12 May 2016

Are we getting infinite yet?

.An interesting video about the various versions of Sherlock Holmes. 

The writers claim their view to be more rich and satisfying than that of the purists, who believe the one true  Sherlock is the Sherlock of Arthur Conan Doyle.  The writers claim that Sherlock is a 'palimpsest' (the word comes from the study of medieval manuscripts.  A palimpsest is a manuscript who's original text has been scrubbed off and the pages written over.) and that each version of Sherlock is, in it's own way, a true version, as the character takes a little bit from each new interpretation and moves forward.

The authors claim their answer to this problem is a more satisfying, but fail to contextualize and explain this answer by saying for whom this answer will be more satisfying.  Clearly, not the purists. This is typical of many academics: those who disagree are misguided nonentities.  They may be discounted without apology or explanation.

This is the sort of stuff I used to be taught back in the day.  Authorial intention is gone, no interpretation is perfect, therefore any interpretation will be in part a misinterpretation, and therefore, with a breathtaking and colossal leap in illogic- a misinterpretation is a valid interpretation.
I disagreed with this at least in part, and therefore got roundly condemned by my fellow scholars who believed that disagreeing with them in part was the same as disagreeing with them in the whole.  Logic, I am afraid, was never their strength.  When we say that a book or poem or- to use their over used buzz phrase- 'text' is open to any number or even an infinite number of interpretations, that  may be true, although I cannot say for sure. To the best of my knowledge we have not yet reached infinity in our interpretations, but I am sure someone from the academy will inform us when we do.  But- and here's the catch- any number of interpretations is not the same as any interpretation. 

It seems to me that there comes a time when a new representation of a character is not a representation of that character at all.  He may be called Holmes, or Conan, or Hamlet, or Superman, but he has wandered so far from his originals that he is no longer himself, but a fraud and an imposter, a fanfiction.  Someone has written down the name of a favourite character, and applied it to their own manikin.

At heart, this idea that we can create our own versions of the characters is both liberating, but also stunningly narcissistic.  We are say to the past: what you wrote and what you said is no longer of any consequence to us.  You may have thought what you had to say was important, but we believe that what we have to say is more important.  We don't want to listen to what you have to say, and now we will put our words in your mouth."  Rather than venturing out to encounter the past and to seek out other minds and encounter new ideas,  we have decided to stay at home, and stare into a mirror.

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