Interpretation and Overinterpretation

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Cambridge University Press, Mar 5, 1992 - Literary Criticism - 151 pages
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The limits of interpretation--what a text can actually be said to mean--are of double interest to a semiotician whose own novels' intriguing complexity has provoked his readers into intense speculation as to their meaning. Eco's illuminating and frequently hilarious discussion ranges from Dante to The Name of the Rose, Foucault's Pendulum, to Chomsky and Derrida, and bears all the hallmarks of his inimitable personal style. Three of the world's leading figures in philosophy, literary theory and criticism take up the challenge of entering into debate with Eco on the question of interpretation. Richard Rorty, Jonathan Culler and Christine Brooke-Rose each add a distinctive perspective on this contentious topic, contributing to a unique exchange of ideas among some of the foremost and most exciting theorists in the field.
 

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Interpretation and overinterpretation

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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 ... Read full review

Contents

Interpretation and history
23
Overinterpreting texts
45
Between author and text
83
The pragmatists progress
99
Palimpsest history
125
Reply
139
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About the author (1992)

Umberto Eco was born in Alessandria, Italy on January 5, 1932. He received a doctorate of philosophy from the University of Turin in 1954. His first book, Il Problema Estetico in San Tommaso, was an extension of his doctoral thesis on St. Thomas Aquinas and was published in 1956. His first novel, The Name of the Rose, was published in 1980 and won the Premio Strega and the Premio Anghiar awards in 1981. In 1986, it was adapted into a movie starring Sean Connery. His other works include Foucault's Pendulum, The Island of the Day Before, Baudolino, The Prague Cemetery, and Numero Zero. He also wrote children's books and more than 20 nonfiction books including Serendipities: Language and Lunacy. He taught philosophy and then semiotics at the University of Bologna. He also wrote weekly columns on popular culture and politics for L'Espresso. He died from cancer on February 19, 2016 at the age of 84.

Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Cornell University, Culler has played an important role in the dissemination of structuralist and poststructuralist theory in the U.S. academy. His Structuralist Poetics (1975) was one of the first books to survey the new continental theory, and it included a bibliography with all the English translations of that work then available. As the title suggests, Culler's book concentrates on structuralist literary analysis, explicating in particular what various continental critics had to say about the "deep structures" or codes governing literary production as a mode of discourse with an apparent radical diversity of texts and "surface structures." He also covers some of the background to structuralist literary theory. Interestingly, Culler also develops in this book a theory of reading that is not quite structuralist, although it does make use of a structuralist vocabulary and some structuralist ideas. The Pursuit of Signs (1981) is, the second in his trilogy of introductions to this theory. It offers explanations of poststructuralist theory, which is as much a response to as a development of structuralist theory, whose premises it frequently rejects. Just one year later, Culler published a supplement to this volume, On Deconstruction (1982), devoted not only to the work of Derrida but also to the work of American deconstructionists, who were sometimes elaborating deconstruction in more obviously political directions; for example, by generating feminist deconstructive analyses. Culler has continued to interpret Continental theory and theorists for U.S. audiences in his more recent publications. A prolific author, he has also published books about nineteenth-century French literature and culture, the field in which he did his graduate work, and books or essays on a range of other topics which he addresses from the perspective of poststructuralist theory, including puns, tourism, and trash.

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