From: Chuck Kleinhans (email suppressed)
Date: Sat Mar 28 2009 - 03:36:37 PDT
On Mar 27, 2009, at 6:31 PM, Jim Carlile wrote:
> In a message dated 3/27/2009 3:27:01 P.M. Pacific Daylight Time,
> email suppressed writes:
> The intentional fallacy arises when the maker isn't offering an
> interpretation, but is claiming that there is content in the work
> that the work does not really contain.
> Not sure what 'intentional fallacy' you're talking about, but the I-
> F comes into play when critics or outside observers assess the
> artist's "intent" when judging the work. The whole "fallacy" part
> is when critics judge 'intentionality' (sic) to be germane as to
> what the work is about.
> According to I-F theorists (if they still exist) what counts is the
> work itself and 'how' it works to do what it does-- even if the
> artist is unaware of what's going on, which is often the case.
> BTW, artists can say anything they want to about their works, but
> their words are not the I-F. That can only be committed by the
> outsiders, strictly speaking...
A landmark day! Carlile and I actually agree about something. The
New Criticism literary critic William K. Wimsett in his book The
Verbal Icon, wrote essays on the Intentional Fallacy and the
Affective Fallacy (co-authored with philosopher Monroe Beardsly). I
don't have my books at hand, but to roughly summarize, he said that
the meaning of a work of art is in the work itself, and that it is a
mistake to think that whatever can be gleaned from what an author/
artist said they intended provides a definitive interpretation.
(Artists can lie, and sometimes do; they can also be deluded or
misleading.) Likewise, it is a mistake to assume that because a work
of art produced a certain effect in the reader/viewer/audience that
that was "in" the work itself, and offers a necessary and sufficient
explanation. (One's immediate personal or deep psychological
situation might shape one's interpretation/experience but that
doesn't make the individual's idea universally true.) The Wikipedia
entry for Wimsatt has excellent summaries.
A pragmatic way of understanding why this was important to New
Criticism is to think of what they were trying to do: get down to the
art work itself as the core of study and analysis and interpretation
Before that, it was often the case in literary studies to provide the
author's biography as a sufficient explanation for what a text
meant. In experimental film circles, esp. in the 50s and 70s, the
privileged form of presentation was the visiting artist introducing,
screening, and then having a q and a about one or more films.
Or, whatever personal experience one had with the text/film was taken
as universally valid. This is, of course, often the familiar form of
film reviewing in which the reviewer reports their own personal
reaction/evaluation and then assembles some details or arguments to
back it up. If your reaction was different, you are mistaken,
flawed, or whatever. When two critics disagree, it's King of the
A simple case in point of the two trends could be Water Window Baby
Moving. One can "interpret" it in terms of Stan Brakhage's writings,
statements, personal history to that point in his life, etc.
Sitney's discussion in Visionary Film essentially does this. (And
quite well.) Or one could take Maya Deren's reaction, which was that
she was repulsed and disgusted and angered at the film as an invasion
of women's privacy. (Its effect on her, her affective response to
it, was the last word on the film for her.) Or one could take Jane
Brakage's writings about the film (in the Film Culture reader, as I
remember) as another interpretation.
Another example: Brakhage's Sirius Remembered is a film that depicts
the carcass of a dead dog over changing seasons. It really 'helps"
to know that this was the family dog (who appears in Dog Star Man).
Sitney's discussion of the film in Visionary Film depends on having
this information. IF you saw the film with no preparation
whatsoever, your understanding of it would probably be very
different. (You wouldn't know who or what Sirius was, seriously.)
You probably wouldn't figure out it was a carcass right away, (and
maybe not at all that it was a dog) and you wouldn't know of the
emotional link of maker and depicted object. Or that the scene was
the Brakhage family cabin in Colorado, and that they decided to leave
the body to open nature rather than bury it.
Today, we are often likely to come across experimental work on
YouTube (Deren, say) or UbuWeb with no information about the maker,
or intentions, or critical context, etc. The Canyon and FMC
descriptions do tend to shape interpretation in many cases, but they
must be known. Some masterful interviews, like Scott McDonald's
various volumes of Critical Cinema, are there to inform and inspire
(officially) My intention in writing this was to teach and inform the
members of Frameworks about an important aesthetic issue.
(sneaky subtext) If it has the effect on Cari Machet of making her
feel dumb and shutting up, mission accomplished. ;-)
For info on FrameWorks, contact Pip Chodorov at <email suppressed>.