Authorial Intent - Literary Theory - New Criticism

New Criticism

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. W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley wrote in their essay The Intentional Fallacy: "the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art." 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.

Wimsatt and Beardsley divide the evidence used in making interpretations of literary texts (although their analysis can be applied equally well to any type of art) into three categories:

Internal evidence
Internal evidence is the actual details present inside a given work. The apparent content of a work is the internal evidence, including any historical knowledge and past expertise or experience with the kind of art being interpreted that is required to understand what that work is: its forms and traditions. The form of epic poetry, the meter, quotations etc. are internal to the work. This information is internal to the type (or genre) of art that is being examined, and includes those things physically present in the work itself. Analysis of an artwork based on internal evidence never presents an intentional fallacy.
External evidence
What is not literally contained in the work itself is external to that work, including all statements the artist made privately or published in journals about the work, or in conversations, letters, and similar sources. External evidence is concerned with claims about why the artist made the work: reasons external to the fact of the work in itself. Evidence of this type is directly concerned with what the artist may have intended to do even or especially when it is not apparent from the work itself, and is an example of an intentional fallacy.
Contextual evidence
The third type of evidence concerns any meanings produced from a particular work's relationship to other art made by the same artist—including its exhibition (where, when and by whom). The use of biographical information in a discussion of an artwork does not necessarily indicate an intentional fallacy. The meaning of an artist's work may be affected by the particulars of who does the work (identity) without necessarily that interpretation as an intentional fallacy.

Thus, a text's internal evidence — the words themselves, and their meanings — is open for literary analysis. External evidence — anything not contained within the text itself, such as information about the poet's life — belongs to literary biography, not literary criticism. Preoccupation with the author "leads away from the poem." According to New Criticism, a poem does not belong to its author, but rather "it is detached from the author at birth and goes about the world beyond his power to intend about it or control it. The poem belongs to the public." It is the Contextual evidence that presents the greatest potential for intentional fallacies of interpretation. Analysis using this type of evidence can easily become more concerned with external evidence than the internal content of the work.

Read more about this topic:  Authorial Intent, Literary Theory

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