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garden, which other characters take to be of great gnomic significance. Since they
are unaware that Chance is a simpleton, they are, in effect, applying something like
Culler™s anti-intentionalist rule of significance48 to the sayings of a fool.The result,
as with Kierkegaard™s imagined conversation with the drunk, is comic. Taking
something like Plan 9 to be a radical transgression of Hollywood International
seems to me to be a matter of willingly adopting the ludicrous position that those
characters suffer inadvertently. It undermines any self-respecting view we could
have of ourselves as participants in a conversation.Whatever aesthetic satisfaction
we could claim of such an exchange would have to be bought at the conversa-
tional cost of making ourselves rather obtuse.
Aesthetic arguments for anti-intentionalism proceed as if aesthetic satisfaction
were the only important interest we could have with respect to artworks. Thus,
wherever other putative interests impede aesthetic interests, they must give way.
But aesthetic satisfaction is not the only major source of value that we have in
interacting with artworks; the interaction is also a matter of a conversation
between the artist and us “ a human encounter “ in which we have a desire to
178 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


know what the artist intends, not only out of respect for the artist, but also
because we have a personal interest in being a capable respondent. In endorsing
the anti-intentionalist view that aesthetic satisfaction trumps all other interests, we
seem to be willing to go for aesthetic pleasure at all costs, including, most notably,
any value we might place on having a genuine conversational exchange with
another human being. For, as the Plan 9 example suggests, we are willing to act as
if we had encountered a profound, reflexive meditation on the dominant cinema,
when, in fact, it is readily apparent that we are dealing with a botched and virtu-
ally incoherent atrocity.
Aesthetic arguments in favor of anti-intentionalism presume a species of aesthetic
hedonism.They presuppose that aesthetic pleasure or satisfaction is our only legiti-
mate interest with regard to artworks. Here it is useful to recall Robert Nozick™s very
provocative, antihedonistic thought experiment “ the experience machine.
Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any
experience you desired. Super-duper neuropsychologists could stimu-
late your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a
great novel, or making a friend, or reading an interesting book. All the
time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to your
brain. Should you plug into the machine for life, preprogramming your
life™s experiences?49
Nozick thinks that our answer here will be obviously no, and part of the
reason is that we wish to be a certain kind of person and do various things and
not just have experiences as if we were such a person and as if we were doing
those things. In other words, the pleasure of these simulated experiences is
not enough; we have a stake in actually having the experiences in question.
Applied to the aesthetic case, what I am trying to defend in the name of con-
versational interests is the claim that we have an investment in really encoun-
tering interesting and brilliant authors, not simply in counterfeiting such
encounters. Knowing that Plan 9 is a schlock quickie, but responding to it as if
it were superbly transgressive, is akin to knowingly taking the heroics per-
formed in Nozick™s experience machine as if they were actual adventures. It is
a matter of sacrificing genuine conversational experiences for aesthetic plea-
sures. And in doing so, one is willing to lower one™s self-esteem for the sake of
an aesthetic high.50
Of course, the problem I have raised with the use and abuse of the concept of
transgression by contemporary film critics brings up general problems with aes-
thetic arguments in favor of anti-intentionalism. For example, the pervasive
problems of allusion and irony are strictly analogous to the problems that we
have sketched with respect to transgression. One could render both Richard
Bach™s Jonathan Livingston Seagull51 and Heinrich Anacker™s anti-Semitic, pro-
Nazi “Exodus of the Parasites”52 more aesthetically satisfying by regarding them
as ironic.Yet I suspect that we resist this kind of interpretive temptation.And this
resistance, I think, can be explained by our conversational interests in artworks.
ART, INTENTION, CONVERSATION 179
AND


We have every justification for believing that these works are tawdry but sincere,
and behaving as though they were ironic “ whatever aesthetic satisfaction that
might promote “ would place us in what we recognize to be an ersatz conversa-
tion. We would be, respectively, laughing with what we know we should be
laughing at, and appalled along with what we know we should be appalled at.
Our conversation would not be authentic in either event, and whatever aesthetic
satisfaction we secured would be purchased by making ourselves conversationally
incompetent. Insofar as one of the abiding values we pursue in encounters with
artworks is conversational, we are not willing to turn these particular pig™s ears
into silver purses.
Stanley Cavell has argued that one of the audience™s major preoccupations
with modern art is whether it is sincere. Given the dadaist tendencies of contem-
porary art, the spectator cares whether he or she is being fooled by the artist.53
The encounter with the artwork is a human situation in which our self-esteem
may be felt to be at risk. Likewise, I want to stress that insofar as the artistic con-
text is a kind of conversation, we also may be concerned not only that the artist is
given his or her due but that we carry through our end of the conversation. In
terms of self-esteem, we have an interest not only in not being gulled by the artist
but also in not fooling ourselves. And this interest gives us reason to reject inter-
pretations of artworks that, however aesthetically satisfying they may be, cannot
sensibly be connected to the intentions of their authors.The simulacrum of a bril-
liant conversation cannot be willfully substituted for a brilliant conversation and
be a genuinely rewarding experience.
If these thoughts about our conversational interests in works of art are con-
vincing, then they indicate that it is not true that the prospect of aesthetic sat-
isfaction trumps every other desideratum when it comes to interpretation.
Aesthetic satisfaction does not obviate our conversational interests in artworks.
Moreover, our conversational interest in artworks is best served by intentional-
ism.Thus, in order to coordinate our aesthetic interests and our conversational
interests, the best policy would not appear to be anti-intentionalism but the
pursuit of aesthetic satisfaction constrained by our best hypotheses about
authorial intent.
These hypotheses, moreover, will often depend on facts available to us about
the biography of the artist. That the artist lived in fifteenth-century Italy, for
example, will constrain attribution of his supposed intent to explore the themes
of Greenbergian modernism in his canvases. Biographical data, in other words,
can play a role in hypothesizing the artist™s intention, while the recognition of the
artist™s intention, in turn, constrains the kinds of satisfactions, and, correspond-
ingly, the kinds of interpretations we may advance with respect to artworks.54
Not only is authorial intention derivable from artworks, pace the ontological
arguments reviewed in the previous section; authorial intention “ and biograph-
ical information “ are relevant to the realization of the aims, particularly the con-
versational aims, we bring to artworks. Aesthetic arguments do not show that
anti-intentionalism is the best interpretive policy to endorse given our purposes
180 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


with respect to artworks. For we are interested in art as an occasion for commu-
nication with others as well as a source of aesthetic pleasure. And to the extent
that communication or communion is among the leading purposes of art, autho-
rial intention must always figure in interpretation, at least as a constraint on
whatever other purposes we seek.




ANGLO - AMERICAN A E S T H E T I C S
A N D CONTEMP O R A RY CRITICISM : INTENTION
A N D T H E HERMENEUTICS O F SUSPICION


I . I N T RO D U C T I O N

The fiftieth anniversary of the American Society for Aesthetics comes at a time of
ostensible turmoil in academia. Many fields of inquiry “ so many, in fact, that it would
be cumbersome to enumerate them “ claim to be undergoing fundamental identity
crises; old paradigms are declared outmoded on every side, and new approaches
heralded. In such a context, contemplating the health of Anglo-American-style
aesthetics is natural.1 Indeed, since our colleagues in adjacent fields “ including liter-
ary theory, film studies, art history, and so on “ seem convinced that if aesthetics is not
dead, then it should be killed, we might spend some of this anniversary not only
celebrating the past, but also worrying about the future.
The charges arrayed against Anglo-American aesthetics at present are legion.
One could not hope to identify, let alone to address, them all in such a brief note.
Thus, I will focus on just one issue in order to demonstrate that not only is Anglo-
American aesthetics not always at loggerheads with contemporary art criticism,
but that contemporary criticism may even profit from the insights of aesthetics.
Like the art of the past decade or so, contemporary criticism has become
increasingly political in its orientation. One aspect of this is the familiar interpre-
tation of artworks “ often indiscriminately called “texts” “ for their symptomatic
political content, including especially: latent or repressed sexism, racism, classism,
imperialism, and so forth.
Moreover, at the same time that contemporary critics have opted for this vari-
ety of the hermeneutics of suspicion, a movement reinstating the relevance of the
artist™s intentions for interpretation has begun to take hold among philosophers of
art.2 That is, after several decades of living with the so-called “intentional fallacy,”
many “ though, of course, hardly all “ Anglo-American aestheticians are begin-
ning to perceive fallacies in one of their founding doctrines.

From: The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism, 51,2 (Spring 1993), 245“52.
INTENTION HERMENEUTICS SUSPICION 181
AND THE OF


However, an anxiety arises in this context about whether this movement on
the part of philosophers of art is not on a collision course with interpretive devel-
opments in contemporary criticism. For quite frequently the sexism, racism, and
imperialism attributed to artworks by contemporary critics may not accord with
what we may reliably hypothesize about the intentions of the artists in question.
That is, the intentionalist conception of interpretation favored by many philoso-
phers of art may be at variance with “ if not downright incompatible with “ the
aims of a hermeneutics of suspicion.
Often contemporary critics aspire to attribute properties to artworks where it is
difficult to imagine that the creator of said work could have intended said property
to be a feature of the work. One reason for this might be that the feature in ques-
tion “ say ablism “ is not in the artist™s conceptual repertoire. And, in fact, in some
cases, contemporary critics may wish to attribute a property “ like sexism “ to a
work when the author may have explicitly intended quite the opposite; one may,
for example, find sexism in the creations of George Bernard Shaw, though he was
a self-proclaimed proponent of women™s rights. So, if interpretations are supposed
to track “ or, at least, to be constrained by “ authorial intentions, contemporary
critics may complain that the intentionalist leanings of many contemporary
philosophers of art are a logical impediment to their critical practices.
From the viewpoint of contemporary criticism, the hermeneutics of suspicion
is a powerful interpretive stance. Furthermore, even old-fashioned humanists can
acknowledge that there is some value in many of the moral and political concerns
and insights of contemporary criticism.Thus, where a philosophical commitment
to intentionalism stands in the way of the robust and often humane practices of
contemporary political criticism, the temptation to reject the philosophical theory
presents itself.
Surveying the apparent incompatibility of intentionalism and the
hermeneutics of suspicion, the contemporary critic is likely to decry it as fur-
ther evidence of the obsolescence and moribund corruption of philosophical
aesthetics. The contemporary critic has available a number of scary accounts
here with which to discredit Anglo-American aestheticians. It may be argued
that intentionalism shows residues of such horrifying notions as: bourgeois
individualism, the metaphysics of presence, the notorious Cartesian ego, and so
on. However, in order to simplify matters, let me conjecture that the deepest
fear of the suspicious hermeneut is that intentionalism thwarts a lively and pro-
ductive critical practice.
The nightmare vision is this: the philosopher/legislator posts the sign “
“No symptomatic reading allowed.” But confronted with this directive, the
contemporary critic surmises: “So much the worse for philosophy.” Aesthetics
is dead; critical results are what count. Perhaps some hardline philosophers are
willing to negotiate the apparent incompatibility by abjuring the new political
criticism. However, neither response seems to me necessary or advisable. As I
will attempt to demonstrate, the claims of intentionalism and the aims of
politicized contemporary criticism can be reconciled in this matter in a way
182 INTERPRETATION INTENTION
AND


that may suggest a strategy for the fruitful co-existence of critics and philoso-
phers of art in the future.

I I . A N OT E O N I N T E N T I O NA L I S M

Fifty years ago, at the dawn of Anglo-American aesthetics, the philosophy of crit-
icism marched in lockstep with the most significant emerging paradigm in literary
studies in the English speaking world, the New Criticism.3 One of the earliest,
exemplary exercises in Anglo-American aesthetics was the putative discovery of
the intentional fallacy, a cornerstone of the New Criticism. However, as Anglo-
American aesthetics evolved, that position was predictably subjected to powerful
criticism, to the point where its antithesis began to attract a substantial following.
Where the New Critic and his or her philosophical allies maintained that autho-
rial intention was never relevant to interpretation, arguments began to be
advanced that, in various ways, maintained that authorial intent is not only rele-
vant, but crucial, to interpretation.
Critical practice, of course, has evolved as well. However, oddly enough, for a
variety of reasons, anti-intentionalism, despite minority resistance, continues to
dominate literary studies in particular and humane studies in general.4 Thus, on
one issue where philosophical aesthetics and criticism once significantly con-
verged, now they tend to part company.
Philosophical arguments for intentionalism and against anti-intentionalism have
been launched from many directions. One very compelling source of the brief
against anti-intentionalism has been a hearty skepticism with respect to essentialist
claims in art theory. For, fundamental to most of the previous philosophical argu-
ments in favor of anti-intentionalism is the view that whereas when it comes to
ordinary words and deeds, understanding is legitimately informed by intentions,
when it comes to literature in particular and art in general, resort to intentions is
inadmissable because literature and the rest of the arts are so essentially different
from ordinary words and deeds “ either in terms of their ontology or their aims “
that reference to artistic intentions is either impossible or counterproductive.
For example, some theorists defend anti-intentionalism by contending that lit-
erature is either an essentially distinct sort of illocutionary act or a representation
of an illocutionary act, such that it is impossible ontologically to locate authorial
intentions; while others defend anti-intentionalism on the grounds that the point
of art is to maximize interpretive play and that tying interpretation to intention
unduly restricts interpretive invention.5 That is, either the peculiar nature or aim
of the arts recommends anti-intentionalism.
The anti-intentionalist agrees that, in the interpretation of ordinary words and
deeds, attention to intention is relevant. However, the anti-intentionalist goes on to
claim that the practices of literature and art, and the appreciation thereof, are so dif-
ferent from the comprehension of ordinary behavior, linguistic and otherwise, that
intentionalist understanding is altogether out of place.The burden of proof here, of
course, falls to the anti-intentionalist who must show what it is about literature and
INTENTION HERMENEUTICS SUSPICION 183
AND THE OF


art “ in terms of their nature or fundamental aims “ that renders intentionalist
understanding with respect to them irrelevant, impossible, or counterproductive.
And, of course, as candidates for the special status of literature and/or art are
advanced by the anti-intentionalist, the skeptical intentionalist has the opportunity
to undermine each putative differentia between art and ordinary words and deeds in
such a way that our intentionalist inclinations remain unscathed.
That is, if we begin with the presumption that with respect to ordinary behav-
ior (linguistic and otherwise) intentionalist interpretation best suits our explana-
tory aims, then it falls to the anti-intentionalist to provide reasons why things
should stand differently with literature and art. But if no compelling distinction
can hive off literature and art from ordinary words and deeds, then the presump-
tion in favor of intentionalist interpretation stands intact.

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