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Home :: Archive :: 2007 :: September ::
Authorial Intention
The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 18.0623  Wednesday, 19 September 2007

[1] 	From: 		Michael Luskin <
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	Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 11:37:08 EDT
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

[2] 	From: 		R. A. Cantrell <
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	Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 10:47:15 -0500
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

[3] 	From: 		Larry Weiss <
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	Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 15:28:32 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

[4] 	From: 		David Bishop <
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	Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 16:30:20 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

[5] 	From: 		Alan Horn <
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	Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Sep 2007 06:09:00 -0400
	Subj: 		Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

[6] 	From: 		John Drakakis <
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	Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Sep 2007 13:08:35 +0100
	Subj: 		RE: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention


[1]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Michael Luskin <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 11:37:08 EDT
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

I think that authorial intention would be a great topic for a round 
table.  Though I never expect to get answers, the questions of what 
Shakespeare meant in Measure for Measure or Hamlet, or why is the 
picture of Julius Caesar so muddied in JC, is what makes Shakespeare 
different from Marlowe and just about everyone else.  I would love to 
see longer and closer reasoned posts on this subject.

[2]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		R. A. Cantrell <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 10:47:15 -0500
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

 >>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

Thank you for your measured and informative response to my hasty lashing 
out. (Hardy had to correct my spelling, for which I thank him as well) I 
lose patience when earnest attempts at substantive discussion are led 
(either intentionally or innocently) into the idiotic wilderness of the 
skeptical tropes.

[3]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Larry Weiss <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 15:28:32 -0400
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

The latest spate of comments contains a number of interesting and 
perhaps revealing observations.

For example, John Drakakis (whose posts to the WashPost thread fathered 
my initial query here) begins by saying

 >Larry Weiss obviously has a hotline to the writer's mind.

What is fascinating about this is that I never made any such claim.  All 
I did was ask questions, admittedly in a Socratic vein; and those 
questions most assuredly did not imply that I felt that I or anyone else 
had a "hotline" to an author's mind.  I have a great deal of experience 
with the rhetorical technique of attributing extreme positions to an 
opponent which he has not taken.  That device usually signals that the 
advocate using it does not feel completely confident about defending his 
position on its merits.  Contrary to claiming a "hotline" to an author's 
mind, I merely asked -- ok, suggested -- that, while it is absurd to 
believe that we can confidently divine an author's precise intentions 
underlying all his words, Drakakis over argues his position by asserting 
that any attempt to discern an author's expectations about how his 
audience will receive his words is "futile."

I wonder, though, if Prof. Drakakis really adopts his extreme position 
in practice.  When I hear or read Lady M say "Out, out, damn'd Spot" I 
understand that to mean that her mind has been so deranged by the murder 
of Duncan that she imagines she has indelible stains on her hands, and I 
believe that Shakespeare expected me to have some such reaction.  Is it 
just as valid to conclude that Lady M is shooing away her dog?

Hugh Grady, who I thought was allied to Drakakis in this, comes much 
closer to the mark and may even hit it:

 >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.

I prefer the word "inferences" to "guesses," but that may be a 
rhetorical quibble.  I also prefer the word "question" to "problem"; but 
I agree that the task -- or one task, at least -- for literary scholars 
is to figure out how best to interpret a text.  That is the real 
question, not whether the author gave the text a significance which may 
be discerned.

I anticipate that some may say that my last paragraph shifts the 
inquiry, as we have been talking about the author's intentions not the 
interpretation of his words.  It could also be pointed out that I said 
in an earlier post that there is a difference between the meaning of a 
text, that is how the text is understood by a given auditor or reader, 
and the author's intentions, which is how he or she expected it to be 
understood.  I stand by that.  "Interpretation" is the process of 
discerning what the author expected us to take away from the text, not a 
psychological inquiry into the state of the reader's mind.

It does not seem to me that there is meaningful distinction between 
interpreting a text and deriving the author's intentions.  It would be 
absurd to say that Shakespeare intended the words "damn'd Spot" to refer 
to a dog but the words actually mean an imaginary stain.  A 
none-too-bright reader might think "dog" instead of "stain," but that's 
his problem, not Shakespeare's.   Perhaps the question boils down not to 
an issue of whether it is legitimate to attempt to derive an author's 
expectations but to what are appropriate means to do so.  If we confine 
ourselves to the words in the text and try to resolve any ambiguities by 
reference only to context, without resort to historical analysis, 
Elizabethan/Jacobean cultural conditions, biographical facts, etc., 
would that satisfy Prof. Drakakis?  Or are those all legitimate tools to 
use in interpreting the words?

I candidly acknowledged in my last post that I prefer to use the word 
"expectation" rather than "intention," as the former carries less 
negative freight.  The wisdom of taking that approach is illustrated by 
John Briggs's submission:

 >there is no problem discussing authors' "expectations", problems
 >only arise when they are elevated to "intentions".

Therefore, I shall continue to speak of "expectations" although, 
frankly, I do so for purely rhetorical reasons.  I personally do not see 
a meaningful distinction between saying that an author expected the 
audience to react in a particular way and saying that he wanted them to 
do so.  As I said above, I also do not see a difference between 
interpreting a text and determining what the author expected us to 
understand from the text.

[4]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		David Bishop <
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Date: 		Monday, 17 Sep 2007 16:30:20 -0400
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

It seems to me characteristic of this discussion that it includes no 
examples from Shakespeare. The abstract argument about intention 
converges on a platitude, which may be translated, We are not God.

The absolute impossibility of determining Shakespeare's intentions may 
be extended to the intentions of those nearest and dearest to us, as 
well as to our own. But relatively speaking, sometimes, we can discover 
something about intentions. As Larry Weiss says, "All we can do is make 
intelligent guesses." But as I'm sure he means to imply, those guesses 
are built up from argument and evidence. If I claim that I've discovered 
an intention of Shakespeare's that won't make it so. Nor will it 
determine whether the argument by which I've got to where I think I've 
got was good or bad.

Even the most theory-loving seem always to reserve the right to use 
categories like responsible versus irresponsible criticism. They seem to 
have some residual desire to talk about the plays Shakespeare wrote, 
though their theory, taken literally, implies that this is absolutely 
impossible.

I may sometimes feel no need to argue, as when told that Gertrude 
secretly murdered Ophelia. At other times I may argue--though feeling I 
should not have to argue--with those who say that Claudius fails to 
react to the dumb show, thereby revealing that he did not murder his 
brother in the manner depicted. Since great volumes of abstract and 
ultimately platitudinous sentences tend to issue from people who take 
positions like these, I don't bother much with their theory. My motto 
is: by their examples ye shall know them.

Best wishes,
David Bishop

[5]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		Alan Horn <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Sep 2007 06:09:00 -0400
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	Re: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

Larry Weiss writes, "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."

This is precisely what Gerard Genette argues in Narrative Discourse 
Revisited (chapter 19: Implied Author, Implied Reader?). He concludes:

 >"So IA [the implied author] seems to me, in general, to be an
 >imaginary[...] agent constituted by two distinctions that remain blind
 >to each other: (1) IA is not the narrator, (2) IA is not the real
 >author, and it is never seen that the first is a matter of the real
 >author and the second is a matter of the narrator, with no room
 >anywhere for a third agent that would be NEITHER the narrator NOR the
 >real author."

In other words, the term "implied author" sometimes refers to the 
narrator and sometimes to the real author, depending on the point that 
is being made. In itself it is a superfluous and confusing category.

Hugh Grady writes, "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."

I was going to ask why Hugh Grady takes it for granted that it is the 
job of literary scholarship to enhance a work's "import."

But it occurs to me on second thought that this is in fact Presentism's 
bottom line: contextual evidence ought to be "put aside" in favor of 
perceived contemporary relevance.

Alan Horn

[6]-----------------------------------------------------------------
From: 		John Drakakis <
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Date: 		Tuesday, 18 Sep 2007 13:08:35 +0100
Subject: 18.0615 Authorial Intention
Comment: 	RE: SHK 18.0615 Authorial Intention

The line DOES belong to Desdemona, Joe. My concern was the reason it was 
re-ascribed to Aemilia.

Cheers
John Drakakis

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