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Roland Barthes was kind of a twat

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1338435.  Mon Dec 09, 2019 11:56 am Reply with quote

The Author and the scriptor
Author and scriptor are terms Barthes uses to describe different ways of thinking about the creators of texts. "The author" is our traditional concept of the lone genius creating a work of literature or other piece of writing by the powers of his/her original imagination. For Barthes, such a figure is no longer viable. The insights offered by an array of modern thought, including the insights of Surrealism, have rendered the term obsolete. In place of the author, the modern world presents us with a figure Barthes calls the "scriptor," whose only power is to combine pre-existing texts in new ways. Barthes believes that all writing draws on previous texts, norms, and conventions, and that these are the things to which we must turn to understand a text. As a way of asserting the relative unimportance of the writer's biography compared to these textual and generic conventions, Barthes says that the scriptor has no past, but is born with the text. He also argues that, in the absence of the idea of an "author-God" to control the meaning of a work, interpretive horizons are opened up considerably for the active reader. As Barthes puts it, "the death of the author is the birth of the reader."

I offer you John Locke some 300 or so years earlier.

Book III
Book 3 focuses on words. Locke connects words to the ideas they signify, claiming that man is unique in being able to frame sounds into distinct words and to signify ideas by those words, and then that these words are built into language.

Chapter ten in this book focuses on "Abuse of Words." Here, Locke criticizes metaphysicians for making up new words that have no clear meaning. He also criticizes the use of words which are not linked to clear ideas, and to those who change the criteria or meaning underlying a term.

Thus he uses a discussion of language to demonstrate sloppy thinking. Locke followed the Port-Royal Logique (1662)[9] in numbering among the abuses of language those that he calls "affected obscurity" in chapter 10. Locke complains that such obscurity is caused by, for example, philosophers who, to confuse their readers, invoke old terms and give them unexpected meanings or who construct new terms without clearly defining their intent. Writers may also invent such obfuscation to make themselves appear more educated or their ideas more complicated and nuanced or erudite than they actually are.

When a person uses a word it is what they intend by that word that is the criterion by which their meaning must be judged even if their understanding is flawed or incomplete (but not if they are being deceitful as they are not reflecting their actual understanding). A blind anosmic understands a flower only in terms of form and texture but their understanding might still be informative to one who judges only by the more commonly vaunted properties of flowers. To seek to understand authorial intent is central to the success of any communicative process.

Radical reinterpretations are the work of the interpreter not the 'scriptor' and the interpreter becomes the 'author' of an essentially new work at that point.

1338437.  Mon Dec 09, 2019 12:09 pm Reply with quote

I have often thought much the same thing. Some people might read, fregsample, my novel, and interpret all kinds of stuff about the relationship of the two main characters, but that would be only what they thought. Everything that I thought about it is there on the page in black and white. Anything else says more about the person analysing the text than it does about me or my characters.

Alexander Howard
1338467.  Tue Dec 10, 2019 5:28 am Reply with quote

There is technical / philosophical writing and creative writing. Hobbes put the boot in to the abuse of language and the metaphysicians before Locke (I had missed that passage from Locke - thanks for that.)

Creative writing is different. It is an art-work and means something different to each reader as the words are shaped by our own experiences and preconceptions as much as the words try to mould our experience and conceptions, and this may be very different from what the author meant.

A poem read by a man may be read very differently by a woman. I was upbraided once by a lady about a passage in a long poem I wrote many years ago (unpublished for good reason) and I explained 'It's no more than a man describing to a woman the process of the tide entering the creeks and rushing up the streambeds... oh, I see what you mean'.

I think we all agree with the title of the thread anyway.

1338487.  Tue Dec 10, 2019 9:33 am Reply with quote

Alexander Howard wrote:
I think we all agree with the title of the thread anyway.

I was hoping for at least a small element of controversy!

It's not that I don't accept that people may take messages away from a passage of text other than those that were intended it's that, according to Locke, these new perspectives constitute errors as they do not correctly identify the original intent.

There's a quote that runs something like

No interpretation can enter the mind of reader without surely having first been in the mind of the author.

which is about a rigorously thoughtful creative process - I just wish I could track it down. Ironically I cannot find the author!

Other opinions exist...

All worthy work is open to interpretations the author did not intend. Art isn't your pet - it's your kid. It grows up and talks back to you.
- Joss Whedon

Things belong to the people that use them; not to the people who create them.
- John Green

Sure I'd agree that elements of fictional writing can, possibly should, be left for readers to flesh out according to their own perceptions. Scientific writing however needs to be precise - when it isn't the errors will be perpetuated and possibly magnified as for example an error of omission becomes interpreted implicitly as a specific exemption.

1338513.  Tue Dec 10, 2019 3:50 pm Reply with quote

This makes me think of Humpty Dumpty:

Lewis Carroll wrote:
Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ... "When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less." "The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

Interested parties can find an exploration of Humpty Dumpty's philosophy of language here.

The last two paragraphs of that link are particularly interesting, so I'll quote them here:

The link wrote:
In his Philosophical Investigations (published in 1953), Ludwig Wittgenstein argues against the idea of a “private language.” Language, he maintains, is essentially social, and words get their meanings from the way they are used by communities of language users. If he is right, and most philosophers think he is, then Humpty’s claim that he can decide for himself what words mean, is wrong. Of course, a small group of people, even just two people, could decide to give words novel meanings. E.g. Two children could invent a code according to which “sheep” means “ice cream” and “fish” means "money." But in that case, it is still possible for one of them to misuse a word and for the other speaker to point out the mistake. But if I alone decide what words mean, it becomes impossible to identify mistaken uses. This is Humpty’s situation if words simply mean whatever he wants them to mean.

So Alice’s skepticism about Humpty’s ability to decide for himself what words mean is well-founded. But Humpty’s response is interesting. He says it comes down to ‘which is to be master.’ Presumably, he means: are we to master language, or is language to master us? This is a profound and complex question. On the one hand, language is a human creation: we didn’t find it lying around, ready-made. On the other hand, each of us is born into a linguistic world and a linguistic community which, whether we like it or not, provides us with our basic conceptual categories, and shapes the way we perceive the world. Language is certainly a tool that we use for our purposes; but it is also, to use a familiar metaphor, like a house in which we live.

1338521.  Tue Dec 10, 2019 6:26 pm Reply with quote

That particular quote from Mr Dumpty has formed the basis of A level questions in more than one subject!

A level Philosophy is rather a niche subject, rarely offered by state schools. At one time it was famed for questions like "Why? Discuss", but these days it's mostly Thomas Aquinas, J S Mill, and friend of these forums C R Dawkins.

I don't really know what is expected there, but anyone who mentions Wittgenstein in an A level Eng Lang answer is probably destined for levels of academia that I never reached.

Since I am no philosopher I shall skirt around the main topic under discussion here, but I must disagree with the following statement from crissdee:

crissdee wrote:
Some people might read, fregsample, my novel, and interpret all kinds of stuff about the relationship of the two main characters, but that would be only what they thought. Everything that I thought about it is there on the page in black and white.

Unless you have devoted 3,000 pages to a novel which ought really to be 300, that cannot possibly be so.

Since I haven't read your novel, let us consider a short novel which we have both read, The Valley of Fear. Who is Fred Porlock? Does it matter who Fred Porlock is? (Probably not, unless it is Moriarty himself - which I tend to think that it is.)

When Conan Doyle tells us of the Ancient Order of Freemen, does he really mean the Freemasons? (And given that Conan Doyle was a Freemason himself, what does that say about the organisation?) That was long the usual understanding, but Lauterbach (1994) thinks that he actually meant the Fenians. (A group with whom Holmes might have had more sympathy than Conan Doyle thought it wise to tell us. Altamont ...)

The answers to these questions are not there on the page in black and white, but I have little doubt that Conan Doyle knew what he considered them to be. The Valley of Fear is a short novel which was probably read mostly on buses and trains. When we move on from there to works actually intended as "literature", there's a whole lot more that isn't actually on the page. Which is just as well really, because the Faculty which I lead would be a whole lot smaller otherwise!

1338549.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 5:56 am Reply with quote

I accept that there are almost always some extra layers to be considered when analysing any piece of literature more complex than The Hungry Caterpillar, and I will also agree that there was probably stuff running round my subconscious when I wrote Brothers in Harm*. My argument is that if, like Sir ACD, the writer is dead and gone, or is otherwise unable to tell you what they were thinking about, or what else they believe/care about, then any comments regarding "hidden meanngs" are only what any given reader thought, at the time of reading. The wearisome speculations of the true nature of Holmes and Watson's relationship are a particular bugbear of mine. Yes, certain passages could be taken as suggesting something other than comradeship, but I am fairly sure ACC did not even consider such a thing while writing, and he is beyond questioning now.

Unless his later interests prove to be based in fact of course......

*available in no good bookshops anywhere!

1338562.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 7:34 am Reply with quote

The unsaid or unstipulated in novels seems to me to be deliberately permissive of multiple interpretations. It is a direction chosen by the author to allow individual readers to connect with a work's characters on a personal level when an exact delineation of their nature and relationships would necessarily exclude some people from a sympathetic understanding. Without question this counts as 'making up your own story' and shouldn't be considered as anything other than a given individual's choice of how to conceptualise the details which the author has left up to the reader. In more genteel works the unseemly matters of the flesh are rarely addressed directly so they must be speculated upon if the reader is seeking a sexual interpretation.

In this way the non-sexual nature of LotR is directly responsible for all the Aragorn/Legolas fanfic for example because that's what some viewers (and rather fewer readers) wanted and they were not going to let mere things like there being not so much as a hint of it in the book get in the way. With Frodo/Sam fanfic OTOH there's a lot more written evidence to hint towards that interpretation.

In more modern times when it is entirely possible to write of non-traditional sexual practices and gender roles we should perhaps examine what is written about in a given work and assume that if details are provided in one regard but not in another then no details are available and any interaction is non-salacious. This is a device that more or less requires some sexual content in order to exclude sexual interpretations of other relationships where the author intends the very fact of no sexual interplay to be inherent to the success of the character interactions.

I tend not to read the sort of books where sex is an ever-present (the GoT books have a lot less sex in them minute for minute than the TV version) but in Schwartzenegger's (John Milius') Conan the Barbarian there is a guy having sex with a llama (0.03-0.08) so I think we can assume on the above basis that no-one else is practicing bestiality. Maybe we could assume that anyway for the most part but that small detail makes it definitive!

Alexander Howard
1338580.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 11:55 am Reply with quote

The unsaid can be more erotic than the explicit.

(Or in the case of the 'small house agent’s clerk' who swaggers in The Fire Sermon in Eliot's The Wasteland, more ugly.)

1338583.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 12:21 pm Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:
Brothers in Harm

Is the last sentence of the novel "We're fools to make war on our brothers in harm"?

crissdee wrote:
Yes, certain passages could be taken as suggesting something other than comradeship, but I am fairly sure ACC did not even consider such a thing while writing.

This one is difficult. Even if ACD absolutely did intend Holmes and Watson as a gay couple he couldn't have said so explicitly. Not only was such a thing illegal at that time - unlike Holmes's drug use, which was entirely legal until 1928 - but we are asked to believe that most people weren't even aware of the possibility.

I've never been entirely convinced by this, but the aviator John Moore-Brabazon does provide some evidence for it. When he wasn't busy flying he was Conservative MP for Chatham, and in 1921 he contributed to a parliamentary debate about lesbians. He noted that the problem with banning lesbian activity was that this would necessarily cause the general public to become aware that it existed, which at present they weren't and jolly good thing too.

Now of course, Conan Doyle had been to medical school and he undoubtedly knew what gay men got up to. Moore-Brabazon went to Harrow and Cambridge, so I have little doubt that he did too.

But ACD had been raised Catholic, and wouldn't have approved of it any more than our grandparents' generation did. Even if the idea of Holmes and Watson being gay had occurred to him, surely he wouldn't have ascribed such behaviour to people the reader was supposed to like. (Well, the reader was supposed to like Watson, anyway. Holmes wasn't a likeable fellow, but the reader wasn't meant to despise him.)

All the same, many have made the suggestion that this is precisely what ACD had in mind, and it's not hard to see why. As I said, this one is difficult.

1338602.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 4:08 pm Reply with quote

suze wrote:
crissdee wrote:
Brothers in Harm

Is the last sentence of the novel "We're fools to make war on our brothers in harm"?

No, it is in fact;

"They had a lot to talk about, they had known each other a very long time indeed."

I should possibly recognise the other line, but I don't.

1338605.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 4:45 pm Reply with quote

Not a Dire Straits fan, then?

1338610.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 6:07 pm Reply with quote

Not especially. Certainly don't dislike them, and quite fond of "Romeo and Juliet" and "Money for Nothing", but know little or nothing else they have done.

Oooh! "Sultans of Swing", that was another good one.

1338611.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 6:51 pm Reply with quote

crissdee wrote:

I should possibly recognise the other line, but I don't.

It's the last line of the track "Brothers in Arms" which is the last track of the Dire Straits album "Brothers in Arms"

[provided for the usual fee, plus expenses]


1338613.  Wed Dec 11, 2019 7:42 pm Reply with quote

It can be heard here.

I'd rather imagined that the novel derived its title from the song, but clearly not.


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