This article cautions against underestimating the complexity of the intersubjective
interpretation involved in deliberation between citizens in a democracy. The
subjective nature of interpretation potentially sabotages the possibility of truly
hearing, or reading, others on their own terms, which, in turn, undermines
the democratic ideal of basing decisions on the actual will of the interlocutors.
Authentic deliberation can in fact only follow on from a ‘good reading’ of the
other, based on the actual rather than the interpreted views of the various parties.
I argue that literary theory’s long engagement with such interpretive complexity
can be employed to illuminate an interpretive stance that would do justice
to both deliberation and democracy. In particular, C.S. Lewis’s and Mikhail
Bakhtin’s arguments point to a reading of the other that, while acknowledging
our subjectivity, also envisions the possibility of engaging with the other on his
or her own terms.