Dave Martin wrote:
> I appreciate the sentiment.
> All the same, I like to "know my sources". I have never been one to
> fully subscribe to or fully reject the post-modernist arguments about
> author's intent, that is, its essential irrelevance.
Let's keep chronology straight. Anti-intentionalism was the position
argued by the new-critics and others at mid-century. Hence it is by no
means particularly charactacteristic of "post-modernism" (whatever that
is). (The classic text of anti-intentionalism was Wimsatt & Beardsley,
"The Intentional Fallacy" (and by the same authors "The Affective
Fallacy") -- both of whom must be revolving in their graves from being
connected to post-modernism.
William Gray writes:
In reading you have to deal with the work (I prefer that term) and with
its setting (i.e., author, circumstances, forbears, etc.) -- to dismiss
either is, to put it simply, dismissive. I believe Pope was right when
he asked the reader to read "with the same spirit that its author writ"
-- this approach necessitates careful, open reading as well as the
desire to 'get a second opinion' (outside the work) to what spirit the
author was writing in.
This is _not_ incompatible with anti-intentionalism. In fact it isn't
even incompatible with many strains of "postmodernism," since the
"spirit" in which an author writes (the social, intellectual,
indeological, political, philosophical, economic, religious etc context)
does not have to be (in fact probably should not be) equated with the
For example, it is arguable at least that those contemporary readers
(later declared by Eliot to be mistaken) who saw TWL as exhibiting a
certain "disillusionment understood the poem better than Eliot did. (And
that is a view which is not tied at all to post-modernism.)
And it is certain that if you give full consideration to context you
will have to go beyond the author's intentions, since no one can
possibly know all of his/her own circumstances as well as later readers
can. Take for example "Martinus Scriblerus, of the Poem," from the
materials prefixed to _The Dunciad Variorum_ in 1729 (TE V, pp. 48-53),
which contains the following:
We shall next declare the occasion and the cause which moved our Poet
to this particular work. He lived in those days when (after providence
had permitted the Invention of Printing as a scourge for the sins of the
learned) Paper also became so cheap, and printers so numerous, that a
deluge of authors cover'd the land. . . .
For many years I carried that in my head as "a deluge of _bad_ authors,"
and when on rereading it some years ago I discovered my error, I also
realized that to see the _Dunciad_ as a protest against bad authors
(only or even primarily) rather than against _too many authors_, and
especially _too many good authors_ was to fail to grasp the full force
of the poem. I was working on _Paradise Regained_ and its critics at the
same time, and recognized that the phenomenon of too many [good or at
least important] writers had been growing since the mid-16th century and
was a fact that illuminated the Temptation of Athens in that poem. In
1550 any two educated men -- mostly men relevant here -- could be
reasonably certain of sharing each other's reading almost completely; by
1660 such a shared canon had in fact disappeared, though it would be the
19th century before this fact was fully registered. We in 2003 should be
much more prepared to see the pressure of this fact on the Temptation of
Athens and on the _Dunciad_ than either Pope or Milton was. To honor the
"spirit" in which the poems were written we must to some degree ignore