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Author Failure or Misinterpretation by the Reader?
As we have talked at length about the importance of the author's intent and the interpretation of a reading by the audience, the idea of differing views of a piece being failure of the author has come up several times. In the video for chapter three on Canvas, TS Eliot is speaking to a student (I think his name is Willie?), and he says that if a reader gets a different meaning from a piece of work, the author's intent should in a way be thrown away. He said that this scenario arises from a failure by the author. But I got to wondering, should all the responsibility be placed on the author? Personally I disagree with what Eliot said. A reader interpreting something different than how the author intended doesn't necessarily mean the author failed. Sometimes yes, that is the case. But I think the reader has a responsibility as well in the interaction between a writer and his audience. A misinterpretation can also happen due to the failure of the reader, even when the author has done nothing wrong in his writing. Don't get me wrong, the author places an immense amount of responsibility on himself by taking the task of writing whatever it is he may be writing, and it is the author's job to get his message across effectively. However, I don't like or agree with the absolute statement that a misinterpretation happens when an author fails to convey his meaning. What do you guys think? Should the reader also assume responsibility while indulging in literature, or am I making an argument where there isn't one?
I agree with your stance that in some cases the author is at fault when it comes to misinterpretation, but other times it is in the hands of the reader to pull out the intended meaning. It is the author's job to effectively portray the intended meaning, but also the reader needs to try to digest it as well. Much of the enrichment we gain from reading is from the active search for the meaning of each word and line. Maybe it is not as excessive as that sounds but it is certainly an active process throughout the reading experience. So, it definitely is a part the reader's job too. Also, it could depend on your belief in theory. For example, for historicism, it requires the reader to to their research in the author and the time period of the piece
I believe that the author holds a responsibility to an extent, but a lot of times it's the readers own fault. If the reader reads a piece of literature with their thoughts and emotions then the meaning of the piece will be skewed. The author can't control this. I think the author can put their idea/meaning out there can make it possible to reach that meaning with deep enough thought, but other then that they can't really do much for the reader. The author isn't going to help the reader read the book or just tell them the meaning. So I think the majority of the time it's the readers job to read the piece of literature responsibly. Because in the long run all the author can do is put the meaning out there.
I agree with most that it is ultimately up to the reader. If the author of a piece does their part affectively, then the meaning will be in the text. It is therefore up to the reader to read and determine this meaning. If the reader is not "educated" or "experienced", then they may not know how to decipher this meaning. Many readers have biases when they read and they bring their feelings and emotions with them when they read a text. In order to discover the true meaning, it is crucial that the reader separates these feelings and emotions from their interpretation of the meaning. The meaning is there in the writing, and should not be skewed in any way by the readers biases. The author, at the end of the day, has no control over how his audience reads his work. Therefore, it is ultimately on the reader to find the meaning of a piece without using their own feelings, biases, or emotions.
@xwing37 your idea of it being the readers fault has stuck with me and let me explain why. Everyone will have their own opinions and that is a given. There are some people who when reading can put these opinions away and there are others who often write about a certain essay or piece of literature with that opinion and that's where the authors meaning is disregarded. I agree that the author can't control this and also on how this creates a type of "skew" with the true meaning of the text. I can admit I use to read pieces of literature and just use my opinions to explain it, and after further experience with language classes I found that this is the wrong way to do things and I just need to put those type of emotions aside. To sum things up though you are correct in the idea that all the author can do is put the meaning out there.
I don't think the reader should get too much blame more so than the author. I think Eliot expects a level of maturity in analyzing meaning in literature and that the author should tailor it to that specific audience, not teenagers who read YA novels and call themselves critics. @nicole If a machine functioned or created something different than what it was made for, would it not be considered a failure? The same thing applies to literature and I really wholeheartedly agree with Eliot's philosophy. The author is the one to bear the blame rather than the reader.
I think we can see that there are two sides to this debate. I think we can see that the author was a foundation for the meaning of the story. the author's meaning of the text can be a big part of how to show what exactly the message of that story is. As Mr. Chisnell said the meaning of the story was very complexed and nuanced. As we say with an invisible man we can take many meanings from the novel. I would say that all of the meanings that we said were correct. Something else to discuss is the idea of the death of the author. This is the idea that the author's work takes on a life of its own and that even an author can be wrong in a certain part of the cannon which they have created. I think we see this with the reaction to the new star wars films where fans were unhappy with the way the cannon went. I am more inclined to believe that this is the case in a lot of canon
@Nicole I agree with what you said. The author has a responsibility to effectively deliver their message to readers. It also seems crazy to me that a story having differing meanings is to be considered a failure. Readers should read and take away what they want. Interpretation is up to the reader, not the writer. The writer can do their best to get their message and point across but it is always up to the reader to make their own interpretation. Finally, no writing is a failure. You should just put your thoughts together and create something worth reading. In regards to reading, readers should take away and interpret however they want because reading should be enjoyable and not challenging to interpret.
I think OP brings up a good point, but is it too far fetched to say that neither have "failed" per se? I mean a piece of literature can absolutely have more than one meaning, whether the author intended for it or not. So can we even really argue that the reader or author have failed? To me, the only scenario in which this is possible is in a situation where the author is factually incorrect, like a flat earth article or something. As for the reader, unless they weren't taking the reading seriously I don't think the can necessarily "fail."
@gardella I completely agree. I really despise the idea of describing any piece of writing as a failure. Even if it did not properly convey the intended message, every piece of writing tells some sort of story, and portrays some sort of message, whether it's the inteneded one or not. It's so important that we continue to deny any kind of writing classification as a "failure", because it is just offensive to the writer and offensive to literature itself.
I also agree that writing should never be called a failure, or at least good literature shouldn't be. However, I believe there is a difference between good writing and bad writing, or more thought our writing versus something a 4th grader has wrote. It is important to differentiate good literature from writing, because literature should be held to a higher standard than just any book. Historicism and Modernism both discuss ways to determine if a piece of literature is good ("poetry"). If a person is writing a book with hopes of it being good literature, they could fail, but it just depends on the author's intent.
I personally think it's not fair to call an author a failure because who knows what the author was trying to say or do. I think it's ok to not enjoy the piece or maybe not be interested but to call someone else a failure for putting their ideas on paper is wrong.
@aplitstudent123 How do you constitute "good" or "bad" literature? I know that the works of a young elementary student cannot be compared to the works of Shakespeare, however what criteria should we be looking for? Surely, sophistication of the writing a language usage is something that can be seen. There is also use of rhetoric, appeals, and thought-provoking ideas that play into context. This is not a perfect science of course, so how do we determine factors of literature? With regards to the author's intent, it is what we have in front of us that we are able to work with in the sense of the author's purpose and meaning. This leads me to another thought... when comparing works are we comparing intents as well? SO many questions!
I agree and disagree. I think it's often hard to interpret what an author is really trying to say with their piece, and it can sometimes be unfair to say their work is a failure, Imagine you write something with a lot of significance to you, but then you get to sit there and watch people dissect your work, saying "oh it means this.." or "NO, it means this...". However, if an author wants to keep the interest of readers and still get the point across you'd think they would be a liiittttle bit more shallow with what they are saying.
I agree that literature should not be called a failure. We all have different perspectives, that lead us to have different opinions. Literature is art, and that should never be disregarded, due to your perspective. Although, there is a difference between effortless writing and purposeful writing. Literature can still be art, even if a preschooler wrote it; it may just be lacking effort and purpose. Then again, it all varies from our perspective.
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