S.G. Browne

The Truth of Creation vs the Truth of Interpretation

Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the chance to experience having other people tell me what my books mean. What someone else got out of them. How strangers interpreted them. It’s an odd thing, having people who had nothing to do with the creation of your book tell you and others what it is you’re trying to say with your writing. Sometimes it’s so far off base that you wonder if the person took crystal meth before reading the book.

Like the person who thought Breathers was an allegory for the Holocaust.

Initially, this disparity was something I had trouble adjusting to, even when someone made me out to look smarter or more insightful than I actually am. After all, I’m the one who wrote the book, so I’m the only one who knows the truth of the words I’ve written. Of what I intended to accomplish.

But at some point around the time when Fated came out last November, I began to realize that the truth of creation is no more valid than the truth of interpretation. How one person reacts to a book or a story is true for them. It’s a reflection of how the book speaks, or doesn’t speak, to their sensibilities. Of how it makes them feel. So how one person interprets the words and ideas I’ve strung together is absolutely correct.

It’s just different than my interpretation.

Art in all of its forms is subjective, be it a novel, a movie, an album, or a painting. As a fan of writing, film, music, and fine art, I understand that my opinion is just that. An opinion. I understand that there is no objectivity in art. That art exists for us to experience and that each individual experience is shaped by personal preferences and viewpoints. There is no definitive quality that makes one piece of art better than another. It’s all subjective. As someone once told me, once you start to qualify art, it ceases to become art.

Just because I think Green Day’s 21st Century Breakdown is one of the best albums of the past decade doesn’t make it true.

Just because I think Being John Malkovich was the most original film of 1999 doesn’t mean it deserved to have won any awards.

But sometimes it’s difficult to be on the other side of the process, to be the creator rather than the consumer, and maintain that point of view. To understand that when you let your creations out into the world, they no longer belong to just you. They belong to everyone who experiences them.

However, when someonea reviewer or a teacher or some self-proclaimed literaticlaims to know what the author intended, whether it’s a novel written by me or by someone else, that’s where I think they’ve developed an over-inflated sense of themselves. You can’t possibly know what the author intended unless you spoke with the author about his or her intentions. You can guess. You can theorize. You can view the books through your own personal lens and offer your own personal insights. But you can’t know what the author was thinking. It’s all just a matter of opinion. A matter of interpretation.

And in spite of the fact that I might not agree with them, all of those opinions and interpretations are true.

Filed under: Breathers,Fated,Fiction,The Writing Life,Wild Card Wednesdays — Tags: , — S.G. Browne @ 9:11 am


  1. Thanks for writing this entire post without once using the word “hermaneutic.”

    Comment by Lise — May 11, 2011 @ 10:13 am

  2. Great post! It brings to mind what “opinions” are like. I hate when people argue things. You both have a side – agree to disagree. Trying to tell you what you meant is just absurd! Still pushing your book on people. I don’t care what it means! It’s friggen awesome & we still use ‘Oh my Jerry!’ in our house. ;)

    Comment by June Kramin — May 11, 2011 @ 10:23 am

  3. I agree, this was a great post. I don’t feel I have to analyze books I read, I believe the author intended for me to enjoy what he wrote and to take from it what I can.

    You did made me remember being in school and having teachers ask “What did the author mean when he wrote…..?” Perhaps that’s why I don’t analyze!

    Comment by Peggy — May 11, 2011 @ 10:44 am

  4. Thanks for the comment, Peggy. I always hated that question. My answer would be: “I don’t know what he meant. But this is what I got out of it.”

    June, thanks for pimping out “Fated.” Your check is in the mail.

    And Lise, I had to Google hermaneutic. Now I know a new word.

    Comment by admin — May 11, 2011 @ 8:49 pm

  5. […] about a bad review of your book. Again, writing is subjective. And as I’ve said before, the truth of creation is no more valid than the truth of interpretation. When you let your creations out into the world, they no longer belong to just you. They belong to […]

    Pingback by S.G. Browne » Five Stupid Non-Writing Things Writers Do — January 27, 2012 @ 9:08 am

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