Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wimsatt and Beardsley Don't Dream of Sheep.

The “affective fallacy” is another theory of New Criticism put forth by Wimsatt and Beardsley.  Like the intentional fallacy, the affective fallacy concerns itself with what we decide is important when analyzing a work of literature. The intentional fallacy claims that we should place no importance on the intention of the author. The affective fallacy states that we should not place any importance on the personal emotional response of the reader or critic. Whatever personal response the reader may feel while reading a work has nothing at all to do with the meaning or significance of a text: "The Affective Fallacy is a confusion between the poem and its results (what it is and what it does)" (Wimsatt and Beardsley 31). Wimsatt and Beardsley along with other new critics strive for complete objectivity when it comes to textual analysis. When we allow our personal experiences to interact with the text then we have committed the affective fallacy.
 To express this theory visually I drew a computer reading a book. The computer is how new critics like Wimsatt and Beardsley would prefer us to operate when analyzing. The more impartial we can approach a text, the better, according to these guys.
I chose to have the computer reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? By Philip K. Dick, because if a computer were to commit the affective fallacy on any text it would be this one. It is difficult for anyone, even computers or computer-personalitied people to remain completely separate all of the time.

Obviously, the theory of the affective fallacy is problematic because it inhibits discussion. The beauty of texts can be their ability to morph. There is no communication or interaction with a text if we bring nothing to the table. A text is meant to speak to a person. However, I believe that the affective fallacy should be a working guideline for readers.  Not to say that a text is immutable, but I believe that there are possibilities in which personal experiences cannot be applied to texts. 


  1. I like that you made your representation of a New Critic to be a computer. I thought about it in a similar way when I drew a robot! I like how you took the computer idea further though, and had the computer reading something that it would probably have some kind of emotional response to (if it had emotions). Nice thoughts!

  2. Great-- and you know I love the Androids reference-- actually, the way you have it working here, it's a nice, complex metaphor/joke. Well done! Will be worth talking about whether there is still a place for emotion, as long as the emotion is generated by the text and not by the reader's own idiosyncrasies....

  3. I also think your computer is very cool. It makes me wonder about what might happen if Wilmsatt and Beardsley were to actually program the "perfect" reader, immune to emotion and unconscious connotation. What sense would the computer be able to make out of the poem? Would it be possible to program a way to understand aesthetic and form, or does understanding of that aspect require some amount of "human-ness" (and what is "human-ness" other than subjectivity and emotion)?

  4. I love those questions, Jess. I bet that Wimsatt and Beardsley's "perfect" "immune" reader wouldn't be able to make any sense out of a poem. What makes poetry poetry is that we are not immune to it. It demands an emotional response. Their "perfect" reader probably misses the point completely.