Thursday, April 29, 2010
An Argument Against the Argument Against Theory
The article by Knapp and Michaels was interesting in that it posited a way of thinking about authorial intention that some may not have previously considered. In this course, we have examined how various theories can help indentify larger structures of language and context which elucidate further meaning beyond what is immediately recognizable. By looking through various critical lenses, a reader can gain a richer understanding of a given text. But the question arises as to what degree does the author's intended meaning matter in our interpretation. Are there times when a rose is just a rose, placed within the story for aesthetic value? This is where I have personally struggled with theory. The idea of tearing apart a piece of literature sometimes leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I like to think that literature can be valued for its inherent beauty: the formation of sentences, the sharing of experience, and the construction of real characters. But I realize that there is a place for theory, much in the same way that there is a place for the biological examination of our world. If there is something deeper within the structures of literature, why shouldn't we seek to expose and examine it in order to gain a fuller understanding? I may now be ranting, so I will try to bring my argument back to the original subject matter. In the article, the authors oppose the idea of separating what the author hopes to say and what is actually meant by the language of a text. The authors say "Some theorists have claimed that valid interpretations can only be obtained through an appeal to authorial intentions. ..But once it is seen that the meaning of a text is simply identical to the author's intended meaning, the project of grounding meaning in intention becomes incoherent" (Knapp and Michaels, 724). Perhaps I am reading this incorrectly, but are they saying that there is no need to look to the author's intent because the way a text is interpreted is how the author intended it to be interpreted? This notion seems a cheap way of passing through the boundaries of the intentional fallacy. Of course there will be discrepancies between the way a text is perceived by the reader and how the author intended it to be understood. That is the place of the author: to give a text to the world in order that it might be read and interpreted in a variety of ways. To say that each of these ways of interpreting is the way the author intended it is to say that an author writes without intention, or that the author's intention is to have multiple interpretations. The fact remains that there will always be multiple interpretations of texts, no matter what the author intends. In this way, there will remain an inherent discrepancy between the reader and the author. The article fails to recognize that these two modes of interpretation and intention are not the same.