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Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Tanner Lectures in Human Values) Paperback – 5 Mar 1992


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"Interpretation and Overinterpretation is an excellent book, one of the most valuable contributions to literary theory of recent years." Philosophy and Literature

"Like Eco himself, Interpretation and Overinterpretation is bracingly down-to-earth, accessible though complex, profound but not pompous...Before you know it the book is history. Yet its first-rate ironies and trenchant writing linger." The Philadelphia Inquirer

"In Interpretation and Overinterpretation the many lives of Eco come together in a vibrant text full of wisdom and wit...interspersed with...theoretical considerations are fascinating anecdotal details about the writing of his two novels making the book must reading for Eco aficianados." The San Francisco Chronicle

"...offers a unique opportunity not only to read Eco at his finest, but also to observe him interacting with some renowned contemporary scholars...Reading the essays collected in this volume gives one a sense of being present at a rare meeting of the minds: a semiotician and best-selling novelist meets three of today's most powerful minds in philosophy, literary theory, and postmodern fiction...the careful arguments of this powerful theorist should provoke us into reevaluating the role of interpretation in literary criticism and theory." James M. Lang, Studies in the Humanities

"This book is densely charged and action packed." Antioch

Book Description

This book brings together some of the most distinguished figures currently at work in philosophy, literary theory and criticism to debate the limits of interpretation.

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In 1957 J.M. Castillet wrote a book entitled La hora del lector ('The hour of the reader'). Read the first page
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Amazon.com: 3 reviews
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Dense material in a very compact, readable form 10 Feb 2003
By The trebuchet - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
When reading a text, how much does what the author intended count for, if anything? Is there any way to tell what a text "really" means, or can it be read however you like for whatever purpose you like? Simple as they seem, these are the fundamental questions this book is concerned with, and it is Eco's task to explain why he thinks there should be limits to interpretation - against the prevailing opinions of many modern critics and thinkers.
The book is laid out in eight sections. The first is the Introduction, which is substantial. If you're in the habit of skipping the introduction I would advise against it here, unless you consider yourself thoroughly familiar with the subject - it's helpful.
The next three sections consist of a series of lectures Eco gave on this subject, where he establishes his main points. It's quite accessible to the layman, and in the few places where the terms get a bit obscure you can usually figure out what he's talking about from the context. He uses several historical examples which keep things interesting, and his arguments are interesting whether you find them convincing or not.
Essays by Rorty, Culler and Brooke-Rose in response to these lectures make up the next part. Rorty, a self-described "pragmatist", makes the argument that we shouldn't concern ourselves with what makes a "valid" interpretation, and instead just use texts as they come before us for whatever purpose suits us best. Culler, coming from the side of the deconstructionists, argues that what Eco calls "overinterpretation" has a value of its own and reacts strongly to the implication that there should be any limits whatsoever imposed upon the critic. Brooke-Rose's piece on "palimpsest history" is not uninteresting but somewhat tangential, and you really have to stretch things to relate it to the argument going on between Eco, Rorty and Culler.
The wrap-up section is a response from Eco, mostly addressing Rorty's points though dealing somewhat with Culler's objections. There is no clear "winner", and you may not be swayed to Eco's point of view if you found one of the others more compelling, but there is ample food for thought.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Sheds insight on Eco's fiction 23 Feb 2008
By R. Willoughby - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Umberto Eco's discussion of interpretation and overinterpretation sheds light on several of his fictional works. In the same way, his fictional works help us to better grasp his technical writings. I am thinking especially of Foucault's Pendulum. The lead characters illustrate how the "diabolicals" engage in gross overinterpretation as they try to use historical materials to feed their conspiracy theory construction. The lead characters take all of this a step further, illustrating Eco's technical discussion of how we often move from "interpreting" a text to "using" a text. The lead characters definitely begin "using" the materials gleaned from the work of the diabolicals, reshaping and reforming connections between disparate facts, observations, theories, guesses, and hopes to finally conjure a sort of "super" conspiracy theory that captures the imaginations and jealous desires of the diabolicals. Because of their long-practiced habits of overinterpretation, the so-called Diabolicals are unable to resist the results of the main characters "use" of the texts. They are captured by the occult metatheory that they construct, with disastrous results. The lesson in the story is two-fold, I think. The first is that overinterpretation is irresponsible, risky, and even dangerous because it lacks discipline and self-restraint. It puts you in the position of considering or belieiving whatever reading one chooses to make, as long as there are SOME sorts of connections (real or imagined) to cling to. The second lesson is that the move from "interpretation" of a text to crass "use" of a text is manipulative, seductive, and dangerous in the sort of backlash it can generate among those that do not recognize the sort of interpretive move you have chosen to make. "Using" the work of another in a selfish or self-serving way can be trivializing at best and damaging at worst. Similar illustrations of Eco's work on "use," "interpretation," and "overinterpretation" of texts can be seen in many ways in The Name of the Rose, as well. This is especially true of the main character's interactions with the monks and their interpretations of what is happening in their monastery, including the legendary library, itself. Similar issues are at work with the Inquisitor, as well. I heartily recommend reading Eco's works on semiotics at the same time that you let yourself plunge into his works of fiction. The two help explain one another in a helpful manner.
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
Even for the non-academic, a great insightfull book 26 Mar 2000
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
I don't have much background in literary theory, but I still found Eco's writing very accessible and very enjoyable. I think the topic would interest anyone that has ever tried to appreciate literature: up to what point can we take events in a book/play/poem to be significant to the idea the writer is trying to get across?
This book constructs its arguments from the ground up, although at times the approach to interpretation taken by Eco is radically different from how one would be accustumed to reading a book.
I believe that eventually one gets used to the different approaches suggested -- or better, exemplified -- by Eco, and the initial difficulties in understanding his point of view are overcome to open a great new horizon of ideas and literary enjoyment.
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