Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Ingrid's Thoughts on Authorial Intent

This is a subject often discussed in the blogging world, and today I thought I'd toss my opinion into the mix.

For a long time, I've been one of those "intentional fallacy" fanatics who believes the best approach in interpreting a literary text is to stay far away from attributing any sort of authorial intent.

Yet ... my opinion was soon to be challenged. In one of my literature classes this week we have been reading the essays, interviews, and journals of the author whose work we have been studying. Our next assignment is to find something that stands out to us from any primary authorial text and "connect a dot" to the novel itself. At first, my head was saying ALERT! ALERT! This isn't how to interpret a text! But as I eased into the idea of exploring this author's thoughts about his own work, I found that a little bit of background info was not only extremely interesting, but allowed me to peek inside the author's head to better understand his process in crafting and laying out his story - and ultimately to understand his novel better.

Needless to say, this assignment has made me reevaluate my opinon concerning the relationship of an author to his or her text. Here are some loose conclusions I have drawn:
  • An author's opinion on writing in general, what they've said about imagery, symbolism, and/or meaning in their writing, can be used as a help to decode the text. But ultimately, the text must speak for itself.
  • A good writer will be aware of literary symbols that appear in the text, and provide evidence within the text for or against it.
  • Ideally, the text should be able to be understood by the reader as the author intended it to be without the author ever having to say anything about it.
  • A good author will understand that many interpretations are possible, and many good authors will encourage even opposing interpretations.
  • One should avoid projecting meaning on to a text, but rather closely study its patterns and connections, while being open to many interpretations and possibilities.
Now comes the fun part: What do YOU, dear reader, think about authorial intent? Has anything an author said or wrote about their work changed how you read it? Do you think it's better to stay away from primary authorial texts in general, or can they be a helpful resource?

Even if you don't have any literary background I'm interested in hearing your opinion! Ready, set, discuss.

(image: On the Road original manuscript via)