Literature and the value of interpretation : the cases of The Tempest and Heart of Darkness
This study examines the value of literary interpretation. A case is argued on the basis of the possibility of literary works being understood as 'about' diverse 'themes'. The process of understanding literature, it is argued, inevitably involves the concerns and the personal and historical situatedness of the interpreter. In the performance history of Shakespeare's The Tempest we see clearly how the thematic focus and the representation of the elements of the work changes, sometimes radically, over time. An interpretation of The Tempest with an emphasis on today's concerns is the basis for a discussion which shows the interdependence of the questions of why literary works have survived as valued objects of attention over time, and how literature can matter to the reader. Hans-Georg Gadamer's philosophical hermeneutics shows, in its emphasis on the historical situatedness of understanding, how the reader'S situation and concerns feeds into the process of making sense of literary works and thereby makes literary interpretation interact with the life of the interpreter. 'Themes', or what the work is seen to 'be about', is central to the process of literary interpretation. This, in particular, is where literature has its openness to accommodate application to diverse concerns and situations. To remedy the deficiency of Gadamer's hermeneutics on this point, the role of themes in literary interpretation is first illustrated by an interpretation of Conrad's Heart of Darkness and then analyzed. The study argues that while different literary interpreters may have different purposes, for their procedures to constitute interpretations three criteria need to be observed. In having to reach an equilibrium between the requirements of faithfulness to the literary work on the one hand, and the understanding of it through one's own situation and concerns on the other, the process of literary interpretation makes a valuable contribution to understanding.