One of the insights of hermeneutics is that human beings are doing interpretation all the time.

It’s why we can fit in to the “real world” around us. We “read” things correctly, we know what things mean when they present themselves to us in familiar contexts, and know how to respond to them properly. And then we do respond properly. That’s what we mean by “fitting in.”

This human all too human trait of ours has a number of consequences.

One of them is that we forget, much of the time, that we are interpreting things that actually require interpretation, instead of just seeing things “the way they are.”

Here’s Ian Bogost’s reminder:

About a century ago, the Soviet formalist filmmaker Lev Kuleshov conducted a series of experiments with filmic montage. In the most famous one, he edited a short film consisting of short clips of various subjects: an actor’s expressionless face, a bowl of soup, a woman on a couch, a girl in a coffin. The same clips edited into different sequences produced different interpretive results in the viewer. The deadpan face of the actor appeared to take on different emotions depending on which image preceded or followed it—he appeared dolorous, for example, when seeming to “look at” the dead girl in the coffin. This effect of filmic editing has been called the Kuleshov effect, and it’s had an enormous influence on filmmakers including Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Francis Ford Coppola. It also forms the backbone of reality television, in which meaning is almost entirely produced in the editing room.

It’s embedded in an interesting, though sobering, article about recent viral videos – and what we might want to remember about our ineluctable human task of interpreting the world around us.

All the time.


view of clouds against a blue sky