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8 - Moralizing Uncertainty: Suspicion and Faith in Hitchcock's Suspicion

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2024

Gary McCarron
Affiliation:
Simon Fraser University, British Columbia
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Summary

Suspicions amongst thoughts are like bats amongst birds, they ever fly by twilight.

– Francis Bacon

For the interpreter to “perform” the text, he must “understand” it: he must preunderstand the subject and the situation before he can enter the horizon of its meaning. This is that mysterious “hermeneutical circle” without which the meaning of the text cannot emerge.

– Richard Palmer

In a discussion of the hermeneutical problem of symbolism, Paul Ricoeur draws attention to the double-sided nature of discourse. Multivocality or polysemy, Ricoeur points out, is a constitutive feature of all human communication. Meaning is a plurality, a kind of semiotic surplus. “When I speak,” Ricoeur says, “I realize only a part of the potential signified.” This condition, as Derrida famously argued, is the “indefinite referral of signifier to signifier […] which gives the signified meaning no respite.” Meanings are excessive, spilling beyond the perimeters delimited by dictionary definitions. The problem of symbolism, according to Ricoeur, is how communicants make sense out of signs which are duplicitous by their very nature, for if “only a part of the potential signified” is realized in a communicational event, then what passes the outskirts of our understanding undetected is an infinity of interpretative

possibilities. When we communicate, it is by virtue of our capacity to limit ourselves to partial conceptions of the world that any comprehension can occur.

Yet despite this semantic partialness, our communications are intelligible, a consequence of the astonishing collaboration between symbols, reference, and contexts. But the fact that our semantic intentions are accomplished at all indicates that we manage to arrive at mutual understanding in the face of persistent alternative interpretations. Our concentration on a single intended meaning does not neutralize other potential interpretations, Ricoeur states, but is facilitated by the individualizing focus of specific units of speech, such as sentences. Indeed, Ricoeur maintains that

the rest of the semantic possibilities are not cancelled; they float around the words as possibilities not completely eliminated. The context thus plays the role of filter. […] It is in this way that we make univocal statements with multivocal words by means of this sorting or screening action of the context.

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Publisher: Anthem Press
Print publication year: 2023

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