Thursday, November 09, 2006

More on Intent

There is another important reason to ignore intent when examining a work of art.

Sometimes, an artist fails.

The artist may have an intention with a work of art, but could fail to achieve that intention. That doesn't make the work unworthy of analysis; indeed, the artist's intent could fail and BECAUSE OF THAT FAILURE, the result could be a great work of art. Regardless of the success or failure of the intent, we still have the results to examine.

And as psychoanalytic thinkers and critics have clearly suggested, human action and intent does not always operate on a conscious level.

Mary Shelley may have intended Dr. Frankenstein to be a sympathetic character. If this is the case, she failed: he is a self-pitying coward who constantly evades responsibility (despite protestations of guilt and blame, he avoids actually being held to blame for anything; furthermore, he takes blame for making the monster, not for abandoning the monster the moment of creation). Does this mean I have to think of Frankenstein as sympathetic because Shelley wanted him to be? Of course not. Does this mean I have to talk of Frankenstein as a failure? No, I don't, and even if I did, it might not change the merit of the work itself: regardless of what Shelley was trying to do, I must deal with the results on the page.


  1. I agree. Intent can be inportant, but it should not be our focus when considering the value or success of something. If that were the case, people would consider The Sound and The Fury a failure, simply because Faulkner was dissatisfied with it (he only wanted the Benji section, and felt he had to add the others for it to make sense). Instead, I hold that book to be one of the best I've ever read and discussed.

  2. Indeed, that's another point in favor of giving little consideration to what writers say about their own work. Many brilliant writers are dissatisfied with their masterpieces.

  3. Though thinking about it further, we shouldn't even trust what Faulkner says about what he was trying to do in "The Sound and the Fury."