jueves, 26 de noviembre de 2015

Towards a hermeneutic reading

The text, whatever it may be, presents itself before us as an enigma to decipher: as a dynamic, unfinished process in which the participation of the decoder is essential. The texts is fulfilled in the amorous act with its receiver, however, in order for this to occur, the receiver has to work towards comprehending the text. (Prado 26)

On Memorias de Idhún by Laura Gallego:

Researcher: When you were reading, where did you feel you were?

Xóchitl (13 years old): With the characters; I felt I was Victoria, something like that. And then, well, I did feel I was inside the story, I did, watching all that happened.

When we started our research work we asked ourselves what kind of reading we would like to foster throughout the workshops with the two secondary schools. Clearly, the idea was to detect and study the changes in the practices and reader responses of young people in Mexico during the last 25 years, but it was also evident that we did not want to promote the memorization of content nor repeat the canon or schooled teaching which has its own place and is obligatory. We wanted to offer a space of freedom, a site for “jouissance”, a pleasurable, co-creative reading and to encourage a group of commentators who, within a climate of respect and interest, sought to look at the texts critically and in depth, something that meant reading beyond the explicit and also to share possible interpretations which were supported by the text itself. This is an activity that implies an act of appropriation that includes the resonance of readings in their personal world as well as the linking of what is found within fiction with the world that surrounds them. It is because of this that we approached hermeneutics as an interpretative art and exercise that in its process enriches the interpreter.

With the aim of favouring the process of analysis, comprehension, interpretation, auto-reflection and the linking of the text with the world (Prado 34), we worked with questions that were generative, following the idea that “each question we raise in respect to the text that we are going to interpret is a question about its meaning. The meaning of a text will derive from an enquiry about its composition, that is, the form, the history, the experience of reading and the auto-reflection of the interpreter.” (Valdés 64)[i] We therefore selected those questions which would help in looking towards a hermeneutical reading and reflection, questions that, in the case of the selected graphic novel and the picturebook, included pictographic or iconotextual reading. These generating questions were graduated in order to go step by step.

It is important to remember that it all begins with that “jouissance”: the first contact with the text that engages or enamours into an experience full of surprising events and affectivity. The text takes on a new life in the exercise of reconfiguration, as Ricouer signals, “the text is a set of instructions that the individual reader or the public fulfills in a passive or creative manner. The text only becomes a literary work through the interaction between the text and the receiver” (148). Accordingly, it is valid to start with what is called an impressionistic criticism, with the reader’s likes and dislikes, and then move on to the analytical level, following the methodology proposed by Gloria Prado, renowned Mexican specialist in literary hermeneutics. At this stage, questions about the construction of the text are pertinent, what is said and how it is said, the indissoluble binary that is distinguished only with the aim of going further into the artistic weave. These are followed by the questions about the comprehension and interpretation of what was read, what underlies the explicit, what is implicitly alluded to, the meanings that are not evident. The literary work is polysemic and open to a variety of possible approaches, none exhausts the text, none has the last word or the definitive interpretation; in a community of interpreters one listens and shares for mutual enrichment. At one level, the approach involves entering the text, as the example from Xóchitl above shows, later, distancing allows a more critical view. Others emerge from this process: self-monitoring (‘Did I do it correctly or did I make a mistake?’); anchoring in the text (‘Where does the text say what I interpret?’) and self-reflection (‘Why did I interpret in this way?’) in order to enter the world we live in (‘How can I link this to my world?). This last question is very important because it allows us to convey to life that which art has shown us in its metaphoric play.

Of course it is difficult to follow all these steps in order, one could say it is almost impossible, because the members of a community of interpreters have the freedom to express their ideas and these questions are only a motor or starting point, but if we keep in mind what we are looking for, new enquiries will lead to the path of deepening comprehension. It is an exercise that renews and reinvents itself every day.

We remind our readers that after the reading of The Girl in Red by Aaron Frisch and Roberto Innocenti we gave the students a camera so that each of them could imagine the history of “The Girl in Red” or Little Red Riding Hood in their city or neighbourhood and show us through photographs what she would see along her way (see blog entry for 12th April 2015).

                    Mural painting photographed by Yasmín for her photo-narrative

In this exercise that invited participants to take the act of reading one step further into the act of creating, Yasmín (13) shows us the route through her town and the way in which she links the text and the image not only to her world but with other possible worlds. Most importantly, through the reading and re-creation, through the vicarious experience, Yasmín realizes that she can participate in an active and positive manner in her own story:

Well I did my story in my own way, I changed it, I modified it in several accounts, I did not make a protagonist as it were, the protagonist is me and I am the narrator of the story, the story starts then, the same as in the story, she leaves her house and well, it’s normal, isn’t it, she goes through the streets, then she finds a [mural] painting that really catches her attention, then it’s like she imagines different worlds and she realizes that it is not only being in her house and with her mother that makes her feel confident, she starts to discover her own self-confidence. (Yasmín, 14 years)


PRADO, Gloria, Creación, recepción y efecto. Una aproximación hermenéutica a la Obra Literaria. México: Diana, 1992.

RICOEUR, Paul. Tiempo y narración I. Configuración del tiempo en el relato histórico.México: S XXI, 1995.

Valdés, Mario J. La interpretación abierta: Introducción a la hermenéutica literaria contemporánea. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1995.

[i] Valdés notes that this term, “appropriation” was used for the first time by Ricouer in 1972 and “means to make that which was, at first, strange and foreign, one’s own […] it is the process of actualization of meaning in a text that is directed at a reader.” 66

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