LotR (was Re: reviews (but not of MC))

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Dec 13 15:49:02 EST 2003

On Fri, 12 Dec 2003 21:14:20 -0000, Charles Butler wrote:

>> If the only point of reading were to determine what an author meant, what
>> or she was thinking or intending in writing a book, it could just as well
>> served by asking the writer to tell you.  And, in fact, this would be the
>> only way you could truly know authorial intent.  It would also mean that
>> personal reaction you had to a book would be wrong, because it was not
>> intended by the author.  It would mean any new insight not specifically
>> written into the book was invalid.  And yes, this is a dramatically
>> overstated point, but this is what seeking authorial intent means to me--a
>> single-lane highway with all the exits clearly marked.
>I don't think a respect for authorial intention necessarily implies such a
>readerly strait-jacket as this picture suggests.

That's because you're talking about a *respect* for authorial intention, and
I'm talking about the more restrictive sense in which any reading not
intended by the author is less (or in)valid.  In other words, the way in
which English literature is frequently taught in secondary school: as though
the book is a plot of earth and the reader is meant to delve into it with
the spade and trowel of criticism to find the one true meaning of the book.
Hence a deliberate search for the author's intent.

But perhaps you could elaborate on this.  In what way does having a respect
for authorial intentions affect how one reads or interprets a book?  How
does it differ from...I can't think of a better word than postmodern, but
that may be too harsh...say a reading that creates meaning that is
perpendicular to the author's intent?

It also occurred to me that "authorial intent" is often synonymous with
"most reasonable interpretation" which might not always be true.  I don't
know if that has anything to do with the discussion, but for one thing, you
can't have a strong reading unless you also have a standard or reasonable
reading to provide a frame of reference.  I'm thinking about the possibility
of defending the most reasonable interpretation as reflective of the
author's intent, and discovering that what the author really meant was
something else entirely.  I may have to think about this some more.

Melissa Proffitt

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