Authorial Intent

deborah deborah at
Wed Jul 16 18:32:28 EDT 2003

On Wed, 16 Jul 2003 minnow at wrote:
|If someone is setting up as an expert -- and that is what the critic, any
|critic, must do, or must be deemed to be doing, because they are
|*interpreting texts to others*, and to be doing that is to be saying "I
|know whereof I speak, so hush up and listen" -- then s/he should be
|prepared to be told "you made a mistake", and far more importantly should
|be prepared to accept "I made a mistake" and *say so*.

Well, of course.  But since the critic isn't here to defend him or
herself, he or she can't admit to sloppiness.  Which isn't to say it
isn't worth pointing out, just to say that it doesn't necessarily
require so much ... er .. passion, especially when it might have been
really a minor semantic issue, and not a huge difference if
interpretation.  I think this is similar to the discussion we had about
the Merlin Conspiracy review.  I don't disagree that errors are errors,
but I do disagree that the statement that they're errors needs to be
made with quite as much zeal.  Keeping things intelligent but *fun* is
my job, here, after all.  ;)

|I suggest that the authority of the critic carries with it responsibility.
|The author has no right-of-reply unless he or she is actually libelled (and
|even then is unlikely to sue); and what, and where, is the mechanism for
|correcting an error of fact in a work of literary criticism?  The book it

Well, the writer can -- and sometimes, does -- write a response piece
and get a newspaper to publish it.  But the main mechanism for
correction is that all the other academics (and let's be honest, nobody
else reads this stuff) will jump on the back of the erring critic.
Critics are much meaner to one another than they are to authors.

Or they can, as DWJ did in "The Heroic Oddessy", write their own bits of
scholarly criticism, thus gaining the respect of the scholarly world as
both authors and critics.

|So it is very important indeed that something simply *wrong* should not be
|published in the first place.  It doesn't matter that much if a mistake
|(missing out a "not", say, or putting "now" where one meant "not") happens
|in a forum such as this: as soon as it is noticed, it can be amended.  If
|the thing is published in a book for the use of first-year university
|students, who will tend to accept its content as accurate, then it really
|does matter that it not be wrong, whether by accident or of intent.

Whenever I was given a piece of criticsm in uni, I was usually given
several, all of which contradicted each other vociferously.  So I never
took any of them as gospel.  But -- others here who are more published
might have different experiences, I am a mere lowly
rejected-from-doctoral-programs wannabe -- my two published pieces went
through a very thorough back and forth between myself and the editors,
corrected copyediting errors, stylistic flaws, factual errors about the
books (my American editor knew, as I did not, that class 6B in Witch
Week is 2C in the UK edition).  But things slipped through.  That's
life, none of us are perfect.  And again, we of course should admit to
things that slip through when they happen; I'd never say otherwise.  But
again, since the TotS critic isn't here to speak in his or her defense,
and hasn't (to my knowledge) written a piece defending that DWJ clearly
*did* read TotS despite her protests, I'd  be milder in the language.
Especially since there may well be very interesting TotS / CL
comparisons that are being lost as we niggle about semantics and the
responsibility of a critic.

|Isn't that a part of a slightly earlier thread: that if you are talking in
|"criticese" to a non-critic, the onus is on you to explain, not on them to
|run-and-find-out, what you mean by the word you have just used
|(particularly since the word may not be defined in that way in any book of
|reference easy to lay hands on, or may be one of those critical terms the
|critics have not yet agreed to use in a particular way)?

Yes, and me realising this resolved the argument.  In the case of a
piece of published criticism, it is reasonable for a critic to assume
that nobody who doesn't know the terminology or is unwilling to learn it
is going to read the piece (not 100% true, but certainly leaning that
way), since, let's face it, "Lion and the Unicorn" isn't bedside reading
for most folks.  Anymore than "Nature", of "Journals of the ACM".

|Isn't it a matter of courtesy, and of common-sense?  You don't wish to say
|what someone else *thinks*, because you perhaps don't have a high enough
|opinion of yourself to be that confounded bigheaded?  So as a critic,
|rather than saying "obviously what Jones intends here" you say "in Jones'
|works" the power of language does this or that, without ever straying into
|"because Jones wants us to see" this or that.  I salute the style: you're
|speaking for yourself, not for someone else, and I find that to be an
|honest approach.  And no, you're not to take yourself as a representative
|of the sort of critic whom I was criticising.... criticking ... critting
|talking about, drat it!  :-)

Mmmm, language.  Isn't it nice and foamy?

Can the gods catch flu?  I think I may have given it to all of them.
					-- chrestomanci

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