Thursday, February 09, 2006

On the Intentional 'Fallacy'

Some comments from James Zetzel, discussing whether Catullus 34 was written as a hymn for performance at an actual religious festival (he thinks it wasn't):

....Even if Catullus 34 were found in an ancient equivalent of "Hymns Ancient and Modern" that would not mean that its religious aspect was primary in its author's intention.

I realize that I am here committing the intentional fallacy, and I am doing so intentionally, because I do not believe that it is a serious critical problem. In any case, given the assumption--and it is an assumption--of poetic intelligence and control of the text, and given the assumption that we are ultimately interested in the poetry and its composition rather than in using it as evidence for something else, a critic must deal not only with what the historical circumstances are, but how the poet uses them; not with the reconstruction of the psychology and emotions of the poet, but with the depiction of them in the poem; not with what the generic conventions are, but how the poet manipulates them.

From 'Roman Romanticism and Other Fables', p. 50, in The Interpretation of Roman Poetry: Empiricism or Hermeneutics? (entire article pp. 41-57)

1 comment:

dennis said...

Some what related ... I was thinking yesterday about what might be called a kind of intentional fallacy, namely confusing the author's point of view with his intent.

I was thinking of Aratus thought to be 'encoding' Stoic doctrine in a poem superficially about astronomy, or Lucretius teaching Epicureanism through verse.

It seems much more likely to me that Aratus was just a Stoic and Lucretius an Epicurean, and that each had set out to write a poem on a given topic. Did Aratus set out to write Stoic cosmogony? Did he have an alternative?