My understanding of Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann’s article, Deformance and Interpretation, is that they are discussing how pages work and how we as readers use them to obtain information in the correct order. They include several examples of poetry and introduce the term “backwards reading” to show a different form or view of reading and explore our own form of interpretation through deformative and performative terms. They also explore the term normative practices and imaginative works.

Three main points:

  1. One point the authors made was that interpretation has meaning to the viewer. “The usual object of interpretation is “meaning,” or some set of ideas that can be cast in thematic form” (page 26). This interpretation can be any view on an object such as a book, poem, or artwork even. Interpretation is our own thoughts and our own meaning we give a work or anything imaginative.
  1. “We use Dickinson’s proposal for reading poems backwards, then, as an emblem for rethinking our resources of interpretation. It is a splendid model fro what we would call deformative criticism” (page 28). I think what Samuels and McGann are trying to get at is that we as readers make our own interpretations of books and poems and anything that we hold as imaginative works or creativity. The deformative criticism comes into play here because by looking at a piece in a different perspective changes or transforms our own criticism of said piece. We make our own interpretations and our own form of criticism.
  1. “What we have written here, however, is neither performative nor deformative; it is expository. And this fact raises a second matter of importance: that criticism (scholarship as well as interpretation) tends to imagine: itself as an informative rather than a deformative activity” (page 33). Samuels and McGann are saying that expository, which is to explain something, is the intent of their article. This goes with previous points mentioned, which say it is our own interpretation that makes a work what is it. Expository is our interpretation of figuring out what the explanation means to our view and how we obtain information. Our interpretation is also what we imagine and that becomes informative and not a change in view, which would not be deformative.

Two aspects that were confusing:

  1. I believe a lot of my confusion about this article is from the terms used. For example, Samuels and McGann state, “Dickinson’s is a proto-modernist strategy of estrangement” (page 28). I was very lost with “proto-modernist” and “estrangement.” I had to re-read the sentence several times and I still don’t quite understand. Maybe I’m missing something or should probably keep a dictionary for this specific article.
  1. Another confusing aspect for me was when Samuels and McGann started including information that was not clarified beforehand. “In this respect her proposal recalls what Blake says about the difference between a Swedenborg and a Shakespeare, between Dante and his interpreters. For Blake the exegete is an “Angel,” a “Philosopher” (page 29). Who is Blake and why is he brought up at the end of discussing Emily Dickinson and Dante? Bringing in new information without mentioning it in the beginning of the section really lost me and made the article hard to read.

Question to the author:

My question to the author seems relatively simple, but what exactly is deformance? I had to look it up, but I was curious if the authors meant it differently than what I found it to mean. In all honesty, even my spell check in Word Document tried to ask me if I meant to say “performance” instead. The two are linked, but how so? They spoke heavily on the subject, but never really gave a clear and precise understanding of the term, which would have been nice to know. Do they even know exactly what it means?