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The Intent of the Author - The Fandom Psychiatrist
October 19th, 2006
07:35 pm


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The Intent of the Author
Okay... *deep breath* Now that we're past the 30 member mark, I feel confident enough to start a discussion on one of the "big" topics:

Authorial Intent.

What is it, why should it matter, what is the point in ignoring it, what is the point in supporting it, and so on (feel free to answer relevent questions that I didn't ask).

EDIT: Another aspect of authorial intent, in relation to fandoms, is when the intent of the author and the expectations of the fans don't align. For example, with certain non-canon ships that nontheless have devoted fans.

As is usual with this community, this is meant to be a discussion; you can state you opinions, true enough, but discussing them is better.

Also as usual, the "questions" above are not intended as questions to be answered directly; they are intended to be prods to get you thinking on the topic. I would rather see a rambling and extended comment than a Q&A style comment.

Please spread the word on this post; the more people who are willing to give out a piece of their mind, the better.

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(6 comments | Leave a comment)

[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2006 01:00 am (UTC)
For me, the basic issue of trying to figure out authorial intent is trying to avoid getting Jossed--that simple, no real moral issue in it. There's also the issue of half the fun of fanfic for me being how to make it fit unobtrusively into the background, so it all seems like a plausible series of events. It's kind of like playing tennis with the canon author... you have to, at least somewhat, anticipate what she's thinking, or you'll miss the next return and lose the game.

There is a bit of a moral issue, in that, as a writer, I like to try and be clear and to have people understand what I write, and it only seems fair as a reader to not deliberately ignore other authors, but that's not really what I'm thinking about when I'm thinking of it in terms of fanfic.
[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2006 01:33 am (UTC)
Like Fern, I think authorial intent is mostly about prediction. You have to consider authorial intent when writing serious fanfic that you want not to be Jossed. You also have to consider authorial intent when arguing ships predictively. You can't say that the author is dead and then say that they're going to write your ship.

You can disregard authorial intent when discussing why you like or dislike aspects of the canon, themes, &c.

Really, I don't see why there's such a *problem* with this in fandom. It seems pretty straightforward - the author ddoesn't "die" until the series is finished.
[User Picture]
Date:October 20th, 2006 02:51 am (UTC)
One of the reasons why I care about authorial intent is the same one other people have mentioned: I came into fandom because I was interested in canon theories and speculation, and discovered fanfic as an extension of the speculation game rather than a purely creative endeavor, so I'm all over anything that lets me predict what's going to happen more accurately. Beyond that, one of the reasons JKR's characters are so appealing is that there really are layers of depth that go into the characterization that we can't see as readers -- she has all those notebooks full of bits of backstory -- and while it's obviously impossible for a fanwriter to guess these things about somebody else's character with complete accuracy, trying to come as close as possible is part of the game for me. Therefore, I'm interested in how she sees the characters, and her interview comments and the notes on her web site are pure gold, even if they don't always tally with my impressions from the books.

One of the things that baffles me about fandom is the outright hostility people direct toward JKR for talking so much about the books and, especially, expressing opinions about her own characters (the nerve!) Sure, I've occasionally read a line in an interview and groaned because it screws with something in my fanfic world, but I can't imagine not wanting to know what she thinks, or not thinking the author's comments are interesting and important.

That said, there are some contexts where I don't think authorial intent counts; for example, if you're reviewing one of the books, you obviously have to judge the book in terms of what it actually accomplishes, not what the author says about it. I do think that talking about authorial intent has a place in literary analysis, though it shouldn't supersede what's actually on the page, but I can at least understand the argument that it doesn't.
[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)

Part 1--

Sorry I haven't been keeping up with the posts here as I'd intended.

Authorial Intent:

What is it, why should it matter, what is the point in ignoring it, what is the point in supporting it, and so on (feel free to answer relevent questions that I didn't ask).

That's a bunch of stuff all stacked together, so I think I'm going to separate them out:

1) What is authorial intent?

As far as I can tell, it's the way the author intended the text to be read. That means that he or she hopes that people are laughing at the lines she thinks are funny, being taken in by the red herrings that are hiding her true villain, rooting for the hero (and not hoping that he dies a hideous and painful death) and if he or she has a hidden (or not-so-hidden) agenda, such as the text also providing a commentary on the modern educational system, people get that message through the symbolism used and don't just ride along the surface, missing the extra tidbits the author threw in.

2) Why should authorial intent matter?

Well, ideally, each text has a purpose and if we're down with authorial intent then it's not all flying over our heads. I know that when reading Shakespeare, those Folger editions with the footnotes on the opposite page are very welcome, because otherwise a lot of the references are rather obscure today and the double- and triple-entendres Shakespeare includes fall on deaf (or rather, dumb) ears. And then I find myself appreciating what I'm reading or seeing performed a lot more. So I think being on the same page as the author, as it were, can help to increase the reader's enjoyment and understanding of what's being read.

3) What is the point in ignoring authorial intent?

I have to say--most of what I read doesn't involve connecting with authorial intent unless I'm doing it for a class or reading an annotated version of a classic that clues me in to what the author was going through while writing it or that tells me about some scholar's analysis of the work that makes me look at it in a new light. I very seldom know about what any other author besides JKR intends people to see in their work, and even JKR only tells us a few things after-the-fact. So you could say that a lot of the time I do ignore authorial intent, although it's really just a matter of only wanting to read for pleasure about 90% of the time.

Now, when you DO know authorial intent, when it's served up to you on a silver platter and you choose to ignore it, the only thing I can guess is that what the author said about his or her work Jossed the way you had previously thought about it, so in order to avoid new and disturbing thoughts penetrating your consciousness, you start talking about the author being dead or the text needing to be clearer, etc. etc. People don't like to be wrong. And one of the hardest thing to forgive someone for is being right, so if someone got it right, that's just something the folks who got it wrong don't usually want to admit. Easier to blame the author or ignore him or her.

[User Picture]
Date:October 25th, 2006 10:31 pm (UTC)

Part 2--

4) What is the point in supporting authorial intent?

Well, this question assumes that one DOES see a point in doing this, of course. For argument's sake, if one is making this assumption, the answer could be as simple as getting the message. If you're determined to ignore authorial intent there is a possibility that there is something that you'll be missing. Frankly, I think people have a right to miss whatever they please when they're reading, but I do also think it's pretty rude when someone missing something is determined to try to ruin others' enjoyment, especially if the others DO get it, do care about authorial intent, and want to get the message.

5) Is it possible to see things in the text that the author didn't intend without ignoring authorial intent?

I think it is. For instance, we all know that JKR is rather bad with numbers. When she has to merely add or subtract, she says, "Oh, dear, maths..." Thus it is probably extremely unlikely that she is familiar with Nash's Equilibrium or any other Game Theories from the world of mathematics. And yet--the type of equalibrium that JKR shows us is lacking in the wizarding world is remarkably similar to the theory that eventually garnered Nash the Nobel Prize. Do I think that JKR has read up on Game Theory or John Nash? (It's possible, only possible, that she's seen A Beautiful Mind.) No, I don't think she'd want to do that for a minute. However, people have found applications for Nash's work in the social sciences, economics and many other disciplines, so I do in fact think it's possible that she could have independently come up with a social theory that closely resembles what we see in Nash's work.

Just as cultures around the world have come up with similar myths and folktales without always having had contact, I think that it's possible to see something in an author's work that's similar to another person's theories without the author needing any knowledge of the other person's theories, and frankly, I find that convergence even more fascinating than when I find the breadcrumbs the author has left in the text leading me where he or she wants me to go; it's a kind of serendipity, I suppose, and as long as it doesn't directly contradict what the author is saying about his or her intent (this is key!), I enjoy seeing those parallel ideas in different settings, which implies that they are a manifestation of thought processes embedded very deeply in the human psyche, so deeply that different people in different times and places came up with similar ideas with no knowledge of each other's work.

If that makes any sense. ;)
[User Picture]
Date:November 5th, 2006 06:49 pm (UTC)

Here via Metafandom

(and a link from the "Harmonian" essay.)

The main time when authorial intent interests me is when the author fails at communicating. I'm interested in trying to work outu how Confusing Thing A ended up on the page or screen, and to do that, I often like to try to reconstruct the writing process: "What was the author trying to say with this? Why didn't it work?"
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