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[Synoptic-L] Authorial Intention (was narrative structure)

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  • Shawn Kelley
    ... Fair enough. I do think that Mark had an author and that that author intended to write a story that produced certain effects. The question is: how do we
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 8, 1999
      Ron wrote:
      You call the word "authorial" unproductive in this context, but
      without giving any reason.
       Fair enough.  I do think that Mark had an author and that that author intended to write a story that produced certain effects.  The question is: how do we know what the author's intentions were?  In some instances we know a great deal about an author, as recent biographies of Kafka or DuBois demonstrate.  Here we have private letters, reminiscences of friends and family members, newspaper articles, diaries, pictures, audio recordings, school and work records, etc.  I'm all for including that in interpreting their writings, as long as we don't reduce the text to the autobiographical references.  I have been teaching Joyce's "Portrait of an Artist" this summer and find the relationship between the flesh and blood author and the implied author fascinating and very much worth discussing.  On the other hand, we don't have any such information about Mark or any other Gospel writer.  All we have is the text and its relationship to other texts.  We can infer intention from this information, and I do so happily, but we should recognize that we are making inferences from evidence in the text.  Given the available material we can do no more.

      What set my comments in motion was a disagreement between Brian and myself.  It involved the issue of immanent readings vs. straight redaction criticism (an opposition I'm not too crazy about; why not do both?).  Brian sought to frame it as a debate between those (like myself) who posit a speculative, constructed ("zany"????) implied author and those realists (like himself) who were content with the real intentions of the real flesh and blood author.  No idle speculation for him.  A noble goal, certainly, but unattainable given our source material.  When I asked him how he discovered these real intentions, he said as follows:

      The intention of the
      author of Mark could be inferred from his choosing to **omit** some
      material from Matthew and/or Luke (for instance the Sermon on the Mount
      or the Sermon on the Plain) and from his choosing to **include** other
      material, in some cases almost verbatim. Furthermore, the intention of
      the author of Mark could be inferred from the way in which, on such a
      solution to the Synoptic Problem, he **edited** the wording of the
      source material he did choose to include, so revealing his own **style**
      of writing and his own **theology**.

      Now I'm all for redaction criticism, and I teach it every time I do a Gospels course.  It's a great and insightful thing to do.  Given that, I don't see how what Brian describes gets us away from the implied author (the point of view of the author inferred from the text) and to the the clear and unambiguous intentions of the flesh and blood author.  I infer Mark's intentions from reading the plot, he does so from watching Mark redact sources.  They're both inferences drawn from textual activity.  It is not a debate between speculation and common sense, nor between subjectivity and authorial intention.  It is a debate about how to read the text and whether redaction criticism alone is true or whether other questions can be asked of a text .  What he describes is his inferences about the intention of the author based upon his reading of the text.  I do the same.  The appeal to intention does nothing to mediate between our position.  They are two different ways of reading that are resolved by appealing to the text.

      Any discussion of the author's intention, when all we have is the text and its relation to other texts, is a discussion of reading and rhetoric.  Therefore, it seems to me to be more productive to talk about that than about authorial intention- since any discussion of authorial intention necessarily returns to the inferences drawn from the text.

      If "authorial" means what the author had in
      mind, then it **is** productive in the sense that this is the only
      target which could in principle produce a single answer. You're welcome
      to ignore this target if it makes you happy, but in that case your
      structure will be intrinsically subjective.
      I'm not sure that the term subjective is all that helpful here, nor am I terribly concerned about multiplicity in interpretation.  When has scholarship, no matter what its philosophical claims, produced a single answer to anything?  I propose a reading of Mark.  I produce textual evidence to support that reading.  That evidence is either convincing or it isn't.  We debate it.  If I am just projecting my own whims on the text, then I won't convince anyone and won't be able to defend my position.  That is true for all academic debate, whether textual or historical.  The category of authorial intention and subjectivity/objectivity, comforting as they are, don't change that much.

      Shawn Kelley
      Daemen College

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