A community of the ear

The final paragraph from the preface of Frank Kermode’s The Genesis of Secrecy (1979):

This book consists, then, of a number of approaches to general problems of interpretation. They seem to be problems of importance, for broadly conceived, the power to make interpretations is an indispensable instrument of survival in the world, and it works there as it works on literary texts. In all the works of interpretation there are insiders and outsiders, the former having, or professing to have, immediate access to the mystery, the latter randomly scattered across space and time, and excluded from the elect who mistrust or despise their unauthorized divinations, which may indeed, for all the delight they give, be without absolute value. The world, to the outsider, is obscurely organized and it is a blessing, though possibly a delusive one, that the world is also, to use Whitehead’s expression, “patient of interpretation in terms of whatever happens to interest us.” What always interests us is the sense concealed in the proclamation. If we cannot agree about the nature of secret, we are nevertheless compelled to agree the secrecy exists, the source of the interpreter’s pleasures, but also of his necessary disappointment.

From the first chapter, “Carnal and Spiritual Senses”:

It is of course true that individual acts of interpretation are rarely if ever performed in full consciousness of these meta-interpretive considerations. And although we are aware how much any interpretation must depend on a tacit form of knowing acquired from institutional training, we tend to reserve our highest praise for those interpretations that seem most intuitive, most theory-free, seeming to proceed from some untrammeled divinatory impulse, having the gratuity, the fortuity of genius.The possibility of such divinations may explain why Hermes once laid claim to a share in the lyre of Apollo. We admire their natural violence or cunning, or their lyric force, and only later do we reason about them, and see how, in spite of everything, the institution helped to shape them. The best psychoanalysts are admired by their colleagues not for their theoretical mastery or correctness, but for their powers of divination, for the acuteness of their third ear. That these powers were partly created by, remain under the control of, and derive their high value from, the historical institution of psychoanalysis is a truth that emerges in subsequent discussion. So it is with the interpretation of written texts. The discovery of latent senses may appear to be a spontaneous, individual achievement; but it is privileged and constrained by the community of the ear, whether tertiary or circumscribed.