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Research seminar: Colin Davis (RHUL), Interpretation and Overinterpretation: Camus’s ‘Jonas ou l’artiste au travail’

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Location: Teams

This paper has three parts. The first revisits issues in hermeneutic theory concerning interpretation and overinterpretation, with reference to Gadamer, Eco and other theorists. How do we acknowledge the fluidity of meaning whilst retaining a sense that some interpretations are better than others? How do we distinguish between creative overreading and mere error or nonsense? The second part attempts a reading of Albert Camus’s short story ‘Jonas ou l’artiste au travail’, from the collection L’Exil et le royaume, giving particular weight to its epigraph from the Biblical Book of Jonah. My suggestion is that, whilst foregrounding a self-ironising portrait of the artist as flawed and all-too-human, the epigraph and its resonance through the story suggest a much more Romantic vision of the artist as the unacknowledged saviour of humankind. The third part of the paper attempts to look back, self-reflexively, on the interpretive moves involved in this reading, to assess its plausibility and value.

Colin Davis is Emeritus Professor of French and Comparative Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London, having previously held posts at Cambridge, Oxford and Warwick. His work focuses mainly on the connections between literature, film and philosophy. His most recent publications include Traces of War: Interpreting Ethics and Trauma in Twentieth-Century French Writing (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2018), Freedom and the Subject of Theory: Essays in Honour of Christina Howells, co-edited with Oliver Davis (Oxford: Legenda, 2019), The Routledge Companion to Literature and Trauma, co-edited with Hanna Meretoja (London and New York: Routledge, 2020), and Silent Renoir: Philosophy and the Interpretation of Early Film (Palgrave Macmillan, 2021).


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