February 4, 2007

Author Withstanding - the piece may still be valuable

I found, like Vanessa and Karissa, that this text might have been a bit over my head. There were times in Hirsch's "Objective Interpretation" that I had to stop and reread sections trying desperately to understand. I found that I had to refer to dictionary.com and our Bedford text often in order to understand the passages that were presented in the essay. However, I did come to one conclusion opposite of what Hirsch believed. It's not all about the author all the time. Hirsch states:

It is therefore not only sound but necessary for the interpreter to inquire, "What in all probability did the author mean? Is the pattern of emphases I construe the author's pattern?" But it is both incorrect and futile to inquire, "What does the language of the text say?" That question can have no determinate answer.

This is one part of the essay that I can not agree with. I agree that asking the first of the questions about author intent is important, however what about that last question. The text is a huge help today for those of us studying literature because often the texts that we are studying have authors that have been dead for hundreds, maybe thousands, of years. We can study the time period of the author sure, but the language of the text is part of that time period. It is a part of the way something is being said that makes it so important.

When I first sat down to write this entry, I had every intention of writing it on what happens when the author is anonymous, but decided to read over Karissa's entry first because I noticed that she was confused at first too. Upon discovering that she had already written about the anonymous author I reread until I found the above quote. I didn't catch what it meant the first time around. Hirsch to me is saying that no matter what the text says, it is unimportant without the background of the author to back it up. I don't believe that is true.

We have done numerous close readings in our time here as English majors and have been taught that any good text can stand on its own for centuries without the stigma of a name attached to it. I believe that there is something to knowing who the author of the piece is and how the people lived during that time, but in the end the text already has a different meaning to us today than it did when it was first written. That is what makes pieces classics and able to withstand the days of time. The author's name for a piece may be forgotten, but we still study the piece. We study the piece and try to figure out what it would have meant for the people in the time that it was written, but we also study the piece as it affects us today.

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

Posted by Tiffany Brattina at February 4, 2007 2:48 PM | TrackBack

I'm glad I checked your blog before typing out mine, Tiff because I had a very similar reaction to these statements. I also agree that what an author might have meant and the historical background is often very enlightening and worthwhile pursuit when studying a text. Yet, What if we never asked ourselves philosophical questions like "What is my purpose in the world?" His statements seem to be implying that just because there may not be one, 100% correct, sure answer means it isn't worth asking the question and I find that very limiting. (Oh and not to burst his bubble, but obviously in most cases it is equally impossible to be 100% sure of what an author's intention in fact was, as he even addresses in his essay, yet he still wants to ask that question. If you ask me he is contradicting himself.)

Posted by: Lorin at February 6, 2007 1:03 AM

Haha, it seems there's a whole mess of us feeling the same way. Good to know we're in company at least.

And Lorin? I agree with your bubble-bursting point: unless there's an interview directly with the author, how can we expect to know what the author means? Meaning as we interpret it, meaning as the author intends it, and meaning as it may freely occur (and/or change as do the times) are all rather circumstantial. Nothing stands on its own except the text. It's got the legs the author gave it upon its birth as a written piece, so let it stand on its own!

And Tiffany... I had to laugh when I read the part about looking at the text for meaning. I mean, seriously... Who studies literature without studying the text on an up-close and personal level? What is close reading for, after all?

Posted by: Karissa at February 7, 2007 12:41 AM
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