February 3, 2007

This is your life!

To me reading the introduction of the first chapter I felt as if Keesey was setting up that old game show where they said "[Name of Person], This is your life!" (Does anyone know what the name of that was?) In his efforts to explain the idea behind author intent, Keesey does make a good point of how often when someone is using this type of criticism they are trying to justify the author's life using the author's own work. He states that "critical procedures using the life to explain the work can easily get entagled with biographical procedures using the work to exaplin the life, and the result may be a vast tautology" (10). It seems to me like this could be the worst thing that happens to an author. I don't know that I would want a person using a story or a poem that I had written to justify the life that I am leading. As was said in class, if that is the way that people looked at things what would we have to say about Dr. Arnzen's writings?

The other day I was picking up books from our school library for a book sale that the Education Club is having and I saw a book in the new book section entitled The Narnian by Alan Jacobs. I don't usually read biographies, however I find that fantasy novels are not as entertaining right now (probably because that is all I read last summer and this past fall) so I checked out the book. I haven't started to read it yet, but now I'm a little bit nervous about what I'm going to find in the book after reading the introduction to this chapter. CS Lewis, the author the book is based on as well as the author of The Chronicles of Narnia, is one of my favorite authors. I am interested to see what was occuring at the time of his life when he wrote the novels that are a part of his popular children's literature. On the other hand, if what Keesey said is true, I do not want to feel as if the work is being exploited to explain away some weird tendancy that Lewis had.

As we began talking about author intent at the end of last weeks class, I couldn't help but think that to have a whole class devoted to just what the author was considering when he or she wrote something frightened me a bit. I do agree that to understand a work more completely a bit of background on the author is necessary, for instance the fact that Charlotte Perkins Gilman gave her narrator the same disability that she briefly had, helps in the understanding of a work, but that should not be all it is. Because we live in the age that we live in there is so much information out there that can help us to understand something that an author is talking about I think that we almost change the story in a way. The information helps us to see something in the story now that the author had no clue would be of such importance. I will be interested to read the pieces that Keesey has chosen for us to read with this type of a background.

Keesey, Ch 1 (Introduction) -- Jerz EL312 (Literary Criticism)

Posted by Tiffany Brattina at February 3, 2007 3:36 PM | TrackBack

In my blog entry, I comment how I take both sides of the "author history" debate. Knowing more about their life is great, since it does shed some insight into the work and eliminate the ongoing guessing game, but at the same time, takes away from the literature as well. It is nice to know things about the *time* the book was written (if so old or outdated that references and customs need to be explained) to help interpret and understand the book, but each little detail about an author's life does not necessary help add meaning. It is nice to look at a piece of literature as what it is, without the author's background clouding how we judge it.

Posted by: Nessa at February 3, 2007 4:07 PM

I have to agree with Vanessa, I think knowing an authors history is great, but it has its down falls too just because the history doesn't always tell us anything. Like for instance as much as we know about Shakespeare we still have no idea what was going on in his life when he wrote his sonnets and why? I mean we are always going to be guessing if he had a relationship with a man and wonder about the woman he also wrote about.

Posted by: Sue at February 6, 2007 4:14 PM

In class last week when we were asked to write down what importance we felt an author has to a text, I wrote "that he or she wrote it" (but I was just being kind of smart...). I really meant it, though. I think the most important part of a relationship that an author has with a text is that he or she took the time to develop ideas into a piece of literature. Whether or not the life of the author plays a part in the oh-so-debated meaning of any text is infinitely arguable.

However, I believe that an author gives up a text for publication in the same way that parents give up their children to the world. There is so much time to work and revise the piece that sending it for publication is sealing it and calling it finished... Parents just have to watch their children work things out on their own... but so do authors. Their pieces hopefully speak for themselves, but in the case that they don't, perhaps the author will take it as a lesson learned and do a better job of explaining the "meaning" in the work itself.

It might not be the best analogy, but it works for me...

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 12:36 AM

Woah Karissa! I hadn't thought of it in that manner. I can see your point, although I still stand by the fact that there is something to knowing about the author. I feel like I understand the piece a bit more. But, each to their own as the saying goes.

Posted by: Tiffany at February 7, 2007 11:55 PM
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