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Authorial intentionality

In literary theory and aesthetics, authorial intentionality is a concept referring to an author's intent as it is encoded in his work.

Literary theory

In literary studies, the question of the validity of the methods of determining authorial intent has been debated since the early twentieth century. New Criticism, as espoused by Cleanth Brooks, W. K. Wimsatt, T. S. Eliot, and others, argued that authorial intent is irrelevant to understanding a work of literature. The author, they argue, cannot be reconstructed from a writing. The text is the only source of meaning, and any details of the author's desires or life are purely extraneous. In psychoanalytic criticism, on the other hand, the author's biography and subconscious state were seen as part of the text, and therefore the author's intent could be revived from a literary text -- although the intent might be a subconscious one.

In post-structuralism, there are a variety of approaches to authorial intent. For deconstruction, the authorial intent is again irrelevant and unknowable. Furthermore, the critic's will and intention are superior to the author's (cf. Roland Barthes's "The Death of the Author" and his S/Z). In other post-structuralist approaches, authorial intent exists as a psychological phenomenon, and texts endlessly recreate psycho-linguistic battles. For some of the theorists deriving from Jacques Lacan, and in particular theories variously called écriture féminine, gender and sex predetermine the ways that texts will emerge, and the language of textuality itself will present an argument that is potentially counter to the author's conscious intent.

For Marxist literary theorists, the author's intent is always a code for a particular set of ideologies in the author's own day. For naive Marxists (especially those of the Soviet Realism type), authorial intent is manifest in the text and must be placed in a context of liberation and the materialist dialectic. However, Marxist-derived theorists have seen authorial intent in a much more nuanced way. Raymond Williams, for example, posits literary productions always within a context of emerging, resistant, and synthetic ideological positions. The author's intent is recoverable from the text, but there is always encoded within it several separate positions. The author might be arguing consciously for empire, but hidden within that argument will be a response to a counterargument and a presentation of an emerging synthesis. Some members of the reception theory group (Hans Robert Jauss, in particular) have approximated the Marxist view by arguing that the forces of cultural reception reveal the ideological positions of both author and readership.

Reader Response critics view the authorial intent variously. In general, they have argued that the author's intent itself is immaterial and cannot be fully recovered. However, the author's intent will shape the text and limit the possible interpretations of a work. The reader's impression of the author's intent is a working force in interpretation, but the author's actual intent is not. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Authorial_intentionality [Jan 2006]

Applied to erotica and pornography:

The difference between the two terms, apart from the moral/aesthetic judgement, largely rests on the intention of the person doing the "making". It is assumed that the pornographer produces pornography with the sole intention of causing people to feel sexually aroused, usually for financial gain. Erotica, however, may also have aesthetic or expressive purposes; there is less sense of the producer manipulating the feelings of the consumer, and less implication of purely financial motives. There is also a difference as regards the medium; the word "pornography" is nearly always applied to written texts, film and, primarily, photographs. One may say "an erotic statue", but probably not "a pornographic statue". --Robin Turner, Debating Pornography: Categories and Metaphors via http://neptune.spaceports.com/~words/debating.html [May 2005]

See also: author - audience - literary theory - meaning - interpretation

Biography [...]

If a German philosopher dons a Nazi uniform in 1933 and endorses Hitler, you have to be extremely subtle, or extremely stupid, to conclude that this event sheds no light on his ideas. And if the same philosopher has an adulterous love affair with a Jewish student, then you must be either exceptionally high-minded or totally unconscious in order to argue that their relationship should not interest people who study his work, or hers.

Nevertheless, philosophy teachers argued during much of the 20th century that the lives of philosophers had no bearing on what they thought. At the same time, professors of English agreed that poetry should be studied without reference to the lives of poets. For most of a century, scholars in the humanities believed that we can best understand the world if we segregate information in strict compartments. Academe adored specialization. It opposed "the biographical fallacy." --Robert Fulford, http://www.robertfulford.com/PhilosopherBiographies.html [Nov 2004]

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