More literary theory that you really do not have to know…..The Intentional Fallacy


Or don`t believe everything the author tells you – especially if he`s trying to explain why he has written the book or play or poem at hand. For instance, Milton, in his forward to Paradise Lost, tells us that he wants to “justify the ways of God to men”.

Do not (according to the critic Monroe Beardsley, who came up with the term) count on it. And if it is true, so what? Who cares why he thought he wrote it? Which counts more? The author or the work?

Beardsley, however, claimed that only by close reading, particularly of poetry, you would only then be able to discover how a work of literature functioned as a self-contained, self-referential aesthetic object. ….

Intentional fallacy was at its height during the forties and fifties where critics having been force fed historical and biographical books for breakfast whilst at school, now insisted on “close reading of the text.” In other words, forget the Author, forget his Period; it is you and the night and the music. Oh, and the bloody Critic of course.

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