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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Authorial Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1970  Wednesday, 25 September 2002

From:           L. Swilley <
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Date:           Tuesday, 24 Sep 2001 13:47:19 -0500
Subject: 13.1957 Authorial Intentions
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1957 Authorial Intentions

Matthew Baynham writes,

>The intention of the author can never be fully and reliably recovered
>and is of no decisive value in describing the effect or effects of a
>text....I would be very interested to hear what others suggest to their
>students on this.

I suggest to my students that "The intention of the author can never be
fully and reliably recovered and is of no decisive value in describing
the effect or effects of a text." I suggest that it is best to ignore
the author altogether and to concentrate on the work itself, as though
the author were unknown, for the elements of the work that live on are
those that describe the mystery of our unchanging humanity.  When we
consider how artists so often can never quite recall exactly what they
intended, how they were themselves, as it were, the first viewers of
their work and surprised by the joy of it, we should respect their plea
that their work is everything, and that the pursuit of the causes of it
a pointless and distracting adventure (see the remarks of Thomas Mann,
Dorothy Sayers, Nadine Gordimer and many others to this effect). Every
great artist delivers works that reflect infinitely in mirrors of
meaning, each reflection that accounts for the whole equally as valid as
the rest. Even if we could know with certainty the author's intentions,
we should not be limited to those in our appreciation of the many other
"meanings" beyond those intentions that are demonstrably there. A great
work is like an inexhaustible Beatific Vision, with ever-growing rings
of endless mystery and delight.

         L. Swilley

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