Miles Coverdale (manos74) wrote,
Miles Coverdale

From the interview meme from last week, here are kallah's questions.

1) Does authorial intent trump reader interpretation, or vice versa? Or neither?

I would have to go with "neither," though my reasons for doing so are long and complicated.

Well, it's a complex question to begin with -- you've just summed up quite neatly exactly the sort of issue that literature departments have been wrestling with for about the past forty years at least. You could write a book about it -- in fact, many people have, over the years. I would say it's the English department's equivalent to quantum mechanics, but that's a little too impudent a comparison...

I don't much like the thought of having a reading of a text be teleological -- that is to say, I don't quite hold with the idea of "there is One True Meaning to a text," and all other interpretations are Wrong. (This also ties back in with the battles over the Western Canon; we read -- or, more frequently, students are required to read -- the Great Books Of Western Civilization not because they are roadmaps to ultimate and objective truths about humanity, but because These Are The Books We've Always Read, Damn It. In fact, current literary theory holds that what we think of as Objective Truths really serve to benefit and support a very specific worldview, but that's a subject for another, longer, discussion.)
(It is also worth mentioning at this point that Roland Barthes famously said, in essence, that the Author was dead -- meaning, in simpler terms, that the meaning of the text was entirely up to the readers themselves, rather than solely the writer's prerogative. I don't think I buy his argument wholly, but there's parts of it that I really, really like.)
And seeing things as Reader's Interpretation vs. Author's Intent... well, to me, it strikes me as making reading into a hierarchical contest between writer and reader, with only one walking away. Complicating the issue is the fact that authorial intent isn't always recognizable, and that authors can change their opinions over what their texts "mean" over time. (Or they could be deliberately lying to save themselves -- remind me to tell you sometime about the opening-night performance of Verdi's Aida, and why the audience incited a riot from it.)

Hm. If I had to put this all in a coconut-shell: Someone's own reading of a text is "valid" as long as s/he can make a convincing case to support that reading, even if it directly contradicts what an author has said. (If it works for you as a way to look at and/or understand the text, I say go for it.) However, other readers are not at all required to agree with, or even believe, your reading. And again, this goes back to "Can you support this reading of the text?" (If you assert that, say, Ishmael and Queequeg are really getting it on when we're not looking, you need to have a good, clear answer ready when someone says "What are you, high?" And you need to be prepared for the other person to still not buy your explanation.) We all read differently, and things that go un-noticed by one reader can be like huge red flags for another -- and vice-versa.
We, as readers, need to consider the context in which an author wrote, but we also need to couple that context to the assumptions we bring to the text -- if we automatically condemn, say, Kipling for displaying racist and imperialist attitudes, we miss out on taking a deeper look at his work and finding ways in which he criticized Victorian colonialism. However, this context doesn't mean that we should totally ignore our own personal reactions to him either.

...this went on for rather a long while, and it may not be entirely clear. I regret this. But this is an area where clear-cut and short answers are few and far between.

2) What fandom would you like to be into, and aren't?

I hear good things from a lot of people about the new Battlestar Galactica, but our lack of the Sci-Fi channel has kept me away from seeing it yet. Still, I can always Netflix it; I just haven't gotten around to it yet.

And Naruto, well... they say it's good. But I've only seen a few episodes, and overall I've been pretty "meh" about it.

3) How did you find your favorite poets?
4) Why did you choose to major in literature?

I'm combining these two answers because they're intimately related.

In early 1996, when I was in an American Literature Since 1865 course, I was skimming through the anthology for the class and I ran across two poems: e.e. cummings' "pity this busy monster, manunkind" and T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock." We read the Eliot poem later on in the class (though not the cummings one, but we did read some others by him, including "buffalo bill's" and "the cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls"), and... I remember my classmates being dumbfounded -- why should anyone care about a poem about this middle-aged stuffed shirt and what's going through his head? For me, though... it rang true. It grabbed me by the collar and said "Listen to this, this is important, this matters" in a way that very few other things I've read have. With the cummings, it was the same thing.

I can't remember if it was more like a lightning bolt in the night or a gradual awakening from a dream... maybe it was a combination of both... but I said to myself "I want more" -- I wanted to be a part of this world where we read things like this and talked about them, and I wanted to be able to strike the spark that kindled that sort of fire in others as well.

I majored in literature because I looked at some poems, and to me, they reflected Truth.

5) How do you define masculinity, and how important do you consider it to be?

Another complex question, and one that I have far less of a handle on than the first one.

I (like everyone else) have been surrounded by images and signs of what A Man Ought To Be, often contradictory at times. And there are some qualities and actions that are Stereotypically Male that I really strive to have (standing up to defend what you believe in, bravery in the face of danger, skill with tools and/or practical construction) -- but at the same time, I have no idea why I should consider them to be more male then female (or gender-neutral at the very least). I don't understand why having a factory-installed Y chromosome has any bearing at all on whether or not you can put together a unit of shelving correctly. Plus, there are some qualities that are Stereotypically Female that I also really strive to have (sensitivity, emotional intuition, compassion for others).

And of course, there's a whole bunch of the Sterotypical Male stuff that I find problematic or even repulsive (showing politeness or compassion is a sign of weakness, all weakness is really sexual impotence at core, dominance of others is the only way to survive, pain is good and extreme pain is extremely good).

As for how important masculinity is... Well, I think we need to understand all the different messages that inform masculinity in society at large, and view them critically. So from a social standpoint, masculinity (or, to be more precise, what other people think constitutes masculinity) is quite important. To me personally, however, not so much. I tend to see maturity (or at least mature behavior) as more critical than gender traits. Acting "like a man" is not as important to me as acting like an adult. (Which perhaps might make me a bit of a hypocrite to say, considering my own maturity often seems to go on long extended vacations.)

I've gotten to asking questions of most everyone who's requested it; I should have everyone by tonight.
Tags: memes
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