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February 2, 2007

EL312: Author Reliance

Well, now that we're forging our way though the jungle that is literary criticism as a class, I feel like we'll get to bond over this next reading assignment. Hirsch's "Objective Interpretation" seemed a little over my head at first (and I'll admit it), but after taking a break and re-reading some things, I think I got more out of it than I initially did.

While I found the definitions of langue and paroles very interesting (albeit confusing at times), I really think that Hirsch was hitting the point of the trouble with considering an author's intent when he said the following regarding anonymous texts:

On the surface, it would seem impossible to involve the author's probably outlook when the author remains unknown, but in this limiting case the interpreter simply makes his psychological reconstruction on the basis of fewer data. For even with anonymous texts it is crucial to posit not simply some author or other, but a particular subjective stance in reference to which the construed context is rendered probable.

I think it's incredible to consider, amongst all this fog regarding the significance of authors to their works, what happens when there is no claim to a work. Anonymous works, as Hirsch says, must be considered in presence of the other data that can be ascertained from the piece. It seems that the authorial authority dissolves into the firm hand of the text, when a piece is anonymous, which, in my opinion, might say something for the realm of literature that studies the text without considering the author beyond the most important fact of any author--that he or she produced the work.

I stand behind the idea of the author's unimportance to the critical meaning of a text because, as I have learned as I've dabbled in my own writing, once an author submits a text it is finished and its meaning is in the hands of the public to interpret. While the public could interpret the text however they like, it's more likely to me that the author's intents will be disregarded if he or she actually delineates the meanings of various elements of a text. Because after all, as long as the work exists, that's the most important thing of all, isn't it?

Then again, I'm trying to be open-minded about all of this, having not had very much experience with the realm of literary criticism... So I'm open to argument. :)

Hirsch, ''Objective Interpretation'' -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by KarissaKilgore at February 2, 2007 9:13 PM


Thank God I wasn't the only one who didn't initially "get" this article. It seemed a bit long winded to me, and at times confusing, with a rather long way of getting to the point. And the point wasn't all that spectacular.

Again, it is another arguement for the piece of literature itself, rather than the author's background and history. You, myself, and several others in the class seem to agree that the background is not the most important thing one can bring to reading and understanding a piece of literature, but instead interpretting it for ourselves. I like how you call it a "fog" because it truly is fogging up how we read and react to literture, as well as adding controversy to an already huge subject.

Posted by: Nessa at February 3, 2007 4:13 PM

I appreciate the fact that both of you aren't just focusing on the author's social life, but paying more attention to the words. If the author didn't want a work open to interpretation why would they even publish it?

Posted by: Erin at February 5, 2007 10:59 AM

Umm, can we stop talking about background of authors?
The words are what makes a story that allows for interpretation by readers. The author's importance to the meaning of a text is not valuable for one's opinion of a work. Once a work is published, it is in the hands of the public readers to interpret what the author meant. The background of an author might help the reader understand his style and thought process, but it is inevitable to the story line and how YOU interpret it.

Posted by: Denamarie at February 5, 2007 10:46 PM

When you write something, do you really want it in the hands of the Great Unwashed for interpretation? I don't. When I write, what I've written has a meaning that I intended, and any misinterpretation of that text is wrong. Just wrong - not a different way to interpret - just wrong. If I tell someone that I want a drink of water and they say, "Oh, Dave is thirsty, he wants coffee," they are wrong. They decided to interpret my comment in their own words, but their own words are wrong. This is my problem with literary criticism. I submit that every author meant something when they wrote a text. Unless there is a way to confirm that meaning through first-hand testimonials, I think any conclusions drawn about meaning are either wrong, or, if the critic has unknowingly hit on the meaning, coincidence. I will willingly participate in this class with as much of an open mind as I can muster, but I sincerely doubt the veracity of literary critics despite their wealth of knowledge and insight into written text. I don't want to hear about unintended meanings, or meanings the author did not know existed, or other ways to look at a meaning. It is all a way to avoid the truth - any interpretation other than the exact meaning intended by the author is wrong. In fact, I think it is an exercise in stupidity to wrongly tell someone who meant something what they meant, and since there is no way to verify a dead author's meaning without irrefutable evidence, how can any of us say with any amount of confidence, "This is what the author intended this text to mean?" There may be overwhelming public opinion about the meaning of a text, there may be an accepted school of thought, there may even be convincing second-hand or tertiary evidence, but that all still leaves the possibility that we are wrong. So I guess what I am saying is, are we pursuing truth, or just the closest version of the truth we can find? Maybe we should be theologists, instead.

I just don't understand how anyone could deny the author's importance to the critical meaning of a text when they are the creator of that meaning. That is like denying the importance of oxygen to water. One cannot exist without the other.

Sorry to always be the fly in the ointment.

Posted by: Dave Moio at February 6, 2007 10:34 PM

Dear Fly in the Ointment,

Thanks for your long, thought-out comment. Much obliged. As for your reflection on the necessity of considering author intent, I have this question for you: have you ever been talking with someone and said something that can be taken a couple of ways (one of which might be either embarrassing or offensive)? "That didn't come out right," you might say. "Let me rephrase."

While we might be given the chance in immediate conversation to rephrase (and the individual on the other end of said conversation likely knows a little something about you), the same is not true for every author and his work. His writing is read by "the great unwashed," as you said, and he has no say in what they read into it once it's published. No control. That's what publication is about: submitting to the rest of the world and relinquishing control over a text, in this case.

I believe that sometimes (and only sometimes) is it necessary to look at an author's life in order to determine any meaning from a text. Personally, I'd rather look at other avenues first. And, if after exploring other routes I decide that something tells me biography could be a staple to understanding, I'll look up some information. I don't like to use biographical info. as a crutch, though. I'd rather do my own interpretation (since I feel my interpretation of a text is just as valid as the author's, since once the material is published the author is just another reader).

But that's just me. Thanks again for your fly-ness in the metaphysical ointment of literary criticism. Defending an opinion only strengthens it if it was worth defending in the first place!

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 12:04 AM

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