretation, this practice does not seem as questionable when applied to poetry as is generally believed. The scientific approach scarcely seems to go beyond what is involved in any thoughtful engagement with poetry. Nor is this surprising when we consider just how much philosophical reflection has penetrated the modern poetry of this century. The relationship between poetic composition and interpretation does not therefore simply arise within the context of science or philosophy alone. It also represents an internal problem of poetic composition itself, for poet and reader alike.
In discussing the question in this way, I do not wish to become involved in a dispute between the academic study of literature and the practice of writing about the claims of interpretation. I shall not attempt to rival the masterly expression of those who live by the word and know best how to use it. I should simply like to use my own craft of philosophical thinking to help people to see what they can all come to understand for themselves.
What explains this proximity between composition and interpretation? It is obvious that they have something in common. Both take place in the medium of language. And yet there is a difference and we know how profound it is. Paul Valéry pointed out this difference with great force: everyday language, as well as the language of science and philosophy, points to something beyond itself and disappears behind it. The language of poetry, on the other hand, shows itself even as it points, so that it comes to stand in its own right. Ordinary language resembles a coin that we pass around among ourselves in place of something else, whereas poetic language is like gold itself. Now to begin with, we must recognize that, despite this illuminating comparison, there are transitional cases that stand between poetically articulated language on the one hand and the purely intentional word on the other. And in this century we have become particularly familiar with the intimate fusion of both of these kinds of language.
Let us start with the extreme cases. On the one hand we have lyric poetry (which is no doubt what Valéry had in mind). In our own time we have witnessed a remarkable phenomenon: in Rilke or Gottfried Benn, for example, the language of science has actually invaded the language of poetry in a way that would have seemed quite inconceivable in great poetry only a few generations before. How has it come about that an obviously intentional word, a definition, or even a scientific concept can be integrated with the rhythmic flow of poetic language?
And now let us consider the other extreme of the novel, apparently the most flexible of art forms. Here the language of reflection that relates the things and events around us has always been at home, not merely in the speech of the fictional characters, but also in that of the narrator, whoever it may be. But do we not encounter something new here as well, even when compared with the bold innovations of the romantic novel? We have seen not only the disappearance of the narrative perspective, but the dissolution of the very concept of action itself, and the difference between the language of narration and the language of reflection collapses as a result" (Gadamer 2002:66-67).
2002(1986) The Relevance of the Beautiful: And Other Essays . Robert Bernasconi, ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
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