The Relationship between Math and Literature

How can a literary work “have infinite critical interpretations, while at the same time not all its interpretations are critical”?

To answer this seemingly contradictory question one must look to mathematics:

Infinite Interpretations of Literary Works

One of the main things critics of literature do is to interpret literary works. In the past, the notion that a literary work, say a novel, only has one real meaning was widely accepted. But, with the dawn of positivism and the ascension of hermeneutics in the humanities, that notion was left behind. Nowadays almost every critic of literature will argue that a novel has as many meanings as there are interpreters. Most of them will even argue that a novel has, in fact, potentially infinite meanings.

But, if every reader can find different valid meanings in a novel, then, how is it that the work of the literary critic is still relevant? According to French philosopher Paul Recoeur, most of the interpretations given to a novel by ordinary people are just quick guesses based in conjectures. For sure, they are valid, but clearly are not as valuable as that of the literary critic, who spends most of her time studying the history of literature and its relation with the social contexts in which it is produced and received.

Also, a critic has to present her interpretation to a whole group of other critics. In doing so, she has to defend her ideas about a novel or a poem with a number of arguments: by relating it to the culture where it was produced, with biographical information about the author, by paying attention to what other people have believed about that specific novel or poem in different moments of history, or even by studying the reasons the publisher had to publish it in the first place.

For all of that, the critic’s interpretation of a literary work tend to be better informed and argued than the ones of casual readers. s. As Recoeur said, maybe there are no methods to make valid interpretations, but there surely are ways to make those interpretations invalid.

To help clarify this idea, I will call interpretations of casual readers real interpretations, in analogy to the uncountable infinity of the Real numbers; and I will refer to the interpretations given by literary critics as integer interpretations, in clear analogy to the countable infinity of Integer numbers. Is there any connection between the two types of interpretations.

Please Continue for the answer:

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