[DWJ] endings [was Best of 2008]

Charlie Butler charles.hannibal at gmail.com
Tue Dec 30 10:45:08 EST 2008

2008/12/29 Phil Boswell <phil.boswell at gmail.com>

>Again, this is not the same thing. It's one thing to intend to write a
> romantic hero and have him turn out a bit of a jerk. It's quite
> another to be told that your original intention is irrelevant or
> invalid,

I'm not sure what it would even mean to be told that one's intention is
'invalid': can you give an example of where this has actually happened? Or
are you referring to interpretations rather than intentions here - in which
case it's a whole new ball game?

As for irrelevance, an author's intention could certainly be irrelevant for
some purposes. My intention in writing a book is irrelevant to whether it
should win the Carnegie Medal, something that should be judged rather on the
book itself. For other purposes, such as understanding the origins of a book
or putting it in its cultural/historical/biographical context, knowledge of
an author's intention may indeed be relevant.

> >even worse to be told to your face that actually you intended
> for him to be a jerk in the first place.

Speculation about an author's intention is as (il)legitimate and as
(un)reliable as speculation about anyone else's. Necessarily it's mostly
guesswork, more or less informed - and even authors themselves may find that
over time their understanding of their own intention changes. I don't think
it's common critical practice to tell authors what they intended, though, or
to contradict them on this matter - although it does happen occasionally, as
when Blake said that Milton was of the devil's party without knowing it.


Website: www.charlesbutler.co.uk

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