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Wanderer D


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  • Today
    Maya and the Three (no spoilers)

    So, after one heck of a week I treated myself to watching this new series on Netflix by the same dude that brought us "The Book of the Dead." Spoiler free, if you liked that one, this is definitely for you.

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    3 comments · 56 views
  • 1 week
    Looking back

    So, in an effort to build up more energy to write, I've started reading some of my very old stories. You know... the ones before FIM.

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    25 comments · 436 views
  • 2 weeks
    Random question, but...

    ...does anyone here still play Pokemon Go?

    28 comments · 230 views
  • 3 weeks
    New story coming soon!

    Ye gods. Anyway, this is not super long, but it does help in getting me rolling. Don't worry I'm not dropping anything else, Isekai and the others are also being worked on.

    For now...

    14 comments · 203 views
  • 4 weeks
    Worth it.

    'Nuff said.

    31 comments · 543 views
Jun
18th
2016

"DoTA" Opinion Blog · 8:15pm Jun 18th, 2016

Death of The Author - The self-serving appropriation of someone else's work.

Here's the thing. I don't believe in the "Death of the Author". Quite honestly, it's little more than an excuse to justify forcing your interpretation into a text and ignoring everything else that influenced the author on their choices—or what they were hoping to say—and replacing them with what the "critic" wants it to mean.

Now, one very valid point (if somewhat misguided) someone brought up when I discussed it in the comments somewhere, was that (to paraphrase) "The Death of the Author is a force for discussion, and that accepting what the author of a literary work said as fact would basically kill interpretation."

I disagree, even though I definitely see where that comes from. But let me ask a question: What do Hamlet; El Quixote; The Alchemist; Spiderses; Atlas Shrugged, Middlesex; Meals in Minutes; What Color is your Parachute, etc. have in common?

They all have a purpose. Every story has a purpose. Every story. And the author writing it knows what that purpose is to greater or lesser extent. The author's voice matters a lot more than some random critic saying that the text must mean something else.

While "Death of the Author" enthusiasts got away with it mostly due to the nature of literary work vs time vs life expectancy vs ease of communication, it is something that should not even count today, especially with instant correspondence with authors.

Saying that "No Death of the Author" = "No conversation or interpretation" is a fallacy. To begin with, disregarding the author's intent already puts into question the dubious interpretation a critic might have of a story, but, even if an author intends for a story to say a specific message, the reader can find a different meaning.

Kafka put it best: "Some books seem like a key to unfamiliar rooms in one’s own castle." It's not just through the final message of the author that a book is internalized and interpreted. It's the journey; the exploration and the challenge of concepts that allows a story to enrich our experience and thoughts.

The Death of the Author pretends then, that the "critic's" internalization and understanding (or misunderstanding) of a story is a more valid meaning than that which the author wants to convey. In other words, "I hear what I want to hear, understand what I want to understand and my opinion should be more important to everyone else than your intent."

I'm not saying that authors write perfect meanings or crystal-clear messages. Concepts and ideas are challenged by dialogue, imagery, thought and action all of it with a purpose, be it simple entertainment, satire, philosophy or even attacking. To say that the value of the critic's interpretation supersedes that intent and purpose of a work... that the myriad things that influence any person's mind when putting words to paper is irrelevant once the words are on the paper is folly.

Any author worth their salt will not say that their interpretation of the final message of their story is absolute because they understand that a story can be a kaleidoscope of possible meanings to each person. A "Death of the Author" advocate just believes in a dual existence of thought: yours and mine.

It's self delusion and self-aggrandizing.

It's disrespectful to the author even if some take it with good humor.

So please.

Bury that idiocy and stop using it as an excuse to turn what something means into what you want it to mean.

tl;dr - Just because someone interprets a story differently from what the author intended, it doesn't mean that person is "smarter" or "understands more" than the author. It's the differing experiences and influences (the same ones the critics ironically try to erase from account towards the original text) that shapes their observations and internalization—it might mean something else to someone. A story might clearly be interpreted in many ways. But ascribing to "The Death of the Author" is nothing but a cry to try and take ownership of something that doesn't belong to you and to try and force your dominance by claiming the actual owner and creator of the story does not matter.

Comments ( 65 )

I don't know what you mean by

Death of the author

??

Agreed with Scoot, but the rest of the post was interesting.

Well said. DotA can be one of the most irritating things to put up with, especially when you're personally aware of the reams of DotA commentary--as fanfic authors inevitably are--and have to sit back and watch people just...be completely bizarre and asinine about something you wrote.

It can also be a very eyeroll-worthy thing when you see people try furiously to dig up deeper allegory and subtext in a simple, straightforward story.

This is why I rarely go in for literary analysis. Unless something in the story warrants deeper literary analysis, I prefer to take an "it is what it is" approach to anything I read/consume.

I always thought that DotA was a very useful tool to use. Looking at a story under that perspective can do wonders to help the author write clearer prose and it is sometimes useful the peel away layers that one has, maybe unaware of it, added to one's story. It is also a very interesting way to look at how different cultural backgrounds may color the interpretation of a story. It can help to foster discussion.

That said, it is a tool and can be used, IMHO, incorrectly. Being attached to your own vision of what the author wants to say despite the author herself screaming in your face that you got it completely wrong in any setting that allows him or her to speak freely (so, for example, North Korea would be an exception) or as any other thing than a way to tell the author that the ideas didn't come across means being involved in a level of navel gazing that is frankly astounding.

I'm not familiar with the definition of "death of the author" which you're using here, though as you describe it, I would agree that it's silly. My understanding of the phrase is that it ascribes no special import to the author's stated intentions, rather than that it dismisses the same--that is to say, every person (including the author) has an equal right to attempt to interpret the text, and that a convincing explanation or exploration is neither rendered less or more convincing based on the identity of the person who fronted it. Likewise, an interpretation which is at odds with the text is not accepted over a more convincing theory based solely on the identity of the person advancing it.

I don't doubt that you're representing the way some people use the phrase. But I find it interesting that, within your circle, it appears to have developed into more or less the opposite of the phrase's roots. Where "death of the author" has historically been used to counter the idea that any person (most significantly, the author) can claim a more correct interpretation of text based on anything other than how well that interpretation holds up to the text itself, you're describing it being used to advance the idea of authoritarian interpretation--in this case, that a critic can claim to know the "correct" meaning of a work.

It's amazing how language gets twisted around!

4031732
I understand that the original meaning made some sense, but I still think it is wrong. As I said, nice critical tool, but the interpretation of the author himself should generally be the key to understand a story. You can tell that something didn't come across, that what is written doesn't match the stated intention and a lot of other nuances, but stories don't exist in a vacuum, they sprout from a fertile soil of culture, experiences and creativity, and ignoring one of the basic drives behind some text (the author's interpretation) seemed to me always like a way to ignore some uncomfortable information for the sake of one's personal vision.

While I agree that the author's intention and interpretation should be seen as important, I disagree that other interpretations, even radically different ones, should be immediately discarded because they do not align roughly with the author's own. The author's intent should inform other interpretations, but should not supersede them. Just look at Fahrenheit 451 as an example of why (the author says it is about one thing, while the text is clearly about something else).

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031732 It has been my experience with "literary critics" and reading their essays from Mexico to London to USA claiming that the author's interpretation and purpose is pointless if the text on its own—devoid of external influence—doesn't present that idea. You can't take influence out of words, as unbiased as you want to make an analysis. If words had no influence, they wouldn't change the world, and the only way they can have it is by being relevant. As time has passed, we have people interpreting the work of others without taking into account who those others were, where they lived, what they lived, etc. which is like saying you can describe what a pickled duckling tastes like when you have never tried one. Even in it's traditional understanding, it ignores the fact that an author's intent is the driving force behind the story. To say that the author's interpretation is equal to that of a critic is, in my opinion, a bit delusional and self-serving for critics.

In other words, anyone can interpret what they want about a story, but, if the author says that's not what he intended it to be, they can't claim it is no matter how much they want. DoTA is usually written as fact, not as interpretative or theoretic.

4031730 it's ironic though that the fact that ideology, cultural background and morning coffee (or not) are factors ignored by critics as they expressed their "unbiased" and "equal" interpretation of the value of a text as the intention of the author is, isn't it?

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031755

I disagree that other interpretations, even radically different ones, should be immediately discarded because they do not align roughly with the author's own.

That was never said here.

Do you believe DotA applies or is subverted when one author attributes their work to their interpretation of another's work? Wouldn't this situation make the author a self delusional critic as well?

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031768 I call that fan fiction.

It depends on how didactic you want to get. The critical supremists are as insufferable as any sort of supremist can get, but that doesn't mean that there isn't meaning in a story that the author either won't admit to, or honestly can't see. Some authors lie, and some authors just don't like to talk about or think about some of the things that go on in their work. Tolkien was quite emphatic that The Lord of the Ring was not intended as an allegory about the Great War and infustrialization, but I find it very hard *not* to read it that way. And on the subject of authorial deceit, writers in cultures that enforce ideological conformity can often mislead on the subject of intent if that intent could get them brought up in from of an inquisition, star chamber, or justice of the peace.

4031758

DoTA is usually written as fact, not as interpretative or theoretic.

Herein lies the entire problem. Literary analysis at its core is not fact, but interpretation, yet there's an entire generation (or several) of academics who take subjective interpretation as objective truth.

death of the author as you describe it - and as many encounter or wield it - is self-evidently incorrect. It was meant to function as a tool of understanding, not as a means to impose personal prejudices on the words of others.

DotA is an useful critical tool, and can be pretty helpful, but too many people over- and misuse it, especially on the internet.

I don't often comment on your rant blogs, but I have to state my agreement. Death of the author has always been a supremely annoying concept to me, and the reasons you list here are a big part of that, although I've never found the words to say as much myself. Disregarding authorial intent has always struck me as a profoundly ignorant way to approach fiction, and I'm glad that you're here to give voice to that view.

4031771

And most people believe fanfiction to be terrible. Well played.

Still, trying to interpret your blog without a frame of reference other than it being on a site of fanfiction leads to terrible understanding for myself. I'm not sure if you are including fanfiction as 'literary work.' By your response, I infer you are not.

Any story which requires you to read an author's biography or read their Twitter posts to understand its meaning is likely to be a poorly-written story. If you have to explain what your story means to a substantial portion of your readership, it means your story failed to do so - which means that it probably isn't a very good story.

As such, I think the Death of the Author is a useful tool - in the end, that's what resource I have as a reader. I'm not going to go haring off and read the author's life story to try and make sense of a story, I'm going to read what is on the page and draw my conclusions from that.

I think the real rule as far as it is concerned is a subset of a general rule that stories should be self-contained - if it is necessary to understand something extrinsic to the story, then either your story needs to explain it, your audience needs to be confined to those who are familiar with it, or a lot of people will completely miss the point of your story.

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031799 I am, actually :) "Spiderses" is a fanfic. I have seen DoTA used even with fan fiction, beyond objective criticism or advice, and devolving into what can only be summarized in our modern lingo as: "My headcanon is better than yours!"

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031812 Ah, but you're talking about another thing altogether. I'm talking about DoTA in direct relationship to the intentional, deeper analysis of the text. Like any academic endeavor, if you're going to propose a theory to its meaning, you need sources and ways to confirm your suppositions. In this instance, the surrounding elements at the time of the story creation.

If you're going to express an opinion on a self-contained piece, you do not need to have further information, but you can't claim that that interpretative opinion is anything other than that. It's not fact, it's anecdotal and completely influenced by what influences you directly at the point in time that you read it and your opinion might change completely if read again at another time, unlike a text which remains unchanged (along with its influences at the time) from the moment it was published.

For example: you might read a story and intend to "dislike" it but you forget to do so. Some time later, you find the story again, but do not realize you have read it. You go in, recognize it, but something's different... you like it. The story didn't change. The outside factors affecting your opinion did.

4031827

There are internal factors as well. The author does have the power to edit stories on websites/fanfiction(unlike published books) based on personal preferences or if they're influenced enough by readers. If they're more influenced by outside opinion(or a change in canon) does this count as DOtA performed by the author themselves?

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031858

If they're more influenced by outside opinion(or a change in canon) does this count as DOtA performed by the author themselves?

You know, I would say yes. Because the author ceases to be the carrier of the message and just becomes the tool to write the interpretation of others.

4031827

The Death of the Author is about how texts don't even have one meaning; it was meant to free them from "the tyranny of interpretation" or whatever.

The core idea - that a story should make sense independent of its author - is not wrong. The lit crit bullshit built up around it is... well, lit crit bullshit.

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031878 Must get knighty to add more thumbs up.

4031758

It has been my experience with "literary critics" and reading their essays from Mexico to London to USA claiming that the author's interpretation and purpose is pointless if the text on its own—devoid of external influence—doesn't present that idea.

But... I agree with that. I mean, trust me, I hate being misunderstood more than just about anyone, but no one should be required to do homework to understand a story. You're welcome to say that your story is an indictment of capitalism and explains why religion is the bane of human existence, but if your story is My Little Dashie, that's a stupid interpretation of it and you wrote it in a stupid way to say that. You don't get credit for words you meant to write.

So, I think that's a very valid criticism of an author. Yes, your interpretation of your own work can be stupid because you wrote it badly.

(I'm assuming that wasn't the intent of MLD, thus in no way reflects the quality of that work, it was just what came to mind.)

You can't take influence out of words, as unbiased as you want to make an analysis. If words had no influence, they wouldn't change the world, and the only way they can have it is by being relevant.

This is totally true, and is the source of the problem. No matter what you intended when you wrote those words, they have influence, and it might not be the influence you wanted them to have. That's why we strive to be better writers.

As time has passed, we have people interpreting the work of others without taking into account who those others were, where they lived, what they lived, etc. which is like saying you can describe what a pickled duckling tastes like when you have never tried one. Even in it's traditional understanding, it ignores the fact that an author's intent is the driving force behind the story. To say that the author's interpretation is equal to that of a critic is, in my opinion, a bit delusional and self-serving for critics.

And yet, the author had no idea who we are, where we live, what we live, etc. Does that mean a story has nothing to say to us outside of historical trivia? Because that would be the end point of your reasoning, if you assume that someone has to have the lived experience to interpret the work correctly.

But I doubt you think that. But if we're going to interact in a real way with historic works, or works by people we don't know, or from different places in life, we need to be allowed to take the most valid modern interpretation of the work, the way those words influence us here and now. Which might be entitely different from what the author intended. It's certainly valid to take into account the context of the work, especially information that's obvious within the text like (often) time period and location. But I don't think it's necessary, simply because there's so much we can't know.

So, I can't say that an author's interpretation is more valid or even as valid as another, since authors sometimes don't write what they meant to write at the time, and because the way words influence us changes over time, while the words the author wrote remain and exert that new influence, whether or not the author intended it.

Personally, I've always believed in "empty nest of the author." My works are out there, saying whatever they say to people, but I have their cute baby pictures and awkward teenage school pictures, and I'm thrilled to share them with anyone who's interested. That doesn't mean they can't become a serial killer, but I don't remember them that way.

4031812

This is how I use Death of the Author. The more I have to know about the author or his interpretation of the story to properly understand or appreciate it, the less I'm interested in reading it in the first place, typically.

If an author tries to tell me that I missed the point of his story because he actually meant this, that, or the other thing, then that's where I typically invoke DotA and tell him that if I needed to read his blog or his mind to understand the story, then he probably should have been more clear in the story itself.

Whether that's the intended or usual use of DotA, I can't say. I just feel that every story should stand on its own. Even an author can change his mind about what his story means at times, but that doesn't change the story itself, and I shouldn't be obligated to change my mind with him. ~ Sable

But what if an author's estate asks another author to finish a work for the departed author, like Douglas Adams' did for the Hitchiker's Guide when they asked Eowin Colfer?

Wanderer D
Moderator

4031890

but no one should be required to do homework to understand a story.

Writing a good story and conveying the message correctly is not related to this. I'm talking about the liberties "DoTA critics" take when imposing their meaning to a story as more valid than what the author was attempting to express, whether they succeed or not.

And yet, the author had no idea who we are, where we live, what we live, etc. Does that mean a story has nothing to say to us outside of historical trivia? Because that would be the end point of your reasoning, if you assume that someone has to have the lived experience to interpret the work correctly.

And again, this is in relation to DoTA criticism, that imposes an interpretation as "factual" even over the stated intent of the author in some cases. For example, 4031778 mentioned LoTR. If we didn't know it was written in the moment of time it was written, would he think that LoTR is a reflection on World War II? Of course not. That interpretation is based completely on knowing that Tolkien fought in WWII.

Whether a work makes allusions that we, future or current readers, add into our gestaltic understanding of our world, centered inevitably around our own experiences and perceptions of the universe interpret in one way or another, is irrelevant. Our interpretations, and how words affect us specifically are not in question here. It's the assumption that our interpretation is valid to the point of ignoring, if not out-valuing the author's stated intent.

4031718
4031699
It's a concept in literary criticism. For a full definition -
See this link here.

I'm of two minds about this.

First of all, I think the author's opinion absolutely counts as to what something is.
e.g., if someone makes a claim about a character in Game of Thrones and GRRM contradicts it, GRRM is correct 100% of the time unless contradicted logically.

Similarly, I think authorial intent is important, as a function of the greater concern of literary and historical context. Authors write in a specific context with intent that can only be understood in that context.
For instance, if I say that All Quiet on the Western Front is about the Vietnam War, I am manifestly wrong. There's other things I can say about it, like its universal applicability to war as a whole, which are accurate.

That said, the author's opinion on what something means should not be exclusive. There are times when the author either a) misses something or b) has in fact made an error on.
Case in point: [Infamous luddite] Ray Bradbury thought that Fahrenheit 451 is about television taking over people's lives. He did not think it was about censorship. This is logically contradicted by the book.

I don't like Death of the Author. I think it's a lame excuse to try and privilege one's own opinion over that of an author's. Indeed, the ur-example is of a professor telling Isaac Asimov that his opinion on his writing doesn't matter - and whoa, wait a minute, how is the author's voice not as valid an opinion as any other critic? Indeed, should it not count for more?
Obviously, due to inherent bias, we must treat their words with suspicion, but we cannot simply ignore what they said. To do so is to practice blind ignorance.
Where I think it has value is in not treating the word of the author as sacrosanct with respect to meaning (versus canonical facts of the setting).

4031931

It's the assumption that our interpretation is valid to the point of ignoring, if not out-valuing the author's stated intent.

Here, I think, is the problem: what value are we assigning it?

To me, the value of a "meaning" of a work is "this is what people might think (how they might reconsider opinions, what basis they will use to enjoy or brush off the message) after reading it."

Any other meaning of a work has no value to me. The "meaning" is a guess at how and why people, in general, will react to it. (The same thing we mean when we talk about the meaning of a word, in other words.)

To that end, an interpretation that matches both things in the text and the probable views of readers has more value, whether that's curtosey of the author or someone else. Any interpretation that doesn't take those into account or use them as well has less value, except as trivia.

But good interpretation says something about the work in context of our world today, which is what I think most criticism should be trying to do. (Unless it's specifically trying to make an argument for the work's influence in a different place and time, which may or may not also be the original context; I'm sure there's stuff to be said about the works of Shakespeare in the Victorian age.)

In fact, I'm not sure what else interpretation would be trying to do that has value; but if you have a different meaning (which you seem to,) please explain.

My opinion on this kind of depends on what we're reading, but I hate it when the author is really direct about the meaning and then people try to pull this. Like, it'll be a book about some guy who goes off to war and watches all his friends die before he gets mauled by an explosive and left in a vegetative state, and the author will dedicate the book to "people lost to wars that never needed to happen," and then some guy will be there insisting that it's really about how the cost is high but the war must be won. It's one thing when the author is deliberately unclear on what they think was right or justified; Alan Moore seems to really like ambiguity for instance. I just hate it when it's so blindingly obvious just from the text itself, and then the author is there spelling it out in the simplest possible terms, and people are still arguing about what the real message is as if there's an argument to be had at all.

I'm sorry about my ignorance... but... what is this "death of the author" thing? :ajsleepy:

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032088

To that end, an interpretation that matches both things in the text and the probable views of readers has more value, whether that's curtosey of the author or someone else. Any interpretation that doesn't take those into account or use them as well has less value, except as trivia.

The inclusion of the expectations of interpretation of the text are influences that any author takes into consideration when writing something for an audience. In doing so, claiming that there is no context other than the text when reading is automatically a fallacy. By its own virtue of being directed at the audience, the audience already comes with certain expectations that will influence their understanding of the text. It is especially clear when it comes to fan fiction: a LOT of fics, outside of context make absolutely NO sense, and when they try to compensate for outside readers, the stories end up over-complicated and too expository.

In other words, they're 100% circumstantial to a specific audience and niche of people that will understand what it's about. This extends to the audience any author writes for. Political satire takes certain understandings of culture and the society of the period of time when it's written as a given—it is directly relevant to that. Comedy is the same thing as are just about any genre or sub-genre of fiction you want to publish in. Therefore, claiming that you're judging such a story on the text alone, without context or understanding of events or references is impossible.

Furthermore, the interpretation and intent of the author hold more value than the opinion of a critic who wants to turn it into something else completely. Just because the message gets jumbled or another understanding can be achieved of the same text, it doesn't mean that the authors intent is equal or less to that opinion.

Whether the author achieves communication of their message or not might quantify into the ability of the author to say what they mean. But it also has, by necessity, fundamental connections to the author's POV of several matters, political, emotional, etc. DoTA takes that away. It states that a text on its own, and within its limited context should be enough to express the full message.

If that is the case, what use is there for metaphor? Reference? Comparison? Why compare a character's body with that of Heracles? DoTA attached to the sole value of context-less text would imply that by omitting an actual description, explanation and history of Heracles, the author is failing at expressing what they mean to express.

But good interpretation says something about the work in context of our world today, which is what I think most criticism should be trying to do. (Unless it's specifically trying to make an argument for the work's influence in a different place and time, which may or may not also be the original context; I'm sure there's stuff to be said about the works of Shakespeare in the Victorian age.)

Why would good interpretation only say something about our context today? Are you saying that if "The Raven" is interpreted as a dark eulogy to the use of the omni-present influence of social media, and the bird itself is actually nothing less than a smartphone, bombarding a poor teenager with constant reminders of happenings and opinions happening online to the point that he is driven mad—that is somehow more valid and a better interpretation than Poe's thoughts on his own work and their meaning? That the bust of Pallas is meaningless because he doesn't go to explain that it's Athena, goddess of wisdom?

The value of a work might transcend time, but you can't really say you understand where a piece of literary work is coming from if you intentionally disregard the author's thought and intention, the context and their influence. The relevance of their work might change—the critic might draw an inspiration or a truth from the work, perhaps unintended by the author... but pretending that in-text-only content is an absolute measure to understand a work in any way or form and that the final word is the critic's, not the author's, is a disservice to literature, the written word and authors in general.

4031931 WWI, not WWII, which is kinda important. But I believe that context is important. LofR is important in this point, as a lot of hippies interpreted in the context of the Sixties, and did a lot to tear it loose from the historic context of Tolkien. This is why I don't ascribe to the basic assumption of DofA, but that doesn't mean that I'm an authorial intent supremicst, either. There's an argument to be made that Tolkien can't be understood independently of the web of Oxbridgian assumptions, expectations, and specialized linguistic and religious research and ideas within which he was marinating while he was writing it. Call it historicism, but I feel that it is the eight way to to approach a treacherous author like Tolkien.

George RR Martin is a different subject, but only because he's a less diciplined and controlled writer than Tolkien. He tends to wear his influences much more heavily than Tolkien, who as much as I rag on him, he was a scholastic original.

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032246 Yes, of course WWI, my bad. I get excited on this kind of thing! XD And yeah, I never said that the author's opinion means you can't have your own. I am saying that presenting your opinion as the absolute truth, especially after the author tells you blatantly: "no, it's not about that!" Is particularly dense. IT doesn't mean that the story doesn't have a specific meaning for you... but you can't claim that the author is wrong because it doesn't fit with what you understood.

If that makes more sense.

4031761

That was never said here.

Perhaps that was just my interpretation. :ajsmug:

I've always viewed death of the author two ways, both as a description of what inevitably happens(noone listens to the authors opinion on their own work, especially after 20-30 years, when the creator has probably moved on to other things) and second as an incitement of authors who feel the need to correct their fanbase on what a story meant, because they failed to actually make their point cogently in the story itself.

Also, I never thought of it in terms of critics, because I don't walk in those circles, but when it comes to the common man's understanding of a work? Well, how many people out there refer to Romeo and Juliet as an epic love story?

This blog ignores the fact that an author might not be wholly cognizant of everything that went into their story. Such unintentional items might be as complex as symbols or motifs, but more likely would manifest as themes and atmosphere. I think it's stubborn to insist that "Death of the Author" doesn't exist when there is every possibility that a story might have a great many elements that the author inserted without even thinking about it.

Further, I don't see any issue with somebody wanting to interpret a story in a manner that the author didn't intend. That just means that the story has more facets and depth for discussion. From the way you describe it, it seems like you take issue with people being obnoxious than people interpreting a story differently from the author.

But ascribing to "The Death of the Author" is nothing but a cry to try and take ownership of something that doesn't belong to you and to try and force your dominance by claiming the actual owner and creator of the story does not matter.

Bullshit. If a story speaks to me in a way the author didn't intend, then I'm going to stick with that interpretation because that's how I like it. Instead of the person who argues in support of "Death of the Author", I lose respect for those who would try to control what can and cannot be discussed and/or concluded. If I want to read all your stories and decide that they're all thinly veiled endorsements of ice-cream trucks, then that's my business. It's your story, but it's my interpretation, and thus you have no business trying to force it into what you think is or is not appropriate, just as I have no business trying to direct you in what you write.

4032221
Once again, what do you think is the purpose of interpreting a work?

Seriously, I think we're talking about different things here, because I honestly can't see an argument that there's a more valuable meaning to a work than "the one that makes the most sense to the most people," whoever puts that forth.

You're correct, this isn't based strictly on the text, but the important thing is that it has nothing to do with the author's intentions, unless he communicated those intentions in a way that the people reading the text understand. And if he did, that's the most valuable interpretation, not because he's the author but because the communication of the meaning was successful.

As someone who learns by example, I think this blog post would be much easier to discuss if you'd just give some concrete examples of what you're talking about.

Funny, I just had this conversation with GaPJaxie last night.

I've previously helped perpetuate the idea that "Death of the Author" meant the idea that the author's intentions don't matter. But that's not what it means. That is the (usual but sloppy interpretation of) "the intentional fallacy".

"The Death of the Author" was an article by the post-modern literary theorist Roland Barthes, which you can read at this link. It's extremely poorly reasoned and badly written. It doesn't talk about the author's intention not mattering, but it does have echoes of reader response theory (a story is not written by the author, but put together by the reader). I think, though, Barthe's main point is that writers shouldn't claim to own stories, to have authority over them, to be allowed to say what they do and do not mean--not because their intention isn't important, but because they did not write the stories.

I say that not so much because of what is in "The death of the author", but because of another famous essay of Barthes', "From Work to Text", which elaborates on similar ideas. It is ironic that "The death of the author" must be interpreted in light of other works by the same author.

The big picture here is that post-modernists are basically Dark Age philosophers. Before the high middle ages (= in the Dark Ages), the word "art" ("ars" in Latin) meant roughly "craft". People we would think of as artists, they would think of as craftsmen.

This is also related to my blog post, which I see I haven't posted yet, on the invention of creativity in the 18th century. Before the Enlightenment, the word "creative" was only used in English (I checked) as an attribute of God. (The earliest suggestion I found that humans could be creative was by Francis Bacon, around 1600.) The notion that humans could be creative was considered heresy. All medieval theories of painting and poetry stated that all that artists did was rearrange components into new combinations.

Barthes' claim is that there is no such thing as an "author", a creator of stories, because nobody ever creates anything--they just rearrange story fragments they inherited in a different way.

This is related to the way in which both Dark Age and post-modern philosophers reject the notion of logical or internal structure to anything, whether in logic, in meaning, or in art. And this explains why post-modernists sound so weird to people who are capable of thinking analytically--they can't. Their schtick is saying that all that really matters is context, and so they renounce the act of temporarily isolating just one variable or one part of a system for analysis. You know, that thing that all modern science and thought is based on. For example, if you want to compute how long it will take a rock dropped from a tower to hit the ground, you begin by making abstractions, considering the rock a point mass and ignoring wind resistance. A post-modernist will (if being consistent) stop you and say you can't do that.

In the case of art (or engineering), they deny that a system composed of many different pieces put together deliberately can be more than the sum of its parts. This is why they say there is no new art, and why post-modern art is just many different pieces of art from different periods all thrown together in an art stew. (The fact that art had to change so drastically in order to conform to what post-modern theory said art was is a good proof that post-modern theory is stupid.)

"Death of the author" and "From work to text", taken together, use this theory of art to claim we should go back to the way things were in the Dark Ages, when art was anonymous. Paintings weren't signed, and stories didn't have "authors". Each person who told a story changed it, and no one would tell them not to. People told stories but didn't claim they were "their" stories. Claiming that is, Barthes said, a phony claim to be a creator when you are just part of a tradition.

The death of the author is taken by Marxist literary theorists to imply that copyright should be abolished, and artists should not be paid except as performance artists, just like in the Dark Ages. (Or, presumably, as tenured professors like Barthes.)

Barthes, however, signed his name to his article about the death of the author, and benefitted greatly from being known as the author of this "important", "new" post-modern idea.

DotA is a silly idea when applied to the kind of literature we write today. But it works well for folk tales and Hollywood movies. Thousands of people cooperate to make a movie; no one person can be said to be its author. It's a reasonable way to look at MLP: Lauren Faust is an author, and the writer of each episode is an author, and many other people contribute.

Again I wish we could favorite blog posts...ah well.

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032472 You completely missed the point. The author might write more into it by accident than he assumes... because he's not looking through the lenses of someone that has a different culture, background, etc. If you want to see butterflies because "elaborated mononucleic synthesis" means that in your part of the world, then there's nothing the author can do. If a story means something for a reader that's what it means to the reader. HOWEVER, it doesn't mean that that reader gets to tell everyone that the book is about butterflies and not about the complex union of single-nucleus organisms, regardless of how it might or not change your life.

4032481

Once again, what do you think is the purpose of interpreting a work?

Basically to find a personal significance to something for whatever purpose or personal understanding. (In the case of religious text, it's for the purpose of controlling what people should think.)That, however, doesn't mean that it's okay to live in "personal-land" and invalidate the thoughts and original objective of something just to give more validity to what you think it should mean.

4032508 It makes sense in context.

4032524 I look forward to reading your blog on the matter, for sure. While this is indeed the most common use of DoTA, it's also the specific interpretation that offends me and thus requires a blog. As to whether people can't be creative. Well. I guess if that's how they want to interpret their lives and achievements, then that's what it is to them. It's their interpretation. :raritywink: But it's not true

4032594
Still trying to understand here. So you feel that personal interpretations are the most important part of interpretation, but that when leaving "personal-land" authorial interpretations are the most important. You're rejecting that there can be any sort of consensus of personal interpretations that becomes more important than what the author intended to say.

So, if I say my personal interpretation of Twilight is that it's a portrait of an abusive relationship, and Stephanie Meyers says it's a beautiful love story, her interpretation is most valid and valuable, even though most people I respect as critics have personal interpretations that agree with my own.

Correct?

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032625

Still trying to understand here. So you feel that personal interpretations are the most important part of interpretation, but that when leaving "personal-land" authorial interpretations are the most important.

All interpretations are personal. Other than maybe getting a "Oh, I hadn't thought about it like that." they don't actually serve any purpose outside of personal validation/understanding of the text or idea.

So, if I say my personal interpretation of Twilight is that it's a portrait of an abusive relationship, and Stephanie Meyers says it's a beautiful love story, her interpretation is most valid and valuable, even though most people I respect as critics have personal interpretations that agree with my own.
Correct?

No. I'm saying that the view of the author has to remain valid enough to affect your interpretation in some way. I couldn't read past page 3 of Twilight, so I can't tell you what it's about other than what the media has bombarded on me without my consent. But the fact remains that, although in your opinion—and whatever critic you like that said the same thing— it's not, it's still written and intended as a love story with sparkling vampires. Perhaps the author thinks domination and being abused is love. I don't know. I really don't give a damn about Stephanie Meyers or if she finds it sexy to be thrown across the room and beaten repeatedly with the leg of a mattress (Disclaimer: I don't know if that happens in the book, it's just what I interpret might be going on there from your interpretation above). Your interpretation is fine for you and some other people... but it's still not more valid than the authors' nor does it invalidate the authors apparent understanding of what love is.

(Slight edit above, I ate some words)

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032219 passing along to 4031988

4032748
Okay, so as I understand it, our difference of opinions comes in that
1) I believe there can be a consensus of personal opinions, and I consider that to be the most "valuable" interpretation of a work. (Yes, there is totally a discussion to be had about the relative value of consensus as it relates to different groups, but that's not a conversation we are having right now.)

2) You believe that an interpretation is valuable as it reveals different ways of looking at a work, and that it must contain some respect for the intention of the author.

So, from my perspective, death of the author is fine because what I'm looking for as the "meaning" is what most people are going to take from a work. I do sometimes enjoy individual interpretations, but I consider them fun thought experiments, and not particularly valuable. And I feel the same way about the author's interpretation unless it's in line with the consensus.

You feel the opposite: all there are is personal interpretations, and the true "meaning" is the intent of the author, which is more valuable than the rest and needs to be the primary one. You don't see a particular value in the consensus of a group, except in as much as you're going to hear more about that one, and if it doesn't account for the intent of the author it's not valid and that bothers you.

So I think here we need to agree to disagree because we have two different ideas of what the "meaning" of a work is and what the aim of interpretation is. I'm glad to understand your point, and I agree that from that perspective death of the author would be very annoying, even though I find it useful from my perspective.

Wanderer D
Moderator

4032846 :ajsmug: if that's how you want to look at it. :twilightsmile:

4032774 Already googled before I asked and didn't quite understand all that fancy talk, that's why I asked.

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