Notes on Critical Method

A few days ago, I offered my interpretation of Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony without having listened to one word of it. In the event that someone might have found this approach unsatisfactory — might have seen my lack of familiarity with any of Mueller’s words as a mere oversight or deficiency on my part — I offer the following explanation and defense of my methodology.

I recognize that my approach is not standard practice in modern criticism — yet. Today, it is generally considered mandatory to spend some time carefully examining the material you will interpret, though only in order that your eventual analysis or review may reveal a more active, studied effort to ignore its content, except of course as a convenient platform for your own opining. For all modern interpretation and critique that wishes to be taken seriously by the serious, must begin with the premise that in the age of “the unconscious,” “false consciousness,” and other such social scientific wisdom, authorial intention (i.e., what the subject of one’s analysis was actually thinking) is not merely irrelevant, but effectively non-existent, and must therefore be excluded from consideration before any truly clever or insightful analysis may begin.

“What did Shakespeare think about Hamlet’s relationship with his mother?” asks the naïve reader. “Ha!” scoffs the brilliant Freud, king of social scientific method. “The proper question is, ‘What does Hamlet tell us about Shakespeare’s relationship with his mother, in defiance of the poet’s will?'”

In general, then, any interpretation that defers to its source’s “intended message” or seeks to understand the source material in its “original context” is inherently a hopelessly antiquated and unenlightened interpretation. In fact, the modern interpreter focuses on his subject at all merely in order to prove his prowess in transcending it. 

Thus, the only difference between my method of interpreting Mueller’s testimony and the standard interpretive method of our day is that I was daring enough to skip the hypocritical academic protocol of citing the speaker’s original words as the kick-off point for my own private ramblings, and instead headed straight for the open terrain of my personal agenda.

“But then your interpretation has nothing to do with what Mueller actually said,” you object.

Exactly — and that proves what a great interpreter I am, since, as the brilliant Freud taught us all a century ago, the truest and most daring critique of Hamlet is precisely the one that shows least obeisance to a bunch of words written by some old Brit. Why remain stuck in quaint academic customs, I ask, such as quibbling at the outset about what someone actually said, when your whole purpose and justification as a modern, serious interpreter is precisely to establish that it doesn’t matter what he said? After all, who doesn’t know that these days? Why not jettison those tired old protocols, then — mere remnants of early postmodernity’s guilty conscience — and get straight to the point, namely what I, the interpreter, want to say?

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