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View Full Version : Spinoff from "The 'existence' of characters" Thread



andrewhollinger
12-04-2007, 10:57 AM
Several responses about the existence of characters beyond the text and after the story mention the reader making the story theirs.

I am immediately reminded of two things.

The first is a scene from Finding Forrester where the author reveals that he quit writing because the readers made his book into something it wasn't meant to be.

The second is a high school English class where the teacher kept asking us to "read deeper" into the text. What she meant was think critically about what the author is trying to accomplish, the time period of the story and of publication, the rhetorical devices. But the conversation that ensued was ridiculous. Students were reading things into the text that weren't there.

I occasionally struggle with to whom the text belongs. I wrote it for an audience with something specific in mind. But then it is interpreted in many different ways. Some flattering, some not.

I have been on both sides of the argument because I can understand where the reader and writer both come from. It's unfair for the reader to put words into the author's mouth, but the author made himself vulnerable to that occasion.

So I don't have a permanent stance here. But I am curious to see other writer opinions.

ColoradoGuy
12-04-2007, 05:52 PM
I think once the work goes off into the world it no longer belongs to the author, but to the readers, who make of it what they will. I am enough of a new historicist (http://www.sou.edu/English/Hedges/Sodashop/RCenter/Theory/Explaind/nhistexp.htm) to want to know the context of the author, what particular circumstances led him or her to write that particular work, but beyond that I'm pretty much a reader-response (http://bcs.bedfordstmartins.com/Virtualit/poetry/critical_define/crit_reader.html) kind of guy.

Homewrecker
12-04-2007, 07:12 PM
I think once the work goes off into the world it no longer belongs to the author, but to the readers, who make of it what they will.

I agree and I still have moments of stamping my little foot and saying, "Nonononono."

I feel the readers possession of a story very strongly in theatre.

There a group of people take your work infuse it with some of themselves and what they read in it before presenting it to another group for their interpretation. (No film experience but probably also true there to some extent.)

I feel I have more control (whether illusionary or no) over my prose writing than I do over my script writing but script writing has input from others before it reaches the end of its journey.

josephwise
12-04-2007, 08:13 PM
The first is a scene from Finding Forrester where the author reveals that he quit writing because the readers made his book into something it wasn't meant to be.

I thought Forrester not only a weak writer, but a cowardly one because of this. He also reprimands the kid for dog-earing one of the pages of his book. As if that harms the meaning of the text. As if that physical copy of the book belongs to the author. If you have written a truly great work, you don't need to defend it. Not against creased pages, and not against varied interpretation. It speaks for itself.


The second is a high school English class where the teacher kept asking us to "read deeper" into the text. What she meant was think critically about what the author is trying to accomplish, the time period of the story and of publication, the rhetorical devices. But the conversation that ensued was ridiculous. Students were reading things into the text that weren't there.

I believe the author's intentions to be meaningless. Only the students interpretations matter, but ONLY if they are based on a thoughtful analysis of the text. Reading literature isn't about learning the author's intentions, it's about learning our own sense of the world. Our own processes. So, when an author pushes his intentions on the reader, the reader can no longer use that author's work. The work then becomes meaningless for those readers. By protecting his intentions, the foolish author is destroying his work.

robeiae
12-04-2007, 09:24 PM
...If you have written a truly great work, you don't need to defend it. Not against creased pages, and not against varied interpretation. It speaks for itself...
I'd argue that this is every bit as true for less-than-truly-great works and even for monumentally crappy works.

andrewhollinger
12-04-2007, 09:34 PM
I like this discussion.

This is pretty much where I stand today, with the occasional twinge of "But what about this aspect? Interpret that!"

I think, in general, the writing and reading world has evolved to this point. At one point I'm sure it was about the author. Now it's about the reader.

But I think this thought process has to go into our writing today. We have to either make sure our message is clear, or allow it to be interpreted at will.

Eternal Student
12-10-2007, 02:41 AM
I hold that if the text supports the answer, then you are right. If either the reader or the author has an answer than cannot be supported by what is written in the text, then they are wrong. The author that is wrong is being an ineffective writer. The reader that is wrong is being an ineffective reader.

If you can argue the point and the text supports it, you prove your point. Else wise we wouldn't have so many critical approaches..

Dakota Waters
12-17-2007, 01:16 PM
Yes. It's the author's responsibility to make zir intention part of the text. There's a difference between readers reading in something that's just plain not there (straight up wrong interpretations in terms of the text) and readers putting their own spin on something.

To my eyes, an author can do no better than take zir own text and offer interpretations of the words on the page-- to offer an analysis of zir own words and defend it. An author can't just take a person's logical interpretation and say "that's wrong" if there is nothing in the text to suggest as much.

Birol
12-17-2007, 06:49 PM
The problem with lots of interpretations in high school and college literature classes are that the students are trying to appear smart so they input things into the story that they think people want to hear without actually thinking about what the text means. Like Andrew, I've been in a number of classes where people will try to put things onto the text that it just can't support. Sometimes they do this because the text as spoken to them on a personal level, so they bring their personal experiences to it, but critical analysis is a far different thing than applying the text to our own lives.

robeiae
12-17-2007, 07:06 PM
The problem with lots of interpretations in high school and college literature classes are that the students are trying to appear smart so they input things into the story that they think people want to hear without actually thinking about what the text means. Like Andrew, I've been in a number of classes where people will try to put things onto the text that it just can't support. Sometimes they do this because the text as spoken to them on a personal level, so they bring their personal experiences to it, but critical analysis is a far different thing than applying the text to our own lives.
Not just students. Teachers/professors do it, as well.

DonnaDuck
12-17-2007, 07:08 PM
The best advice regarding reading I ever received was to just read the text because, chances are, what the author meant to say is already spelled out in the words before you. Unless you're talking about existentialism and then my brain just oozes. It irks me when high school teachers especially try to get their students to extract the most asinine meanings from the books they're reading as a means to get the children to think more. What is the meaning of the chair in the tenth chapter? The meaning of the chair is to have a place where the character can place his or her ass.

I had a professor in college that tried to get us to extract meanings from Shakespeare's sonnets and it got to a point where I actually wrote that I can't interpret the work because it could mean everything and nothing all at once. Considering the author didn't provide specifics as to what it means, I can't say, with any degree of certainty, that this means this or that. I find it's just wrong to put words into an author's mouth that just aren't in the text but like what others have said, if the texts support your theories then it's not like you could be called explicitly wrong. I know I've had people read my work differently and enlighten me to the insinuations that I had no idea where even there.

I think as long as you're not pulling some philosophical meaning from a text that just isn't there, both the reader and the writer can benefit from how the work is interpreted by others. Unless you're a Harmonian and thoroughly convinced that Rowling herself was wrong and that all of the text supports the notion that Harry and Hermione should have ended up together. Then you're just crazy.

josephwise
12-18-2007, 12:07 AM
What is the meaning of the chair in the tenth chapter? The meaning of the chair is to have a place where the character can place his or her ass.

I had a friend give a similar answer on an essay. The question was, what is the importance of eyes and hands in The Beast in the Jungle. His thesis was, so people can see and grab things. Then he went on citing specific examples from the text in which characters needed to see or grab or touch something.

He got an A.

So did I, and mine was about the need to reflect our own presences off of other people, or something lame like that. I was insanely jealous of the other guy's cleverness.

The point is, a good teacher really is just trying to get his students to examine the text, and is not asking for them to see something that might not be there. If the text supports a well thought-out answer, then the student deserves the A. Even if others disagree in an equally well thought-out way.