intentionality

  • By WoutDLN
  • 6 February, 2013
  • Comments Off on intentionality

Questions concerning authorial intention fall into two closely related categories–one for those about the nature and recoverability of intention and the other for those about the ontological status of works of art which embody authorial intention. The latter category involves the definition of “work of art” and the nature of the materials containing the evidence of authorial intentions. […] Perhaps we need a new word to  distinguish these two fundamentally different concepts of intention: the intention to mean and the intention to do. […] From this point on, then, when I use the word intention, I mean the author‘s intention to do–to record a specific sequence of words and punctuation that he thinks verbalize his meaning (whether premeditated or newly discovered). It is this concept of authorial intention which drives editors and critics to continue to use the word intention when dealing with the authority inherent in the initiator of utterance or discource. The corollary is that from here on I will not use intention to indicate the author’s intended meaning–which, if not irrelevant to critical and editorial concerns, is in any case irrecoverable with certainty (Shillingsburg 1986; 33, 37, 39).

A principle such as authorial intention cannot serve as a central criterion for the constitution of a text, if in the end the editor can apprehend it only through artistic intuition (Fränkel) or through the intimacy of personal association (Brod) or direct revelation (Hebling). The author‘s intention, which changes over time, may only speculatively be established on the basis of the written record (or indeed against the written record). In addition, the problem is thus merely shifted from the philological to the psychological plane. We cannot even easily determine our own ‘actual wills’, still less our former intentions (Zeller 1995, 24).

Questions concerning authorial intention fall into two closely related categories: one for those about the nature and recoverability of intention and the other for those about the ontological status of works of art that embody authorial intention. The latter category involves the definition of work of art and the nature of the materials containing the evidence of authorial intentions. […] It seems to me useful to distinguish two fundamentally different concepts of intention: the intention to mean and the intention to do. […] From this point on, then, when I use the word intention, I mean the author‘s intention to do–to record a specific sequence of words and punctuation that he thinks verbalize his meaning (whether premeditated or newly discovered). It is this concept of authorial intention that drives editors and critics to continue to use the word intention when dealing with the authority inherent in the initiator of utterance or discource. The corollary is that from here on I will not use intention to indicate the author’s intended meaning–which, if not irrelevant to critical and editorial concerns, is in any case irrecoverable with certainty (Shillingsburg 1996; 30-31, 34, 35-36).

I have also found that one cannot talk about fluid texts without some consideration of intentionality. This, of course, is heresy. […] It is, of course, a truism that we cannot retrieve the creative process, nor, according to the ‘intentional fallacy,’ can we use some magically derived sense of an [sic] writer’s intentions as a validation of or substitute for an interpretation of a text. But in the past century, some advocates of this tenet have grown so doctrinaire as to commit what might be called the Intentional Fallacy Fallacy, which is essentially to imagine that because intentions have no critical relevance they are not even discussable. [The concept of] textual fluidity offers a more focussed perspective on intentionality that allows us to sharpen the dimensions of speculation. Fluid texts are the material evidence of shifting intentions. Indeed, the fact of revision manifests the intent to alter meaning (Bryant 2002, 8-9).

A great deal of twentieth-century editing — and, in fact, editing of centuries before —as G. Thomas Tanselle notes, was based on finding an authoritative text based on “final intentions” (Tanselle 1995: 15–16). Ordinarily editors emphasized the intentions of the “author” (a contested term in recent decades) and neglected a range of other possible collaborators including friends, proofreaders, editors, and compositors, among others. A concern with final intentions makes sense at one level: the final version of a work is often stronger — more fully developed, more carefully considered, more precisely phrased — than an early or intermediate draft of it. But for poets, novelists, and dramatists whose work may span decades, there is real question about the wisdom of relying on last choices. Are people at their sharpest, most daring, and most experimental at the end of life when energies (and sometimes clarity) fade and other signs of age begin to show? Further, the final version of a text is often even more mediated by the concerns of editors and censors than are earlier versions, and the ability of anyone to discern what a writer might have hoped for, absent these social pressures, is open to question (Price 2007, 345).

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