Thursday, January 27, 2011

This Can Only Mean One Thing (Yeah, It Means "Watch out.")

You first began to think consider the importance of interpretations during a more generous and expansive time in the world of books and publishing.  Even now, as you engage moving some of your books and effects from where you've lived to where you are living, you see that you've kept reminders, such as The Modern Library series.  You still have the copy of Dubliners, the James Joyce collected stories, printed in a uniform hardcover edition, cover price one big buck and a quarter.  You were led to consider interpretations when you discovered there were "interpretations" older works in various uniform editions, your choices often made not so much on the text as whether you knew anything about the individual writing the introduction, acute in your student days to the "interpretations" that gave you the most generous presentation of extras such as reading lists, glossaries, annotations, and the like.

Your attempts to collect one of the uniform complete works of Mark Twain went askew when the owner of the used book store at which you purchased many of the volumes for under a dollar each regretted that some of the titles were no longer available.  (But to your thinking, Twain needed no generous presentations of commentary; any collection of his works was sufficient to the task and screw the size and color of the bindings.  Any collection of Twain was, as Dryden said of Chaucer, "God's plenty.)  You mention the Twain material now because of your less-than-enthusiastic response to the recent autobiography which in aggregate editorial stampede is just the sort of mischief Twain enjoyed producing.

Interpretation gave you serious moments of thought and added contemplation when, after the established fact of the actor Lee J. Cobb "owning" the role of Willy Loman, the actor Dustin Hoffman took it on.  Your own meditations and observations were ratified by the excellence of the Dustin Hoffman portrayal or interpretation but have received yet added ratification by the recent announcement that another Hoffman, Philip Seymour, is about to take on the role.

At one point when you were seventeen and a college freshman, you had the opportunity to see the filmed version of Romeo and Juliet six times in one day, an interpretation you took on as many a seventeen-year-old would take it, with a mixture of absolute wonder and self-absorption.  Romeo was interpreted by the much-too-old English actor, Leslie Howard; Juliet was the no-spring-chicken-although-stunning American actor, Norma Shearer.  You were stunned all over again when actors of a more appropriate age were cast when the Italian film director, Zeffirelli, made the choices.  In similar fashion, you accepted the notion of interpretation in all its democratic glory when Lawrence Olivier, Kenneth Brannagh, and Mel Gibson portrayed Hamlet, and indeed spent time and effort considering the portrayals of Henry V as interpreted by Olivier and Brannagh.  Luck had you walking past the theater in which a matinee performance allowed you the joys of watching Al Pacino portraying yet another Shakespearean king, this one Richard III.

The point of all these scatter shots of example extends beyond actors and beyond the writings you have set down in which actors and characters in short story and novel form a glorious connection with professional, well-trained actors who interpret characters, each attempting to bring some detail or other to a character and this being a useful formula for a writer to examine.  (Wouldn't it be remarkable to see Jack Nicholson "interpreting" Sherlock Holmes?  Every bit as exciting, you argue, as having seen Meryl Streep portraying a rabbi in American Angels.)

Interpretation is not the sole landscape of the actor; interpretation is an integral part of the writer's reality (consider for a moment or two the need the Swiss playwright, Jean Anouilh felt to interpret a play written some thousands of years before his time, Antigone. )  Consider times when someone has interpreted something you'd published to have a meaning and intent at some angularity from your own vision.  Consider the times you have returned the compliment by seeing or hearing some trope to have an intent at odds from the creator's.

It is a sometimes wonder, other times a source of grand dramatic opportunity to revel in the potential for two or more individuals sitting down to plan something they appear to be in complete agreement about to be convinced of the complete degree of agreement and accord, then veer off to the performance which demonstrates the gap in interpretation.  (Writing about this vast Sargasso Sea of difference even among agreers, using the most generalized of terms has just this moment caused you to see the interpretation of a stalled story in a way that could give you the missing direction.  A group of individuals are meeting in an up-market hotel, using one of their conference room facilities to plan a bank heist.  You are already up several degrees of conflict when the safe man is at odds with the leader over the poor quality of refreshments and yet another member of the team is not comfortable with the notion of the driver of the get-away vehicle being a woman, even though she does in fact have NASCAR points.  Writing the previous paragraphs caused you to reflect, Suppose they set out thinking they were in sync but in fact were going to rob the wrong bank?)

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