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suggested that we must advert to talk of implied speakers in order to deflect the
worries of anti-intentionalism, that begs the question at issue.
Authors, in fact, often make political (Gorky™s Mother), philosophical (Sartre™s
Nausea), and moral (James™s The Ambassadors) points through their literary writ-
ings. This is a commonly known, openly recognized, and frequently discussed
practice in our literary culture. These points are very often secured through
oblique techniques “ implication, allegory, presupposition, illustration (unaccom-
panied with explicative commentary), and so on.That is, such points need not be
and often are not directly stated. For this very reason, they are one of the most
common objects of literary interpretation. And there is no reason to believe that
in every case the implicit points found in literary works are merely the notions of
a fictional speaker or an implied author rather than the actual author.
This is not to deny that there may be literary works in which the moral, philo-
sophical, religious, political, and other views are only constituents of dramatic
speakers or implied authors. It is only to reject the position that all the implicit
points made in literary works are the representations of the implied commitments
of fictional speakers.
There may be no general epistemological principle that we can apply to tell
whether, in a given instance, the implied point belongs to the actual author or to
an implied author.We may have to proceed in this matter on a case-by-case basis,
relying on the results of practical criticism (of a sort that at least countenances the
applicability of intentionalist hypotheses). But given the practices of our literary
culture, that seems a better procedure than negotiating our lack of an epistemo-
logical principle by jettisoning the idea that actual authors communicate their
commitments to us through literary works27 “ or, to return the issue to Beardsley™s
idiom, that actual authors do not ever perform illocutionary acts, even in fiction,
rather than merely, only, always representing them.
Often it seems that arguments about the relevance of authorial intent to inter-
pretation become so preoccupied with the issue at the level of word sequences
ART, INTENTION, CONVERSATION 167
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that sight is lost of the fact that much of our interpretive activity is spent in trying
to ascertain the point, often the implicit or implied point, of large segments of dis-
course and entire works. For example, we may be concerned with what a whole
novel is getting at “ its thesis, as Beardsley once called it.28 And it seems to me nat-
ural, in many instances, to regard the theses we encounter in literary works as that
which the author intends, through the production of the text, that the reader rec-
ognizes as the intended point. If we can regard implicit thesis projection with
nonfictional import as a form of illocutionary action, there is no reason to think
that it cannot be performed by actual authors. Implicit thesis projection may be a
device employed in the construction of an implied author. But I see no reason to
agree that it is always so employed.
For example, in Donald Barthelme™s story “Alice,” there is a recurring strategy
of surreal and disorienting lists. In interpreting this strategy, we are not primarily
concerned with elucidating the meaning of words or word sequences, but, and
this is more important, in ascertaining Barthelme™s point in employing these lists “
that is, we are concerned with why he made the story this way. A likely hypothe-
sis is that he intended this mode of organization to suggest the currently fashion-
able, antihumanist notion that the subject is decentered.29 Here the object of
interpretation is what Barthelme has done, and even though what he has said in
the narrow sense is material to what he has done, the intentionalist idiom of action
seems central to the way in which we characterize thesis projection through artis-
tic strategies.
Not all literature is fictional, and not even all the assertions in fictions are repre-
sentations of illocutionary actions. Pretheoretically, literary works, including parts of
some fiction, can involve performances of illocutionary acts.Thus, if it is an appro-
priate cognitive goal with respect to performances of illocutionary acts to read for
intentions, then, in certain circumstances, reading literature for authorial intention is
plausible.There indeed may be times when reading representations of illocutionary
acts for authorial intent is misguided for the reasons Beardsley advances. Neverthe-
less, those reasons cannot provide the grounds for a comprehensive anti-intentional-
ism with respect to literature (not to mention art in general).
Moreover, if there is implicit thesis projection of nonfictional import “
whereby actual authors express their views about life, society, morality, and so
forth “ and a great deal of literary (indeed, artistic) interpretation concerns the
identification of such theses, then intentionalist criticism has a wide arena of legit-
imate activity.
So far, I have been concerned to undermine the first premise of my recon-
struction of Beardsley™s argument. Literary works need not only be representations
of illocutionary actions. But Beardsley™s second premise also bears scrutiny. Its pur-
pose is to exclude intentionalist interpretive activity on the grounds that its mean-
ing can only be a matter of conventions because its speakers (fictional characters
and implied authors) do not exist and therefore have no intentions. And, in any
event, even if in some sense “intentions” could be imputed to them, they are not
the intentions of the actual author, since he or she is not the speaker.
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This premise may have some plausibility if it is narrowly construed to pertain
only to the meaning of word sequences. But literary meaning “ that is, the object
of literary interpretation “ need not be concerned solely with the meaning of
word sequences even when it comes to the representation of illocutionary acts.
Literary interpretation may ask questions about the point of constructing a char-
acter in this or that way and thus may investigate the representation of illocution-
ary acts in a text in terms of the contribution it makes to the point of the
character as an element in the overall design of the work.
That is, in representing a character or an implied author and his or her fic-
tional illocutions in a certain way, a theme may be adumbrated.We may ask, why
did so-and-so say that in that way at that point in the text “ how does it fit into
the larger argument of the story or poem? And such questions about the point of
character construction and the representation of the illocutionary acts that consti-
tute them seem to me referable to the intentions of the actual author, without
risking the kind of ontological gaff Beardsley feels must arise when actual authors
are introduced into the interpretation of the meaning of representations of illocu-
tionary acts.Thus, even if it were true that all literary works are only representa-
tions of illocutionary acts, that would not preclude intentionalist interpretation of
literary meaning in the broad sense.
Of course, we might also wonder whether the actual author is as remote from
representations of illocutionary acts as Beardsley supposes.As a historian of philos-
ophy, Beardsley himself, along with an entire profession, appears to find little
problem in deriving Plato™s doctrine from Socratic dialogues. Surely these are no
less representations of illocutionary acts, in Beardsley™s terminology, than is the
experiential proof of God™s existence offered at the end of The Brothers Karamazov.
But if we can, at least sometimes, feel justified in treating Plato/Socrates inten-
tionalistically, with respect to illocutionary representations, why should we hesi-
tate treating Dostoyevsky/Alyosha similarly?
Problems arise, then, with both of Beardsley™s premises. I have spent more time
with Beardsley™s formulation than with Barthes™s, since I think that it is obviously
more developed. Nevertheless, though Barthes does not mobilize speech-act the-
ory, I think that his notion of the death of the author is susceptible to a number of
the points made against Beardsley. Barthes apparently maintains that when lan-
guage is divorced from the goal of acting on reality (“narrated ¦ intransitively”),
the relevance of the author disappears, and a space is opened for the reader to
explore the text in terms of all its intertextual associations.The reader, in a man-
ner of speaking, becomes a writer and the critic, a creator.
I am not sure that once language is used “intransitively,” the author becomes irrel-
evant, since identifying such a use would appear to depend on fixing the author™s
intention to work in certain genres or forms, namely, those that function intransi-
tively.That is, how will the interpreter know that the writing in question is of the
right sort to be read in a writerly fashion without adverting to authorial intentions?
Barthes claims that when writing is divorced from the purpose of acting
directly on reality, the author becomes irrelevant. Whether this is persuasive
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depends on what this divorce from reality amounts to. Does the notion of no
longer operating directly on reality reduce to Beardsley-type claims about repre-
sentations of illocutionary acts or to the notion that literature is essentially fic-
tional? If so, Barthes must deal with the kinds of objections rehearsed already.30
But if the notion does not dissolve into the view that all writing (literature?) is fic-
tion, then one wonders how often writing is divorced from the purpose of acting
on reality.That is, supposing Barthes is correct and once writing is detached from
the purpose of acting on reality, the author becomes irrelevant, the crucial ques-
tion concerns the frequency of this phenomenon.
Barthes clearly thinks it happens a great deal. But, generously construed, the
idea of writing acting on reality seems to me to apply quite uncontroversially to
much literature that is used to criticize society, to champion moral views, to afford
insight into social behavior, to reinforce values, to encourage our sympathies, to
elicit our hatred, to give voice to our experience, and so on. If this is said not to be
a matter of directly acting on reality, we need an account of what Barthes means
here. If he has the issue of fiction in mind, we have already provided the coun-
terexamples. Moreover, if narrating intransitively means just any writing where
the author is not in the presence of her or his audience “ writing detached from
the physical context of utterance “ that, counterintuitively, implies that such
things as book orders do not operate directly on reality.31
If Barthes has something else in mind, the burden of proof is on him (or his
followers) to produce it. For insofar as it is common practice for authors to strive
to affect reality by means of their writing and insofar as they appear in some sense
to succeed, then it would seem, given Barthes™s own argument, that in certain
instances (many?), the author is not dead, and there is no conceptual pressure to
treat him or her as such.
Undoubtedly, there may be poems “ one thinks of the Exquisite Corpses of
the Surrealists “ in which the writer opens the text to the free play of the reader
(though even here the author™s intent to enable readers to see the world differently
cannot be forgotten). Nevertheless, artistic attempts to secure the death of the
author by, so to say, authorial suicide, no matter how interesting and legitimate
experimentally, do not force us to concede that, in general the author is, in every
respect, irrelevant to the interpretation of the text “ even if we accept Barthes™s
criterion of acting or not acting on reality as the mark of authorial life and death.
Both Barthes and Beardsley frame their arguments in terms of literature,
though I think that it is fair to say that both would advocate anti-intentionalism
across the interpretation of the arts.32 But their anti-intentionalism seems to me
to be most persuasive when it is applied to such things as word sequences, whose
meanings are extremely conventionalized. In other art forms, where there are not
such highly articulated codes of meaning, our interpretations of artistic perfor-
mances are more akin to discerning the sense of an action than to reading.
If a choreographer mounts a dance in a theater in the round rather than on a
proscenium stage, we attempt to figure out the significance of this choice by think-
ing about what he or she is trying to do with respect to historical and contempo-
170 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
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rary theatrical practices relative to the work in question.The meaning of “theater
in the round” is neither fixed nor semiotically bound to other theatrical “signs” in
a way that can be read the way a text may be (either determinately, à la Beardsley,
or intertextually, à la Barthes). Instead, its interpretation depends on locating the
purpose that the strategy in question serves for what the author is attempting to
do.33 And it is hard to see how such artistic doings “ which describe most activity
outside literature34 “ can be explicated without reference to the intentional activ-
ity of authors.

IV

So far, we have explored anti-intentionalist arguments that preclude reference to
authorial intent on the grounds of the putatively special ontological nature of art
in general and literature in particular. Our own position has been that these con-
siderations do not require us in general to treat literature differently from ordinary
discourse, except perhaps in certain limited instances “ for example, where the
meaning of a character™s or an implied narrator™s literal utterance token, per se, is
underdetermined due to the constraints of fiction. But even in the face of these
limitations, there are many other cases and aspects of literary and fictional dis-
course where there is no ontological barrier to the cognitive goal of attempting to
discern authorial intention as an object of interpretation. Thus, anti-intentional-
ism does not, on ontological grounds, afford grounds for believing that authorial
intent is irrelevant in every instance of interpretation.
The ontological considerations of the anti-intentionalists, which were can-
vassed earlier, might be called “reasons of art” in that they declare reference to
authorial intent out-of-bounds because of the special nature of art. With respect
to discourse, such reasons of art presume that literary discourse is metaphysically
different from ordinary discourse in a way that makes reading literature for autho-
rial intent a kind of category error.We have challenged the generality and applic-
ability of this position and concluded that there is no reason why, across the board,
reading literary works with the cognitive goal of identifying authorial intentions
is inadmissible; indeed, at times “ for example, with respect to authorial doings “ it
seems the most plausible way to proceed.
There are other “reasons of art” that we have not yet considered. The idea
behind the ontological arguments is that it is in some sense impossible to fix
authorial intent and that the aim should be abandoned as any other impossible
goal should be abandoned. Nevertheless, an anti-intentionalist might admit that
the ontological arguments are not generally conclusive, yet adduce reasons of art
that show that reading for authorial intent should not be pursued, even though it
could be pursued.These reasons of art might be called aesthetic.That is, whereas
ontological arguments advance reasons of art that maintain that intentionalism is,
strictly speaking, impossible; aesthetic arguments admit that intentionalist criti-
cism is possible, but recommend that it not be embraced for what might be called
aesthetic policy reasons.
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Isolating pure aesthetic arguments for anti-intentionalism is a bit difficult,
since most anti-intentionalists believe in the ontological distinction between liter-
ary language and ordinary language, and as a result they weave their ontological
and aesthetic arguments together in ways that are hard to disentangle. The sup-
posed aesthetic advantages of anti-intentionalism are often introduced only to be
ultimately backed up by ontological considerations. But it is possible to construct
an aesthetic argument without reference to ontological claims about the nature of
art in general or of literature in particular.
For example, Monroe Beardsley writes:
What is the primary purpose of literary interpretation? It is, I would say, to
help readers approach literary works from the aesthetic point of view, that
is, with an interest in actualizing their (artistic) goodness. The work is an
object, capable (presumably) of affording aesthetic satisfaction. The prob-
lem is to know what is there to be responded to; and the literary inter-
preter helps us to discern what is there so that we can enjoy it more fully.35
Here, the underlying idea is that an artistic object has a purpose: affording aes-
thetic satisfaction. This is why we attend to artworks. Our object is to derive as
much aesthetic satisfaction as is possible from the object. The role of the inter-
preter is to show us what there is in the object that promotes aesthetic experience.
Nevertheless, one can readily imagine that what an author intended to say by
means of an artwork is less aesthetically provocative than alternative “readings” of
the work. For Beardsley, these readings, with respect to literature, have to be con-
strained by what the words of the text mean conventionally. Even with this caveat,
it is easy to imagine instances in which what the author intended is less aestheti-
cally exciting than an alternate, conventionally admissible reading.
Moreover, since the point of consuming art, and of interpretation as an
adjunct to artistic consumption, is to maximize aesthetic satisfaction, we should
always favor those interpretations that afford the best aesthetic experience that is
compatible with established textual meaning conventions. Furthermore, since aes-
thetic richness is our overriding concern, we need only interpret with an eye to
that which is most aesthetically satisfying and linguistically plausible.Whether or
not the meanings we attribute to the text were authorially intended is irrelevant.
The proof of the pudding is in the tasting.
Of course, the best reading of the text “ the one that is most aesthetically satisfy-
ing and also at least linguistically plausible “ may coincide with the author™s intended
meaning, but that is of accidental importance.What is essential for the purposes of
aesthetic consumption is that it be the best interpretation “ the one that points to the
maximum available aesthetic enjoyment “ conceivable within the constraints of lin-
guistic plausibility. Thus, for aesthetic purposes, we may always forgo concern for
authorial intent in favor of the best aesthetic interpretation.
Where authorial intention and the best interpretation coincide, the reason we
accept the interpretation has to do with aesthetic richness rather than authorial
intention.Where there may be divergences between authorial intentions and tex-
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