020: Rhetoric of Interpretation
This is a course on the problems and possibilities of interpretive criticism. Our focus will be on the interpretive criticism of film and the detailed analysis of film style. Our working definition of interpretive criticism is found in John Gibbs and Douglas Pyle’s introduction to Style and Meaning: Studies in the Detailed Analysis of Film:
Interpretive critics]m is, or has the possibility to be, a kind of conversation about what we find in and what we make of films, and it should be governed by a process that can be evoked by using the much disparaged words of F.R. Leavis: ‘This is so, isn’t it?’/ ‘Yes. But. . .’ . The ‘Yes, but . . .’, often left out of critical accounts of Leavis’s work, is crucial. In itself the question (‘This is so, isn’t it?) can seem too peremptory, demanding assent from a speaker/writer who assumes his own authority. Even ‘Yes, but . . .’ may be too limiting: the implicit question, ‘This is so, isn’t it?’ should also be able to elicit the response, ‘No, because . . .’ .
This is to suggest that processes of argument and persuasion are involved, rather than merely the demonstration of a position: that what I have found in the film is not simply my view but represents an understanding capable of being shared or challenged and, in the process, enhanced, re-worked or replaced. Interpretation developed through reasoned argument is therefore not simply ‘subjectove’ or rooted in the tastes of an individual or group but, in establishing shared understanding, becomes a form of knowledge. It implies that a basis for dialogue and mutual understanding exists . . . (3-4)
Among the questions to be considered in this course are:
1. To what extent is interpretive criticism possible, given the diversity of cultural codes, forces and perspectives?
2. What can/should be the relationship between interpretive criticism and theory?
3. To what degree can rooting interpretation in the details of film help to address the preceding questions?
We will read essays by critics and theorists who have adopted a variety of positions regarding interpretive criticism. Among them will be Susan Sontag, David Bordwell, Noel Carroll, Laura Mulvey, Miriam Hansen, Stanley Kaufmann, Stanley Cavell, V.F. Perkins, Adrian Martin, Andrew Klevan, and Stephen Mulhall.
There will be a variety of writing exercises including short essays and a final paper.