Thursday, November 09, 2006

Why I Read Comics (and books, and television, and movies...)

Gentle Reader, first, let me please direct you to the sidebar on the right. Under "About Me," there is a blurb entitled "why the name Amy Reads." In that blurb, I state that "to read" means several things, including reading words on a page and critiquing and evaluating texts. It's what I do for a living, in fact. I Read Books. Also? I Write About Books. Sometimes, I Write Books, but no one's paying me to write anything but the Dissertation at the moment, so I don't believe I shall count that one.

But when we read, we don't just read a book. We take into that book, or television show, or play, or movie, or song, the things that we are. We take our gender, our sex, our privilege, our lack of privilege. We take out of books what we bring into them. It's just the way this works.

This Humble Author actually takes a lot to books, and out of books. I go into a book with ten years of training in literary criticism. I go into a book with me, all the parts of me: the reader, the writer, the woman, the feminist, the wife, the daughter, the friend, the pop culture lover, the David Bowie fan, the Whedonite, everything that I am. I come out of a book with certain readings because I go into a book with certain expectations.

To wit, We Read What We Are.

So, when I read a comic book, and I critique it, and I say things like "it's somewhat misogynistic," or "this book speaks to white privilege," or "holy crap! That's freaking awesome!" (not that This Humble Author would ever use such vulgar language, of course) it's not because I Dislike Comics. I *adore* comic books. I read them, I've written about them, I want to write on one (*cough*WonderWoman*cough*), and because I love them, I feel absolutely, 100% comfortable critiquing them.

Why do so many people believe that critique is hatred? That criticism can never be constructive? That analyses are judgments? When I declare my utter astonishment and dislike for the Sam Bradley Is the Father of Catwoman's Baby storyline, it doesn't mean I dislike the book, the writer, the artist, the publishing house, the fans, or even the characters. It means that *I don't like that particular part of the plot*. That's an opinion. When I declare that Sam Bradley shouldn't be the Father of Catwoman's Baby for the following five reasons, that's a critique. If I say "Catwoman, bleh!" that's "teh crazy" talking, and you should cyberly smack my hand, forthwith.

We do not exist in a vacuum; why should we pretend we read in one? Why should we pretend that race, sex, gender, economics, religion, and love of cheesecake have nothing to do with the books/television/movies we read? Once the book leaves the writer's hands, it's not just hers anymore. We get a tiny piece of the story, once we read it, because we remember it, we like it, we don't like it, but somehow, through all of that, *we're invested in it*. There are no "take-backs," or explanations, or justifications. I can't assume authorial intention, but the author can't come sit next to me and say, "well, when I wrote Wuthering Heights, I really meant..." not only because Ms. Bronte is No Longer With Us, but because it doesn't even matter what she meant.

I tell my students, every day, that they cannot assume authorial intention. They cannot tell me "When she wrote Wives and Daughters, Elizabeth Gaskell meant that..." because *they don't know what Elizabeth Gaskell meant*, and further, does it really matter?

Perhaps. Perhaps not. But it doesn't change the way *I* read the text, any text, at all. And Gentle Reader, I can't control the way you read this post, either. Because some of you may read this as The Gospel Truth, while others may read it as An Attack, while others still Won't Read It At All. Fair, all fair, but unless I police every person who wanders by, and sit every person down and explain, "well, what I really meant was..." and even then, still never capture The Exact Meaning of the post at The Exact Moment of its creation, then you will interpret this post As You Will.

Or, in the words of Mr. Eliot,

Would it have been worth while
If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl,
And turning toward the window, should say:
"That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all."

"The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (lines 106-110)

I read, because I love books. I read, because I love to talk about books. I read, because I think about books (and television, and movies, and...) all the damn time. And I read (critique, analyze, evaluate) because of all of those things and more.

I am, therefore I read.

32 Comments:

At 10:42 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

I can't assume authorial intention, but the author can't come sit next to me and say, "well, when I wrote Wuthering Heights, I really meant..." not only because Ms. Bronte is No Longer With Us, but because it doesn't even matter what she meant.

I think it matters what she meant. Not that the information's always available, but if it is, why disregard it?

Some authors, I think, like people to know what they had in mind with their stuff. Others would much rather let everyone read it his or her own way. Either approach is fine with me.

But, look: you're saying that when you read something, you discuss it based on all the stuff that was in your head when you read it. And I discuss it based on all the stuff in my head, and everyone in the world who read it discusses it based on what was in their heads. Isn't whatever was in the author's head worth at least as much as what was in mine? After all, the author put a lot more into this book than I did, and shouldn't be considered the only person in the world whose ideas about the book don't count.

By which I don't mean to refute any of the other things you say in this post. Which I'm sure you understand, but it amuses me to point out that if anything in my comment is unclear, I'd be happy to explain what I really meant.

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
I feel a bit like the obnoxious kid in grammar school, sitting on her hands so she doesn't wave them about madly at the teacher with the answer.
To wit, I am trying very very hard not to say, "but what I *really* meant was..." in response to your statement,

I think it matters what she meant. Not that the information's always available, but if it is, why disregard it?

and, in general, your comments about what the author meant when she wrote a thing.

Because this has become entirely too meta-fictional and ironic and very strange, just in these few moments :) You certainly see this, right? Because you say,

By which I don't mean to refute any of the other things you say in this post. Which I'm sure you understand, but it amuses me to point out that if anything in my comment is unclear, I'd be happy to explain what I really meant.

So I'm resisting clarifying what I said. It's almost painful. But I think your comments are very clear, and they've pointed out a logical error (unintentional, but that doesn't matter, according to me, right?) in my post.

*waves hands wildly about*
Okay, that feels a *bit* better :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 2:07 PM, Blogger Skeets said...

We do not exist in a vacuum; why should we pretend we read in one? Why should we pretend that race, sex, gender, economics, religion, and love of cheesecake have nothing to do with the books/television/movies we read?

I think two great, academic examples of this are Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, potentially offensive for their cultural prejudice.

Amazingly enough, my then classmates were not so much offended by the liberal use of the n-word in Huck Finn, but by a silent compliment in which Huck says, "I knew he [Jim] was white on the inside"--or something like that. Even the teacher prompted us with, "How could Huck say that?" Meanwhile, I'm thinking, "That's just Huck's way of saying that he regards Jim as an equal."

Oliver Twist was a little harder to swallow for its anti-Semitism, probably because I'm Jewish. (Yeah, that might have something to do with it.)

So there are two examples of books that are probably quite good, but end up being kind of unsettling just because of when we were born and what we were born as.

Now, imagine if you took a modern show like Buffy and tried to show it to households of the 1950s. Now there's a culture shock for ya.

 
At 6:38 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Amy:

Don't fret about what others say. I think your critiques are insightful. Why else would I troll your site like a $2 crack whore needing a fix?

All of this reminds me of something that happened to me during my junior year of high school, when I was forced to move with my family from Coastal California to Bumfuck, Virginia (not all of VA is bad, just Bumfuck). Anyway, I started a new American Lit class and we had one of those reader books with lots of short stories or excerpts. At any rate, we were reading a story that focused on western migration and settlers (possibly Bret Harte or Willa Cather). The teacher kept going on and on about how this was a symbolism for their pious Christian upbringing and this was their committment to God, etc. Basically, everything in her eyes -- for all books - was about God. Being the argumentative teenager from CA that I was, I challenged her on it. Repeatedly. I just drove her crazy because I refuse to accept that the motivation for everyone and everything was their Christianity. It turned out that her husband was a Methodist minister.

Personally, I think that an author's intention is nice to know and usually helpful. If it's missing and the story still reads well, so be it. What I can't stand is when stories fall flat if you DON'T know the background info. (but the author doesn't provide it for you either). In my mind, that's arrogance and laziness on the part of the writer. Other times, the passage of time makes something illegible. One of my favorite novels is Stendhal's The Red and The Black. Unfortunately, the nuances of the French Revolution and the Napoleanic period are lost on contemporary readers whereas it was common knowledge when the book was published.

One other point. I work in Museums. There's a great schism in the art community about interpreting works of art. There are those that think a work should speak for itself. There are others, like myself, who argue that visitors need context. They need to know more about the subject matter, the artist's approach to it, etc. that they can gleam from a label that only lists the artist, date of work, media used, title of work, and the name of the donor. As much as I would like the art to speak for itself, it often doesn't. Most visitors and even myself do not know the background of each and every artist. I fall on the side of too much info., and hope the visitor will filter out what they don't want. Who can expect a suburban mom from Omaha to interpret works of art from Jackson Pollock without any background info.? Let's face it, Oprah ain't discussing it and neither are the public schools.

 
At 12:55 PM, Blogger Loren said...

Hey, Ms. Amy

Great entry. It's exactly the way that I think about reading comics and why I focus on diversity on comics. I think it's possible to critique and love something at the same time. AND, the reason why we do critique things we love is because, as you mention, the things we love (comics, books, movies, songs, tv, etc) are a part of who we are.

Also, I'm back! :)

 
At 1:12 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Skeets,
I think two great, academic examples of this are Huck Finn and Oliver Twist, potentially offensive for their cultural prejudice.

I think this is such a great example, particularly because Huck Finn was Quite Radical for its time, as was Oliver Twist (well, Dickens perhaps Not So Radical in the Race Department, but certainly in the Economic Plight Department). I believe we can certainly learn something about how books were received then and now, and while we may view something like Huck Finn to be racist according to our standards (we few, we enlightened few!), it was quite enlightened for the time.

Oliver Twist was a little harder to swallow for its anti-Semitism, probably because I'm Jewish. (Yeah, that might have something to do with it.)

Unfortunately for My Darling Victorians, if it wasn't anti-Semitism, it was anti-Romany, or anti-Irish, or anti-Black, or anti-Women, or...
The Victorians liked their superiority, understand.

Now, imagine if you took a modern show like Buffy and tried to show it to households of the 1950s. Now there's a culture shock for ya.

This definitely made me smile :) What a great image.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 1:19 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
Don't fret about what others say. I think your critiques are insightful. Why else would I troll your site like a $2 crack whore needing a fix?


!!!

:) Thanks for the trolling (which I just took as Absolute Fandom Of All Things Reads, you understand, as that is what I Really Deserve *wink*). I always adore and appreciate your feedback.
And again, I sit on my hands because I'm trying to resist telling you where this post came from, i.e. what sparked it, if you will. But I'm trying to *not* validate my writing.
But I *will* say this: I think the internet has completely changed author/fan relations, forever, as I watch some of my favorite authors defend their work against Amazon.com reviewers and internet trolls, and as I watch some of my favorite authors completely ignore it. It's a very strange medium, this "internet."

I think your example of your move from Cali to the South is quite interesting in the different reading of a work. Yes, of course several works can be read in a Christian context, but so, too, can they be read in a juvenile context, or a romantic love context, etc. I think the multiplicity of readings makes the world go around. I never try to impose a single reading of a text on my students (as the people at Adbusters tell us, "To impose a single text on readers is authoritarian and oppressive" and that, I truly believe).

re: Art, that's exactly right. We are so eager to get rid of art, music, literature in our schools to save money for the "real" disciplines, like math, science, business. Or, as people often ask me, "so, what purpose does your English degree possibly serve?" I tell them that they may run the world with their "building bridges" and "curing cancer," but I, yes, *I* and my books make the world worth living.
I have an inflated sense of career self-importance, if that's not blindingly obvious.

But see, here's the thing. I don't get Modern art. I'm smart; I'm incredibly smart, and I've got Big Degrees to prove it. But I get that it's important, and revolutionary, and that's where my appreciation of Modern art ends.
Do you hate me now? :(
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 1:23 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Loren! Hello, My Friend! So good to see you again! :) Welcome back!

It's exactly the way that I think about reading comics and why I focus on diversity on comics. I think it's possible to critique and love something at the same time. AND, the reason why we do critique things we love is because, as you mention, the things we love (comics, books, movies, songs, tv, etc) are a part of who we are.

Exactly! In fact, I believe that loving something enough to critique it is a sign of respect. We *care* about things, and therefore we *want* to talk about them.
Yay, Loren! So happy you're back! :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 1:42 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

See -- now you've really piqued my interest. Let me know where this is all coming from. Send me a personal email.

Particulary when it came to abstract art, I used to find some Modern Art unapproachable. That changed when I started working at an art museum (I am no longer there). What I would suggest is to start visiting your local museums of contemporary art galleries in town and see what they have. After a while, I bet you will appreciate some of the other stuff more. Personally, I have really embraced collage and mixed media pieces. Ironically, there is a comic connection. The current work of David Mack I find absolutely exhilerating.

 
At 2:50 PM, Blogger Skeets said...

You've spoken a bit about what we bring to books. One of those things might be our own perception of the author, which opens up a whole new can o' worms.

I enjoy books by both Peter David and Orson Scott Card, yet both of them are on different sides of the political fence. Knowing this, I can't help but bring that knowledge to their books, even if they're not writing about anything political.

When it was announced that Card was going to write Ultimate Iron Man, there was a movement to boycott the book because of his politics, which I will not get into. (And I'm sure Peter David has also lost a few readers because of his own politics, in spite of the fact that neither he nor Card focus very much on them.)

Just out of curiosity, do you feel that knowledge about the author's own background and personal beliefs is something we should be bringing to their books? Should art exist independently from the artist, or are they to be forever intertwined?

 
At 4:09 PM, Blogger Ragtime said...

When I declare my utter astonishment and dislike for the Sam Bradley Is the Father of Catwoman's Baby storyline, it doesn't mean I dislike the book, the writer, the artist, the publishing house, the fans, or even the characters. It means that *I don't like that particular part of the plot*.

Ah, but for me it is exactly the opposite. For me, there was a way were I COULD HAVE liked to Sam Bradley storyline. If it had been better developed and character driven, instead of plot-driven.

For some, I understand, the issue was that they wanted to be X to be the father instead of Y, and nothing would have made them accept Y. That's not how I read it. I would have been happy with any solution, had it been well-writte and fleshed out. My criticism is with the writer and editor -- not the plot point.

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

Just out of curiosity, do you feel that knowledge about the author's own background and personal beliefs is something we should be bringing to their books? Should art exist independently from the artist, or are they to be forever intertwined?

My personal take on this is this: one of my interests is generational studies, and one of the biggest things I learned from that whole business is that you can learn or figure out or understand a lot about things by looking at the context in which they were created. For instance: the movie Titanic is about a big state-of-the-art technological thing that unexpectedly and dramatically failed. Interesting that it came out a few years before Y2K, huh?

Obviously you can read a book or watch a movie without referring to external stuff like that, and you can get a lot of insight just sticking to the internal, or the internal plus the personal-to-you stuff. You don't need external stuff like the author's background or whatever. But there's no such thing as useless information, so if it's available, why not use it?

 
At 6:52 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Personally, I think it's a mistake for author's to publicaly respond to literary criticism. If the criticism is out of bounds or personal in nature, then that changes things, however.

Welcome back Loren.

I think Matthew's most recent comment resonated with me. It's hard to be either or. I could have used his response to just as well illustrate my earlier comment about art in museums. I would add the qualifier though that one shouldn't need to know the external to enjoy a written work. Authors should stop assuming that readers will know enough to find out the extra info. and actually do it. It's naive if they do think that.

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger R said...

I had some thoughts about the issue of authorial intent, specifically, which I posted over in the comment section for a post linking here, this week. It seemed kinda silly to have written them out over there, and not here, and so I'm crossposting. Hopefully, Amy Reads won't be annoyed at probably reading them twice!

Here's what I said over at THL:

The question of authorial intent with blogging is kinda sticky, isn't it? I mean - and this is certainly my training as an academic talking, but also a personal conviction - it seems very clear to me that while one may occasionally gesture vaguely at authorial intent in a critical essay of a published, completed work of some kind (book, comic, film, whatever), basing a whole critique (or a large part of a critique) on what the author meant to say is deeply problematic. How can one know? One can't, even if the author has spoken on the matter, because sometimes authors lie, intentionally or unintentionally. An author's words about her work can be great fodder for an interview, or for a deeper understanding and appreciation on a fannish level, but they provide no firm ground on which to build a critical analysis (a jumping-off point, maybe, though...).

But does that "authorial intent shouldn't matter" stance apply to blog posts? Are blog posts more like essays, or like ongoing conversations? What about the ones that are stories, or which have been fictionalized to some extent?

And when does a blog post become a completed work, anyway? As soon as it's published? Or after the first round of comments have been answered? Or does it never become finished, because as long as there's an active comment section, more (potentially illuminative) material can still be added?

And then there are questions of how to deal with authorial intent when there are multiple authors...

There are some quick, facile answers to all of these questions, certainly, and one of the best is "dude, who cares?", but I find them interesting to consider, and continue to problematize, anyway.

...And I should really have written this comment for your original blog post, rather than in response to your comment here! But due to the magic of the internets, I shall copy-paste it, and crosspost. ;-)

(the multiplicity that comes into play when people write very slightly different responses to ongoing discussions on the same topics across multiple blogs is yet another thing that could potentially complicate issues of discerning authorial intent, I do believe)

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
See -- now you've really piqued my interest. Let me know where this is all coming from. Send me a personal email.

Done, and expect a reply soon. The Parents Reads are visiting, so time is rather precious at the moment. i.e. I am rather backlogged on email and correspondence!

Particulary when it came to abstract art, I used to find some Modern Art unapproachable. That changed when I started working at an art museum (I am no longer there). What I would suggest is to start visiting your local museums of contemporary art galleries in town and see what they have. After a while, I bet you will appreciate some of the other stuff more.

Mr. Reads is very much The Fan Of Modern Art, and through him, I've visited a lot of the more contemporary galleries (missed the Tate Modern this summer as I was archiving, but have been to MCA). I am very much a Pre-Raphaelite fan, with some Art Nouveau and Art Deco leanings.

Personally, I have really embraced collage and mixed media pieces. Ironically, there is a comic connection. The current work of David Mack I find absolutely exhilerating.

My brother-in-law and best friend both do collage and mixed media, and we own several pieces by both of them. I appreciate the more pop art (the comic book approach, if you will) of modern, and I adore Magritte, Chagall, Dali, but abstract splatter like Pollack, large abstract canvases like Rothko, I can't get into. Believe me, I feel as if it's a failing on my part, but I can't, for the life of me, fix it.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:14 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Skeets,
You've spoken a bit about what we bring to books. One of those things might be our own perception of the author, which opens up a whole new can o' worms.

It's really true. I often teach Poe, and when I do, I talk about the "real Poe" (the editor, the writer, the constant producer of words) and the "pop Poe" (the dark, broody, tortured genius who was invented by a biographer). Are Poe's stories any less fantastical because he is less so? Of course not. But we love the romance of his crazy life.

I enjoy books by both Peter David and Orson Scott Card, yet both of them are on different sides of the political fence. Knowing this, I can't help but bring that knowledge to their books, even if they're not writing about anything political.

Sometimes it's hard for me, too. I can't read anything Ted Hughes, because I adore Sylvia Plath too much. I can never get past my preconceived conceptions of him!

When it was announced that Card was going to write Ultimate Iron Man, there was a movement to boycott the book because of his politics, which I will not get into. (And I'm sure Peter David has also lost a few readers because of his own politics, in spite of the fact that neither he nor Card focus very much on them.)

I think it's really interesting to think about this as a "what we know now" kind of thing. Is TS Eliot less talented because we know he was anti-Semitic? Thackeray because he was a bigot and a chauvinist pig? Or do we accept those things and move on? It's really, really tough, I think, to do either.

Just out of curiosity, do you feel that knowledge about the author's own background and personal beliefs is something we should be bringing to their books? Should art exist independently from the artist, or are they to be forever intertwined?

I think both, and neither (how's that for an answer?? *grin*). I find it fascinating to read Wuthering Heights, and know what I know about Emily Bronte. I find it even more fascinating that critics raved about WH when they thought it was written by a man, but the second they found out it was written by a woman, they all recanted their glowing reviews. Further, I think it's so very interesting to what I do--which is study literature for a living--to know what the authors' lives were like, and how those lives affected their works. I'm a new historicist feminist critic, which means I look at big scary things like history and culture when I do my work, because history and culture so very much affects what we do.
But.
But, I don't think that *an author's intentions* should affect the way *I read a book*. i.e. if I read pain and sorrow into a book, and the author intended sunshine and daisies, and I find that out, does that invalidate my reading of it? As long as my reading is supported by the text, then no, I don't think so. I don't think there's one reading of *anything*.
The neat thing about art (and literature, and any form of expression) is that it exists in two worlds. It is always a part of the artist, and it is always separate of the artist, all at the same time. A artist's intentions are fascinating, but they never invalidate my reading.

That make any sort of sense?? :) I'm starting to invalidate myself, I think!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:19 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ragtime,
Ah, but for me it is exactly the opposite. For me, there was a way were I COULD HAVE liked to Sam Bradley storyline. If it had been better developed and character driven, instead of plot-driven.

I definitely see this point (how *do* you do this, make me always disagree with myself??), and I agree wholeheartedly. But I see the whole Sam-as-Helena's-father both plot and character. It was a plot choice that failed as character development. I could have liked him, too, and the decision, if I hadn't 1) expected it because it wasn't what I wanted, and 2) felt like it completely came out of left field (because it wasn't what I wanted).

For some, I understand, the issue was that they wanted to be X to be the father instead of Y, and nothing would have made them accept Y. That's not how I read it. I would have been happy with any solution, had it been well-writte and fleshed out. My criticism is with the writer and editor -- not the plot point.

And that's it, in a nutshell. If I understand correctly, the comic book world works differently from books in general because of the editorial choices and their influence on the writer. It seems so strange to think of writing happening en masse, as it does with editorial boards and writers. I often feel that writing can be so isolating, you know? (I say this as Mother Reads stands over my shoulder, chatting away, so once again, I invalidate my own statements *at the very time I state them!* *grin*).
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
My personal take on this is this: one of my interests is generational studies, and one of the biggest things I learned from that whole business is that you can learn or figure out or understand a lot about things by looking at the context in which they were created. For instance: the movie Titanic is about a big state-of-the-art technological thing that unexpectedly and dramatically failed. Interesting that it came out a few years before Y2K, huh?

As stated in an earlier comment, I'm a new historicist critic, which means I follow big generational moments, too. I examine literature in its historical context because writers never write in a vacuum. They, too, are influenced by their thoughts and actions and what they ate for breakfast or voted for (or, in the case of the works I examine, whether or not they could vote, or own property, or wear pants...). I think (and here, I'm admitting to consideration after the fact) that it does matter what an author's intentions are *to the world* but not to the validation of my reading. I can be informed, or not, by the author's intentions, but that doesn't mean that if an author wrote a book and didn't intend for a scene to read as a symbolic rape, and I read that scene as such, it's a "bad reading." I think (again, think!) that's where I was going with this :)

Obviously you can read a book or watch a movie without referring to external stuff like that, and you can get a lot of insight just sticking to the internal, or the internal plus the personal-to-you stuff. You don't need external stuff like the author's background or whatever. But there's no such thing as useless information, so if it's available, why not use it?

Author's background is different than authorial intention. Of course Emily Bronte was influenced by her environment when she wrote Wuthering Heights, and I know that, and accept it. But I can't ever say, "she meant to write a book about true love never dying, and that's all she meant and therefore you can't say WH is about, oh, I dunno, the ravages of time on the English upper class" because that would just be silly. And even if she *did* mean to write a book about "true love never dying" (because honestly, who was a better proto-goth or emo kid than Emily Bronte??) and that's all, my reading is still valid because 1) it's informed, and 2) it's supported by the text (and as a nod to your argument, 3) it's influenced by historical markers).
:)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
Personally, I think it's a mistake for author's to publicaly respond to literary criticism. If the criticism is out of bounds or personal in nature, then that changes things, however.

But does it? I mean, sure, if someone said "Ms. Reads is a loser and she's stupid and her writing's stupid and so there!" I could be well within my rights to respond, but honestly, why? Said mean nasty poster doesn't know me, and to assume that I'm a loser because I *cough* spend a lot of time on the internet writing about comic books would just be an exaggeration, right?
Right?
(This Humble Author will now stop trying to make herself feel better!)
But seriously, I think that writers (myself included) or artists or what-have-you need to let go of some creative control once the work leaves their hands. I can't force everyone to read my work exactly the way I want them to, and if I could, I'd be rather fascist. I don't want to be fascist.
:)

I think Matthew's most recent comment resonated with me. It's hard to be either or. I could have used his response to just as well illustrate my earlier comment about art in museums. I would add the qualifier though that one shouldn't need to know the external to enjoy a written work. Authors should stop assuming that readers will know enough to find out the extra info. and actually do it. It's naive if they do think that.

Matthew is ever-fabulous, isn't he? I'm quite blessed with a myriad of wonderful readers who are kind enough to respond to my thoughts.

Again, I think I have to disagree with you, respectfully. An author should not have to clarify her meaning, over and over again. Isn't interpretation part of the beauty of art and literature (and music and tv and...)?
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:44 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Robyn,
I had some thoughts about the issue of authorial intent, specifically, which I posted over in the comment section for a post linking here, this week. It seemed kinda silly to have written them out over there, and not here, and so I'm crossposting. Hopefully, Amy Reads won't be annoyed at probably reading them twice!

I am never annoyed at reading your insightful thoughts, Friend! Post as often as you like, in as many places as you like, and I will read them all.

Here's what I said over at THL:
The question of authorial intent with blogging is kinda sticky, isn't it? I mean - and this is certainly my training as an academic talking, but also a personal conviction - it seems very clear to me that while one may occasionally gesture vaguely at authorial intent in a critical essay of a published, completed work of some kind (book, comic, film, whatever), basing a whole critique (or a large part of a critique) on what the author meant to say is deeply problematic.


Indeed. In fact, one of the first things I teach my students is that you can't *ever* assume authorial intention.

How can one know? One can't, even if the author has spoken on the matter, because sometimes authors lie, intentionally or unintentionally. An author's words about her work can be great fodder for an interview, or for a deeper understanding and appreciation on a fannish level, but they provide no firm ground on which to build a critical analysis (a jumping-off point, maybe, though...).

And also, once a work is done and thought about, it is a different work. I meant something almost completely different when I wrote this post, and that's just a blog post (not that blogs are "just blogs," but I mean I didn't spend as much time with this as, say, my novel or dissertation). So I don't even think it's as much about making pretty for an interview, etc. as it is a reconsideration of one's work.

But does that "authorial intent shouldn't matter" stance apply to blog posts? Are blog posts more like essays, or like ongoing conversations? What about the ones that are stories, or which have been fictionalized to some extent?

I think a number of things about this, and here goes:
1) It's still writing, and we have to let go at some point. I think the power and ability to edit and clarify constantly in publishing or commenting somewhat changes the static "when it's done it's done" status of most work. I actually feel quite wrong editing my posts after I've published, and only do so in the case of grammar/mechanics. If I change an idea, I will delete the post and republish it as a different entry. But that's just me.

And when does a blog post become a completed work, anyway? As soon as it's published? Or after the first round of comments have been answered? Or does it never become finished, because as long as there's an active comment section, more (potentially illuminative) material can still be added?

Almost like a Wiki, huh? Or an Exquisite Corpse. I don't have an answer for this, but I have an observation. The internet will forever change the way we view writing, copyright, publishing, and intellectual property. I know writers who write additional fiction at fans' requests on their websites, or offer "upgrades" to novels with deleted chapters and such (sort of a director's cut, if you will). So the question does become "when is it finished?"
(and from an academic's standpoint, drafts are forever changed because most people compose in word processing programs, so we miss author's line editing of manuscripts, and therefore an essential part of archival material!)

And then there are questions of how to deal with authorial intent when there are multiple authors...
There are some quick, facile answers to all of these questions, certainly, and one of the best is "dude, who cares?", but I find them interesting to consider, and continue to problematize, anyway.


And how! Wonderful points, all, and I wish I was smart enough to have answers, but really, I'm not. (I fake smart really well, though). But seriously, thank you for your insights.

...And I should really have written this comment for your original blog post, rather than in response to your comment here! But due to the magic of the internets, I shall copy-paste it, and crosspost. ;-)

YOU ARE CHANGING THE FACE OF MY INTERNETS!!! *ahem* I mean, yay! ;)

(the multiplicity that comes into play when people write very slightly different responses to ongoing discussions on the same topics across multiple blogs is yet another thing that could potentially complicate issues of discerning authorial intent, I do believe)

Indeed. See above. And below. And next post ;)
Thanks again, to Robyn, and everyone! Keep it coming! I, however, must return to entertaining Those That Paid For College, aka, my parents.
More soon!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 11:31 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Robyn,
I said, I think a number of things about this, and here goes:
1)


And apparently, I didn't have as many things to say as I thought I did, as there is only one point there.
The other ones got moved to different parts of the conversation, fyi :) Oh! And I'm sleepy. That counts for something, right?
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 12:59 AM, Blogger R said...

And also, once a work is done and thought about, it is a different work. I meant something almost completely different when I wrote this post, and that's just a blog post (not that blogs are "just blogs," but I mean I didn't spend as much time with this as, say, my novel or dissertation). So I don't even think it's as much about making pretty for an interview, etc. as it is a reconsideration of one's work.

Ooh, that's an excellent observation. I'm one of those navel-gazing sorts of authors who will do "ask me questions about my stories and I'll answer them" type posts, and now that I think of it, the answers I give really are about new understandings that I've reached about things that I wrote in the first place. And they're a little different each time, because I'm a little different each time.

One more reason not to base analysis on authorial intent! (as if we needed more)

The internet will forever change the way we view writing, copyright, publishing, and intellectual property. I know writers who write additional fiction at fans' requests on their websites, or offer "upgrades" to novels with deleted chapters and such (sort of a director's cut, if you will). So the question does become "when is it finished?"
(and from an academic's standpoint, drafts are forever changed because most people compose in word processing programs, so we miss author's line editing of manuscripts, and therefore an essential part of archival material!)


And this makes me think about the linguistic hoops that we sometimes have to jump through in academic analysis even with "classic" works. Like, when you write a paper on a Dicken's book (to pull out a random example), you've got to specify which edition pretty precisely, not just because page numbers are different, but because the words themselves quite often are.

And I can see how this would come up in, say, comics analysis, too - because individual storylines can change slightly between the time they're released as comic books and then re-released as TPBs. And that's all the same author and artist (with possible changes in editorial oversight, but still) - if one were to write about a specific character in a textual-analysis sort of way, there'd be even more texts to distinguish between.

...This is probably why MLA citation format calls for an "accessed on" date for citing anything on the internets, huh? ;-)

I hope you're having a very pleasant visit with the Parents Reads!

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Matthew E said...

I think we mostly agree. I lumped 'authorial intent' and 'authorial background' together because it's all stuff about the author that influences what's put on the page. And certainly it's a mistake to take a statement of authorial intent as The Final Word On The Subject, because rare is the author who's blessed with complete and perfect self-awareness. So a reader's personal reaction may very well illuminate something that really is in the text, but that the author didn't put in there intentionally.

 
At 1:40 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

Amy:

I hate Rothko. Don't even get me started on him. Least. Favorite. Artist. Ever! Lots of my arty friends speak eloquently of his importance, and I just nod and smile. To each their own.

I got your message and responded. I still think you should share with the class.

Hope the visit went well.

In regards to author's responding to criticism, I was thinking of personal attacks. Author A is misogynistic so he must be an abuser. Author B has a sympathetic Nazi in her story so she must be an anti-semite. That's the kind of stuff I was talking about. You're right though that by not responding, those tend to die down faster.

I can't even recall where we disagreed on this. I think that's instructive. I am sure we are closer alligned than we think. It's the extremes that are the problem, not the mushy middle.

 
At 1:51 PM, Blogger Timothy Liebe said...

Hi, sorry to pop in here, but WFA led me to your blog, Amy, and I find this discussion fascinating.

Skeets: I enjoy books by both Peter David and Orson Scott Card, yet both of them are on different sides of the political fence. Knowing this, I can't help but bring that knowledge to their books, even if they're not writing about anything political.

But in a way, their work is permeated with those beliefs whether they intend them to be or not, Skeets. It's apparent in the choices they give their characters, and the decisions the characters make based on those choices. You usually don't need something as overt as the anti-abortion position paper Tom Clancy had President Jack Ryan spout in the middle of THE BEAR AND THE DRAGON - to take an example close to me, could you honestly read any Tamora Pierce books and believe she advocates a woman giving up her career to be a wife and mother? :)

When it was announced that Card was going to write Ultimate Iron Man, there was a movement to boycott the book because of his politics, which I will not get into. (And I'm sure Peter David has also lost a few readers because of his own politics, in spite of the fact that neither he nor Card focus very much on them.)

While I think whether you agree or not w/a writer's politics may be a factor in whether you enjoy her/his writing or not, it's ultimately much less a one than "Can s/he tell a good story?" Sure, the weight of a new writer's politics can sometimes tip the scale against buying a book you weren't sure you'd buy anyway (i.e., Jagged Little Pill of the Right's Newt Gingrich as co-author of 1945 was a factor against buying it), but the story not catching me up when I flipped through it at Barnes & Noble is what sealed the deal. My own left-progressive politics are no bar to my happily purchasing anything with Tom Clancy's, Ian Douglas's or W.E.B. Griffin's name on it, b/c they're good storytellers.

Tim

PS: Appropos of nothing in this discussion, we just got our comp of WHITE TIGER #1 - and my name's on the cover, too! Yay! :) :) :)

 
At 9:42 PM, Blogger Sarah said...

Just dropping in, not to add anything of substance to the conversation but to express appreciation of the Prufrock quote. I have never read a Prufrock quote without smiling. Makes me want to roll my trousers and eat a peach. And talk of Michelangelo. Oh, J. Alfred, you have given us so much!

 
At 10:26 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Robyn,
Ooh, that's an excellent observation. I'm one of those navel-gazing sorts of authors who will do "ask me questions about my stories and I'll answer them" type posts, and now that I think of it, the answers I give really are about new understandings that I've reached about things that I wrote in the first place. And they're a little different each time, because I'm a little different each time.
One more reason not to base analysis on authorial intent! (as if we needed more)


But I do think it's important for authors to consider their works, in that it keeps us fresh and new. Silly example, I know, but every time I come back to this post, or consider it, I think of something different :)

And this makes me think about the linguistic hoops that we sometimes have to jump through in academic analysis even with "classic" works. Like, when you write a paper on a Dicken's book (to pull out a random example), you've got to specify which edition pretty precisely, not just because page numbers are different, but because the words themselves quite often are.

The worst example is Frankenstein, I think, with the immense differences between the 1818 text and the 1825?? text. Entire chapters missing or added, and mass confusion everywhere. It's all Very Confusing, no?

And I can see how this would come up in, say, comics analysis, too - because individual storylines can change slightly between the time they're released as comic books and then re-released as TPBs. And that's all the same author and artist (with possible changes in editorial oversight, but still) - if one were to write about a specific character in a textual-analysis sort of way, there'd be even more texts to distinguish between.

And we're starting to see this with television, too, particularly the recent Heroes and garbage disposal escapade.

...This is probably why MLA citation format calls for an "accessed on" date for citing anything on the internets, huh? ;-)

Or just that MLA is evil and there is a panel of people determined to make my teaching life a living hell ;) They change their minds every day, honest to God...

I hope you're having a very pleasant visit with the Parents Reads!

It was lovely! Thanks for asking :)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:28 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Matthew,
I think we mostly agree. I lumped 'authorial intent' and 'authorial background' together because it's all stuff about the author that influences what's put on the page. And certainly it's a mistake to take a statement of authorial intent as The Final Word On The Subject, because rare is the author who's blessed with complete and perfect self-awareness. So a reader's personal reaction may very well illuminate something that really is in the text, but that the author didn't put in there intentionally.

Sounds good to me! I think what all of this boils down to, for me, is the whole "comics are just comics" (or tv is just tv, etc.) argument that people tend to fall back on, or the "it's just entertainment; it doesn't mean anything." I think that's where I was going with this, originally, but then, that would be to assume authorial intent, even my own ;)
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:32 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Mr. Fanboy,
I hate Rothko. Don't even get me started on him. Least. Favorite. Artist. Ever! Lots of my arty friends speak eloquently of his importance, and I just nod and smile. To each their own.

No, do get started on him! What do you hate? I'm very curious.

I got your message and responded. I still think you should share with the class.

:P I'm still considering it.

Hope the visit went well.

Fabulous. They paid for groceries and 2 new pairs of pants. Parents Reads rule.

In regards to author's responding to criticism, I was thinking of personal attacks. Author A is misogynistic so he must be an abuser. Author B has a sympathetic Nazi in her story so she must be an anti-semite. That's the kind of stuff I was talking about. You're right though that by not responding, those tend to die down faster.

It's really true, particularly because 99.9% of those types of attacks is sheer baiting. Personal attacks have no real place in literary discussions, whether now or 100 years ago. The best example of an author's response EVER is Robert Browning's "To Edward Fitzgerald." Give it a read, and then give me a shout back, and I can give you the background. Perhaps the only moment in my entire academic career in which I wholeheartedly endorse authorial intent!

I can't even recall where we disagreed on this. I think that's instructive. I am sure we are closer alligned than we think. It's the extremes that are the problem, not the mushy middle.

I don't think we disagreed, either. I think I was just wonky at that point. But I can disagree with you, if you like. Just to make things fun.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 10:37 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Timothy,
Hi, sorry to pop in here, but WFA led me to your blog, Amy, and I find this discussion fascinating.

Feel free to pop in whenever and wherever you'd like! I think the discussion is fascinating, as well, and thank you for your contribution to it. :)

While I think whether you agree or not w/a writer's politics may be a factor in whether you enjoy her/his writing or not, it's ultimately much less a one than "Can s/he tell a good story?"

And that's what this all boils down to, isn't it? I think TS Eliot was a pig and a jerk, and I think Thackeray was an elitist snob, but I love them both because damn, could they write.
Now, for me, there have been a few instances when I've stopped reading certain writers because of political or personal reasons, but those reasons usually align directly with a decline in writing style or subject matter.

PS: Appropos of nothing in this discussion, we just got our comp of WHITE TIGER #1 - and my name's on the cover, too! Yay! :) :) :)

Huzzah!
Ciao,
Amy, looking forward to White Tiger

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Sarah,
Just dropping in, not to add anything of substance to the conversation but to express appreciation of the Prufrock quote. I have never read a Prufrock quote without smiling. Makes me want to roll my trousers and eat a peach. And talk of Michelangelo. Oh, J. Alfred, you have given us so much!

I should have been a pair of ragged claws scuttling across the floors of silent seas...

I mean, really. How sad do you have to be to write that line?!??!

I dare disturb the universe, Mr. Prufrock! And roll my trousers, and descend the stairs (with a bald spot in my hair), and eat a peach. I hear the mermaids singing, sir, each to each, and I *do* think that they sing for me.

Okay, I stop now ;)

Of course, every time I think of Eliot lately, I see RB reading him. *That* always makes me smile.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 6:34 PM, Blogger Fanboy said...

My problem with Rothko is that I don't see any there there, pardon the cliche. Painting three colored stripes of varying widths that may be well defined or ease into the next color is not that exciting to me. I guess it was groundbreaking in the early 20th century, but so was canned food. Additionally, 90% of those who speak eloquently of his work have been pretentious bastards. Not that I am opintionated or anything. I can appreciate abstract art. I really can.

 

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