Stay away from Armitage! Preface and “A” Reading
… in a zeigeist [!] of information overload, I am enjoying the silence, and as Oscar Wilde once pointed out:
“I am but too conscious of the fact that we are born in an age when only the dull are treated seriously, and I live in terror of not being misunderstood”
So in a brief moment of terror I succomb [!], to wish everyone a really thoroughly Merry Christmas.
[Richard Armitage, Christmas letter of December 24, 2011]
I was so amused by this post that I decided to offer another rare attempt at of “Armitage epistemology” in grateful thanks. Actually, I think this may only be the second time I’ve done it. The entire original exercise is here — in which I analyze a statement made in 2010 regarding the sort of woman Richard Armitage finds attractive. If you just need a quick refresher, however, here’s a quick reminder of the structuring question of this exercise, and the answers I offer. You may also want to consider the relevance of these analytical tools in your interpretive work.
Quiz question: What can we know about Mr. Armitage based on what he says about himself in interviews?
A) We can know Mr. Armitage reasonably well based on what he says about himself in interviews and can trust everything he says.
B) We can know Mr. Armitage to some extent based on what he says about himself in interviews. We can trust what he says based on our application of relevant context(s), linguistic conventions, verbal and non-verbal cues insofar as we have them, and our own experiences of interpreting conversations with everyday interlocutors.
C) We can know Mr. Armitage to some extent based on what he says about himself in interviews, but what he makes such statements primarily for publicity purposes and we cannot apply tests that facilitate the determinations argued for in B) with any strong reliability.
D) We cannot know Mr. Armitage at all based on what he says about himself in interviews.
Aus gegebenem Anlaß, we’re considering the reliability of the following statement as something we can know about Richard Armitage. What is he telling us, here? The statement has been cited most recently in support of the argument that Armitage feels no desire to encounter fans outside of official, work-related events, and, indeed, feels the opposite — he wishes never to encounter fans unexpectedly. Citing the argument, the statement is asserted to mean the following: “When I am not at an official function to meet fans, please leave me alone.” That argument, in turn, is meant to support the further, normative assertion that fans who think otherwise are ignoring Armitage’s own statements and should conform their behavior appropriately. The question we ask in the exercise is whether the above reading is a reasonable one, and thus one we should feel bound to act on as fans.
My thesis: in fact, this text does not support either the argument it is marshaled in favor of, nor the normative burden being placed on fans. Note that I am not arguing anything about Armitage’s actual stance with regard to spontaneous fan meetings — he may indeed despise them, and I can imagine without any significant mental contortion that certain kinds of meetings could be entirely odious to him. I limit myself to demonstrating that this evidence is not sufficient to justify drawing that conclusion when taken alone. Further, I make no normative argument here of any kind as to what fans should or should not do, which I assume they are capable of deciding on their own; I simply note that by any reading of the text, this quotation does not support the normative argument it has been alleged to support.
Indeed, I would argue, the most probable meaning of the text does not concern Armitage’s stance toward fans or seek to prescribe a behavior at all — it deals with something different, to which Armitage’s attitude toward “recognition” and/or “attention” for television work is related. I trace the steps of that argument through the epistemology exercise, below.
Keep in mind, while reading, that all texts have multiple meanings; while some meanings are more plausible than others (for instance, it’s hard to find any convincing evidence in the text that Armitage actually means the opposite of what he’s quoted as saying here — that he actually loves signing autographs in the street), importantly, no text ever offers only a single interpretive possibility, and sometimes single statements function in multiple ways within a text. Understanding a statement, then, requires digging through the possible meanings of a text, accepting some and rejecting others, and understanding how these possible meanings converge in order to make a text “work.”
The article from which the evidence is drawn, “Tackling a Tough Shoot,” appeared in The Stage, in the issue of May 6th, 2010. The entire interview is here; the relevant sections of it (because the content of the interview makes a strong topical turn from discussion of Armitage’s methods of preparation for Strike Back in the first half of the piece to his career development in the second part) go as follows, with the matter for discussion annotated in red:
My caps from the original image at Richard Armitage Online, pasted together in original order for visual convenience.
If you read the original post I made on the topic of interpreting newspaper quotations, over two years ago, now, you know that I think “A” readings (fully reliable literal intepretations) are almost impossible to sustain, but I’ll give it my best shot. One big problem in this particular “A” reading, for example, is that Armitage uses a pronoun in his first statement: “I don’t really like it,” for which the referent is supplied not by him, but by the interviewer. So, even assuming that the article quotes Armitage with complete literal accuracy throughout (a big “if”), we can’t take away from this quotation exactly what it is that Armitage doesn’t like, because we don’t know the wording of the question he responded to. Our conclusion in this regard is drawn from what we extract from the interviewer’s prefacing statement. This is a general problem with print interviews of this sort, in which the context for every statement is provided to the reader by the interviewer. This article quite frankly reveals more about the attitudes of the interviewer than it does about those of Armitage. Most print interviews thus incline me immediately to a “D” reading (see caveats about the chain of evidence in print interviews here [second bullet point]), simply because everything we read reflects the impulses of the interviewer to couch information. The author of the article makes repeated errors of syntax and organization in this piece, as well, that tend to confound literal readings. (Note, for example, the interviewer’s apparent error of subject verb / agreement in the quotation, probably engendered by the discrepancy in number between the compound subject and the intended single predicate.) I won’t pursue the “D” reading in this post, because I could care less about the interviewer, actually, but if I were doing research on this topic I’d be obliged to explore it.
But back to the starting point: the “A” reading is further complicated by the clear presence of metaphor in Armitage’s statement — that is, his quotation employs verbal techniques that in themselves move beyond literalism. We have to decide what “getting on with the job” means, as well as “I am not one for,” which involves a further uncertain pronoun usage.
But let’s be generous, for the sake of argument, and put the interviewer’s proposed referent into the sentence to enhance its clarity for the purpose of attempting the most strictly literal reading we could perform, given the nature of the source.
Following the A reading, then, Mr. Armitage is saying: “I don’t really like [the recognition and attention that come with television work]. I am happiest when I am [doing or concentrating on my work], and I am not really [someone who favors] signing autographs on the street.”
First, assuming we agree with the substance of the statement as I’ve reconstructed it, nothing in it, if it is taken literally, suggests or implies that Armitage dislikes meeting fans spontaneously or wants them to stay away at all non-appointed times. If we take it literally, he is saying he doesn’t like being recognized or receiving attention because of his television roles, he is most happy when working, and he does not like to sign autographs in the street. That is the most we can deduce from the “A” reading of the single statement, from which one equally plausible conclusion to draw would be that he doesn’t mind meeting fans as long as they don’t ask him for autographs. Moreover, we should be careful of confusing the verbal / adverbial combination “don’t really” with the similar statement, “really don’t.” “I don’t really like it” is a significantly less emphatic assertion than “I really don’t like it,” although the reading I referred to above seems to assume the latter rather than the former. Armitage says nothing about disliking it when fans introduce themselves to him, whether in fortunate or unfortunate circumstances. To achieve that content on a literal reading, he would have to say, “I dislike it when fans approach me” or “I am bothered when fans introduce themselves,” or “I wish fans would not ask me for autographs in the street,” all of which are literal, semantically clear statements. Now, it would be professionally stupid for him to say something like that, but even so, he simply doesn’t say it here. He’s not saying anything literal about his feelings about meeting fans — he makes statements only about his attitudes toward recognition / attention that results from television work, working, and signing autographs.
Readers who want to make this statement about Armitage’s alleged dislike for meeting fans informally, then, or desire that they stay away from him in such situations, must already step onto at least the B terrain — but in doing so, of course, we’re interpreting. I would suggest that the desire to incorporate this statement as interpreted above as evidence for the actor not wanting to meet fans informally is the function of the interpolation of tropes by the reader: specifically, “I want to be [left] alone Armitage,” relying quite probably on “Armitage as victim.” Part of the problem with “A” readings in general stems from the scanty information they yield. Hence, they almost inevitably invite tropic interventions, as the interpreter struggling for meaning adds elements to the literal statement in order to make it intelligible. In this particular case, the reader is using the tropic intervention to support a potentially reasonable sentiment that she has already expressed repeatedly on philosophical / ethical grounds. When she failed to convince audiences on those grounds, she began to seek support for her stance in statements by the actor. This conclusion thus relies on backward reasoning; establishing a conclusion and looking for evidence from a particular source, assumed to be authoritative or especially influential for a particular audience, to support it. In semantic logic, this fallacy is called “assuming the consequent.”