I find that a useful term in hermeneutics is “horizon” – a key aim of hermeneutics is to describe and effect a transforming engagement between the horizon of the text (whether a document, song, artwork, or whatever) and the horizon of the reader. Sometimes this transforming engagement is called a “fusion of horizons.”
I would say that a productive reading arises from sensitive engagement between the horizon of the text and the horizon of the reader along multiple dimensions of potential fusion. A reading that shows heightened sensitivity across multiple dimensions of potential fusion will be more productive than a reading that lacks such sensitivity, or such multi-dimensionality.
Four dimensions of potential fusion that are of interest to me are:
- The world of the text, and that of the reader
- The orientation of the text within a particular mission, and the receptivity of the reader to that mission
- The emergence of the text in space and time, and the situation of the reader
- The reception and mediation of the text across history up until the time of the reader
For the Cold Chisel song “Khe Sanh”, these dimensions of potential fusion might be operative as follows:
World: It is a Cold Chisel song, within the public corpus of their work. To the extent that the reader is open to this world and aware of this corpus, a sensitive engagement is more likely.
Orientation: The albums and broader presentation of Cold Chisel as a band suggest an overall programme that defiantly finds value in the isolated outsider. To the extent that the reader is open to being impacted or provoked by this programme, a sensitive engagement is more likely.
Emergence: The song was written by Don Walker in the 1970s, and deals with the restless attempts of an Australian Vietnam war veteran to negotiate a return to normal Australian life. To the extent that the reader understands the historical, grammatical, syntactical, rhetorical, and musical elements at play, a sensitive engagement is more likely.
Reception: The song has had an enormous cultural impact in Australia. In a recent concert attended by 12,000 people (one of whom was me), all instinctively rose to their feet when this song was reached in the playlist, suggesting a deep and widespread connection. To the extent that the reader is attuned to this reception, a sensitive engagement is more likely.
One might reflect that the reader most primed for a broadly sensitive reading would be a fan of Cold Chisel. A fan is most likely to be aware of the wider corpus, impacted by the larger programme, interested in the words and backgrounds, and immersed in a tradition of reception. And so the fan will be ready to recall links to other songs when necessary, to read between the lines when necessary, to investigate backgrounds when necessary, and to listen critically to other interpreters when necessary. This does not mean that a non-fan is incapable of significant engagement across one or more dimensions of potential fusion, simply that being a fan is an appropriate broad prejudice in seeking a multi-dimensioned productive reading of a Cold Chisel song.