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05 May 2010

Against Interpretation

I've got this out of the library, and before talking about it, I want to slag off Penguin books once again.

This collection of essays dates from 1966, so once again there's no new material in it to justify the cover price of £12. In fact, Penguin haven't even reset the text. My picture shows the start of one essay, with what's a really dated (and American) use of sansserif chapter heading and a really ugly Bodoni-ish initial capital.

So the only new content is the cover, which is admittedly very stylish. No-one should have to pay £12 for this, and presumably no-one does. Which means that small independent bookshops don't have a chance of making profit on backlist like this.

The book begins with two essays that have related themes. The first, "Against Interpretation" attacks the idea that the purpose of criticism is to interpret works; the point is to show how the works achieve their effect. The second, "On Style", initially sets out to examine the theoretically professed view that you can't separate style and content, compared with the pretty universal critical practice of doing so. It wanders a bit, but the essential argument is that works of art aren't statements; they don't exist to provide information, or to improve public morals, but to provoke reflections, comtemplation.

Interesting stuff, which I largely like. But I still wouldn't have paid twelve quid for it.

PS After publishing this post, it occurred to me that in talking about the typography I might indeed be looking at style or form as opposed to content. Irony, there.

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