The Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy - New Criticism

How To Interpret Literature: Critical Theory for Literary and Cultural Studies - Sykalo Eugen 2024

The Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy
New Criticism

In its quest to understand literature, New Criticism presented novel concepts, questioning established theories and highlighting the text's independence. But two fallacies stand out in this critical framework: the intentional fallacy and the affective fallacy. These difficulties highlight the intricacies of interpretation and the fine balance between authorial aim and reader response, as pointed out by New Critics such as W.K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley.

The Willful Ignorance: A Search for Neutrality

The claim that one should not take the author's intentions into account when interpreting a literary work is the central fallacy of the Intentional Fallacy. According to Wimsatt and Beardsley, the author's goals, background, or biography have no bearing on how the book should be analyzed. Rather, they argued that the text itself is the only source of meaning and that the emphasis should be on the words on the page.

Textual autonomy: The Intentional Fallacy questions the propensity to delve into the author's thoughts in an attempt to find meaning. In order to promote a more objective critique based on the language and structural features of the work, New Critics encouraged readers to disassociate themselves from the biographical details or outside influences by arguing for the autonomy of the text.

Authorial misinterpretation: Beardsley and Wimsatt were cautious about the risks involved in taking authorial purpose into account. They contended that writers might not be aware of or comprehend all of the meanings buried in their own creations. They argued that depending too much on the author's intentions could cause misunderstandings and impede a sincere discussion of the material on its own terms.

The Fallacy of Affectivity: Feelings and Objective Evaluation

The Affective Fallacy, which runs parallel to the Intentional Fallacy, discusses how the reader's emotional reaction influences how they interpret literature. Beardsley and Wimsatt cautioned against judging a piece of writing on the reader's emotional response to it. They contend that a text's emotional resonance is not a reliable indicator of its literary value or significance.

Evaluation that is objective: The Affective Fallacy refutes the idea that an individual's sentiments and reactions should determine how well a work is evaluated. The New Critics promoted a more objective evaluation that separated the work from the reader's subjective sensations. They held that the formal components of a book should determine its meaning, not the feelings it stirs up in the reader.

Aesthetic distance: New Critics promoted an intellectual engagement that transcends sentimental attachments, urging readers to preserve a certain amount of aesthetic distance. This viewpoint sought to keep subjective feelings from interfering with an objective assessment of the text's intrinsic values and meanings.

Repercussions for Contemporary Criticism: Avoiding the Traps

The Intentional Fallacy and the Affective Fallacy are not without criticism, despite the fact that they provide insightful information on the difficulties of interpretation. Some contend that the complex interaction between author and audience is oversimplified when a work is fully detached from authorial intent or reader response. Opponents argue that knowing the author's intentions can add important background information and improve the reading experience.

A delicate balancing act awaits readers and experts alike as they navigate the traps of the Intentional and Affective Fallacies. Although New Criticism defended the text's independence, it is important to recognize that a more thorough interpretation can be achieved by taking into account emotional reactions in addition to historical and cultural context.

Relevance in modern criticism: There is still discussion about these fallacies in modern literary criticism. In a time when a variety of viewpoints and subjectivities are valued more and more in interpretive processes, academics struggle with the balance between authorial intent and reader response.

Through its examination of the Intentional and Affective Fallacies, New Criticism pushes us to consider the difficulties that come with negotiating the field of literary interpretation. Critical theory discussions are still shaped by the conflict between text-centered analysis and the larger contextual and emotional aspects of literature.