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Another Thing about Author’s Intention

October 7, 2009

Awhile back I generated a bunch of griping (and I mean that in the nicest way possible!) by saying that an author’s intention is not the only key to understanding the meaning of a text or speech act. Here’s another thought on the matter.

Let’s say that I’m a spy, and I have a code. I greet strangers in the local coffee shop, start chatting it up with them, and at some point in the conversation I always say “Man, the Ants in my apartment are Really Xcellently huge!” (Get it? M A R X?)

To most people, this will mean: “the dude who talks funny has ants in his apartment.”

For that other Marxist I’m meeting, it will mean: “I’m the other Marxist you’re looking for.”

See? The meaning doesn’t hang merely on what I intend, but also how it is received by others. An account of reception is just as important as an account of an author’s intention. Meaning is produced proleptically.

And you can’t get around this point by saying that I intend both things. At no point in time do I intend any individual to hear both meanings. If I’m talking to the other Marxist, I do not at all intend for her to think I have ants in my apartment. If I’m talking to a stranger, I do not at all intend for her to think I’m a Marxist. What I will have intended to any particular person (unidentified as yet) will be determined after the fact—which, again, is why meaning is necessarily a two-part proleptic thingy.

I love the word “proleptic.” I’m going to have to start using it more often.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Alderson Warm-Fork permalink
    October 7, 2009 10:54 pm

    So the author’s intention is for meaning to depend on facts about the listener. Hence the meaning depends on facts about the listener. Simples.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    October 8, 2009 8:52 am

    Aw man, I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic or not!

  3. Alderson Warm-Fork permalink
    October 8, 2009 10:40 pm

    I don’t…I’m…wait, am I? A little, maybe. I just mean – this doesn’t look like it’s a hard counter-example for anyone to deal with if they can make their theories a bit complex. After all, the ambiguity here is intended.

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