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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: September ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0598  Wednesday, 12 September 2007

[1] 	From: 		Connie Geller <
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	Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 08:55:35 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From: 		David Evett <
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	Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 12:45:40 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[3] 	From: 		Will Sharpe <
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	Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 19:23:04 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[4] 	From: 		Sally Drumm <
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	Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 14:34:08 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[5] 	From: 		Norman D. Hinton<
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	Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 15:18:18 -0500
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[6] 	From: 		Hugh Grady <
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	Date: 		Tuesday, 11 Sep 2007 10:29:13 -0400
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[7] 	From: 		R. A. Cantrell <
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	Date: 		Tuesday, 11 Sep 2007 16:27:34 -0500
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Connie Geller <
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 08:55:35 -0400
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

It certainly seems possible to discern an author's intentions, 
especially when he tells us what they are, but so what? The paradox for 
post-modernists is, if words have no meaning inherently, how can we rely 
on the author's words about his intention?

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Evett <
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 12:45:40 -0400
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

Malcolm Gladwell's *Blink* is a highly readable introduction to current 
ideas about the very large fraction of what we do that is determined 
well below the level of conscious decision making that seems implied by 
the term "intention." Or, to paraphrase Goneril, "We have ever but 
slenderly known ourselves."

Intentionally,
David Evett

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Will Sharpe <
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 19:23:04 +0100
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

  Larry Weiss writes:
 >"The state of a man's mind is as much a fact as the state of his
 >digestion" (O.W. Holmes, Jr.)
 >
 >When John Drakakis says that it is "futile" to attempt to discern what
 >an author intended by his writings, just exactly what is he telling us?
 >(If there is a conundrum buried in that question, so be it.) Is he
 >saying:
 >
 >(1) All the author left us were words, words, words; meaningless place
 >holders that we need to fill with significance of our own devising;
 >(2) Texts are frequently ambiguous -- sometimes deliberately, 
sometimes >inadvertently;
 >(3) The exact impact which the author expected the text to have on his
 >audience cannot be determined because of such factors as cultural
 >evolution, philological changes, etc.;
 >(4) A person's mental operations are inherently obscure and cannot be
 >confidently assigned even if he tells us what they are;
 >(5) All of the above:
 >(6) Some of the above;
 >(7) Something different?

Just taking the first of these, I would contend that the problem with 
words is not that they are 'meaningless' but rather that they do have 
meaning. I think it wise to distinguish between the practice of 
analysing what words mean in and of themselves, or the multiplicities of 
meaning, as shown by the system of triangulation employed in the 
Crystals' Shakespeare's Words or in Shakespeare's frequent punning, and 
what the 'authorial intention' debate constitutes in theoretical terms 
(and I think we should also forget about the mechanical side of textual 
transmission here for much the same reason). One of the more frequent 
accusations levelled at this kind of thinking, initiated by French 
post-structuralism, and persistent in many philosophies of language to 
this day, is that it is divorced from any kind of 'real world' practical 
application, or that it is somehow inhumane, refusing to recognise a 
person who used his/her mind to produce a literary work, and instead 
offering the maddening image of recalcitrant texts that exist 
independently of any kind of human authority, as though writers were 
merely conduits for forces beyond thier control.

But the idea that a writer doesn't express his/her clear intentions to 
us, and we instead foist our own meanings onto a text, has a 'real 
world' application in the practice of criticism: the existence of any 
number of  philosophical, political, rhetorical, historical etc. - and I 
don't want to get into splitting hairs about these examples - filters 
through which we press a text to extract the juice of its 'meaning' 
invariably means a plethora of different collaborations between 
readers/thinkers/critics/viewers and the writer. If a 'text' were a poem 
of a single word, after considering every possible meaning of that word 
in the etymological sense, we might then seek to understand what the 
writer 'meant' by choosing it. We might look to their biographical 
details or to the body of their other work to find some kind of 
explanation or context, some 'intention' to convey a specific meaning 
lurking behind it. Even if the writer were available to reveal the 
answer to us, we might not find the explanation fully satisfactory. A 
good modern example is that of Kurt Cobain, who in interviews frequently 
denied the genesis of lots of the darker imagery of his lyrics being in 
events from his own life, and yet remained the object of assiduous 
scrutiny by hungry fans and journalists seeking to 'prove' the contrary. 
With dead writers we have only the work to go on. But in the case of 
both dead writers and living ones we don't trust we are stuck with the 
job of interpretation: I think what Shakespeare/Ezekiel/Kurt Cobain 
'meant' by this was ... and there we have the end of authorial intention 
  - if it ever existed - and the beginning of our own meaning. In a text 
made up of thousands of words, separated from us by hundreds of years, 
the forest before us is dense indeed, and the job of hacking a clear 
path through it to the authorial meaning that should ideally lie at the 
centre an impossible one.

Best,
Will Sharpe

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sally Drumm <
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 14:34:08 -0400
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

 >"The state of a man's mind is as much a fact as the state of his
 >digestion" (O.W. Holmes, Jr.)

Does this apply to women as well? Either-or, the state of fact of one's 
mind changes in the same manner as all matter is effected by influx of 
energy, or of information, as is the case in this quotidian quandary 
that we all wish were quondam quandary.  But to attempt response: state 
of mind is directly effected by many external and internal factors - as 
is truth. Like a hard drive dropped, a mind shaken might no longer 
recognize fact as fact - much as is the habit of our government 
administration. Like a hard drive reprogrammed, education & experience 
changes state of mind and state of digestion. Si might be si today, yes, 
tomorrow. O! -Maybe this is what Holmes meant!  It's all about eats and 
uploads. Or is that Keats and Yeats?

 >When John Drakakis says that it is "futile" to attempt to discern what
 >an author intended by his writings, just exactly what is he telling us?
 >(If there is a conundrum buried in that question, so be it.)  Is he
 >saying:
 >
 >(1) All the author left us were words, words, words; meaningless place
 >holders that we need to fill with significance of our own devising;

Words as meaningless is an oxymoron, not a conundrum. "To fill with 
significance of our own devising" is much like offering cake when the 
crowd is crowing for substance.  Green ham and eggs, perhaps. Or, maybe, 
the subtlety and obliquity of being or not being.

 >(2) Texts are frequently ambiguous -- sometimes deliberately, sometimes
 >inadvertently;

Ambiguity is in the mind of the perceiver...or is it reader in this 
case?  No, it must be another attack of ambiguous the Blue Writer! Feels 
just like an arrow in the eye!

 >(3) The exact impact which the author expected the text to have on his
 >audience cannot be determined because of such factors as cultural
 >evolution, philological changes, etc.;

Factors as mentioned above are exactly those that help to interpret 
(never determine) an author's intent on audience. However, to simplify, 
writing has four main purposes: to explore, to persuade, to inform, to 
entertain. That should help a bit to categorize those factors. If we 
move from general to specific we will arrive at cause and effect and 
might even venture into the relationships above-mentioned in terms of 
macro and micro (cosmic, of course). As for philological, if there are 
any philologists in the house, would you volunteer to be my mentor, 
please? I thought philology had gone the way of the Do-Do (or is it 
Doo-Doo?), and soon, the albatross will follow (according to Smithsonian 
News).

 >(4) A person's mental operations are inherently obscure and cannot be
 >confidently assigned even if he tells us what they are;

The search for the same in the other is central and ageless human theme. 
  Of course, we humans will never complete this mission. There will 
always be found a degree of difference - even in a clone (such is the 
effect of environment and education on digestion). And even in the clone 
there will be no security attached to the authenticity of thought by the 
same in the other. Nevertheless, we can identify at least four modes of 
human reasoning: analogous, reciprocal, oppositional, and complementary. 
Perhaps interpretative (not definitive) assignment is possible when 
considering these four categories. However, the pond became murky when 
Fauconnier's theory of conceptual imaging entered the mix a few years back.

 >(5) All of the above:
 >
 >(6) Some of the above;
 >
 >(7) Something different?

How can an author address 5, 6, or 7, except as a writer to a reader, a 
writer who will remain unexplained & misunderstood except for the 
obvious casting a shadow on a page torn from the book of life?

Sincerely,
Sally Drumm

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Norman D. Hinton<
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Date: 		Monday, 10 Sep 2007 15:18:18 -0500
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

What I never understand is that if these, or something like them, are 
considered to be true --

 >(1) All the author left us were words, words, words; meaningless place 
holders that we need to fill with significance of our own devising;
 >
 >(2) Texts are frequently ambiguous -- sometimes deliberately, 
sometimes inadvertently;
 >
 >(3) The exact impact which the author expected the text to have on his 
audience cannot be determined because of such factors as cultural 
evolution, philological changes, etc

Why bother to write us and try to tell us?  Why is that communication 
somehow supposed to make it while Shakespeare's does not?

(Of course this assumes that I know what Drakakis said, which by his 
beliefs is probably impossible.)

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hugh Grady <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 11 Sep 2007 10:29:13 -0400
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

Well, well. Once more on the "intentional fallacy"! While I was on 
vacation in August, and not tuned into Shaksper, the Presentism 
controversy rises Phoenix-like. I'm pleased to see John Drakakis and 
Cary diPietro doing such clear writing on the subject.

I'm not sure how John Drakakis would answer Larry Weiss's question. My 
own view is that it is reasonable to assume that authors have intentions 
about the meaning of their/our writings, but that Weiss's reasons 2 (the 
inherent ambiguity of language), 3 (changing contexts), and 4 (the 
untrustworthy nature of authorial statements of intent) all indeed help 
make a determination of authorial intent a highly dubious activity. But 
let us listen to the voice of American New Critic Cleanth Brooks on this 
issue in 1951: "...the relevant part of the author's intention is what 
he got actually into his work; that is, ...the author's intention is 
realized as the 'intention' that counts, not necessarily what he was 
conscious of trying to do, or what he now remembers he was then trying 
to do."

Brooks, of course, assumed that an astute enough reader, armed with the 
requisite concepts of irony, tension, and ambiguity, could indeed fathom 
this intention-below-intention. It took the iconoclast Stanley Fish to 
point out that such an intention is in fact indistinguishable from one's 
interpretation of the work tout court: I see irony and you don't, and 
both of us believe we possess the work's real intention. And we're both 
whistling Dixie and just arguing over meaning, as critics have been 
doing for a long time. The issue of intentionality turns out to be just 
a red herring. We are really arguing about how to interpret the text.

Cheers,
Hugh Grady

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		R. A. Cantrell <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 11 Sep 2007 16:27:34 -0500
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

 >When John Drakakis says that it is "futile" to attempt to discern what
 >an author intended by his writings, just exactly what is he telling us?

Principally, he is telling us that he is unschooled in formal 
skepticism, and that once more dear friends, he would strain every nerve 
in an effort to breathe life into the utterly dead French Ninny School 
of Literary Criticism and Theory. By his own writ he disproves his own 
writ, which disproves that which he has written about that which he 
writes: turtles all the way down.

-- All the best, R.A. Cantrell

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