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On Modelling Interpretative Vulnerability

The disciplinary disposition of English is one of possibility, exploration, and ambiguity. We write to explore an interpretation and to persuade our reader of it validity, but, always, with a clear sense it is just one of many ways we could understand that image, line or text. The epistemological horizon of English Literature as a discipline excludes, at least at the level of interpretation, right and wrong, instead working according to gradients of persuasion.

We model this disciplinary disposition all the time in our writing, using and encouraging words and phrases such as:

1. Perhaps

2. Maybe

3. Seems

4. Implies

5. This could suggest

7. It seems to be

6. One could argue

8. Arguably

9. Provisionally

10. One idea might be

11. A sense of this seems to be

12. Here, the writer could be

13. We think perhaps of

However, we should also go to great lengths to model this disciplinary disposition in our class discussion. We can do this by placing emphasis on and being transparent about what we might describe as interpretative vulnerability:

1. I’m not sure about this but…

2. I did think…but what do you think?

3. This made me think of…

4. Perhaps this isn’t quite right but…

5. Ok, let me know how persuasive you think this is…

6. I haven’t fully thought this out but…

7. Let me try to think this through now…

8. I suppose we could think…but maybe that’s not quite right

9. I’m not sure I’m persuaded of this idea myself yet

We use such phrases to denote that interpretative knowledge within English is contingent and unfinished: we disclose our interpretative vulnerability by openly saying we don’t know and we’re not sure, not because we haven’t prepared, but as a constituent aspect of how we make meaning in English. ‘I’m not sure about this but…’

Doing this, drawing attention to it, revelling in it, empowers students to do the same: they come to understand an idea or thought does not need to be finished for it to be expressed and explored. Modelling our interpretative vulnerability helps students to grapple with and enjoy their own.


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