Notes on Hyouka as an exploration of reading

Hyouka 9: Forget about the rope.

I am often a pedantic fanboy when it comes to that theory called, alternately, “the death of the author” or “the intentional fallacy” (they’re a little different, but not in popular usage, which is mainly my concern).

I believe that evidence of the “intent” of a story’s author should be taken with a barrel of salt. I think it’s nearly impossible to divine intent from the substance of a story, and that, when any fragmentary evidence of intent exists, it mostly gets in the way of how you should be reading — you should allow yourself to make connections between stories and your own experience, author be damned. I think it’s fun to think about the author sometimes, but that, if you use the author as an excuse to berate people who don’t agree with your interpretations, you’re just an asshole.

Normally I’d be happy to argue about this. But not today — no, this is a post about Hyouka, and once again Hyouka avoids confirming anyone’s biases by pointing out that diversity of thought is perfectly okay — specifically, that different people read differently and different uses of fiction require different approaches.

Hyouka 9: Yeah, what's up with that guy?

We’re getting a better idea of how the characters differ as Hyouka progresses. The mystery film episodes certainly demonstrate how they differ as consumers of fiction. (Given that they’re the Classic Literature Club, I guess I shouldn’t be so amazed that they are all readers to begin with. But I digress.)

I really didn’t know how to describe Ibara last time. The library thing was grasping at straws, I’ll admit. She just seems so ordinary — which doesn’t have to obstruct writing, if you know what you’re doing:

Ibara is crucial because she’s intelligent, but not as intelligent as others: as a librarian she can gather information, but may not be able to piece it together. However, being the most ordinary of the group, she will also occasionally see things that the others, bound by their respective viewpoints, are unable to see. Ibara’s theory is limited by the amount of material she researches, and her own inability to correctly deduce what happened. Occasionally, she may have a breakthrough, as she is not unintelligent, but for the most part her theories, like the one she presents in Episode Four, will fall short.

Yes, that’s what I would’ve said! The second ending even reinforces it by casting Ibara as Watson (Poirot, most likely, but I think my judgment is sound — think of it as a response to AJTheFourth’s Ibara-as-Watson, if you like).

I’ll at least stop blockquoting other blogs’ content long enough to add this: Watson isn’t that ordinary, is he? Holmes is the member of the duo who people remember. But he’s weird, so of course that’d be the case. Let’s not forget that Dr. Watson is a certified badass. He went to medical school. He went to war. He kicked the shit out of typhoid. He’s big and tough and he has an amazing porn stache. Watson’s good with a gun, he’s brave, and he’s no idiot — he just isn’t a savant. But that’s why he’s important. He’s not just a brain trapped in a human body. He understands passion.

Recall that scene in which Fukube compares himself (unfavorably) to Ibara.

Hyouka 10: That...sounds familiar.

He’s just a database, collecting as much information as he can without investing himself heavily in any of it. She’s actually capable of devoting herself to something. In that way she differs even from Chitanda, who can’t focus on any one thing for long. So there you go.

While we’re here, we might as well do Fukube. He’s easy, given that he reveals himself outright: he samples many genres. Moreover, he’s able to interpret things differently depending on circumstances, mood, or what have you, as we see when he confronts Oreki about the rope problem. He’s open and an omnifan. I don’t have much to say about this because it makes intuitive sense to me — that’s how I read. Maybe you’ve noticed. But I will note, for future reference, that the characters in this show may not always be what they think they are.

Chitanda’s an interesting case — she’s more concerned with people than with text. It’s because of that minor detail, actually, that this post exists.

It gets to the point of irrationality, I know, but every time someone talks about “what the author intended” or whether some interpretation is “meant” to be, my skin crawls a little. Stop it, will you? You’re holding yourself back! Let those interpretive powers loose and destroy the author once and for all! Unfortunately for me, it’s standard practice to talk about stories as if they’re written by someone.

Here’s one reason why I should keep my mouth shut: stories are written by someone, and sometimes it’s useful to acknowledge that. Interpretation is not the only literary activity. There’s history, where you’re trying to figure out what people did in the past, and you can’t allow your modern sensibilities to make wild leaps of logic about that. And there’s editing, the compilation of editions of texts. There do exist unmoored kinds of editing, but many editors, especially of the academic variety, attempt to capture or reconstruct texts as they existed back when. Sometimes you really are just trying to figure out what the author intended. There’s a distinction to be made between what the author intended to write and what the author intended to mean, but Barthes and the Wimsatt/Beardsley Duo knew that, and never meant to suggest that the author disintegrates when pen leaves hand for all practical purposes (wait, did I just…ah, hell).

Let me try to sum that up. Sometimes allowing a story to reach its full potential requires that you kill the author. But killing the author in all cases prevents a story from reaching its full potential. Something like that.

It should be noted that the Classic Literature Club wasn’t tasked with interpreting the movie anyway. However things turned out, of course they’d begin by doing what they were asked to do, i.e. pick up where “Hongou” left off.

Here’s the other thing: who cares if someone mentions the author? Maybe they like to think about the author when interpreting. So what? If some people limit themselves by anchoring themselves to authorial intent, maybe others blind themselves to fair interpretations of things by pointedly avoiding everything the author says. My attitude with regard to interpreting stories is precisely that, within the borders set by the raw text of a thing, everything goes. (Though the borders are important: if you go outside, there’s not much point in calling it “interpretation” anymore; you’re just writing fiction.)

Hyouka 9: Chitanda's eyes are the reason I started watching this show. That's a-moe.

Chitanda looks like she’s having so much fun. Would you really, for any reason, tell her to cut that shit out? I’ll repeat myself: if you use the [death of the] author as an excuse to berate people who don’t agree with your interpretations, you’re just an asshole.

tl;dr: Don’t be an asshole.

Now, there’s one more person in all those screencaps I’ve made you look at. The elephant in the room. What do we do about Oreki?

He always carries a book, it would seem; he reads idly, maybe trying to ignore everything around him. He hasn’t read many mystery novels. And that’s about all the substantial information we have about his literary habits.

Oreki is private about his reading — but that’s an important point, in its way. Reading is, first and foremost, a private activity. It gives you something to talk about, but you have to parse the text first, and that happens purely between the text and your brain. You’ll always imagine things a little differently from anyone else who reads that text. This isolation is precisely why it’s not so productive to fixate on what any one person thinks a text means. With such a high percentage of figurative language per pound, fiction is a poor communication medium.

By the same token, it’s not for us to tell each other how to read. Not until Human Instrumentality happens, anyway. The best we can do is entertain one another with accounts of our own reading.

That’s pretty good, though. I’ll take that. If you read in the first place, you already know how useful entertainment can be.

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16 Comments

  1. When I initially read this post, I couldn’t think of anything to say but, “Well done!” Having thought about it further, I realized that I do have a few tangentially-related thoughts if you’ll have them (also, well done).

    As a bit of an addendum to your “Death of the Author” musings, I’d like to add something a bit more personal. In my experience, often a creator doesn’t go into something with a purpose. Sometimes, the best of times in my opinion, one just cannot communicate any other way but to create something (be it writing, oil painting, etc). In the end, the finished product carries with it the encapsulated emotions of the creator in that exact time frame; however, the interesting part is yet to come: what others think of it. I am a painter, and frequently surprised at the emotions or reactions that people may have to my artwork that are completely different than what I intended but all the more interesting for it. Ah…I can’t really explain myself any better than this, so hopefully you catch my meaning, I think both sides are equally important and need not be mutually exclusive.

    Also, thanks for pointing out that Watson was a badass and a highly intelligent man in his own right. Too often people forget this fact. ^ ^

    Reply
    • In my experience, often a creator doesn’t go into something with a purpose.

      I’m glad you pointed this out. Where fiction-writing is concerned, you don’t necessarily know how things will turn out. Writing is itself an act of figuring out what to say and how to say it. You might look back on something you’ve written and think, “Well, this could mean [x],” but can you really say that you thought of all that beforehand? Not with absolute certainty, which is why I tend not to even trust the testimony of authors much. Certainly they couldn’t have intended every meaning that’s supportable with the textual evidence they’ve provided, but I don’t see why it should matter.

      Reply
  2. I’m in a strange position, as someone pragmatic enough to recognize that there is no foolproof way to either divine the intent of another or force anyone to agree with it (nor should there be, in the case of the latter) yet still naive enough in my fool’s-quest search for a true and objective reality that I feel far more at ease when I believe my interpretation of a text lines up roughly with the author’s.

    So I guess I’m a discerning fan, vis a vis the “interpretative strategies” post which I read a few weeks back, but a more resigned kind. Myself, I’ll look for the instructions that came with the rice cooker on how to steam vegetables in it and make sure the drink complements the meal according to the snobs, but if you’d rather cook the rice first and have it with raw vegetables and a really heavy red wine, there’s no point in trying to stop that either (so long as you’re not telling me I’m the one doing it wrong). You touch here on a thing I thought upon first reading that post: that the omnifan can be as arrogant as any other should he insist that his preference to read all interpretations as valid and ignore the author is the ideal to which all readers should aspire.

    As I consume more and more media, though, I suppose I mellow, and I find myself thinking that it’s quite all right to use whatever interpretative strategy feels best for any given work.

    Hyouka sounds like an interesting bit of metafiction or something like it, really.

    Reply
    • Fiction isn’t the place to look for objective reality. I mean, I believe in objective reality, sure. I believe that authors intend things. But you’ll drive yourself crazy if you’re always trying to figure that out. I say this with the caveat that I really don’t think there’s any harm in using the author as a lens, if you want to. You have to pick one lens or another. Every lens reveals some things and obscures others, is all, and there’s no harm in trying different lenses, or more than one at once. My attitude is basically that I’m not curing cancer here, I’m watching cartoons.

      The omnifan can be arrogant, yeah. The generalist can be as arrogant as the specialist, i.e. “You don’t even know what you’re doing; you suffer from an utter lack of context, whereas I do not.” One has to think of omnifandom as an exercise in empathy, rather than as the right way of doing things.

      Reply
  3. I had to skip around this post- I’m deathly afraid of spoilers -but I can’t help chiming in on the author… who is alive and well!

    My intent when I shoot a basketball is for it to go in the rim… doesn’t always happen. Authorial intent is not infallible, for the author is not infallible; his execution of his intent will likely never be perfect, as his intent requires the participation of another, and thus the communication must be directed at that other, which is quite difficult considering this other is the total audience for your book until the end of time.

    Communication is a two-way street: simple, you got this already.

    Creation springs forth from authorial intent. Without authorial intent we have no work to speak of. It certainly carries with it an order of magnitude, and yes, we seek to contain that within its proper magnitude, and not let it swell beyond its margins.

    It’s margins? Therein lies the text. The text is that margin… right? Well… what with metaphor, referencing, and the whole postmodern moveset, the text actually expands far beyond the text. So that margin we’ve set is lacking.

    So long to our definitive margin. It’s all a bit blurry now. Back and forth between an author and his audience. Someone’s wrong. Someone’s more wrong. And it’s no straight divide we’re dealing with. We really have to take this on a case by case basis. Analyze the analysis; review the review. And so the communication continues on and on.

    That’s how these language games get played.

    (But I’m sure you knew this all; that I’m “preaching to the choir”. Certainly… but we really can’t kill the author; we just have to fight with him from time to time… and fight with all those other readers too!)

    Reply
    • It’s as you say. The author intends to make a thing. So we have a thing to entertain us, and an author to thank for it.

      Fiction is indeed a communicative medium. A very, very bad one. It is by design a literally untrue account conveyed partly via figurative language. Fiction is full of holes, and you fill those holes with yourself. Maybe the author’s biography is part of your experience, and that’s fine, too. But the author’s intent gets so lost in all the noise that we shouldn’t obsess over it, even if we acknowledge it.

      I don’t trust interviews much, either. Nobody’s the same person they were a year ago.

      Yeah, don’t spoil Hyouka for yourself. I still can’t believe how rewarding it is, week after week.

      Reply
      • Well, any (and all) account will be literally untrue, whether it’s intended as fiction or not. A non-fiction story or even an essay has a fictitious element introduced by the very act of communication (written, oral, visual, etc), what with it being figurative and all.

        “…you fill those holes with yourself.” Nice!

        When I argue for the author, I mean the author in the act of writing / creating, not the author after-the-act, the author of interviews, if you will. His intent in creation is never truly the exact same intent he’ll take into interviews at a later date. And this isn’t even dishonesty I speak of: simply, intent is absolutely modified by time (and experience born from that time). Basically, “[n]obody’s the same person they were a year ago.”

        When I argue for the author, for intent, I mean to argue for a certain boundary of interpretation… though I guess that boundary is implicit in the communication that follows (reviews, analysis, etc), as communication- by necessity -carries with it boundaries and rules, social dynamics, that make communication even possible to begin with.

        So yeah, round and round in circles we go. I read too much philosophy nowadays…

      • Seems like we’re in agreement here. I might add that we don’t need the “author” to serve as a boundary of interpretation, that the text does that well enough already, but I think that might be nothing more than a re-phrasing of what you’ve said.

        There’s one question that has always interested me, but for which I have no good answer. How much authorial credit should we give to 1) the individual writer/creator and 2) the set of social conditions surrounding that individual, respectively? If we think of the “author” as a moment in time, it does make sense to talk about the author as a boundary, as it would help us define the words that make up the text in the first place. I’m thinking of that common misunderstanding of “attic” in “Ode on a Grecian Urn” — and I’m not really comfortable calling that anything other than a misunderstanding.

      • In a way, I’m merely using the author as an anchor, when it’s the text I really want to protect… against what some may want to do with it. Here lies my original (and outdated- to an extent) aversion to academia: the text being made to say more than it ever did to project whatever message the critic would desire. But that’s a slippier slope than I imagined at the time, and I no longer cast poststructuralism and academia as the villains; they are merely masks the villains wear! (I kid, I kid. But some take their extrapolations too far. Shall I believe that every writer back to antiquity was as ironic as is in vogue now, and that every male friendship was a secret quip at homosexuality… now I’ve strayed too far off topic and right onto my own soapbox- well, that’s what comments are for sometimes;-)

        But in the end, every boundary is its own (Lyotardian) language game. And it’s best to play my game on a case-by-case basis; casting the net too wide, I’ll tangle myself within it.

        (Since I’ve gone offtopic enough: why must every “modern” translation in poetry dispense with any lingual flourish whatsoever and debase the verse to the most simplistic and lowest of reading comprehensions? I immediately look elsewhere when, checking out each translation of a classic, I hear it labeled “modernized”; and I imagined “attic” would be not the last of changes a “modern translation” of Keats would inflict upon us…)

      • The best poststructuralists, in my opinion, are the ones who don’t identify as such. I’m talking about the critics/professors who switch masks as needed, and can wear more than one at once (I think you might’ve liked some of my teachers more than your own). But you’re right about the issue being a slippery slope. The text gives us boundaries, or should if we’re at all reasonable, but we all read ourselves into the things we read. I think we should feel free to find irony or homosexuality in texts that predated the modern incarnations of those things — as long as we realize what we’re doing, and admit to it, and don’t try to sell ourselves as bearers of absolute knowledge.

        The language game is tricky, yes. I’m a little out of practice, but I would agree that case-by-case is best. It’s always boundaries within boundaries within boundaries.

        I have mixed feelings about modernization, I guess. Modernization is what introduces us to, say, Shakespeare; what we get in grade school and even in most college classes isn’t exactly what’s in the First Folio. To be fair, that’s largely a matter of spelling. But if a simplified edition convinces some kid to bother with the original, I can’t complain. I suppose we run into problems when the original becomes harder and harder to find.

      • I actually went to a technical college for computer science, so I never had english/writing/psychology/poetry/etc teachers/classes. My older reactions were more against certain random articles I came across here and there; it wasn’t until I started reading Derrida, et al, that I began to get it and agree with some of it (to a certain extent, but hey, that’s everyone; have any two philosophers ever agreed in complete? lol nope).

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