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  • What bugs me about this is how everyone seems to brand any educated and intellectual interpretation of a text as being this ridiculous. Just because a bunch of pencilneck engineering students don't know how to apply feminist, post-colonialist, queer or Marxist literary or film theory doesn't mean that they're not valid and that the interpretations that they come up with aren't valid.
    • Well, it's partly because doing that sort of thing tends to come up with results the author could did not in all probability intend.
      • Strict literary intentionalism in interpretation also means losing So Bad It's Good, Alternate Character Interpretation, and scores of other tropes or at least deeming them all illegitimate because all of them fly in the face of "authorial intent." More generally, giving the author's claimed or assumed intention special weight seems to fly in the face of how verbal, visual, and aural language work more generally. (Puns, for example, rely on the inherently multiple interpreation of words.) No matter how skilled an author is or how pure their intent, other meanings are simply a feature of the way language works and are thus legitimate so long as they follow a consistent internal logic and are based in the evidence of the book, film, song, whatever's material or "stuff."
        • Er, So? The Author is dead. His or her conscious intentions aren't really that important for the purposes of literary or film criticism. Although in the cases of some texts, like Kubrick films, you have to dig that far into it in order to actually FIND authorial intent.
          • Actually, like puns, Alternate Character Interpretation CAN be entirely intentional and written in by the author. Nothing in having two character interpretations negates author intent, and truly great writers can be masters at creating this ambiguity. More to YOUR point, giving special weight to authorial intent in no way flies in the face of common language on literature, even (and in some cases especially) where ambiguity exists. If authorial intent were as irrelevant as you seem to believe, there would not be whole schools of literary thought divided purely by belief in authorial intent. (For an example, do some research on Book Six of the Aenaeid and the hullabaloo that Classical scholars are in over its interpretation and how the authors intent here affects the ENTIRE reading of the WHOLE epic poem. Seriously, look it up. It's awesome.)
          • Oh, yes, so why bother writing at all? In the end, a bunch of literary analists will eventually read into your work and turn it into a cornucopia of bizarre ideals based on poorly conceived evidence at most hinted in your work! Who cares what the heck the author was thinking, and which alegories and metaphors he actually intended to wrote into his work?!
            • Because authors don't write for critics and scholars? seriously, have you ever taken any english classes? Like, ever? I can't believe how ignorant this statement is.
              • No, they never addressed this depth of theory at my school. Unless you're talking about college level study, then I'm in the wrong course altogether...
                • Maybe it`s just the program I was in, but we did Foucault's death of the author essay (Which everyone should read btw) during eleventh grade exam prep.
                  • Why would you recommend that everyone read an impassioned defense of killing babies with powertools? (At least, that's my interpretation of the text.)
              • My 10th grade English teacher went by 'Death of the Author' as well. This Troper thinks that this theory was merely the response of bitter literary critics to having been Jossed one too many times. ("Gonna prove my thesis wrong, are you, smartass author? Well, shut up! You're fucking dead to me, you hear that?!?")
                • Actually it's a response to the question of which is more important: What the author intended to communicate or what the author suceeded in communicating. Authorial intent is dismissed because the author is largely peripheral to the process of reading.
                • Exactly right, above troper! That's why non-Meta Epileptic Trees do not fall under Death of the Author. The internal workings of the universe fall entirely under the author's jurisdiction, when the Expanded Universe is not considered canon. Everything else is considered Word of Dante, which may affect the read meaning, but does not affect the in-universe canon. Authorial intent should be dismissed only in the context of interpretation, and not in the context of the internal universe itself as, while peripheral to reading, the author is integral to the worldbuilding. Of course, when you don't have the author's word on something in-universe, that's where the worldbuilding theories are planted and Epileptic Trees spring up.
    • Don't get us wrong, it's not any educated and intellectual interpretation of a work, it's only the most farfetched. It's hard to draw a definite line here, but I can say I like my interpretations with good levels of evidence. Otherwise, it's WMG material.
      • Well that's my thing I don't have a problem saying "X is a stupid interpretation because there's no evidence" but I do have a problem with, say, saying "LOL WUT THE SHINING ISN'T ABOUT GENOCIDE" or whatever. I've seen stuff like this around on the site and it just seems anti-intellectual and dumb.
        • Then go to the page that annoys you and complain. Discuss it. Erase it. This is a wiki and we're open to discussion. Besides, stupid theories not based on solid(or at least interesting) evidence are also frowned upon. See the Haruhi Suzumiya/Time Lord/Candlejack WMGs argument going on this wiki's JBM entry, even I am annoyed...
          • That's different. Those are gags. I guess what bugs me isn't the trope itself but anti-intellectualism and how many genuinely intelligent people fall into it when it comes to topics they're not well educated in.
            • It isn't anti-intellectualism. It's anti-dumbassism. Frankly, saying the author really meant (crazy theory here) isn't clever. It's the kind of psuedo intellectualism of the kind that gives actual intellectuals a bad name.
              • No, it's anti-intellectualism. It's not about what the author really meant. The point of the death of the author is that the author's intentions don't matter. Read some Derrida. No text can have a single, unified meaning or reading because virtually all texts inherently contian contradictions.
              • The real problem is the plethora of pseudo-intellectuals wrapping themselves in the cloak of post structuralism, pulling a few random tidbits from a work completely out of context, and then using them to justify some cockamamie theory, and shouting "anti-intellectualism" when called on their interpretation being completely indefensible. The people who posit reasonable alternative readings of a given work that don't happen to mesh with what the author intended, that's great, no problems there. Completely reasonable endeavor. One must not attack all post structuralist ideas, but one must also not defend them all, either, as both sides of that false dichotomy are dangerous.
    • What bugs me with regards to this, is how people actually defend said rubbish as anything but preening, pretentious, agenda-driven, pseudo-intellectual nonsense. In fact I think such pseudo-intellectualism is itself indeed the vilest and most insidious form of anti-intellectualism that exists - stupidity masquerading as enlightenment is infinitely more dangerous than simple philistinism. But hey, to each his own.
  • To frame the authorial intent debate, two examples in speculative fiction: Fahrenheit 451 and Gibson's Sprawl. Bradbury said several times that the core themes of Fahrenheit 451 actually have nothing to do with censorship at all and are more about the effects of television and mass media. Is he right, or are generations of students, educators and readers right? For the Sprawl Example, Gibson has waffled pretty much since people took notice that the sprawl stories share a universe on whether or not the Sprawl itself represents a dystopia, and frankly his opinion seems to be dependent on what tone the SF community of the time finds more appealing. Should we change our minds with each new pronouncement by Gibson? Or should we look to the fact that the Sprawl is a science fiction version of the hard boiled crime story and conclude that, yes, based on the tradition the works belong to, the Sprawl is supposed to be dystopian?
    • On the subject of Fahrenheit 451, what is the answer when both the popular explanation and the author's explanation are blatantly incorrect? (remember that it is said in the book that television isn't the cause of the problems)
      • It's whatever you can construct a coherent argument for. That's the point.
    • Bradbury's Flip-Flop of God doesn't help, either. Is it actually Death of the Author when the author reported his own death?
  • Actually, after years of trying to get an English degree, I'm pretty sick of people trying to say definitively what the author meant by something-or-other. The professor who concluded that everything in every book we were assigned was a metaphor for sex was the breaking point. You can't know the deeper meaning of everything! Or even if there was a deeper meaning intended. Everyone comes to a work with their own world view that colors what they read. Author intent is important, but it isn't always terribly clear.
    • Your post brings to mind an English Lit professor I had in my Freshman year. She would ask a student for their interpretation of something or other, then proceed to attack said interpretation as "wrong" and pontificate on her "correct" interpretation.
  • Why does it have to be a right or wrong scenario? Why can't I say "well, what the author intended the work to mean is interesting, but I'm also going to bring in my own interpretation and that's interesting too, and what you think it means is something completely different but equally interesting"? I'm all for alternate interpretations of works. It's not that what the author intended doesn't matter, it's just that I'm still going to see whatever I want to see even if I know that's not what the author originally intended. A work can have all sorts of meanings, and many of them might be ones the author isn't even aware of, but happen to be there anyway. People (and authors) forget that a work is conversation between author, the work itself, and audience. If the author didn't want anyone to bring in their own interpretation, they should have just written an essay instead of a story.
  • I kind of go the other way: my High School honors english teacher... was from the Everyone Is Jesus in Purgatory school, and that class was a nightmare. I recall, in the analysis of one book, she assigned each of us to count the number of times something was mentioned, and analyse the possible significance. I was given "rocks": other examples where things like "water", "grass" and "shade." (Urgh, I can almost remember what the book was, I think it was "Lamb in His Bossom".) It got ridiculous enough to spawn a class rebellion where, during one session, we all basically told her, "this is ridiculous, every mention of a rock cannot be deeply significant, and we're not going along with this anymore." I've essentially taken refuge in Authorial Intent as the only way to ground any discussion on literature, and not go spiralling off into madness (or the personal histories and axes-to-grind of each and every analyst, which is an equally unproductive discussion as decent into madness).
    • Hemingway fan?
  • The problem with dismissing authorial intent altogether is that authors do not write in a vacuum. Authors are occasionally (or frequently, depending on the literary analyst) actually trying to say something about their contemporary world. While alternative interpretations, when backed up by evidence, can enrich the reading of a text a thousand fold, to disregard authorial intent is to potentially lose major and critically important aspects of a tale, including historical relevance, potential Aesops and linguistic plays on words which do not become apparent until one considers an author's intended tone. Yes, alternative interpretation, when done intelligently, is important. But trying to be mindful of the author's meaning and circumstances is often equally or sometimes even more important. The true villain in academic literary criticism is ego, which compels otherwise rational human beings to become dogmatic about their individual interpretations, even when evidence is produced to the contrary.
    • Note: the above post on rocks, probably not alternative interpretation done correctly.
  • Why does this page still exist? Couldn't we just move the description to Wild Mass Guessing, basically the same thing but interactive?
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