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Jean-Jacques Lecercle “Interpretation as Pragmatics”

September 17, 2011 Leave a comment

Lecercle, Jean-Jacques 1999. Interpretation as Pragmatics. New York: St. Martin’s Press

„Let Him Have It, Chris!”

Any interpretation is possible that addresses the text, that is that is constructed about and with the text. (31) An interpretation […] is false if it is either delirious, disregarding the constraints of the encyclopaedia, or incorrect, disregarding the constraints that language and the text impose on the construction of interpretation. (32) Justice […] is the meaningfulness that derives from respect of a pragmatic structure. […] A just interpretation is one that conforms to the constraints of the pragmatic structure that governs the interpretation of the text, and that does not seek to close the interminable process of reinterpretation. It is obvious from all that precedes that no interpretation can be said to be true, which would involve the recovery of the author’s intention as the unique source of the meaning of the text. (33)

This distance between intention and meaning is the specific field of interpretation. And the four moments of interpretation qua process involve the actors, or actants […] of a pragmatic contract, or of a situation of communication: glossing involves language and encyclopaedia, disclosure or solution the speaker’s (the author’s) constructed intention, translation the reader, in her relation to bot text and encyclopaedia, while intervention lies within the ambit of the reader’s powers. What we have here is the five actants of the situation of communication: speaker (author), text, language, encyclopaedia, heaer (reader). (34)

The text is not only the object of the reader’s solicitude, but also of her solicitation. Interpretation becomes intervention, as in psychoanalysis, or delirium, as with fous littéraries. (51)

[…] the author is only an actant, the concrete speaker being interpellated in that place by the structure. (53)

Alter Ego

[A <- [L -> [T] <- E] -> R]

Beyond the fact that this linearisation neatly provides a name for my model, ALTER, it also inscribes a number of characteristics: (1) The text is the centre of the structure, the most important actant. (2) Author and reader are effects of the text (the outward pointing arrows indicate this). (3) There is no direct relationship between reader and text, text and author: they are filtered (the square brackets indicate this) by language and by the encyclopaedia which have pride of place over author and reader. (4) In concrete situations of course the ALTER structure will interpellate subjects, let us call them EGOs, to occupy the A and R, but only one at a time. Through a necessary illusion in which we can perceive what Althusser calls ‚l’efficace de la structure’, the operation of the structure, this interpellation appears to come from the opposite pole of the structure. The reader is interpellated by the representation she constructs in the place of the author; the author is interprellated by the representation of the readers she fantasises. (75)

The text does not merely appropriate or use them, it is in an important sense sense produced by them. L and E are the internal filters that constrain the text, A and R are the outside layers of the structure by which it has an interface with the world in the interpellation of actors. They are induced by the text, they are the positions that T projects in order to acquire an author and a reader. (74-75)

[…] meaning is not in the centre, but at the margins of the structure: not what passes through the structure on its way from author to reader, but an effect of the structure. (76)


1)      maxim of indirection. The maxim of indirection overturns, or inverts, this mastery: the speaker means something different from what he says, or something more, or something less; and she says something different from what she means […] (76)

2)      maxim of vagueness. It separates the meaning constructed by the interpretation of the utterance from the meaning produced in the original author’s conjuncture. (77)

3)      maxim of recontextualization. If the utterer’s meaning […] is constitutively separated from the utterance meaning, then meaning, far from being changeless, is re-contextualized and therefore varies, even if ever so slightly, with each new reading. The conjuncture of the writing of the text from this point of view is only that of its first reading: the original author is her own first reader. (77-78)

4)      maxim of différance. […] writing belongs to the realm of the different (there is no iteration without alteration), of differing and deferring (the contact between speaker and hearer occurs in in praesentia; the absence of contact between author and reader is due, in the first instance, to a temporal gap), and of differends (the type of ‚dialogue’ that will ensue is agonistic, made up of verbal struggle and games rather than cooperative and irenic). Thus, the process of reading and interpreting involves the displacement inherent in the translation and intervention […] rather than the direct approach of a riddle-solving and the discovery of the truth. (78-79)

5)      maxim of interpretance. […] (1) meaning is the product of a dialogue between two texts, the interpreted text and the interpretation that reads it, and (2) the subjects involved, the author and the reader, are not free but assujettis in Althusserian parlance – in other words that they are effects of the structure. (79-80)

6)      maxim of placing. […] the operation through which an actor is captured at a place, is the specific task of the language actant. This will involve moving from the traditional concept of subject as centre […] to a concept of subject as assujetti, captured at a place. (80)

7)      maxim of metalepsis. It suggests that recontextualization is not merely an external process involving two occurrences of the same text, but an internal intratextual one. (80)

8)      maxim of conjuncture. It notes that there is a specific temporality of the ALTER structure, the temporality of recontextualization, which historicises it – that is, makes it dependent on the structure of the world at a given time. (81)