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Re: [mythsoc] Digest Number 1738

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  • Joe R. Christopher
    ... I agree that you can t find just anything in a story. The work has to fit together--the symbolic reading has to reinforce the literal content. (I was
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
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      At 09:45 AM 11/30/2004, David wrote:
      >Message: 10
      >
      > From: David Bratman <dbratman@...>
      >
      >On the other hand, Isaac Asimov recounted telling a professor that nothing
      >of what the prof. had said about an Asimov story was in the author's mind
      >at the time he wrote it. And the prof replied, "Just because you wrote the
      >story, what makes you think you know anything about it?"
      >
      >To which the answer should be, that he knows what the author intended, and
      >that ain't peanuts.
      >
      >There is more to any good story than what the author consciously put in,
      >but that doesn't mean that anything that one finds in a story is
      >necessarily "there" in any meaningful sense.

      I agree that you can't find just anything in a story. The work has to fit
      together--the symbolic reading has to reinforce the literal content. (I
      was trained as a 3rd generation New Critic, for those that remember those
      one-time-significant explainers of literature.) In Stephen Crane's "The
      Bride Comes to Yellow Sky," when the scenery outside the train window seems
      to be "rushing toward the east," the symbol reinforces the idea that the
      Old West, and its culture, is disappearing.

      Now, I would also say that one may do readings of a work that are not
      interested in the literature as literature. A Freudian may read a work to
      show the psychology of the author. (There are still a few Freudians
      around.) A New Historicist may do a reading of a work to show the
      reflections of the culture at the time of the writing. Etc. These may be
      illuminating in various ways, but not, I think, in literary ways. In C. S.
      Lewis's terms, they are using the literary work, not receiving it as
      art. (I would like to think that the New Critic, who writes about a
      literary work, has received it first. At least he is explaining how the
      work ties together as a literary artefact.)

      About the Asimov anecdote: I suspect that much depends on the writer. Some
      writers are very analytic, and they understand what they are creating
      fairly well. Others write without much analysis. They speak of the
      characters "taking over" or of getting in the writing groove. This is not
      a distinction between good writers and poor writers. Wasn't Thomas Wolfe
      one of the second kind? He needed help of an editor to get his fiction
      finally organized, but his style and his characterizations are
      impressive. Do critics _sometimes_ see more of the meaning of a story than
      the author does? Yes, I think so. (Not always.) The account by Sayers
      that I referred to in an earlier letter gives an instance of this, in a
      friend seeing the symbolic structure of _Murder Must Advertise_ that Sayers
      did not consciously intended--but the symbol reinforced the meaning that
      Sayers did see. As Williams said, sometime Holy Luck is with the writer.

      And, of course, sometimes authors lie about what they intended.

      --Joe
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