The best interpreters of any given text are those whose ideas — whether you agree with them or not — send you back with excitement to that text.


  1. Might this be a case FOR reading the great books as opposed to the 'single tradition' notion?

    i.e. Great books describe and comment on other descriptions of basic human beliefs which compel the student to "go back with excitement" again and again to test the various descriptions?

  2. I like this at first, but what about people who are not debatable but just clearly and irritatingly wrong? And what about the occasions when someone nails a work so well that you feel it's almost dispensed with and doesn't need to be seen again (which does not usually happen when someone interprets a good work something well, but can for not-as-good works)?

    Still, there's certainly something to this.

  3. Brian: I think reading-back-to-experience should probably be considered in different terms than interpretation-back-to-reading — but this is something to think about.

    Ari: interpreters will only be clearly wrong to you if you know the text well and can immediately see that they're off base — if, for instance, you can immediately think of counter-examples that disprove their claims. But the person who strikes you as totally wrong, but that you can't immediately counter, is a very useful interpreter to you, because he or she forces you to re-read in order to debate — and sometimes when you re-read you find that the interpretation wasn't wrong after all.

    I presented this thesis, by the way, because I recently finished reading Sarah Ruden's book Paul Among the People, which offers any number of dubious assertions about the Apostle but places him in his broad intellectual-literary context in ways that were very new, and wonderfully thought-provoking, to me.

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