Wednesday, April 24, 2019

On the Meaning of 'Unfolding a Text'

This topic has suggested itself naturally in the course of a few conversations, and so it seemed fitting to write on it and expand on the topic somewhat. I will begin by just writing about the notion of 'unfolding a text'. In future posts I will want to set out some more or less clear examples, and discuss a concern around a type of misinterpretation: taking an edge of a text as a fold.
Imagine a piece of paper with dots of various sizes drawn on it, and assume these dots are subject to interpretation in terms of a hierarchy. Now, imagine this paper folded a few times so that you now only see a part of the whole. What is now visible may or may not be subject to an interpretation in term of a hierarchy, and if it still is interpretable as a hierarchy it may suggest a different order than that given by the entire paper. The visible face of the paper is the information that is on the surface in the text, while all of the hidden parts are additional concepts used to produce a greater unity, and include things that the author was not able to say but the reader may grasp.
I employ this imagery above in order to build up an analogy for reflecting on the interpretation of texts. The texts we read are like these folded up pieces of paper, and one project an interpreter can engage in is determining something like the difference between an edge and a fold in the text so that the folds can be opened up.
Since our books do not have hidden pages, it seems the analogy may seem to break down: it appears that we move from text in a physical sense to some mere conceptual relations we have put together. I would actually prefer to consider this to be a moment of continuity in the analogy, but this will require a moment to explain.
The folded up text - including the visible face - is to be considered a construction produced by the act of reading the physical text. We construct a text as a mix of the concepts we draw from the work, as well as from our other experience; previous readings of the physical text are included, even if mistaken and now superseded. These unfolded parts of the text expand on the text in a genuine way as they are tied to how we are able to understand the text as a whole and appropriate it.
Of course, there are limits to this analogy. For example, the folded up piece of paper exists all at once, while an interpretation may involve parts of the originally visible text coming to be filled in after some parts that are unfolded. However, this still seems a suitable image for some further reflection.