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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: September ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0615  Monday, 17 September 2007

[1] 	From: 		John Drakakis <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 13:47:24 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From: 		John Briggs <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 14:20:12 +0100
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[3] 	From: 		Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 09:50:06 -0400
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[4] 	From: 		Carol Barton <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 10:37:22 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[5] 	From: 		Will Sharpe <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 16:53:05 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[6] 	From: 		Sally Drumm <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 12:22:20 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[7] 	From: 		Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 15:02:04 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[8] 	From: 		Hugh Grady <
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	Date: 		Saturday, 15 Sep 2007 16:34:44 -0400
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[9] 	From: 		Joseph Egert <
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	Date: 		Sunday, 16 Sep 2007 13:44:45 -0700 (PDT)
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

[10] 	From: 		David Schalkwyk <
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	Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 12:56:11 +0200
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0598 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 13:47:24 +0100
Subject: 18.0588 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0588 Authorial Intention

Larry Weiss obviously has a hotline to the writer's mind.  I don't and 
I'm very chary about speculating.  I doesn't stop me from occasionally 
trying to guess but I know that I am only working from a particular 
configuration of written words. If Shakespeare were here, and if I asked 
him what he intended by, say, Coriolanus, or Timon of Athens, would I 
have to believe what he said, and what tools would I use to verify by 
findings? And would those tools help me to locate 'objectively' (as Joe 
Egert might say) Shakespeare's mind, OR would they tell you more about 
how I thought the human mind worked?  The first claim is futile, and the 
second is presentist.

You pays yer money and you takes your choice.

Best wishes
John Drakakis

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Briggs <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 14:20:12 +0100
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

Larry Weiss wrote:

 >(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,

But that's the point - there is no problem discussing authors' 
"expectations", problems only arise when they are elevated to "intentions".

John Briggs

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Marilyn A. Bonomi <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 09:50:06 -0400
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

Cary DiPietro cites a college text:

 >"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*."

40 years ago I was teaching 15 year olds the concept of "narrative 
voice", using a sketch on the board where an author (clad in beret with 
feather and leaning over a desk) crafted a document from which emerged a 
bubble with a mouth on one side. from the mouth emerged the text.

The 15 year olds did seem to grasp that the voice which tells the tale 
is *not* the voice of the author. And they also grasped that the 
narrative voice might utter things that were appalling to the *author* 
but which suited the *narrative voice* that was telling the tale.

 >From there we went to the Unreliable Narrator, and so to
 >making meanings (note plural there) from text.

Perhaps the first lesson of good teaching to me was that I cannot hand 
meaning to the students; learners must learn to make meaning and defend 
that meaning with text and all the concomitants to text.

Thus, when Huck Finn casually tosses out to Aunt Sally (re the purported 
steamboat accident) "no'm; killed a n*r though" we see that as *Huck's* 
world view, not necessarily Twain's.

And when the Chorus in R&J calls the lovers "star crossed" or Romeo 
cries "O I am Fortune's fool!" we know that we need to separate the text 
from William Shakespeare-we cannot simplistically ascribe a believe in 
fate as the controlling force to Shakespeare.  We need to see those 
statements against the action of the play.

We do not know William Shakespeare.  We have limited evidence about his 
life, and none about his thoughts and/or intentions, since he left us no 
memoirs.

Even had he (or Anne Hathaway, or some old friend in Stratford) left 
voluminous memoirs we still would be dealing with a deliberate authorial 
"voice" and not directly with the man.

We can make informed guesses about Shakespeare and informed 
interpretations (informed by any number of things) but I do not see how 
anyone (possibly even Shakespeare himself) can know all the "meanings" 
that Shakespeare *intended* in his plays and poems.  How hubristic of us 
to assume that we can!

Ed Taft mentions the sense of surety about "the" meaning of ancient 
Greek works.  He made me think of the response each year to the Zoe 
Caldwell video of Medea that we used with the senior Humanities class 
(history/English team-taught "history of Western civ" elective).  Even 
with having studied (albeit in a limited way) the culture and mores of 
the ancient Greek city-states, students were bemused.  They found more 
meaning in that work than "the one" that evidently drove its composition.

Mari Bonomi

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Carol Barton <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 10:37:22 -0400 (GMT-04:00)
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

I'd like to play "devil's advocate" in response to the penultimate 
paragraph of Ed Taft's interesting post, below:

 >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.

In fact, we *do* have (at least) one problem with "intentionality" in 
Homer, which focuses on the final scenes of the _Iliad_ and the 
_Odyssey_. Generally recognized as encomia to the victors of the Trojan 
War, the first text portrays Achilles as a very un-gracious winner, 
barbarously dragging Hector's body through the dirt to disgrace his 
corpse, and refusing to allow Priam to bury him to prevent the safe 
passage of his shade across the Styx. But then the great warrior 
relents, seeing the same father's tears that would have been shed, had 
the body behind the chariot wheels belonged to him. Does that final 
scene subvert the "death in war is the greatest glory" message of the 
rest of the epic? and if so, does it do so "intentionally"?

(I won't ask if an author who did not write what he "wrote" is capable 
of "intention.")

At the end of the Odyssey, the great warrior is told to journey inland 
until he finds a community that has never seen an oar (i.e. never gone 
to sea in battle), and there make his home--but only after he has 
savagely ambushed and slaughtered Penelope's suitors in his own mansion. 
Why is Homer suggesting that this martial hero become a farmer, and 
leave the battlefield forever, if death in battle is such a wonderful 
thing?

And so on.

It seems to me that the abiding value of great literature is precisely 
that it has different valences, and offers different "lenses" to a 
variety of readers through which they can all (if they are reading and 
interpreting responsibly) come to the same "truth." It is ridiculous, I 
think, to say that a writer has no "intention" when he or she composes 
something (even an e-mail)--to say that we can always and infallibly 
determine what that intention is, is misguided too. But certainly, at 
least one "intention" of which I was conscious when I wrote this was to 
point out that even Homer (and Virgil, too) can be read as allegorical 
on some plane. Did they "intend" to subvert their own themes? Or did 
they simply write more than they knew?

Most authors will tell you that, at some point, their characters take on 
lives of their own--and that when that occurs, they (the characters) 
dictate the progress of the plot, no matter what the author had 
originally planned to do.

I think we can all agree that Shakespeare "meant" *something*. Trying to 
determine what when he gives us so many ambiguities to sort out is part 
of the fun!

Best to all,
Carol Barton

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Will Sharpe <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 16:53:05 +0100
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

 From Larry Weiss:

 >(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?

No. The author doesn't 'expect' us to bring whatever it is we will bring 
to a text. S/he can't manage individual responses to what they've 
written. Even if we reduce it to the ridiculously simplistic notion of 
'the meaning of all of the text', you'll still get different reactions. 
I might think the the author of The Merchant of Venice is anti-Semitic 
(I don't, by the way), and you might think that that's ludicrous, but 
which of us is right? It says more about you and me and our own 
interpretations than it does about the author. Apropos of Cary di 
Pietro's reply, I do think you need to do more reading around theories 
of narratology. These are not just the ideas of certain of our 
listmembers, but deeply entrenched features of contemporary literary 
theory, discussed voluminously over the last 40 years.

Best,
Will Sharpe

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Sally Drumm <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 12:22:20 -0400
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

My response is to Mr. Taft's and Mr. Weiss's questions:

From: Edmund Taft

 >1. .".. do we have the same difficulties ascertaining authorial intention
 >with ancient literature?  The Greeks and the Romans, or, say, Old English
 >poetry?"

Yes: Consider the work of ancient Hebrew scribes and the question of 
their intentions in composing the Old Testament. Or consider the 
intention of Mohammed and the result of interpretation of authorial 
intention of his work.

 >2. "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'?"
 >Quite the contrary. Why did Chaucer write The Canterbery Tales? Was it to
 >entertain his audience, to inform his audience about the lives of 
others, to
 >persuade his audience of the veracity of a certain morality? What was
 >Chaucer's intention? As for Homer, isn't there still a question of Homer1s
 >identity and isn1t interpreting intention one of the marker's used to
 >determine authorial authenticity, also a Shakespearian question of the 
same
 >nature?
 >
 >3. Paraphrase: ["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."] Is historical criticism less
 >interpretative, and therefore less subjective, than other critical 
theories?

My response is no, only its practices, assumptions, and questions, are 
different from other critical methods of inquiry. There is a larger 
question here. Cultural values change and die, but are historical values 
eternal in so much as the past cannot be changed?

From:        Larry Weiss

 >(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?"

Okay we can explore those intentions for audience reaction based on 
diary, journal, and first had accounts of the author1s reaction to a 
work's reception. Do we have that for any of Shakespeare's works? 
Perhaps the question we're really blindly poking is the question of 
determining Shakespeare's authorial intention. If that's the case let me 
flaunt just one layer of the onion. If intent can be interpreted by 
action, can we interpret Shakespeare's act of leaving so little of the 
personal behind, drafts, etc. as a statement of authorial intention as 
antithesis?

 >2) "If so [if the answer to #1 is yes], 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?

We would first have to define the basic approaches of literary criticism 
(I think it is the boundaries of literary criticism that we are 
exploring in this fascinating thread.), their assumptions, practices, 
and questions. Then we could begin an interdisciplinary inquiry into 
authorial intention, basing questions of text-based intention strictly 
upon the methodology of the various approaches. In beginning this work 
by determining the approaches we would work with, we would discover that 
some of the valid critical approaches do not care in the least about 
authorial intention. That being the case we can whittle down the stick 
with which we'll beat our drum. A basic glance at a least of approaches 
tells me that the only approaches that can be used to holistically 
address authorial intention are Historical, Postcolonial, and Cultural 
Studies, Psychological Criticism, (perhaps) Feminist Criticism, and 
Post-Feminism and Queer theory. New Criticism, Reader-Response 
Criticism, and Deconstructive Criticism are not generally assumed to be 
concerned with authorial intention. If it is the case that we might 
narrow our choices and lighten our workload by first defining and 
categorizing our questions, then that list of questions to ask of the 
text are delimitated by our choice of approaches from which to make our 
inquiry.  For someone who might not have invested in writing from the 
point of view of a single approach, the synthesis of an 
interdisciplinary inquiry using questions and practices from approaches 
designed to explore authorial intention might actually paint a portrait 
of authorial intention. However, that portrait will always remain, at 
the end of the day, interpretative rather than deterministic.

[7]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Friday, 14 Sep 2007 15:02:04 -0400
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

Perhaps we can refine the question a little more by reference to the 
points made by the two Carys.  Cary Dean Barney says that there is a 
difference between intention and meaning.  I agree, which is why I 
prefer to use the word "expectations," which carries less negative 
freight than "intention."  If we take the distinction as being the 
difference between what the author expected us to understand and what we 
in fact do understand from the text, then the latter is equivalent to 
Cary DiPietro's "implied [or inferred] author" and there is no need for 
that construct.

[8]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Hugh Grady <
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Date: 		Saturday, 15 Sep 2007 16:34:44 -0400
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

In re Larry Weiss's question: 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?

Has anyone anywhere ever thought that "words are...inherently 
meaningless"? I don't think so, so our agreement on this point is not 
earth-shaking!

And I don't know anyone who thinks authors don't have intentions toward 
their works, though possibly at several levels in not necessarily 
coherent ways. The problem is, how can we know them?  All we can do is 
make intelligent guesses. There are cases where authors have expressed 
their intentions for works that the world has continued to ignore, and 
for good reason. Ibsen famously claimed that "A Doll's House" had 
nothing to do with women's rights, but was about the differences in 
worldviews of men and women. It's hard to know how seriously to take 
Ibsen's claim, but to my mind it is one that lessens the import of his 
play and should be put aside.

Best,
Hugh Grady

[9]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Joseph Egert <
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Date: 		Sunday, 16 Sep 2007 13:44:45 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: 18.0609 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0609 Authorial Intention

Once we subtract its "impurities", i.e., the long exploded Marxist 
claptrap linking use-value and exchange-value through congealed labor, 
John Drakakis' "Afterword" (in Andrew Murphy's new CONCISE COMPANION TO 
SHAKESPEARE AND THE TEXT) nicely illuminates the issues contested here. 
JD includes among his conundra whether the line "This Lodovico is a 
proper man." belongs or should belong to Desdemona or Emilia. 
Regrettably, John again avoids casting his own vote in the matter. 
Perhaps he could do so here at SHAKSPER  and add his rationale. Any 
answer would be welcome, be it sought or unsought by your humble 
correspondent.

   Regards,
   Joe Egert

[10]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Schalkwyk <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 12:56:11 +0200
Subject: 18.0598 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0598 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

It may be useful to remember that the attack on "intentionalism" 
preceded the "French Ninny School", or at least it developed without any 
contact or contamination in schools of philosophy and literary criticism 
in the USA and Europe.  As far as I know, Wimsatt and Beardsley's 
classic, "The Intentional Fallacy", published in 1946 and revised in 
1954, owes nothing to Saussure, Barthes or Foucault.  In fact, 
"psychologism" (i.e. the belief that the meanings of utterances are 
derivable or reducible to the state of mind of the user) has been a 
major target within the analytical tradition of philosophy (a thoroughly 
Anglo-American affair) since the work of its founding father, G. Frege, 
in the nineteenth century--signally in the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein 
and Hilary Putnam, the latter declaring in a seminal essay, entitled 
"The Meaning of 'Meaning'": "Meaning just ain't in the head".  One can 
tell from the idiom that this is not a Frenchman writing, but a good 
citizen of the USA.

In my view, much of the trouble with the debate lies in the ambiguous 
use of the word "intention", which seems to be indispensable in any talk 
about things that are produced by human beings, but cannot eradicate the 
equally unavoidable work of interpretation.  I thus agree with Hugh 
Grady that it's a red herring.  There's an interesting collection of 
essays by intentionalists, anti-intentionalists and hybrid 
middle-of-the-roaders edited by Gary Iseminger called Intention and 
Interpretation (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1992) for those 
interested in the argument within analytical philosophy.

David Schalkwyk

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