A good mess in no one right reading and in many (more or less) wrong ones

–An illustration that itself performs the difficulty in telling the difference between knowing what are wrong readings of a text while still not knowing what is the right one is that of literary critic, I.A. Richards. I quote from his letter to T.S. Eliot, where Richards free-associates the challenge:

This problem,—that a single line [of poetry] need have no one right reading, yet will have innumerable wrong ones; that among all the many “right” ones some at least will carry, primarily, very different interpretations. . .and yet that we must take some partial meaning, and make it deputize for the whole but without forgetting that we do so—this problem which almost every sentence of good poetry represents to us seems to me a paradigm for all the problems, big and little of life and thought. . .

By “wrong,” Richards means those “that close down other possibilities [i.e., other readings],” not least of which are the exclusionary readings that “claim to be the only right ones”. (I’d add more or less wrong to reflect the more or less complex interpretations.)

–So what? It seems to me then that we are looking for professionals less keen on “the right person asking the right questions at the right time–for the right price!–and with the right policy” and more keen on the multiple ways to go more wrong and the good messes of being less wrong and more right, case-by-case.

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