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  • The Hermeneutic Role of a Book Review:A Response to Glover
  • Jorge J. E. Gracia

The primary function of a book review is to articulate and present an understanding of the book's thesis and argument, and to make a judgment as to its value, so that readers will themselves understand and be guided by the understanding and judgment of the reviewer. Reviews are supposed to be interpretations created for the sake of a potential audience for a book. Unfortunately, most reviews fail to fulfill this function insofar as they merely paraphrase the text they are supposed to interpret, fail to provide an understanding of it, or are so critical that they miss the significance of the book. In short, they fail to provide the kind of interpretation that constitutes their proper hermeneutic task. Glover's review of Painting Borges is nothing of the kind, constituting an excellent example of what a review ought to be. This short response to his review gives me the opportunity not only to comment on his interpretation, but also to emphasize what a review ought to be by showing the way he accomplishes his hermeneutic task.

The first point that needs to be emphasized is that Glover misses none of the fundamental claims made in Painting Borges. His analysis of the text and the argument of the book are both thorough and masterly. Contrary to what causes many reviewers to go astray, he successfully deepens the understanding—his and of his audience—of the book's claims, exploring their implications through examples that clarify the points made in the book and showing how they apply beyond what is explicitly claimed in it. This splendid interpretive procedure both satisfies the hermeneutic goal of understanding what the author of the text attempted to convey, while going beyond it by expanding the readers' grasp of the issues raised in the book. Very few reviews [End Page 113] I have read accomplish this as successfully as Glover's does. Let me point to a couple of examples that illustrate his dexterity and accomplishment, and through them indicate the proper way in which interpreters should carry out their hermeneutic task.

Consider Glover's discussion of one of the strategies I claim are used by artists in their interpretation of literary works. The painting in question is Laura Delgado's Garbage Heap II, which interprets Jorge Luis Borges's short story "Funes, the Memorious." The strategy is what I call "elimination": because a work of visual art cannot include everything that a narrative contains, the artist is forced to eliminate references to many aspects of the narrative in order to present us with a coherent and graspable interpretation of the story that both enlightens us and deepens our understanding of it. Delgado implements this technique by focusing on a phrase used in Borges's story to describe the kind of uselessly crowded and non-discriminating memory of Funes: "a garbage heap." Glover argues that "Delgado's painting effectively allegorizes Borges's story," for "just as Funes experiences the world as a series of discrete, disconnected perceptions, so Delgado's painting gives us but one thematic slice of Borges's tale with no indication of how it relates to the story's broader conceptual and narrative contours"(108).

The point is insightful because it shows how the successful use of an element in the story effectively illustrates how Funes's too-precise memory stands in the way of true understanding. We thus grasp the impossibility of Funes's understanding through the clever use that Delgado makes of the image of the garbage heap, composed as it is of many useless and unrelated objects. More important still, Glover replicates the interpretive connection the painting makes to the story, thus proposing an understanding of the work of art that both supports and expands the argument of my discussion.

Another instance of a similarly successful interpretative move is found in Glover's discussion of my claim concerning the distinction between a work of philosophy and one of literature. I argue that, although in many works the distinction between philosophy and literature is by no means clear and precise, still a distinction between the two...


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