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Date: Tue, 31 Dec 2002 14:54:43 -0500
From: Joe Cilluffo 
Subject: Re: (urth) Get a bigger hamme

Chris wrote:

<<> There are plenty of arguments that can be made against this, and I won't
> dispute them. However, I suspect it's a sentiment that Wolfe himself
> I've always gotten the feeling that he's been reluctant to answer these
> questions about his work because he wants them to stand on their own, and
> that he's made uncomfortable by the prospect of adding something that will
> alter or "fix" the reader's interpretation.>>

I seem to recall that UOTNS is an example of this, that his editor talked
him into the volume to explain the prior four books, and that GW acquiesced
to this against his own judgment.

> Tangentially, I tend to read what an author has to say about his work
> anyway. With Wolfe I find it rewarding. The worst experience I had with
> though, was reading what Faulkner had to say about "The Sound and the
> and finding out that some of the things I found most masterful were in
> completely incidental, and that if he'd had his full way with the story
> printer imposed certain limitations on him) I would have been keenly
> disappointed with the result. Sometimes, you just don't want to know what
> the author really meant.

I tend to agree with Chris and those listmembers who have voiced similar
feelings that it depends on what you are reading the work for.  If you are
reading or analyzing for your personal enjoyment, then the author's "true"
intent is irrelevant -- one of my favorite Yeats poems resonates with me
deeply on a personal level even though the genesis of the poem for Yeats
himself was civil unrest in his beloved Ireland.

Even when you are analyzing a work, the author's intent isn't necessarily
relevant to a cogent or valid analysis.  For example, it is possible to
enjoy The Picture of Dorian Gray and to find textual support for the
respective superiority of each of Basil, Lord Henry and Dorian despite which
of them Wilde himself thought and intended to be most admirable.  Another
fine example of how irrelevant authorial intent may sometimes be would be
propagandistic works -- the filmakers who helmed Birth of a Nation or
Triumph of the Will certainly intended them to portray the South and Nazi
Germany respectively in great lights but that doesn't preclude analysts from
holding them and saying "see, here is a fine example of what was wrong the
South," despite the fact that the authors intended them to be the opposite.

However, one area in which you pretty much cannot ignore authorial intent is
if you are trying to determine what "really" happened in a fictional work --
if you are trying to determine whether Severian is really Jesus and GW says
"no, he's a Christian, but not Christ," if your concern is determining the
"truth" of what "really" happened in the work the author is the only
potentially valid source of truth.  Two points here.  First, if you are not
trying to determine what "really" happened then what the author intended is
irrelevant.  For example, if what you are interested in is whether Severian
*can be viewed* as a Christ figure, then whether Gene Wolfe meant him to be
one is irrelevant.  The difference being whether you are looking at the
fictional universe in which the story takes place (is Severian Jesus?) or
whether you are just looking at the work from a literary standpoint (is
Severian a Christ figure).  If literay analysis is what you are reading for
then whether the author intended something to be allegorical or humorous is
irrelevant to whether something indeed serves as an allegory or source of
humor (hence all those awful sitcoms on TV...).  The second point is that I
say the author is only a potentially valid source because it may be the case
that there is no ultimate source of the truth, even when considering the
fictional universe, because at the time of putting pen to paper the author
may not have planned out the matter at issue, in which case he or she is
making a guess just as much as you are.  For example, would Severian have
slept with Dorcas anyway if he had known who she was?   Or are there any
people left on Lune during Severian's time or Typhon's reign?  These are
questions about the fictional universe but which may not have an answer b/c
GW never pondered them or never included them in the text (and anything not
in the text, at least by reference or implication, for all intents and
purposes does not exist).

Anyway, that's my two cents.

Happy New Year to all!

- Joe a/k/a Shell


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