Examples from

Ovid: Metamorphoses



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Although it's possible to distinguish between the procedures of explication and interpretation, the two approaches to understanding a literary text are inextricably united. Explication is often the first step towards an interpretation. In explicating a text, we ask the question "how does this text mean?" We give our attention to the way the text uses language to convey its message. In interpretation, we ask the questions "what does this text mean?" As we have seen, texts are open to many different, even conflicting interpretations. Explication often offers one means of testing an interpretation, returning us to the text to judge whether or not the meanings that suggest themselves to us as we read are plausible in light of how the text is constructed.

In this exercise, you will begin with an activity that focuses on explication, the identification of formal characteristics that shape the text's meaning. These include aspects such as vocabulary, grammatical and syntactical structures, figures of speech, narrative perspectives, the genre in which the text participates, and many other factors of the text's structure.

As you move through the exercise, you will have opportunities to explore questions relating to possible interpretations based on the textual features you identify in your explication. The questions and suggestions are meant as examples of one possible course of interpretive work; they are not definitive and are meant to encourage you to reflect on the other ways of making the text meaningful in the act of interpretation.

How to Start

Clicking the title of a text in the list of Examples will take you to a passage selected from that text. A list of keywords appears on the left-hand side. By clicking a keyword, you will display the passage will all instances of that particular aspect of the text highlighted as links. By following these links, you will find a general explanation of the structural or tropological features as well as an explanation of that specific example.

Some examples have an option for exploring possibilities for interpretation that are opened up in the process of explication. When you click the Interpretation button, you will be presented with a series of questions and suggestions about how the aspect of the text you identified through explication informs the possible meanings of the text. Additional links within these discussions of interpretation allow you to visit Reading Guides to pertinant works of literary theory and philosophy.

To test your ability to recognize the literary characteristics on your own, you may turn off the list of keywords and explore the text with the cursor. Click on a word or passage to check your analysis of its function. Remember that texts are complex structures and that words and phrases often have several different functions. This exercise is, of course, cannot address all the possible functions of language in even a small passage from a text, but is meant to provide you with a basic review of the techniques of explication which in turn form the foundation for further interpretative work.

To review these instructions at any time during the exercise, click .


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