There are a lot of steps to be taken before a historical step, or any event, or document, may be confidently identified. Fundamentalists skip these steps. There is a nice account in ‘Original Meanings’ from Jack Rackove, about the making of the US constitution, of just how many angles there are to be considered in the identification of intent in a document:
… their real challenge did not involve solving theoretical dilemmas posed by Hobbes or Locke or Montesquieu; it instead required efforts to accommodate the conflicting interests of different states and regions on such matters as the apportionment of representation and taxes, the regulation of commerce, and the extension of the slave trade. (p. 15)
How cleanly could a document so formed be read for original intent and meaning? (The book goes on, it doesn’t just trash the prospect of meaning. But the question stays strong.)
The constitution is not a score, of course, and its authors were many, not a solitary genius-type. But the obstacles between a performer and a score, if not so numerous, are at least also infinite.
For a first example: on a violin, the venture away from the text and into context begins with the very first contact.
This is clear in the playing of chords. In the matter of playing chords such as:
… there is not only a departure from the rhythmic simultaneity of the chord-notes as written, there is a certain amount of expressive time necessary to lift it from the page.
This is not to say that a chord is being interpreted from an expressive or even emotional point of view, but rather that the writing itself asks for a gesture beyond what it can represent. And this is only the very first step, before anything close to ‘interpretation’ might happen.
I want to extend a thought, a question:
What’s happening to print?
My answers, or clues at least, come from the area of music. For years now classical musicians – and historians, and students of literature – have been hounded by questions of the relation of text to context.
It’s not a new question at all, but it keeps multiplying as printed/recorded material reproduces exponentially in the world and continues to fail to bring the two together.
It feels as though the world is seeking technological completion for the problems of representation (the achievement of ‘virtuality’) through ever faster reproductions of the world and of the mind itself. As though mapping things and mapping the sensations of things will bring understanding of the world, or finally stop time.
I’d rather not take this in too philosophical direction, but rather, each day, take a musical/textual/representational example and seek a meaningful direction in it.