The “Intentional Fallacy,” as described by Wimsatt and Beardsley, claims that a work of literary art (or any art for that matter) is and must be recognized as being completely separated from the author’s supposed intention. The fallacy is that people believe that the author of a piece holds some divine all-knowing authority on the meaning and Truth of the piece. Wimsatt and Beardsley state that (1) you cannot possibly assume what the authors intention was while writing the piece: “If a poet had a toothache at the moment of conceiving a poem, that would be a part of the experience” (474). (2) Even if you some how managed to figure out the author’s intention, it would not matter because the author’s authority on the piece ended when he put his pen down: “The evaluation of the work of art remains public; the work of art is measured against something outside the author” (477).
Go with me here:
Just as a piece of literary art is separated from the author at the moment of delivery to the public, so too are babies separated from their parents at the moment of birth. Sure, parents are responsible for the health and general well-being of their children in ways that authors are not responsible for their works, but, while reading Wimsatt and Beardsley, I was reminded of how bizarre it is when strangers compliment parents on how adorable their babies are, and the parents respond with “thank you.”
The kid is a person that is completely separate from the parent taking credit for his/her cute chubby cheeks or charming character. As we grow up, strangers don’t necessarily look to our parents intentions to explain the people we’ve become. It is not a perfect metaphor, and my cartooning is admittedly very subpar, but I found it to be a personification of the intentional fallacy. An author’s work is very much like his child. He conceived it, cherished it, willed it to exist and survive. He basks in its success. However, it would be wrong for critics or readers to desire his consultation on all interaction with the work.
I completely understand why it is important to divorce the author from his work once it is in our hands. However, when reading a text there are times in which we form intimate connections to the words we’re absorbing. The author of course felt intimacy with them as well. Is there any point in which it’s ok to want to know how our authors were feeling when they wrote our beloved passages?