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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: September ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0609  Friday, 14 September 2007

[1] 	From: 		Cary DiPietro <
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	Date: 		Wednesday, 12 Sep 2007 11:19:12 -0400
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From: 		Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 		Wednesday, 12 Sep 2007 12:49:16 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

[3] 	From: 		Cary Dean Barney <
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	Date: 		Thursday, 13 Sep 2007 10:17:13 +0200
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

[4] 	From: 		Edmund Taft <
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	Date: 		Thursday, 13 Sep 2007 10:47:14 -0400
	Subj: 		Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary DiPietro <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 12 Sep 2007 11:19:12 -0400
Subject: 18.0598 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

Larry Weiss, it sounds like you need a lesson in basic narratology.

Below is the definition of 'implied author' in H. Porter Abbott's 
_Cambridge Introduction to Narrative_ (Cambridge UP, 2002), pp. 77-8:

"An implied author is that sensibility (that combination of feeling, 
intelligence, knowledge, and opinion) that 'accounts for' the narrative. 
  It accounts for the narrative in the sense that the implied authorial 
views that we find emerging in the narrative *are consistent with all 
the elements of the narrative discourse that we are aware of*.  Of 
course, when the real living and breathing author constructs the 
narrative, much of that real author goes into the implied author.  But 
the implied author is also, like the narrative itself, a kind of 
construct that among other things serves to anchor the narrative.  We, 
in our turn, as we read, develop our own idea of this implied 
sensibility behind the narrative.  So the implied author (the term comes 
from Wayne Booth) could as easily be called 'the inferred author' and 
perhaps with more justice, since we often differ from each other (and no 
doubt the author as well) in the views and feelings we attribute to the 
implied author.  But the key point is that, insofar as we debate the 
intended meaning of a narrative, we root our positions in a version of 
the implied author that we infer from the text."

This is no lofty jargon culled from the cryptolect of poststructuralism, 
but an excerpt from a textbook that I assign to my first-years.  They 
seem to get it.

Cary DiPietro

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Wednesday, 12 Sep 2007 12:49:16 -0400
Subject: 18.0598 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

As I hoped, my post, taking off from the WashPost thread, has received a 
great many responses, including some thoughtful ones.  Perhaps this 
would be a good subject for another roundtable.

I shall refrain from offering a synthesis, at least until this has 
developed a little further.  But, for the nonce, let me pose a couple 
more questions which might refine the inquiry:

(1) If we can agree (as Hugh Grady and Will Sharpe seem to) that words 
are not inherently meaningless and that authors have expectations in 
mind when they compose their works, can we also say that the issue is 
not whether it is "futile" to attempt to discern any of the content 
which the author expected us to give to the text, but whether we can 
confidently derive the precise reactions he or she intended the audience 
to have to all of the text?

(2) If so, is the appropriate critical response to this difficulty to 
declare defeat and make no attempt to derive the author's likely 
expectations, or, on the other hand, to study all relevant determinants 
-- philological, cultural, historical, biographical, literary, etc. -- 
and attempt to come as close as possible to the likely intended meaning?

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Cary Dean Barney <
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Date: 		Thursday, 13 Sep 2007 10:17:13 +0200
Subject: 18.0598 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention

This fascinating thread seems to continuously, and to my mind 
erroneously, conflate "intention" with "meaning". If we separate the 
two, doesn't it stand to reason that our playwright's intention could 
have been to provide a text which can form the basis of a living, 
polyphonic theatrical event in which many different "meanings" are 
latent or expressed through the mouths of widely varying characters? 
That it was never our playwright's intention to comfortingly, 
unambiguously resolve the tension between meanings? That we can't reduce 
all of these conflicting "meanings" to one meaning may be frustrating to 
us, but hey, that's theatre, that's life. Why would we want Shakespeare 
to be Arthur Miller or John Osborne, anyhow, with mouthpiece characters 
making sure we get the playwright's thesis?

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Edmund Taft <
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Date: 		Thursday, 13 Sep 2007 10:47:14 -0400
Subject: 	Authorial Intention

This fascinating thread reminds me of the late Helen Gardner's remarks 
in the early 80's after she had read the first wave of what we today 
would call postmodern criticism.  The basic problem, according to 
Gardner, was that critics "have taken difficulties and raised them to 
the level of impossibilities."  Although I subscribe to "presentism" 
myself (What other vantage point do we have than the present?), I often 
wonder whether she was right.

As an example, do we have the same difficulties ascertaining authorial 
intention with ancient literature?  The Greeks and the Romans, or, say, 
Old English poetry?

Do we have a problem with interpreting "The Wife's Lament" or "The 
Wanderer," or with Homer's intention in his epics?  Isn't the answer 
"No"? This leads me to think that, maybe, when the values in an area of 
study are firmly believed to be dead - of historic importance only - we 
can pretty much agree about interpretation and intention. But when the 
values in an era touch us personally, as in Shakespeare and the 
Renaissance generally, then the fight begins.

I'm not sure where this leads me, but I'd be interested in what others 
think.

Ed Taft

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