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Home :: Archive :: 2002 :: September ::
Re: Authorial Intentions
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 13.1985  Thursday, 26 September 2002

[1]     From:   John V. Knapp <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:43:02 -0500 (CDT)
        Subj:   Response to Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions

[2]     From:   Brian Willis <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:14:53 -0700 (PDT)
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions

[3]     From:   Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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        Date:   Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 13:22:00 -0500
        Subj:   Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From:           John V. Knapp <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:43:02 -0500 (CDT)
Subject: Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions
Comment:        Response to Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions

Dear Mr. Swilley --

I am enlightened by your assumptions of authorial inconsequentiality and
subsequent concentration on the work itself, and wondered if I could --
in a rather off-handed manner -- extend the metaphor just a bit.
Whenever I fly from Chicago to London, I try also to assume pilot
inconsequentiality and so concentrate on the plane itself, since [the]
"intention of the author (or pilot) can never be fully and reliably
recovered and is of no decisive value in describing the effect or
effects of a text" or riding in an airplane. I simply assume each is
flying on automatic pilot.

Great pilots, like great artists, deliver plane-loads (or works) "that
reflect infinitely in mirrors of meaning, each reflection that accounts
for the whole equally as valid as the rest."  It is my fond hope that
such pilots know the difference, however, between London and, say,
Baghdad, although "each are equally as valid as the rest."

Some may argue that, even "if we could know with certainty the author's
(or pilot's) intentions, we should not be limited to those in our
appreciation of the many other "meanings" (or cities) beyond those
intentions (or locations) that are demonstrably there."  Clearly pilot
unions debate all the time about the meanings of "adequate salary," and
"jet lag," and the appreciation of other such language meanings as
London, Chicago, and even DeKalb.

When we (or I) "consider how artists (or pilots) so often can never
quite recall exactly what they intended," I can only pray that they
finally end up in the general area of the UK.  Even though "they were
themselves, as it were, the first viewers of their work (or the city in
question) and surprised by the joy of it, we should respect their plea
that their work (or plane) is everything, and that the pursuit of the
causes of it (or the direction of the flight) is a pointless and
distracting adventure."

This is indeed a fond foolish metaphoric extension of your logic, but
'tis mine very own -- intention, that is -- against which no one can
argue since my purpose or "intention ... can never be fully and reliably
recovered."  Or, as Bud Abbott used to say in the famous "Who's on
First" skit, "I don't even know what I'm talkin' about!!"

Cheers,
JVK

[2]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Brian Willis <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 11:14:53 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: 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.

L. Swilley writes:

>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.

In the case of Shakespeare, this is certainly true.  And I realize that
this is a debate that is as old as time. But what happens when we have
an author on the record stating his influences, intents, and sometimes
even detailed and precise commentary on his work? We even have authors
who footnote their own work now to explain themselves.

I'm not saying that we should always blindly take the author's word as
gold and exclude any other possible interpretation. There are always
different interpretations filtered through each reader's mind and
experiences. But to ignore the author altogether at all times is the
other extreme. We should know something of an author's orientation on
his world, whether it is Hemingway's World War II experience or Jane
Austen's unique perspective on the domestic life of early nineteenth
century England. These perspectives enrich our readings, rather than
limit them.

Brian Willis

[3]-------------------------------------------------------------
From:           Marcia Eppich-Harris <
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Date:           Wednesday, 25 Sep 2002 13:22:00 -0500
Subject: 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions
Comment:        Re: SHK 13.1970 Re: Authorial Intentions

See also Roland Barthes's "Death of the Author" circa 1967 (I think).
Barthes says that the reader determines the meaning of the text, not the
author; thus, he disqualifies authorial intention altogether as a
gathering point for meaning. I was always very interested in authorial
intention before I read this essay. "Death of the Author" changed the
way I look at everything I read (and write).

Cheers!
Marcia

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