The role of intention in interpretation Theory combined with empirical research on reading Cecilia Therman, University of Helsinki HERMES summer school Prague Jun 18th, 2015
Structure of the presentation • Intentions and understandinglanguage / literature • Intentions and writing • Understanding of literarytexts
Intentions and understanding language Ludwig Wittgenstein: Philosophical Investigations §23 Understanding of language intertwined with understanding the activity in which language is used Intentions are an integral part of understanding human activity, and language
Intentions in understanding literature • Claassen (2012): Readers will form an understanding of the author’s intentions whether they intend to or not • Asch (1952) Readers interpret the text differently depending on who they assume the speaker is (Lenin / Jefferson) • Gibbs (1991): Readers will work harder and find more interpretations if they assume a novel metaphor is written by a human in stead of a computer • Zunshine (2006): Reading involves using our Theory of Mind to interpret the characters
Intentions in writing • Searle (1983): Intention-in-action, e.g. driving to work • Flower (1988): empirical research of writers at work shows that intentions are a web of purposes, often not clearly articulated
Understanding of literary texts • Veryfewaspects of ourunderstanding of a textareclearlyarticulatedwhenwearefinishedwithreading • Mainlyourunderstanding is potentialto form an opinion, ifunpromptedremainslargelyunarticulated • Anderson & Pichert (1978): recallinfluencedbyschemachangeevenafterreading • Zwaan& van Oostendorp(1993), Rapp & Kendeou(2007): spatialrepresentationnotcreated, updatingonlypartial • Sanford& Emmott(2012): aspects of a textnotprocessedin equaldetail • Articulated understanding emerges in transactionwith the text, the reader, and the environment (cf. Rosenblatt)
Conclusion I • Intentionsare an integralpart of understandingliterarytexts • Intentionsduringwritingareintentions-in-action • Ordinaryreadingresults in an understandingthatremainslargely as potential Traditional literary interpretation which aims to give an explanation for every detail is a highly specialised practice • On a generallevelpeopleagreewitheachother and theauthor, the more detailedtheinterpretation, the more likelyitis to differfromarticulatedintentionsorinterpretations.
Conclusion II • Does not mean that tracing the author’s intentions is the only meaningful praxis for literary scholars • But interpretations become more interesting if they state clearly how they should be conceptualised vis-a-vis the author’s intentions
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