Hello and welcome to In Too Deep, where I over-analyse a certain section of pop culture.
Is Woody from Toy Story Jesus? I’ve made this interpretation in another blog, but is it a correct one? Or is that what the author intended to do that has the most impact on how we interpret their work? So to cut a long story short: Am I now out of a job?
Before we start I feel it prudent to establish a few definitions. Firstly there’s Utterance Meaning, aka what the words used mean in the context of utterance. Simple enough really, when I say â€œStephen Fry is gayâ€ you know I’m using it in the sense that he is a homosexual man and not a happy bubbly man. You know what the word means via the context you find it in. Then there’s Uttererâ€™s Meaning, aka what the speaker meant by the words used. For example, when someone says â€œStephen Fry is a faggotâ€, they’re not referring to him as a collection or bundle of sticks. It’s in this case that the word is being used as an insult. The second one is where the idea of intention comes into it.
The Intentional Fallacy deals with the idea that works are deliberately created. I mean nobody just accidentally writes a novel, no matter how incompetent they are. Likewise no one just accidentally draws a picture (unless they’re an elephant, but you can’t trust those elephants). But works of art are deliberately created. The writer chose to use those words, the artist chose to use those colours. That much is pretty clear. So does that mean author’s intention is the crux of the matter? I mean they clearly chose to write the things they wrote, thus it must be set in stone that it’s the only correct interpretation. But humans are an irrational creature that don’t think logically or anything like that.
For example take the Rorschach test. It’s a famous test where you look at an inkblot and say what you see in it. Now lets imagine that the creator of this test very deliberately drew it so you’d obviously be able to see a donkey in one of the inkblots. Does that mean you can see something other than a donkey in it? Well of course. Just because the artist intended to draw a donkey doesn’t mean there isn’t other interpretations of it. For example, take Toy Story and Charlie & The Chocolate Factory. You probably see them as nothing more then harmless kids films. I see them as the story of Jesus and the Devil respectively. Now I’ve written blogs about these interpretations in the past that I can’t be bothered hunting out and linking. Nevertheless these interpretations exist and can have strong arguments for them. Now did John Lasseter sit down to tell the Passion of the Cowboy? Did Roald Dahl plan to scare kids straight by having a demonic figure take an interest in a small child? (Actually Roald Dahl was a pretty messed up guy when you look at his children’s books, cos I doubt half of it would be published nowadays). No, I doubt they intended to do it, but nevertheless the interpretation still exists. Does it make the correct one because I can make such a strong argument for it?
Well there are four ways of looking at it, relating to what I’ve been saying earlier in this blog. The first is that of Hypothetical Intentionalism: What did they hypothetical author of the work have in mind when they wrote it? This is the sort of interpretation that takes into account the various things surrounding the author at the time. Things like the time they were living in, the country, their country of origin, local customs and cultures etc. Taking both what was written (or created, when we refer to artists in general) and the world the author would be in allows us to imagine the hypothetical author. This probably best works with Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. While Carroll merely wrote a story about a girl and her strange adventures, there is also a lot of social commentary and critique of Victorian society. So the hypothetical author ideal refers to what an author could have said in the position they found themselves in.
The next is Extreme Actual Intentionalism: What the author said is what the author means. Or, to use the somewhat well-known joke: A passage in the book says â€œThe curtains were blue.â€ You teacher says that â€œThe curtains represent his immense depression and his lack of will to carry on.â€ The author just replies with â€œThe curtains were @#$^ing blueâ€. What is on paper is the only way to interpret it. Or if they confirmed it interviews via Word of God. The best example of this is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Many people have it in their minds that it’s about how censorship is bad and we shouldn’t destroy information. What Mr Bradbury actually said it was about was the idea of how TV is making people dumber (I bet he loved the film adaptation then). In this case any other interpretations are just wrong because the author has made it very clear what they think their work is about.
The third is Modest Actual Intentionalism: The work means what the author intended it to mean. his probably best works in relation to Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels. On the surface it’s the story about a man travelling the world, but underneath there is a lot of social commentary. He intended for it to satirical, even if it isn’t overt. Ergo we go this route. We work out what the author was intending to say, even if he didn’t come out and say it in the work properly.
The final view Value Maximization: Get the possible value out of the work, no matter how crap it is. So is Twilight a brilliant romance novel then? I mean it hasn’t a brilliant set-up, immortal vampire falling in love with a mortal, not knowing what to do in that regards. A gripping tale of love and lost. Yes we can easily get a lot of value out of what Stephanie Myrer wrote. But that doesn’t then make her a good writer. She’s still terrible, and Twilight is still a bad book. But this Value Maximization, despite being a really big cheat, is perhaps one of the easiest ways of defending your interpretation of something.
So there you have it. Are my crazy interpretations right, or should we really just be listening to what the author has been saying all along? If you disagree with anything, or have anything to add, feel free to leave a comment. Till next time.