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Past Valve Book Events

cover of the book Theory's Empire

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cover of the book The Literary Wittgenstein

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cover of the book Graphs, Maps, Trees

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cover of the book How Novels Think

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cover of the book The Trouble With Diversity

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cover of the book What's Liberal About the Liberal Arts?

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cover of the book The Novel of Purpose

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The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Happy Trails to You

What’s an Encyclopedia These Days?

Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Intimate Enemies: What’s Opera, Doc?

Alphonso Lingis talks of various things, cameras and photos among them

Feynmann, John von Neumann, and Mental Models

Support Michael Sporn’s Film about Edgar Allen Poe

Philosophy, Ontics or Toothpaste for the Mind

Nazi Rules for Regulating Funk ‘n Freedom

The Early History of Modern Computing: A Brief Chronology

Computing Encounters Being, an Addendum

On the Origin of Objects (towards a philosophy of computation)

Symposium on Graeber’s Debt

The Nightmare of Digital Film Preservation

Richard Petti on Occupy Wall Street: America HAS a Ruling Class

Bill Benzon on Whatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhatwhat?

Nick J. on The Valve - Closed For Renovation

Bill Benzon on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Norma on Encyclopedia Britannica to Shut Down Print Operations

Bill Benzon on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

john balwit on What’s an Object, Metaphysically Speaking?

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on That Shakespeare Thing

William Ray on That Shakespeare Thing

JoseAngel on That Shakespeare Thing

Bill Benzon on Objects and Graeber's Debt

Bill Benzon on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on A Dirty Dozen Sneaking up on the Apocalypse

JoseAngel on Objects and Graeber's Debt

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Friday, December 23, 2011

The Peregrinations of Agency vis-à-vis the Text

Posted by Bill Benzon on 12/23/11 at 09:01 AM

Back in the ancient days of the 1950s the intentional fallacy was invoked to separate the text from the author, indeed, it was invoked to separate any work of art from its creator. Agency was thus invested solely in the text itself, the autonomous text. It was the critic’s job to interrogate the text and thus discern its meaning.

As a practical matter, it turned out that texts spoke differently to different critics. For some this was evidence of the richness of texts, that they should support so many meanings. For others it was a problem.

The problem tried out various solutions. One line of thinking restored authorial intention, subordinating textual meaning to that intention, thus locating agency in the author. Another line of thinking killed the author and located meaning in codes variously linked to social structure or to the unconscious. Agency was thus denied to author, reader, and text and invested in those codes and the nebulous structures placing them on offer. Yet another line of thinking located agency in the reader.

So: text, author, codes, reader. What else could there be?

Now the speculative realists and object-oriented ontologists are investing the text with agency—see, for example, this Twitter lecture by Eileen Joy and this commentary by Levi Bryant. Is this but a return to an old position albeit encased in new terminology? Or will something new emerge?

Who knows? I note that Bryant ends by suggesting that we “allow the work of art to transform how we sense”—a old idea, tried and true: make it new.

I further note that Joy begins by asking: “First, what happens when we consider that literary characters are not human beings, but more like mathematical compressions of the human?” Indeed, literary characters ARE NOT human beings. Could we perhaps arrive at some understanding of just how they are “mathematical compressions” and of how we understand such compressions?


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