Authorial Intentions

Here, by the way, is an article in the National Review bemoaning the belief that literary criticism shouldn’t care “what the writer intended to say with this book.”

I’m one of those critics who don’t care. Because it’s a waste of time to wonder about what anybody intended and how that intent translated into action. I suspect that Nikki May, the author I discussed in the previous post, wasn’t trying to write about horrible, mean bitches from hell in her novel. She probably finds her characters endearing. Or maybe she’s deeper than I credit her and actually intended to portray them as irredeemably nasty. I have no way of knowing but why does it matter? Whatever she intended or didn’t intend won’t change my perception of these characters as horrid and the novel as highly entertaining.

My goal in writing, teaching, and talking about books is to get people excited about reading and engage them in discussing what we read. This is so much more interesting than trying to psychoanalyze authors. If a writer didn’t intend to be funny but I find a book hilarious, why is my laughter less important than his intention?

Also, it really cuts both ways. If we divorce the writer from the product of the writer’s talent and don’t ban books because their authors were imperfect human beings, then how can we remain obsessed with authorial intentions?


2 thoughts on “Authorial Intentions

  1. Hear, hear!

    Also it’s a complete fallacy. You can read a particular meaning into a particular work all day long and the author could have thought nothing of it whatsoever.


  2. “what the writer intended to say ”

    I’m kind of in the middle…. I think it can be interesting to try to figure out what the author was thinking or trying to say, but it’s totally unrelated to questions of the work’s quality or other possible interpretations and I utterly despise those who want to cancel books because of the author’s opinions or actions or who praise works based on the author’s opinion or ancestry.


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