[Milton-L] Should an Author's Intentions Matter?

James Rovira jamesrovira at gmail.com
Sun Apr 5 20:28:10 EDT 2015

I'm very glad that Harold has finally been able to enter the discussion. As
he and John Leonard pointed out, Wimsatt and Beardsley -- and even others
such as Derrida -- don't deny the existence or fact of authorial intent, at
least not to my knowledge. They simply deny its relevance to any act of
interpretation carried out by a non-author, even if in the case of some New
Critics they are seeking to attach a single, stable meaning to a literary
text. It's simply not true that we need authorial intent to avoid
arbitrariness in interpretation.

Truthfully, I got over the need to depend upon authorial intent for textual
stability when I realized that intentionalist hermeneutic strategies
essentially reconstructed the author as a reader of his or her own text,
and then that such a reconstruction was probably equally valid for many
other readers living at the same time -- so intentionalist hermeneutics
result in a kind of historically-grounded or historically-specific
reader-response interpretation.

That's not to say that authorial intent isn't relevant at all. It is
relevant to literary history, to textual history, etc.

I think that distinctions that also need to be made is between the meaning
of a word in context, a sentence, a paragraph, and the entire work. These
are all interrelated, but difficulties and approaches vary greatly.

Jim R
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