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Interpretation and Overinterpretation (Tanner Lectures in Human Values)

4.3 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521425544
ISBN-10: 0521425549
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Semioticist Eco and three scholars debate whether there are limits to the interpretations of a text and whether the author's intentions are relevant. Eco seeks to limit the degree to which texts can be interpreted, explains how overinterpretations can be recognized based on the intention of the work, and argues that the author of the text can rule out some interpretations. Rorty, a pragmatist, feels that texts should be able to be used for the readers' own purposes. Jonathan Culler, a literary theorist, defends "overinterpretation," and critic Christine Brook-Rose digresses slightly by discussing what she calls "palimpsest history." In the final lecture, Eco responds to Rorty's assertions. This is high-level literary theory, expressed brilliantly, appropriate primarily for academic and large public libraries.
- Ann Irvine, Kensington Park Lib., Md.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


"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

Product Details

  • Series: Tanner Lectures in Human Values
  • Paperback: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (March 27, 1992)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521425549
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521425544
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.4 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,750 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Umberto Eco (born 5 January 1932) is an Italian novelist, medievalist, semiotician, philosopher, and literary critic.

He is the author of several bestselling novels, The Name of The Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of The Day Before, and Baudolino. His collections of essays include Five Moral Pieces, Kant and the Platypus, Serendipities, Travels In Hyperreality, and How To Travel With a Salmon and Other Essays.

He has also written academic texts and children's books.

Photography (c) Università Reggio Calabria

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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.
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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.Read more ›
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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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