What the author meant

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I’ll admit it: I did English Literature in high school. I wasn’t particularly good at it. I’ll exclude all my other excuses as to why I didn’t do well in Lit – like my general lack of motivation in school and desperate need to complete the final level of DOOM – and blame my poor grades on the above graphic.

Obviously not the graphic itself, that would be silly. I mean the message that the graphic is trying to relay, and not just that the curtains may be blue. In school and even now, I find that literature is often over-interpreted. I remember clearly one example of this when we were forced to study Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Studying a play by reading it already had me wanting to throw stuff at the teacher, as plays are meant to be watched, not read. But I remember the teacher being adamant that there was a very important juxtaposition and allegory in the comedic scene of the drunken porter.

If you can’t remember this scene in Macbeth, suffice to say it is one big joke about how being drunk makes you pee and ruins erections. Dick jokes never go out of fashion.

Apparently, there is a lot of deep and meaningful stuff going on….. Dick jokes can be deep and meaningful. I always thought that Macbeth chucked in that joke scene because the rest of the play was so dark, and it gave his actors a chance to change costumes before the next act. Essentially, I thought that it was just a necessity and the master playwright had made it fun for the audience. My teacher disagreed.

But that is the thing, unless Shakespeare wrote down his intentions, or there are some amazing insights recorded from his time, then it is just conjecture, or playing with themselves. Occam’s Razor would have us take the simplest answer that fits and not try to over-complicate things.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t deeper meaning in any artistic work, far from it. But a lot of the deeper meaning is about the reader’s projection as much as what is/was written. Take as an example the list that the wonderful Mental Floss put together:
http://mentalfloss.com/article/30937/famous-novelists-symbolism-their-work-and-whether-it-was-intentional
Many famous authors, many misinterpretations.

Now some authors and genres love to go overboard with the hidden meanings, or at least like to make it seem deep and meaningful (see Steve Hely’s satire on this). Some authors just do it accidentally as part of including various themes and ideas in their work. But literary analysis really does take that interpretation to another level.

Essentially, why can’t people just enjoy a book?

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4 thoughts on “What the author meant

  1. I did First Level English at high school – I really liked it, but didn’t get my First Level pass. Possibly because I also thought that ‘symbolism’ was a point of view, and I had many arguments with my teacher about it.

    Of course now I understand that in some areas of literature – poetry, at least – symbolism is flung about with gay abandon, and if something seems like it should be symbolic, it probably is. I also understand that academics and teachers love to go looking for meaning that doesn’t exist, and that hindsight is a wonderful justification for foresight. Sometimes the curtains are just blue. Sometimes everyone is happy to agree that they signify the protagonist’s depression. Sometimes the author calls it as bollocks. Sometimes the author is happy to take credit for her amazing perspicacity. It’s worse in the art world, where the level of pretension is staggering.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think it is that pretension that annoys me most. While it is perfectly valid for people to read deeper meanings into a work (the famous example being King Kong as a slavery metaphor), all too often people are applying their own biases to their interpretation. So they’d come up with just about anything from any work.

      Liked by 1 person

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