10. Ending an interpretation

— Terms —

  • Introduced:
    • none
  • Mentioned and should now be familiar (review if necessary):
    • worldviews (cosmic and social), ethical values / common practices (WV/CP)

— Chapter Abstract —


This brief chapter notes ways that interpretation falls into culture-defined conclusions whether noticed or not, then reminds us of the goal of our interpretive projects.

— Chapter Outline —

  • 12.1. Interpretation interruption in hurried environments
  • 12.2. Choosing to end an interpretation: remembering the course goal

The process of interpretation itself has no built-in endpoint. Interpretation ends most frequently because  the process was interrupted by the next thing, whatever it may be. At other times, it ends because we have decided to stop interpreting. Both of these are relevant to our interpretive projects.

12.1. Interpretation interruption in hurried environments

Most of the time, we operate in information-dense environments, where newly arrived information makes a demand for our attention, pulling us to it often before we are finished with what is at hand. While this condition of life is worthy of extended attention there are the following two specific aspects of this that are particularly relevant our interpretive goals.

First, all of us but perhaps especially students, are time-pressed and, in order to manage this, for the most part we make rapid interpretive conclusions rather than ponder many possible interpretations. Or, we are forced to move on to the next thing before understanding fully.

To achieve a sense of certainty (conclusion) when operating like this, we rely on prior conclusions with which we are comfortable, stereotypes that have the support of the majority opinion of cultural groups with which we associate, stock interpretations, and so on. We do not need to invest, or cannot invest, the considerable amount of time needed to ferret out the newness or strangeness or something or, (even more time-intensive) create the space where those insights might “come to us.” We do not or cannot allow for our mind, either consciously or semi-consciously, to engage exorbitantly the fullness of the data or code.

At times, we manage the time-energy demands of new, subtle, or complex information by deciding only whether we “like” it or not, whether it is “relevant” or not and ignore many unfamiliar things (including aspects of the object involving unfamiliar cultural information) using this determination. At other times, in order to streamline interpretation, we “nativize” something into something less complex and more familiar for the sake of cognitive speed. (The “silo” effect of how we navigate the web—actually are navigated by algorithms, we are not truly in control—encourages this choice-habit of leaving aside what is unfamiliar or challenging.)

All of the above interfere with discovery of something new, or challenging a *horizon of expectation. Shifting from this hurried way of navigating the world to a slow and careful interpretation can be difficult, even emotionally taxing.

Second, film-makers understand that the film narrative will be consumed in “real time.” Content needs to be able to be absorbed as it happens, not through pausing and thinking, reviewing, or such. Therefore, narratives tend to rely on likely audience expectations, well-focused themes, and easily accessible emotions. These story-telling, strategic choices often reinforce the *WV/CP of the target culture (the primary culture at which the film is to be marketed) or, by focusing on visceral emotions, create an open space when everyone, with their own cultures, feels the film is accessible. To achieve broad appeal, movies tend not to be hyper-embedded in the *WV/CP of a narrowly defined cultural group—”everyone loves a good love story” vs “those worried about climate change” for example.

In short, on the one hand, we need to allow time to discover cultural differences and, on the other, we should not over-expect a film to provide unusual perspectives (and so we will tend to treat them as engaging without a great deal of self-awareness some of the broadest *WV/CP of a cultural group).

12.2. Choosing to end an interpretation: remembering the course goal

If we end an interpretation because we are satisfied with the interpretive conclusion, that is likely due to a “cost-benefit” process: the interpretation is sufficiently likely to be true or sufficiently useful that there is little value in looking further. Deciding “likely” is of course subjective and context0relevant. The situation as well as the self-reflective predispositions of the interpreter come into play. To uncomplicate interpretation, we make assumptions about the situation and draw heavily on past experience. Clearly these can and do invoke all sorts of cultural elements that may not be valid if the situation is other-cultural.

If the point at which we end an interpretation depends on whether the outcome is “good enough,” then that conclusion is tied to the initial purpose of the interpretation (“good enough” for what?). Most interpretations are goal-oriented to help us remain safe, find pleasure, confirm things, or achieve things. These are common, natural goals for interpretation. “Is that apple spoiled?” “Should I trust in that person’s promise?” and so on.

That may be but, as stated earlier, the goal of this class is to better understand cultures with which one is less familiar. Our goal, therefore, could be stated:

Interpretation ends when we have some certainty that we have discovered something essential of *WV/CP that help the narrative “make sense” within its own culture, not ours.

This is an other (not self)-oriented attempt at understanding a culture better, in sharp contrast to a pragmatic approaches to interpretation. It is an unnatural approach and difficult to keep in mind. Yet, this is what we do. We analyze narratives to discover cultural knowledge that might be otherwise unknown or underestimated in its importance. Our interpretive goal is to understand the *WV/CP of the cultures within the narrative and of the narrative.


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Interpreting Love Narratives in East Asian Literature and Film Copyright © 2019 by John R Wallace is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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