It’s Okay to be Wrong! The Importance of Interpretation and its Limits…

thoughts orangutan

Though of course I never am 😉

Just kidding! What I do think is that opinions are not set in stone and that we’re not always going to be right. And that’s okay- as nice as it would be to be the arbiters of truth, part of the joy of discussing books is finding out what we don’t know, otherwise what would be the point of having a discussion?

Now that we’ve established that, I can safely say there are *loads* of ways to be wrong (what a happy thought 😉). Years ago, I made a post about how I don’t like when people say “read between the lines” as an explanation for why they have a bookish theory, which is akin to saying “I don’t have a real argument for this, just go with it”. And, as fun as it is to come up with things on the fly, that’s just not going to cut it. You need evidence to back up your points; you must prove it (otherwise smart alecs like me won’t buy what you’re selling 😉).

Mean-Girls-GIF-Cady-Heron-Lindsay-Lohan-Falls-In-Trash-Can1The problem that arises is how easily “reading between the lines” can fall into pitfalls. One of the most obvious ways is how it can contradict canon- such as claiming a character is gay without textual evidence of this. Of course, I’m not saying don’t write/enjoy fanfic, only that this may not be a strong interpretation of the actual text and can lead down a bad path analytically. Good evidence is important.

Though I veer towards the side of “Death of the Author” (more on that another time) I also think that what is in the text matters. There is such a thing as going too far with an interpretation- especially to the point where it contradicts common sense. thinking monkeyI’ve seen and heard enough crackpot theories over the years to have a healthy scepticism when I hear a new one. Not every line break in a poem is deep and meaningful; not every adjective/verb/noun is worth focusing on (something Rachael points out in her brilliant “Is the Author Really Dead?” post).

Even authors can be wrong about their own work. On the one hand, while they won’t be wrong about authorial intent, they may not realise the impact their techniques can have and cannot definitively say whether they achieved what they set out to. Plus, we all know the authors who just-so-happen to reinterpret their own work to make it seem more “woke” 😉. Shoddy and (dare-I-say-it) attention-seeking interpretations like these perhaps shouldn’t be taken too seriously. After all, the point of interpretation is a search for the truth, not trying to be “on trend”, or show off, or please ourselves.

None of this is to say that interpretation isn’t important, just that it’s better to take it with a pinch of salt (and maybe let it simmer a bit before you gorge yourself on it 😉). Whether it’s the author saying it or it comes endorsed by a literary scholar, every criticism needs to be approached with a degree of caution. And that goes for our own views too!

Yes, being reflective of our own views may not be so fun, questioning can make us uncomfortable and knowing we might be shot down is terrifying. Yet, in the great quest for the truth, we need to be prepared to make bad guesses and put ourselves out there. As wonderful as it would be to be right all the time, we need the courage to be wrong sometimes too.

So, what do you think? Are all interpretations valid? Or is it okay to be wrong? And, dare I ask, are you okay with being wrong? Let me know in the comments