2005-04-07 : Theme: Observed?

I gotta get this out of the "everybody with me still?" thread.

On 4-7-05, Vincent wrote:

Well a preview then: I don't consider theme to be a matter of interpretation, but a matter of observation. (Given cultural similarity between author and audience, which in an RPG you always have.)

On 4-7-05, Charles wrote:

Okay, these are probably both side points, and not the central issue, but all of this worked for me until:

"Because we're talking about roleplaying, everything happens RIGHT NOW and then is gone, so there's not really a 'once it's constructed,' more an 'as it's constructed.'"

The structure that you see surely exists in the "once it's constructed" of memory, not the "as its constructed" of experience.

Also, a side point to your preview:

"I don't consider theme to be a matter of interpretation, but a matter of observation."

how are you defining interpretation and observation? Because, as I define those terms, I look at that statement and my jaw drops. Theme is objectively determinable? Two reasonable people with sufficient basic cultural knowledge can look at a 'text' and reliably draw the same conclusions concerning theme? By theme, do you mean only the basic "the theme of this story is authority," or do you mean "the theme of this story, as expressed in this bit, this bit, and this bit, is the way in which relating to authority gradually erodes a persons ability to make independent moral choices, however, from this bit, this bit, and this bit, we can see that the authors consider this sacrifice to be preferable to the alternative"?

Do you consider literary criticism a science?

On 4-7-05, Vincent wrote:

Charles, undrop your jaw, I'm not saying anything wacky. I point to a text and I say, here's the theme I see ("when a family accepts each other, they can overcome anything") and here's my case for it. You then say, oh, yeah, I see it. Or you say, you're missing this, this and this, and I say, oh, you're right, I didn't see those. Then the more nuanced a text, the more nuanced our understanding, of course - the more room for multiple coexisting themes and goodness like that.

But what we don't have is every text equally supporting all possible themes. My interpretation of a text is made valid or invalid by observation.

If saying that is the same as saying that literary criticism is a science ... I just don't know what the world's coming to.

On 4-7-05, Vincent wrote:

Oh and yes, memory, of course.

On 4-7-05, Vincent wrote:

No, but wait - I think I mean something slightly else.

We see the structure being built. We see theme being created. Our excitement in the moment of roleplaying is recognition or fulfillment; what's gone before has led to this. We don't have to wait until after the moment - especially, we don't have to wait until it's done - to appreciate it.

We're building structure in our memory, yes. But we're enjoying it right now.

1. On 2005-04-07, Charles said:

Sorry, I should have put that in the open house thread.

Okay, I'd say that's still interpretation not observation, just that interpretation can't be completely non-grounded in the text.

It is certainly possible that you say "You're missing this this and this," and I say, "I reject those as being relevant for such and such a reason," and we part disagreeing on what the theme is. The theme is not an observable object, it is something which is interpreted from the text.

If you don't agree that two people can legitimately disagree on what the themes of a work are, then I am at a loss. If you do agree, then I guess I can deal with you calling that a result of observation not interpretation (although I think it gums up the vocabulary).

On the "right now" question, I don't see how this differs from any other art form. I can enjoy the meaning in a work of art while it is going on, or I can enjoy it while reflecting on it ten years later. The same is true of a roleplaying game or a book. Obviously, the two differ in that I can reread the book ten years later, while I can't effectively replay the roleplaying game, but that is also true of live theatrical performances. The big difference between roleplaying and most other art forms is that we are both author and audience simultaneously, but that seems like a different issue.


2. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

"...just that interpretation can't be completely non-grounded in the text."

We're good.

"On the "right now" question, I don't see how this differs from any other art form."

We're good!

Consider my phrasing nothing more than emphasis.


3. On 2005-04-07, Charles said:

Okay, glad to hear it. I couldn't see how we wouldn't be, but I was puzzled.

I still think calling recognizing theme interpretation is less likely to confuse than calling it observation, but I can accept that you mean that interpretation must be based in observation.



4. On 2005-04-07, Vincent said:

Let me not have established a definition in my little preview! When I actually get into it, I'm going to emphasize qualities of the text, yes, but I'm not going to use "observation" to mean the whole deal.


5. On 2005-04-07, Charles said:


Sorry to have jumped on your usage of it as definitional. I should know by now that you are not prone to counter-intuitive definitions.


6. On 2005-04-08, TonyLB said:

Oooh... previewy.

Will the eventual item also deal with the behavior of simply deciding that part of a text is relevant to theme, for no other reason than to see where it takes you mentally?

Ferinstance, my college literature professor decided to analyze Paradise Lost working on the assumption that the most important parts were those that featured the word "rebound" or its variants.  It was a pretty cool analysis, and gave lots of insight into the book.  Prof. Stern claimed that you could do that with virtually any word and get the same results.

I don't know that I buy that for literature, but I think I've seen it happen in RPGs.  Will that be discussed?  Pleeeease?


7. On 2005-04-08, TonyLB said:

Above:  And by "the same results" I just mean "a cool analysis," not "the same analysis."


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