Intention Interpretation

Intention Interpretation

Copyright Date: 1992
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 304
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  • Book Info
    Intention Interpretation
    Book Description:

    " excellent and comprehensive discussion of a debate that was initiated in this century in William Wimsatt's and Monroe C. Beardsley's influential article 'The Intentional Fallacy.'...this is a splendidly conceived and very useful collection of essays. Readers will want to take issue with the arguments of individual authors, but this is to be expected in a volume at the cutting edge of a fertile philosophical controversy." --David Novitz, The Philosophical Quarterly "What is the connection, if any, between the author's intentions in (while) writing a work of literature and the truth (acceptability, validity) of interpretive statements about it?" With this question, Gary Isminger introduces a literary debate that has been waged for the past four decades and is addressed by philosophers and literary theorists in Intention and Interpretation. Thirteen essays discuss the role of appeals to the author's intention in interpreting works of literature. A well-known argument by E.D. Hirsch serves as the basic text, in which he defends the appeal to the author's intention against Wimsatt and Beardsley's claim that such an appeal involved "the intentional fallacy." The essays, mostly commissioned by the editor, explore the presuppositions and consequences of arguing for the importance of the author's intentions in the way Hirsch does. Connections emerge between this issue and many fundamental issues in metaphysics and the philosophy of mind as well as in aesthetics. The (old) "New Criticism" and current Post-Structuralism tend to agree in disenfranchising the author, and many people now are disinclined even to consider the alternative. Hirsch demurs, and arguments like his deserve the careful attention, both from critics and sympathizers, that they receive here. Literary scholars and philosophers who are sympathetic to Continental as well as to Anglo-American styles of philosophy are among the contributors. "This is a timely book appearing as it does when postmodernist views of the death of the author are disappearing quickly from the scene. As a collection it exemplifies the best work that is being done on this problem at the moment, and it will no doubt inspire further debate." --The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism "[T]his volume contains important articles illuminating the central debate over the role and relevance of authorial intentions in literary interoperation." --British Journal of Aesthetics

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0594-4
    Subjects: Philosophy, Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Gary Iseminger
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    “What does the literary interpreter do? He tells us what a literary work means.” Thus says Monroe Beardsley,¹ who has written as thoughtfully and influentially on the subject as any philosopher in the past fifty years, and this is as good a place to start as any. Though there may well be ways of embodying interpretations that do not involve sayingwhatsomething means (for example, reading a poem out loud), I shall follow Beardsley’s lead and concentrate on what interpreterssay,on interpretive remarks. Consider some putative examples:

    Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem “Henry Purcell” refers to a famous English...

  5. 1 In Defense of the Author
    (pp. 11-23)
    E. D. HIRSCH JR.

    It is a task for the historian of culture to explain why there has been in the past four decades a heavy and largely victorious assault on the sensible belief that a text means what its author meant. In the earliest and most decisive wave of the attack (launched by Eliot, Pound, and their associates) the battleground was literary: the proposition that textual meaning is independent of the author’s control was associated with the literary doctrine that the best poetry is impersonal, objective, and autonomous; that it leads an afterlife of its own, totally cut off from the life of...

  6. 2 The Authority of the Text
    (pp. 24-40)

    The first thing required to make criticism possible is an object to be criticized—something for the critic to interpret and to judge. with its own properties against which interpretations and judgments can be checked. The Principle of Independence. as it might be called. is that literary works exist as individuals and can be distinguished from other things. though it is another question whether they enjoy some special mode of existence. as has been held. I think everyone must agree on this first postulate—here rather roughly stated. But there is another postulate that is logically complementary to the first:...

  7. 3 Robust Relativism
    (pp. 41-50)

    Philosophically, the most interesting feature of critical interpretation is its tolerance of alternative and seemingly contrary hypotheses. We should not allow incompatible descriptions of any physical object to stand: at least one would require correction, else we should find the disparities due to the different purposes the descriptions were to serve or the different circumstances under which they were rendered. But given the goal of interpretation—the imputation of a coherent design under conditions descriptively insufficient for that purpose—we do not understand that an admissible account necessarily precludes all others incompatible with itself (Stephen Pepper, however, has always insisted...

  8. 4 The Impossibility of Intentionless Meaning
    (pp. 51-64)

    The clearest example OF the tendency to generate theoretical problems by splitting apart terms that are in fact inseparable is the persistent debate over the relation between authorial intention and the meaning of texts. Some theorists have claimed that valid interpretations can only be obtained through an appeal to authorial intentions. This assumption is shared by theorists who, denying the possibility of recovering authorial intentions, also deny the possibility of valid interpretations. But once it is seen that the meaning of a text is simply identical to the author’s intended meaning, the project ofgroundingmeaning in intention becomes incoherent....

  9. 5 Interpretation, Intention, and Truth
    (pp. 65-75)

    One of the most salient and powerful trends in the last few decades of literary theory has been the attempt to discredit and displace the traditional project of intentionalist interpretation, the idea that the meaning of a text is to be identified with or found in the intention of its author. Intentionalism surely suffered a sharp and more than momentary blow with the rise of the New Criticism and its influential doctrine of the intentional fallacy, articulated by Wimsatt and Beardsley.¹ But more recent and perhaps still more devastating have been the poststructuralist doctrine of “the death of the Author,”...

  10. 6 An Intentional Demonstration?
    (pp. 76-96)

    What is the connection, if any, between the author’s intentions in writing a work of literature and the truth (acceptability, validity) of interpretive statements about it? E. D. Hirsch has argued for a close connection in his vigorous defense of what he calls “the sensible belief that a text means what its author meant.”¹ Here is his argument:

    A determinate verbal meaning requires a determining will. Meaning is not made determinate simply by virtue of its being represented by a determinate sequence of words. ObViously, any brief word sequence could represent quite different sequences of verbal meaning, and the same...

  11. 7 Art, Intention, and Conversation
    (pp. 97-131)

    In the normal course of affairs, when confronted with an utterance, our standard cognitive goal is to figure out what the speaker intends to say. And, on one very plausible theory of language, the meaning of an utterance is explicated in terms of the speaker’s intention to reveal to an auditor that the speaker intends the auditor to respond in a certain way.¹ That is, the meaning of a particular language token is explained by means of certain of a speaker’s intentions.

    Likewise, in interpreting or explaining nonverbal behavior, we typically advert to the agent’s intentions. This is not to...

  12. 8 Wittgensteinian Intentions
    (pp. 132-151)

    It is often supposed that Monroe Beardsley and William Wimsatt argued the total irrelevance to interpretation and evaluation of references to the intentions of artists. Those who object to this usually attempt to demonstrate the relevance of such references to the task of interpretation and, in particular, to the task of determining the meaning of a literary text. But it is unclear whether Beardsley and Wimsatt ever argued the total irrelevance of references by critics and interpreters to the intentions of artists.

    They certainly asserted that statements by artists about their intentions have no special authority over the deliberations of...

  13. 9 Intention and Interpretation: Hirsch and Margolis
    (pp. 152-166)

    In the preface, Gary Iseminger asks us, “What is the connection, if any, between the author’s intentions in (while) writing a work of literature and the truth (acceptability, validity) of interpretive statements about it?”¹ Before discussing E. D. Hirsch’s and Joseph Margolis’s treatment of some aspects of this question. I first raise some questions about the question itself.

    The Author. To which author shall we address ourselves? The historical author? The reconstituted author? A postulated author? The work may have been produced over an extended period of time. perhaps in interrupted stages. Are we to assume that the author is...

  14. 10 Interpreting with Pragmatist Intentions
    (pp. 167-182)

    At least three different and influential theories of interpretation claim to be pragmatist. Knapp and Michaels’s theory is rigidly intentionalistic and author bound, while Richard Rorty’s contrastingly emphasizes the production of nonauthorial readings. The third, advanced by Stanley Fish, submits (and dissolves) both author and reader to the notion of the interpretive community as the authority determining the proper meaning of a text. In this essay I investigate two of these rival theories, examining them in the light of more general pragmatist principles. The purpose of this exercise is not to award a prize for the most authentically pragmatist theory...

  15. 11 Irony, Metaphor, and the Problem of Intention
    (pp. 183-202)

    Whatever one makes of Rousseau’s view of the motivation and speech of early humans, the relationship between the literal and the figurative remains controversial. If one makes the plausible assumption that with metaphor and irony the direct, literal, or “ordinary” meanings do not by themselves make sense of the tropes, it is no surprise to feel set adrift in search of a way to meaning. And, in part, it is just such wanderings that have led many to set their compasses mistakenly on the author’s intention. This essay considers the reliability and proper role of intention in the interpretation of...

  16. 12 Allusions and Intentions
    (pp. 203-220)

    Under what conditions shall we say that a literary text or a work of art contains an allusion to another text or artwork or that a particular allusion succeeds or is understood? These are the main questions I discuss in this essay. Before proposing an analysis of allusions, however, in a more informal and intuitive way I discuss allusions and some related notions and call attention to some demarcation problems, which I hope pave the way for the subsequent discussions.

    Erwin Panofsky, in his book on Dürer, writes as follows about the horse in Dürer’s famous engravingKnight, Death and...

  17. 13 Intention and Interpretation: A Last Look
    (pp. 221-256)

    The newly written essays in this book—by Gary Iseminger, Nöel Carroll, Colin Lyas, Michael Krausz, Richard Shusterman, Daniel Nathan, and Göran Hermerén—explore in many ways the issues surrounding the interpretation of literary texts and the relation of that activity to the existence and character of an author’s intention in writing such texts. It would not be possible, or particularly desirable, for me to try to summarize in this space the twists and turns in the debate to which I have been asked to make a final contribution. What I plan to do instead is briefly spell out what...

  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 257-270)
  19. Notes on Contributors
    (pp. 271-272)
  20. Index of Names
    (pp. 273-275)