Emmie (angearia) wrote,

meta: if authorial intent dies in a fire, does anyone even notice?

I have this button called "Authorial Intent" and whenever someone pushes that button to dismiss a reader's interpretation or to question the value of even bothering to offer interpretation, it sends me off into a tailspin of discourse on the value of authorial intent and the reader's participation in the process of creating meaning in fiction. So, you know, disclaimer.

Authorial Intent is flawed, impossible to truly gauge, which is why the best readings of the text approach the text as its own entity and seek a reading which fits the text best in the most consistent, most all-encompassing way, author bedamned, because meaning in the text exists beyond authorial intent. And to limit meaning to authorial intent is a disservice to the art, to the fiction, to the reader, to the culture.

Say someone who's racist writes a text that's racist. But the author didn't INTEND for it to be racist. Well, guess what, the author wrote something racist. And because the author is racist, the text is consistently racist in its themes, symbolism, characterization, etc etc. Same goes for heteronormative gender-binary-reinforcing manpain narratives, whether the author intends it to be or not.

These readings still have meaning and it's important to talk about them; I'd say it's even essential to talk about them and not write them off as simply bad quality (especially when there's emotive power in the work despite what may appear to be obvious flaws). Otherwise the author is getting a free pass due to authorial privilege, where the author gets to decide what's important and what's not (the author's themes about DEATH are what the reader should care about it, not the racist overtones! Gawwwd, readers be dumb). Fiction isn't a lecture, it's communication.

Authors do not and cannot consciously control the meaning of everything they write because they lack total self-awareness. That's why privileging interpretation based upon authorial intent is flawed.

Analysis like this isn't doing the author's job; it's doing the reader's job. Every reader shows up with a mind and it's important to use it. The author isn't the Wizard of Oz, he's a guy behind a curtain shaking a sheet of metal to make you think you're hearing thunder. And if the author shakes it well enough, you might shiver in anticipation of the oncoming storm.

Now that doesn't mean one has to tear down and burn the curtain and totally disbelieve the illusion of reality as its own self-consistent reality. But the reader does question the surface appearance of the illusion-reality, the reader does question what the illusion-reality tells the reader to think, what the illusion-reality tells the reader about the identity of itself. The reader needs to understand that the illusion-reality isn't going to fully understand itself: it's not always honest, not always wise. The illusion-reality can be so intent upon creating illusion that it deceives itself.

There's so much projecting of selves going on throughout the process. The author projected his/her subconscious into the work (perhaps it comforts the author, justifies the author's world view), while the reader projects the reader's world view onto the work and reacts to the work on an emotional level.

There's just too many moving pieces which are in fact mazes made of mirrors to truly pin down anything with a certainty that The One True Reading has been found.

So how does anyone tell what's worth analyzing? For me, it's when you are inspired to analyze because you see a glimmer of a pattern and you have to keep following the pattern and shaking it out. And as you rub away at the work, as you follow the intersecting threads, if the pattern keeps occurring consistently, then there's something worthwhile there. You've found something that resonated within you and you've traced it back to the coded weave in the text and you've begun to make conscious sense of what strikes you unconsciously.

So if the text grips you by the throat, if it lulls you into believing the illusion, if it offers you the fantasy you need to believe at that moment, if you see a glimmer of a pattern, the beginning of three connecting points and beyond -- follow it, question it, build upon it, authorial intent bedamned.  

You're reading runes, the author's bones tossed in a bowl with blood, as much as you're reading the consciously wrought reflexive expression of your culture.  As you're witnessing the telling of human experience, you're creating the human experience.

When you see the author prick a finger and paint a pattern in the divining bowl, the author then hands that bowl over to you to divine meaning in the patterns.  Only people cannot understand from a distance, cannot divine without joining in.  Blood calls to blood.  So you prick your own finger and trace the pattern in the bowl, and you try to read the author as you try to read yourself, as you've both spilled yourselves into the fiction.  
Tags: authorial intent, meta, writing
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