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Levenson, E.A. (1996). The Politics of Interpretation. Contemp. Psychoanal., 32:631-648.

(1996). Contemporary Psychoanalysis, 32:631-648

The Politics of Interpretation

Edgar A. Levenson, M.D.

There is a cautionary sufi tale that captures the essence of this presentation.

A conventionally minded dervish . . . is walking alongside a lake when he hears someone singing a dervish incantation. But he has the sequences all wrong. Since dervish incantations, properly invoked, could have magical effects, he felt he should correct the singer who seemed to be on a small island in the middle of the lake. So, he hired a rowboat, went to the island where he found a hermit, in a reed hut. The hermit was very grateful for the corrections. The dervish returned to his boat and as he is crossing the water, he hears the hermit loudly singing—and making the same mistake. The dervish thought sadly of the perversity of mankind and continued to row towards the shore. Suddenly, he saw a strange sight. The hermit was running across the water, calling out in despair, “Wait, wait, I have forgotten the proper order!” (Shah, 1970)

This tale, typically Sufi in not taking itself too seriously, illustrates how the disciple may be devoted to a lifetime study of correct rituals, in the hope of achieving miracles, whereas the simple (in Sufi terms, the “idiot”) hermit achieves a miracle without even knowing he has, without being interested in the achievement, and without losing his sincere and humble conviction that he doesn't know anything worth knowing.

How did “getting the rituals (read ‘interpretations’) right” take on such

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