Join 3,377 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


It's not about censorship, moron.
June 5, 2007 1:03 PM   Subscribe

"I wasn't worried about freedom, I was worried about people turning into morons by TV." Ray Bradbury, author of Fahrenheit 451, recently interviewed by LA Weekly , says that the famed story of Guy Montag is not a forewarning of government censorship, but rather it is an inditement of television which is creating a society that focuses on memorizing facts and dates rather than studying literature . In interviews at his home (grainy quicktime video goodness) , especially (1), and (2) , Mr. Bradbury discusses his intentions, amongst other things, of Fahrenheit 451 and "laments the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news." All Of Our teachers Were Wrong .
posted by fizzix (117 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
IMAGINE A WORLD WHERE PEOPLE COULD NOT SPELL 'INDICTMENT'
posted by quonsar at 1:08 PM on June 5, 2007 [6 favorites]


Authorial interpretation does not necessarily equate with "correct" interpretation, much less "only" interpretation. Art exists apart from the artist; once created, an artist's interpretation is no more or less valid than anyone else's. He can tell you what he had in mind, but to what degree that's what the story says, that's a question he's no more qualified to answer than any of us.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:10 PM on June 5, 2007 [14 favorites]


the moronic influence of popular culture through local TV news.

I almost never watch TV at all, much less local TV news. So, when I'm visiting family or something similar and I'm exposed to local TV news, I am so utterly appalled and angered I want to break something. I can't say how strongly I agree that local TV news does far more harm than it does good.

News as entertainment is a hugely corrupting influence on civic life. I won't advocate anything like regulating it—if that's what people want, I think they should be able to get it. But I wish that those of us who would like truly responsible and civic-minded television journalism had enough influence to get it. Or that there were enough people involved in television journalism who wanted to provide such a thing that they were able to provide such a thing. Or, finally, that government somehow created incentives or directly financed such a thing.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:10 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Authorial interpretation does not necessarily equate with "correct" interpretation, much less "only" interpretation. Art exists apart from the artist; once created, an artist's interpretation is no more or less valid than anyone else's. He can tell you what he had in mind, but to what degree that's what the story says, that's a question he's no more qualified to answer than any of us.”—jefgodesky

That's one point of view. It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable bullshit, but it is a legitimate point of view. You say it like it's some sort of undisputed truth, though, which is odd.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:12 PM on June 5, 2007 [9 favorites]


Ethereal Bligh writes "I almost never watch TV at all, much less local TV news. So, when I'm visiting family or something similar and I'm exposed to local TV news, I am so utterly appalled and angered I want to break something."

Yeah, it's fucking amazing, isn't it? It sucks so much, I'm surprised that we can't use its suckage as an energy source.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:13 PM on June 5, 2007


Don't listen to science fiction authors talk about their work. It might make you disappointed.
posted by blahblahblah at 1:15 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


"Then there is the other secret. There isn't any symbolysm [sic]. The sea is the sea. The old man is an old man. The boy is a boy and the fish is a fish. The shark are all sharks no better and no worse. All the symbolism that people say is shit. What goes beyond is what you see beyond when you know."

- Ernest Hemingway
posted by danb at 1:16 PM on June 5, 2007 [14 favorites]


What jefgodesky said.
posted by Zephyrial at 1:20 PM on June 5, 2007


You say it like it's some sort of undisputed truth, though, which is odd.

Umm... oh, never mind. Anyway, the fact that it's fashionable doesn't make it wrong, or even dubious. To me, a staunch despiser of postmodernist bullshit, it seems perfectly obvious that an author should not get to define what his or her work is about. Furthermore, I don't believe Bradbury in this case; I love his early work and I wish him all the best, but he's turned into a classic "get off my lawn" grumpy forgetful old man, and I think he'd say the book was a campaign ad for his man Bush if he thought it would work.
posted by languagehat at 1:21 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Grumopy old man syndrome strikes again! Maybe we can get him into a cage-match with Harlan Ellison?
posted by Artw at 1:21 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Authorial interpretation does not necessarily equate with "correct" interpretation, much less "only" interpretation.

Certainly would make for an interesting debate, especially if Upton Sinclair were (alive and) on the panel as well.
posted by davejay at 1:22 PM on June 5, 2007


Also Ridley Scott can fuck off with his "Deckard was a replicant" shit.
posted by Artw at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


Don't listen to science fiction authors talk about their work. It might make you disappointed.

I knew whose site you were linking to, even before I rolled over it.

and I love his work and know him personally
posted by davejay at 1:23 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's one point of view. It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable bullshit, but it is a legitimate point of view. You say it like it's some sort of undisputed truth, though, which is odd.

Well, mostly because there's hardly any disputing it. What would promote an author's interpretation above that of any other reader? He wrote it, sure, but now Fahrenheit 451 exists apart from Ray Bradbury. Ray Bradbury can tell you what he had in mind when he wrote it, but what makes that interpretation any more "true" than any other?
posted by jefgodesky at 1:25 PM on June 5, 2007


Oh, he’s way off with whatever it is he’s talking about.
*mmmm...soma*
posted by Smedleyman at 1:27 PM on June 5, 2007


It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable bullshit, but it is a legitimate point of view.

I love the smell of oxymorons in the morning!

All kidding aside, as someone who writes stuff, I'm fairly blind to some obvious meanings to what I write. I've often had people say something like: "Your poem/story means X, doesn't it?" and thinking "What? X?! What the F!" and then taking a look at the same story/poem and going "X? How could I be so blind?! Of course it's about X!" My point is that an author only has one brain to think about his work with, while the reading public has anything from 10 brains to 10 million.

Also, if authorial intent trumps all is taken to an extreme, some pretty great pieces of art have to be downgraded because the authors were pieces of duckturd.
posted by Kattullus at 1:30 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


You may be able to find attitudes and assumptions in the text that the author didn't intend or lacked the insight to identify, but when it comes down to what's actually going on, claiming you understand better than the author is a little like saying you understand some other culture better than they do.
posted by Pope Guilty at 1:32 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Next thing he'll tell us that "A Sound of Thunder" wasn't actually dystopian, but in fact was a story about how great time machines are because we can go back and make sure the right guy wins the election.
posted by GuyZero at 1:32 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


You know, when writing a story that isn't about censorship, one good thing to do is to not include scenes involving bookburning.

Possibly if he wad born this in mind it would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
posted by Artw at 1:34 PM on June 5, 2007


Bradbury suffered a stroke a while ago, so his executive functions may be a little fuzzy. But he's spot on about TV news (especially Los Angeles TV news).
posted by infinitewindow at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2007


Don't listen to science fiction authors talk about their work. It might make you disappointed.

I SO knew you were linking to Card, there.

Oh look, it's not like he said it was actually all about habits of homicidal teenage drivers (remember that one scene?). The omnipresent tele-wall and "Family" certainly featured as, if not what appeared to be the main theme, a major one, in the story.
posted by dreamsign at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2007


Are we talking sociologically or what? Bradbury would have to have more insight into what his book is about considering that he actually wrote it. I'd say that makes him more qualified than at least most of the rest of us. That said, I can think of two exceptions:

1. Meaning/significance of the book exists in a greater social context than the author him/herself was consciously aware of while writing.

2. The author is lying about what they wrote about. I believe I've seen this happen in both the movie and art world, where the creator is trying to back away from their original, unpopular stance, and where the creator is trying to ride a wave of trendy opinion about their own work (Borat Movie and the new Star Wars, for example, I believe both authors are lying about what their movies are about.)

I don't doubt Bradbury. The book may have taken on an entirely different meaning than he wanted, and people are entitled to that interpretation if they find it useful, but I don't believe that's any more meaningful than saying a cloud symbolizes a bunny because it looks like one to you.
posted by erikharmon at 1:38 PM on June 5, 2007


Funny to read about folks acting so surprised... it's been years since I read Fahrenheit, but Bradbury's current interpretation sounds completely consistent with what I thought it was about: not government censorship, but collective self-censorship. Not the federally mandated ignorance of 1984, but a more insidious grass-roots form of ignorance.

Did someone say he's a Bush fan? Because he sounds more like Chomsky to me. That's pretty much the thesis of Manufacturing Consent, isn't it?
posted by otherthings_ at 1:39 PM on June 5, 2007


With rare exception, I find that the gap between the artist's view of his or her own work and the work's own speaking-for-itself to me most abysmal when reading "artists' statements" at galleries and some museums. For a while, I stopped reading them because they completely ruined my appreciation of the work -- I'd think, "wow this is some really interesting and compelling stuff," then read the artists' statement, and think "wow, there's no way such a dweeb could have possibly made interesting art -- my perception must be way off, or the interestingness must have happened IN SPITE of the artist's intentions."

And I think there's some truth to that feeling. Artists, IMO, are mediums for or servants of their art. They needn't understand it -- they're merely responsible for bringing it into being.

At any rate, nowadays I always read the artists' statements with a grain of salt, mainly to see what sorts of things the artist had on his or her mind when creating the piece, not to attempt to gain interpretive insight -- and I see no reason not apply this same principle to authors' statements in general.
posted by treepour at 1:41 PM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


You may be able to find attitudes and assumptions in the text that the author didn't intend or lacked the insight to identify, but when it comes down to what's actually going on, claiming you understand better than the author is a little like saying you understand some other culture better than they do.

Only if you accept the implicit assumption that there's some mystical bond of author and writing, and thus that what you read on the page is only the outward manifestation of "the Art," which can only be fully expressed in the author's own soul.

Because if everything that the novel is exists solely between its covers, then both you and the author have the whole thing in your hands. Whatever the author may have meant that he didn't put in, is too late—it's not in there, it's not part of it. The novel exists apart from the novelist. The novelist can tell you all about what the novel meant to him; he cannot tell you what the novel means, because once complete, the novel has its own, independent existence.
posted by jefgodesky at 1:42 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


This is actually the first time I heard people suggest that it was about censorship. Censorship implies that they're selectively silencing particular viewpoints. What's being censored here? They're destroying all their books without any regard for their content.
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:44 PM on June 5, 2007


Bradbury, a favorite of mine as a kid, is no doubt an intelligent guy and had some good points but he gets something basically wrong: people are morons, irrespective of the influence of TV.

There will always be a tiny minority of people who will seek to challenge themselves with new perspectives and ideas, but the vast majority don't want to think about it. As reactionary as I can sometimes be, I have a difficult time believing that people were not ever thus, even in the days before television.
posted by psmealey at 1:47 PM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


Yikes, replace "speaking-for-itself to me" with "speaking for itself to be", and and "see no reason not apply" with "see no reason not to apply." Sorry.
posted by treepour at 1:48 PM on June 5, 2007


Oh, as to consumer-interpretation, and keep in mind, as even the most active reader, that's what you are: a consumer. Authorial authority exists in two distinct ways: authority as to plot, and authority as to meaning.

The first is usually not disputed. Let's say I write a whodunnit. You as the consumer are reading a particular narrative. It's not a choose-your-own-adventure. You are discovering the world that I created. That's why the next page carries more authority in the story than your daydreaming mind should you find yourself drifting off.

Some would extend this to meaning, also. Stories have resonance, and it's very likely that even unintentionally, the meanings ascribed to elements of the story have ramifications for other elements and plotting. It's a little like dream interpretation. Maybe I almost drowned as a child and you're an olympic swimmer, and I have a dream about being in the ocean. Consulting you tells me more about you than it does the dream. Likewise some dream interpretation guide. If you want to know what the dream means, consult the dreamer. If it means something else to you, great. That's not worthless, but it provides no insight into the hows or whys of the dream. There's nothing mystical about it. Created things reflect their creator.

once complete, the novel has its own, independent existence

Who is being mystical here?
posted by dreamsign at 1:52 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


The author fallacy. That one's from 1915.

The New Critics (in the 1940s) called it the intentional fallacy.

So if the idea is fashionable bullshit, it's also old fashioned bullshit.
posted by notyou at 1:53 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


I think you're making a good point, jefgodesky but veering to far into post-modern relativism to make it.

Everyone's interpretation is not equally valid. And, although the author may not get the final word, they certainly are able to provide context that few others can provide. I'm positive I'd get a clearer view of Ulysses if I got to sit down with Joyce - even if I had to discard 80% of what he told me as posturing nonsense - and when it comes to say, speaking about Garcia Marquez's 100 Years of Solitude, I'm more likely to respect the opinion of someone who actually knows a bit about South American culture and politics since this novel is so deeply steeped in it. Heck, Garcia Marquez himself might be able to provide some insights. I'd certainly listen.
posted by vacapinta at 1:55 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Don't listen to science fiction authors talk about their workOrson Scott Card. It might make you disappointed.

Fixed that for you.
posted by The Bellman at 1:56 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


Generally speaking, when a science fictional topic has been linked to at Making Light, it's probably best practice to link to it in the FPP since it will often be full of insight by sf insiders and knowledgable fans.

In short, Bradbury is suffering from the well-know (in SF circles) brain eater disease. He's also retconning his own past, the past of his novel, and is an enthusiastic fan of George W. Bush, which speaks to the aforementioned brain eater disease.
posted by Justinian at 1:57 PM on June 5, 2007


Vacapinta; the problem is that, as you can see by reading the quotes over at Making Light, Bradbury has no idea what he himself was thinking when he wrote the novel. He's contradicting earlier statements about it.
posted by Justinian at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2007


It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable bullshit, but it is a legitimate point of view.

So, which is it, fashionable bullshit or a legitimate point of view? I'm confused.

Also:
“I would define the poetic effect as the capacity that a text displays for continuing to generate different readings, without ever being completely consumed.” -Umberto Eco

I would be sad if everyone took the same meanings out of what they read. But, I guess it's obvious what side of this debate I come down on.
posted by absalom at 1:59 PM on June 5, 2007


is a little like saying you understand some other culture better than they do.

This isn't necessarily the kind of ludicrous proposition I think you're trying to suggest that it is. Someone living within a culture may be unable to apprehend it with the same kind of perspective that someone living outside it is able to. For instance: if that one culture is particularly isolated with regards to its exposure to other different cultures whereas the observer has had a lot of such exposure.
posted by juv3nal at 2:00 PM on June 5, 2007


Hmph. I read about this a few days ago, and was pretty disappointed. But after discussing it with my English teacher wife and retired English teacher dad, I've come to the conclusion that local television news is probably a much greater threat to humanity than a few religious kooks burning copies of Harry Potter in the church parking lot.

So carry on, grumpy old guy.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 2:01 PM on June 5, 2007


Did Bradbury like Truffaut's version? I think that's where most (at least many) people got their interp.

/I have a terrible time wading through Bradbury's obese prose.
posted by RavinDave at 2:01 PM on June 5, 2007


There should be no debate. You can simply re-interpret my text so that I agree with you.
posted by vacapinta at 2:02 PM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


I use F451 in my teacher prep classes. We tend to talk about it in terms of self-censorship and what happens when people stop thinking about each other as human.

I have students read this along with Louise Rosenblatt (Reader Response Theory)

I thank Mr. Bradbury for writing this novel, and I would like to remind him that great art is often able to transcend time and situation to speak relevantly and powerfully to people outside of where it was created. So, I can build my own relationship with art (as can my students and their students) and use it in a manner for which it was not originally intended.
posted by oflinkey at 2:07 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Much of Hemingway's misogyny in his fiction, plus the fact that he pretty much tried to turn every woman with whom he was romantically involved into a man, as well as that totally freaky bedroom scene in The Garden of Eden (if you've read it, you know which one), make a whole lot more sense once you know about the deeply weird gender stuff that his mother put him through when he was young. And he never owned up to any of that stuff, nor would he ever have.

The assumption that an artist knows about and controls everything in his work is mistaken. I've been in enough fiction workshops where I've gotten a bunch of feedback and suddenly realized, "Fuck! That was what I was writing about the whole time, and I had no idea!" to strongly agree with jefgodesky.
posted by vitia at 2:10 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


The anti-television themes were definitely prominent, but a book that begins with "It was a pleasure to burn," well, you can't go back and edit that. And, while the book burning is indeed indiscriminate, we must remember the history within the book, that one day every group who was offended by something went into the library and tore out the offending page. Men, women. White, black, every other color in-between. Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, pagan ... When they were done, there was nothing left. Everyone had censored out the parts they disliked the most. The concept was more clearly illustrated in a short science fiction story in which a teacher in the future puts on an abridged, inoffensive version of Shakespeare - consisting of about eight lines of dialogue.

So, yes, while the book-burning was not selective, it's origins were in individual, rather than top-down, censorship. A bit like protest groups gone mad.

Bradbury sort of lost me when he got angry at Michael Moore for using a "Fahrenheit" title, given that he has used other people's titles as part of his own work. People ask me why I usually refuse to listen to commentary tracks on DVD. This is why. A great work of art comes alive and lives beyond its creator. It may be a key component of artistic greatness, for all I know. Don't get me started on Card or Ellison. The less I know about a writer, the happier I am.

All of that aside, he's right: TV mostly sucks.
posted by adipocere at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2007


Well he's right about the corrosive power of local TV news. No other technology has been as completely damaging and corrosive to culture and civilization. Historical hindsight will hopefully make it blindingly clear that the modern catastrophe became viable and unavoidably only after the majority of the population became total idiots from watching local TV news.
posted by nixerman at 2:11 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


(Although I do think Bradbury is backpedaling here.)
posted by oflinkey at 2:12 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


I gotta say, if you really think there's something "obese" about Bradbury's 200-some-odd-page novel, I'd really be curious to learn whose books you find lean. That said...

If Ray Bradbury really thinks his novel about people on a crusade to burn all books isn't about censorship, I'd really be curious to learn if he's ever read his own novel.

(This is not to discount that it could also be seen as an indictment of television, a phenomenon I can imagine would have been quite frightening to writers of the day. I have to wonder whether Mr. Bradbury's take on TV has changed at all in the decades since, however, given that those decades include, like, a TV show based on nothing except his own short stories! I have yet to watch the videos, so perhaps this is addressed...)
posted by kittens for breakfast at 2:13 PM on June 5, 2007


Ack, a film version? I had no idea. Was it any good? (yes I know it's Truffaut but still)

I had the same reaction to the culture analogy, juv3nal. But cultures are not the product of one man. Stories can be (hence the dream example).

Though I am totally prepared to accept the idea that an author may be acting under the influence of factors unaware that a reader may be able to spot, much like that culture's observant outsider.
posted by dreamsign at 2:14 PM on June 5, 2007


Chalk me up as another one of those poor souls who never really saw Fahrenheit 451 as being about censorship per se - although I will say, indirectly, that a society without literature, which cannot knowledgeably discuss its own history and values, has hardly any need for censorship per se. See also Newspeak in 1984 and the pictographs in The Handmaid's Tale.

It's not an intentional program necessarily, but a mindless populace can't know when it's being led by the nose.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:16 PM on June 5, 2007


Ah yes, the old interpretation debate. Didn't we go through this back in the Norman Rockwell thread a month or 2 ago? It's like Metafilter's poor man version of the theism vs. atheism debate. I can't wait until people start applying the term "postmodern" to everything they disagree with (without any consideration of what the term could mean) and then start strawmanning with arguments like, "Well fine, I say that F451 is about chocolate unicorns who dance the cha-cha with the devil in the pale moonlight! I guess that's just as valid as anything else, right?"

Good times.
posted by papakwanz at 2:17 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


And a Card-Ellison bloodsport match would sell. Well.
posted by dreamsign at 2:17 PM on June 5, 2007


Damn--Bradbury's a Bushie? And I just bought The Martian Chronicles, too. Now it's going to be just as painful to read as reading Xenocide was after finding out that Card's just an opportunistic raving warmonger who'd been hoping to make a mint off of none-too-subtle merchandising tie-ins to the "War on Terrah" (I mean, Empire? C'mon...). Aach. Why the hell do all the modern writers seem to be such big supporters of the established institutions of power? I thought iconoclasm was part of the job description when it comes to being a significant literary author. With Vonnegut gone, and so many second-tier writers siding with the Bush admin, it's like we've got no real, significant anti-establishment writers left.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:18 PM on June 5, 2007


It seems that what Bradbury ACTUALLY wanted to make was The Year Of The Sex Olympics. Only not as a TV play, obviously.
posted by Artw at 2:19 PM on June 5, 2007


The first is usually not disputed. Let's say I write a whodunnit. You as the consumer are reading a particular narrative. It's not a choose-your-own-adventure. You are discovering the world that I created. That's why the next page carries more authority in the story than your daydreaming mind should you find yourself drifting off.

If the plot is unambiguous, that's true. But on an ambiguous point—whether or not Deckard is a replicant in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep is a good example above—then no. Philip Dick could tell us what he thinks, but he didn't put an unambiguous answer in the story itself, so his opinion is just that—opinion. It's not in the story, and that means that Dick's opinion on whether Deckard is a replicant or not can only tell us what he had in mind when he wrote the story—it cannot tell us what the story actually says.

once complete, the novel has its own, independent existence

Who is being mystical here?


Those upholding the primacy of authorial intent. What's so mystical about the idea that a novel exists? Unless there's some kind of hidden level known only to the author that is equally "the novel" as the part you get to read, then you've read everything that the novel has in it, and that makes you as qualified as the author to comment on its meaning. If there's something he meant to put in there that would change your interpretation, then that's hardly valid. It's not part of the novel. Notice, where I just say that a novel exists, you claim some kind of mystical connection—"Created things reflect their creator." Which is very much the contention. Can you prove that? Because it seems to me that that does not necessarily follow—created things are things, in and of themselves, and thus exist apart from their creator. Otherwise, they'd still be their creators.

Everyone's interpretation is not equally valid.

Well, I don't think it's true that any interpretation is as valid as any other, but that's something different. The most valid interpretation is the one that best accounts for the elements of what you're interpreting. Who makes that interpretation is not important. It may be the author, but it probably won't be; authors are too busy writing to usually catch the full depth of their work. Which is where you get to Joyce and Marquez—Joyce's work is so deeply personal that he's the only person who could ever share with you the context of so much that's going on in Ulysses, and as you mentioned, the cultural context Marquez plays with is something that could help a great deal. Does that make their interpretations the "true" ones? Not at all. What it gives you is more information on how to best account for all the elements involved. The cultural context of Latin America will help you understand a lot of the context of Macondo, elements you'd miss otherwise, but that's the limit. If your interpretation differs from the author's, that doesn't necessarily mean the author is right and you're wrong. What would make you wrong would be if your interpretation doesn't line up with things established in the novel itself; what would make the author's interpretation stronger than yours would be if his brought the elements together more strongly. But that gets us far from the notion of authorial monopoly on meaning, because at that point, you're discussing interpretation as equals.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:20 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


That's one point of view. It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable BS

It's not merely "fashionable"; the concept is quite well established. Authors frequently and consistently misunderstand the importance of their own works. It's hard to trust what an author is saying about his work particularly decades after the fact, because those statements are affected by his own shifts in ideology and changing memory.

Insofar as F451 is about censorship, the impression I got was that books were considered inherently subversive and inherently thoughtful. Thus, destroying them ensured that people would stay stupid and easily controlled. Frankly, I'm surprised he didn't write this as a marketing tool to get his work inserted into the YA-fiction curriculum of grammar and middle schools. It's the sort of thing that is made for an after-school special.
posted by deanc at 2:20 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


kittens ...

I mean that he pads a few too many stories with excessive and needless description. It's perfectly easy to have an obese 200 page book if you only have 150 pages of story. And perhaps I hold him to a higher standard because I know he can do better. "The October Game" is a great example.
posted by RavinDave at 2:21 PM on June 5, 2007


cultures are not the product of one man. Stories can be

Name one. Name a story that is completely the creation of one single person with absolutely no outside influences whatsoever.
posted by papakwanz at 2:21 PM on June 5, 2007


Anyway, the fact that it's fashionable doesn't make it wrong, or even dubious.

Of course not. That's why I said that it was fashionable bullshit. See, fashionable functions in that sentence as an adjective to bullshit. This implies that it could have been just bullshit, or even unfashionable bullshit. So if you are trying to refute the argument that it's bullshit because it's fashionable, then you'll have to find someone actually making that argument.

...it seems perfectly obvious that an author should not get to define what his or her work is about.

Yes, well, what seems perfectly obvious to you or anyone else doesn't make it right, or even indisputable.

Well, mostly because there's hardly any disputing it.

Really? Try Googling intentionalist fallacy and see if you find that hardly anyone disputes this assertion.

What would promote an author's interpretation above that of any other reader?

That they wrote it? I could have taken the satire route in responding to your comment and just asserted some crazy-assed thing is what your comment "meant". If I had done it subtly enough so that you wouldn't have realized my intent, what would your reponse have likely been?

I love the smell of oxymorons in the morning!

Then surely you must be familiar enough with them to know what they are. If you happen to stop by a dictionary, though, you might look up legitimate while you're there.

Also, if authorial intent trumps all is taken to an extreme, some pretty great pieces of art have to be downgraded because the authors were pieces of duckturd.

True. But saying that the intentionalist fallacy is fashionable bullshit is not necessarily taking authorial intent to an extreme. So, you're making the slippery-slope argument. But I think I can argue that authorial intent matters without denying either the importance of the reader's subjective experience nor the practical truth that a work of art stands on its own.

The existence of these two arguments in two separate comments, back-to-back, is very interesting:

Artists, IMO, are mediums for or servants of their art. They needn't understand it -- they're merely responsible for bringing it into being.

and

Only if you accept the implicit assumption that there's some mystical bond of author and writing, and thus that what you read on the page is only the outward manifestation of ‘the Art,’ which can only be fully expressed in the author's own soul.

One person asserts a mystical view of art in support the correctness of the doctrine of the intentionalist fallacy, and the other denies the mystical view in support of the correctness of the doctrine of the intentionalist fallacy.

I'm curious to know if those who reject the importance of authorial intent support or reject the importance of historical and cultural context for a work of art.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:23 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


As Justinian mentioned upthread, this appeared earlier at Making Light, but fizzix has omitted not only that fact, but the more interesting fact that Bradbury is reversing himself. Y'all should go there and read it, but for those of you who do not, here's a quote from the author himself:
There is more than one way to burn a book. And the world is full of people running about with lit matches. Every minority, be it Baptist / Unitarian, Irish / Italian / Octogenarian / Zen Buddhist, Zionist / Seventh-day Adventist, Women’s Lib / Republican, Mattachine / FourSquareGospel feel it has the will, the right, the duty to douse the kerosene, light the fuse….Fire-Captain Beatty, in my novel Fahrenheit 451, described how the books were burned first by the minorities, each ripping a page or a paragraph from the book, then that, until the day came when the books were empty and the minds shut and the library closed forever.
posted by adamrice at 2:24 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


psmealey, I very much agree, though the second half of your assessment is, to me, more accurate than the first: it's not that people are mostly morons--that is, lacking the mental ability to understand themselves and their world--but rather that most people simply seem to be incurious, not at all interested in using their brains to think with.

The salient question seems to be, especially regarding Bradbury's point: is it worse now than ever before, or was it ever thus, and we just have this new, TV-licious flavor to deal with?
posted by LooseFilter at 2:26 PM on June 5, 2007


I'd like EB to disprove the intentional fallacy with more than just the assertion "The author wrote it."

The importance of historical and cultural context is one of the things that gave the intentional fallacy legs post-New Criticism/formalism.
And the current view on the intentional fallacy is far more nuanced than the Barthes/Foucault "author is dead" standpoint (although their standpoints were more nuanced than such a bald-faced statement indicates). No one says that the author's opinion/intention/input/commentary is meaningless; rather, it is one piece of information that goes into the construction of an interpretation.
posted by papakwanz at 2:31 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


Well, I've read it. I thought it was more about controlling how people thought via destroying all means of communication that wasn't authorized so that the population remained docile. Books tend to bring out that whole imagination and thinking problem.

And Equilibrium rocked. :P
posted by Talanvor at 2:33 PM on June 5, 2007


Speaking as an author myself, I think it is always interesting to hear what an author has to say about a particular work, but to view that as the "correct" interpretation is frankly silly.

Certainly, an author can tell you what they had in mind when they wrote it, which can be fascinating. Of, course, that doesn't necessarily tell you how well they succeeded in getting across what they intended, how many elements that they didn't know they were putting in went into the work, the invisible cultural framework which informed the basic assumptions of the work, etc.

Even more importantly ... authors are frankly usually too close to a work to accurately sum up the gist. If you have ever heard an author talk about their work and mostly go on at length about a minor point they took five weeks to struggle through, you will understand what I mean.
posted by kyrademon at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2007


That they wrote it? I could have taken the satire route in responding to your comment and just asserted some crazy-assed thing is what your comment "meant". If I had done it subtly enough so that you wouldn't have realized my intent, what would your reponse have likely been?

All I could tell you is what I meant by it. But if there's a discrepency between what I mean and what I write, the question is not what I meant, but what the thing I wrote means. "That they wrote it" is not a reason, it's simply bald assertion. My comment is not me, it is not a part of me, it exists as a comment on its own. I made it attempting to communicate a thought, but that intention in my creation may not have much to do with what it is, now. Or, to try to simplify, it may not've been what I meant, but it is what I wrote.

I'm curious to know if those who reject the importance of authorial intent support or reject the importance of historical and cultural context for a work of art.

I do. That might help you understand what it meant then, but it may not help you understand what it means now. Again, the work exists now. It existed in the past, and it exists now. The author's intent, the historical context, and the history of its interpretation are all interesting things that can enlighten and inform a good interpretation, but in the final analysis, you're interpreting a novel, not the novelist, nor its historical context. Everything it is, exists between its covers. Everything else is just a hint.
posted by jefgodesky at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2007


Bradbury would have to have more insight into what his book is about considering that he actually wrote it.

You might think so, if you knew nothing about writing and didn't give it more than a couple of seconds' thought. Hell, it's as obvious as that the sun revolves around the earth. But go back upthread and read Kattullus's comment; it may give you some new ideas.

EB, give me a break. Your entire paragraph read:

That's one point of view. It's a point of view that happens to be fashionable bullshit, but it is a legitimate point of view. You say it like it's some sort of undisputed truth, though, which is odd.


You can claim that's impartial as to the validity of the point of view, but I'll view that with the same indulgent skepticism with which I view ol' Bradbury's new, revised interpretation of what his wonderful book meant. I maintain that you don't like that point of view, and I further maintain that your later sarcasm-filled screeds support my interpretation.
posted by languagehat at 2:41 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


(Whoever actually did write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut.
/.. and another thing, Vonnegut! I'm gonna stop payment on the check. Fuck me? Hey, Kurt, can you read lips? Fuck you. Next time I'll call Robert Ludlum.)


Could be he’s talking a larger context. It’s not explicitly about censorship, but that is one of the gross points. More subtly it concerns the loss of the life of the mind and indeed, the dumbing down of critical thought and alienation from human contact and interaction through the machinations of whatever intermediary for whatever reason.
(In our modern situation the intellectual sacrifices are made for security, in 451 it’s to ‘happiness’ - but the vehicle itself doesn’t matter)
Probably easier to say “censorship” to younger students though. Little more compact an idea.
Doesn’t mean they’re mutually exclusive, I suspect Bradbury prefers to emphasize the big picture he had in mind. Doesn’t invalidate any of the particulars in his execution though.
Just ‘cause it’s mostly about the loss of critical thought doesn’t mean it can’t be about censorship. Matter of focus, not set limitation.

/on preview: morans
posted by Smedleyman at 2:42 PM on June 5, 2007


Again, I feel like it must be pointed out that Bradbury had no problem asserting it was about censorship when he felt that it was mostly minority lefty types doing the censoring. Now he says it's not about censorship because people he disagrees with are using the novel as a club against his wonderful president Bush.

See: Michael Moore et al.
posted by Justinian at 2:44 PM on June 5, 2007


This topic has opened up a whole new set of viewpoints that I was not even aware of. Thanks "notyou" for the book link to "The Modern Study of Literature" and to "papakawnz" for your post at 2:31 simplifying the argument. I wish I would have tried harder in school :-P
posted by erikharmon at 2:50 PM on June 5, 2007


You can claim that's impartial as to the validity of the point of view

No I don't. Where did I do that? You maintain that I don't like that point of view. Well, congratulations on deciphering that cleverly concealed bit of bias on my part. Was it the "bullshit" that was your first clue?

Anyway, all I know is that you keyed on the word fashionable as if I were asserting that anything fashionable is wrong or at least dubious. Which I did not so assert. I was being a bit more specific about what kind of bullshit it was and perhaps implying why it's so widely believed. But, of course, I also was quite explicit that it is nevertheless a legitimate opinion. I think it's a bullshit doctrine that happens to be fashionable and is quite definitely legitimate.

So if the idea is fashionable bullshit, it's also old fashioned bullshit.

It's older than that. That it's long-standing fashionable bullshit is part of why I said it was also legitimate. Did you think that you were disputing something I wrote?

So, which is it, fashionable bullshit or a legitimate point of view? I'm confused.

See my previous paragraph. Legitimate doesn't require that something be non-bullshit.

It's not merely "fashionable"; the concept is quite well established.

Um, yes. That's why I wrote that it is legitimate.

I guess I can't complain that people are reading into what I wrote things that aren't there because, after all, I have no better understanding of what I wrote than do they. Oh, wait: what they're reading into what I wrote isn't actually there. And, somehow, I turned out to be more aware of this than they were. How odd.

...it is one piece of information that goes into the construction of an interpretation.

Well, I agree with that. And since no one says

the author's opinion/intention/input/commentary is meaningless

...then we don't have a disagreement. Unless the assertion is that the author's opinion/whatever doesn't carry any more weight than any particular reader's opinion/whatever, which is what jeffgodesky has said.

Obviously there are nuanced defenses of the correctness of the intentionalist fallacy. And, I agree with the defense of it insofar as it is a criticism of a doctrine of authorial tyranny. But the most common invocation of the intentionalist fallacy I encounter is a blithe complete or near-complete disregard for authorial intention. Well, that and the easily identifiable smug tone of someone whose acquaintance with aesthetic philosophy comes from a chapter in a textbook in a survey course.

At any rate, I did intend to be provocative because I find I'm mightily irritated with the way the intentionalist fallacy is so often casually invoked. I didn't intend to hijack the thread with arguments about it. So I'm bowing out.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 2:51 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


I apologize for this.
posted by nervousfritz at 3:02 PM on June 5, 2007


Given Bradbury's reveal on the nature of this text, I wonder if he's seen or posted a reaction to Mike Judge's Idiocracy, a movie that still has me giggling.
posted by thanotopsis at 3:08 PM on June 5, 2007


cultures are not the product of one man. Stories can be

Name one. Name a story that is completely the creation of one single person with absolutely no outside influences whatsoever.


Paul Di Filippo tells a story about such a story, papakwanz.
posted by cgc373 at 3:11 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


But that gets us far from the notion of authorial monopoly on meaning...

You started this discussion arguing that an authors opinion carries no more weight than anyone else. Then, several people disagreed.

Now you're arguing against "authorial monopoly" and Kattullus is talking about "if authorial intent trumps all is taken to an extreme..." That is, you're changing the argument. Nobody here said that authorial intent trumps all but merely that, yes, the author is in a better position to provide insight than the average reader.
posted by vacapinta at 3:14 PM on June 5, 2007


(Di Filippo's story is really about a storyteller whose only influences are other stories, not worldly experiences. It's in the form of a book review from the future.)
posted by cgc373 at 3:15 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


Is there any evidence that Bradbury had tried to set the record straight any time in the last 50+ years of F451's lifespan? Surely he saw, early on, the popular interpretation catch hold. It's perfectly reasonable to wonder why it is suddenly an issue to be bruited.
posted by RavinDave at 3:24 PM on June 5, 2007


cgc373: Yeah, it seems that it's a story about a story with plenty of outside influences, just no relation to the lived experience of the world.
posted by papakwanz at 3:42 PM on June 5, 2007


I'm curious to know if those who reject the importance of authorial intent support or reject the importance of historical and cultural context for a work of art.

I don't reject the "importance" of authorial intent, but like jefgodesky said, it's merely a "hint." If you think about it for longer, there is no reason why the author is the final authority on the issue. How do you know he's being honest? How do you know he's not trying to change his story for personal/political reasons? How do you know that he knew exactly what he was saying?

On one hand, I disagree with jefgodesky in that I believe that works of art are inherently bound to the cultural and hstorical context in which they were created, and any other interpretations we gain from it is a "bonus" in the form of insights from the author that turned out to transcend the culture and time period. However, I think it's wrong to give too much weight to the author, whose own cultural context needs to be taken into account when making statements about his/her intent as well as the time period and context in which those statements were made.

It's no small matter that Bradbury now, in this era, is making a statement about his supposed intent, 50 years after the fact. His statements themselves exist in a specific cultural and temporal context and need to be interpreted as such.

Also, another case of this: Mefi Dec. 2004: Ursula K. Le Guin complains about the TV adaptation of her "Earthsea" series. Her complaints? They butchered the adaptation. Why? It wasn't butchered because the story and themes were ignored or turned on their heads. No, she is convinced that the most important thing about her books were that the main characters were nonwhite, which the TV adaptors ignored. A fair point to be sure, but a fine example of an author who isn't the best source to ask regarding the primary meaning of her work.
posted by deanc at 3:45 PM on June 5, 2007


So far the only reference to Bradbury loving GWB is a Salon article dated August 29, 2001.

I wonder if his opinion changed much in the weeks that followed.
posted by otherthings_ at 3:47 PM on June 5, 2007


I don’t know that his perspective is so narrow in scope that it’s limited to politics. He might love Bush. I don’t see that it matters, it’s still an indictment of a social and technological nature. I’d find similar problems in casting Postman’s “Technopoly” into a purely modern political context.
Seems as though Bradbury is casting t.v. in the role Voltaire did for the church.
Bushco notwithstanding. Indeed: “Only after people stopped reading did the state employ firemen to burn books.”
It’s far more subtle and insidious than censorship and politics.

Of course, maybe he’s got some things to say about how wonderful the current administration is, perhaps that is his current motivation to discuss the book, but that’s not at all relevant to the meaning within the work itself.

The same cultural indictments stand whatever one’s political stripe. Someone who says the t.v. environment is dumbing people down culturally is correct whether they’re left, right or indifferent. Most particularly the author in this case and most certainly when he’s talking about methods and his concerns when writing the piece.

Speculation, or rather, extrapolation of this particular story’s meaning into a modern context is exactly that, speculation and extrapolation.
Doesn’t change the (multiple) themes in story itself or which he felt were most important. But that’s just fiction, not real world relevence.
And yeah, he’s got no right to try to control how the interpretations and symbols are used. Certainly he can speak with authority on what he had in mind while writing. But book burning is a pretty powerful symbol. No question someone’s going to pick up the imagery of state-employed book burning firemen and use it whether they’re dead on with the theme or way off base.
posted by Smedleyman at 3:49 PM on June 5, 2007


I recently reread 451, and I'm not sure that Bradbury's claims are all that far-fetched. One thing he makes clear in the book is that the firemen and censorship was largely an unnecessary afterthought. Most people in the society he envisioned don't want to read, and don't require censorship. The picture he paints is of a society that slowly moved away from intellectualism and learning. The government, seeing this as a good thing, then cemented the situation with the Firemen, but they only did this after people had essentially stopped reading of their own accord.
posted by unreason at 3:56 PM on June 5, 2007


Between this, his support of George Bush, his silly criticism of Michael Moore and his incessant prattling about how the best way to solve L.A.'s traffic problems is by construction a monorail, I think it's safe to say that Ray Bradbury is a fucking dolt.
posted by dhammond at 3:58 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


No question someone’s going to pick up the imagery of state-employed book burning firemen and use it whether they’re dead on with the theme or way off base.

Not to mention that in the era in which it was published, public, state-sponsored book-burnings were well-within almost everyone's living memory. "Burning books" had a specific, well-know meaning that everyone would have related to at that time. Now, it's entirely possible that Bradbury was trying to turn that image on its head -- book burning not as an afterthought, effectively an act of "taking out the trash" -- but once again, it's not as though the Nazi activists were burning books to stop everyone from reading them. They had whipped up a public fervor against certain books and deemed them unacceptable to be read, people stopped reading them and rejected them as "corrupt," and THEN they were burned. Bradbury takes the concept to the extreme by imagining a society in which all books are inherently "corrupt" and need to be destroyed. The book can't be separated from its publication in the wake of actual occurences of book burning.
posted by deanc at 3:58 PM on June 5, 2007


It's no small matter that Bradbury now, in this era, is making a statement about his supposed intent, 50 years after the fact. His statements themselves exist in a specific cultural and temporal context and need to be interpreted as such.

Okay, even though I said I was leaving this argument, I want to respond to this because I agree with it. I think my argument is that the author is, all things being equal, in general, the most reliable "interpreter" of a text—but, all things are not often equal and of course the author's reliability as an "interpreter" of a text should be evaluated in each specific case. In doing so, in some cases we'll find the author to be an unreliable authority, even relative to a reasonably literate reader.

You know, in some ways it's very peculiar that I should be making this attack on the doctrine of intentionalist fallacy. I went to St. John's College, the "great books" school where all these books are read with absolutely no other context provided than the books themselves (and by that I include the other books we read, as most are related to others in many ways). SJC is an oddball champion of such ahistorical readings in contemporary education.

Honestly, I have an ambivalent relationship to that approach. I think it's mostly successful at SJC because part of why these works arguably stand above most others is because they are sufficiently self-contained. However, sufficiently is the key word in that sentence. I think that additional context is always helpful.

It seems to me that the extreme version of authorial preeminence that many are arguing against here is just as naive as those arguing against it portray it as being. However, the extreme version of textual independence that jeffgodesky is promoting seems to me to be equally naive. Meaning arises in the interplay of content and context. Of objectivity and subjectivity. No text stands on its own—a text is in a very real sense, dynamic. It's a living thing, interacting with the world as living things do. Taking a text out of the world is to kill it, if such a thing is actually possible. And of all the things that provide meaningful context for a text, authorial intent looms the largest.

What's being lost in this discussion, but raised in your comment and this reply to it, is that authorial intent is distinct from an author's reporting of that intent. In this sense, then, an author reporting on his/her intent is much like a critic who attempts to describe accurately the cultural context of a text. That authority itself has to be evaluated for its reliability. Some critics get the cultural context all wrong, just as some authors get their authorial context all wrong. But both are part of the larger context in which meaning arises, and being informed of them is always helpful (assuming the information is reliable).
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 4:07 PM on June 5, 2007 [2 favorites]


his incessant prattling about how the best way to solve L.A.'s traffic problems is by construction a monorail

deanc's law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a mention of a monorail and, by extension, the Simpsons' monorail episode, approaches 1.

Well, sir, there's nothing on earth
Like a genuine,
Bona fide,
Electrified,
Six-car
Monorail!
posted by deanc at 4:12 PM on June 5, 2007 [3 favorites]


I think we need to differentiate between "the author's intention" and "the author's interpretation."
The first is, "When I wrote, 'x' I intended to express the following meaning or meanings: a, b, c..."
The second is, "The written product 'x' does express the following meaning or meanings: a, b, c..."

The former is a piece of information that one may consider when attempting to construct an interpretation of the work. The extent to which it should be taken into consideration will vary depending on the type of interpretation and perspective the critic is taking on the work.

For example, if someone wants to interpret my novel "Chocolate Unicorns Dancing the Cha-Cha" in terms of how it reflects the biographical details of my lived experience, authorial intent will probably be important to that interpretation (although it will not be the only thing to consider). On the other hand, if one wishes to interpret it as a "cultural document" that gives certain insight into male chauvinism in the year 2007, then authorial intent will be far less important, even if (or perhaps especially if) I say, "I am/am not a feminist, and I did/did not intend the work to be sexist in any way." (Of course, there are some who will doubt the very validity of one or the other of these types of interpretation. I call them ideologues, and they can be far left, far right, or dead center.)

The latter is probably less important, although the difference between the two is subtle. If I say, "My novel 'Chocolate Unicorns' is a scathing indictment of Copernican cosmology, and I know because I wrote the damn thing," I have to make the case for that argument just as anyone else would.

Now, maybe that's what I intended. And when you write your book about me, you will say, "papakwanz intended his book to be a Ptolemaic revolution, and obviously when we read the book and notice x, y, and z, we can see that he was unbelievably delusional regarding his own writing."

Or a more simple but equally ludicrous example: I write a poem that goes, "Fuck you, you stupid motherfucker. / Go eat some asbestos and die." My intention in this poem is to express my deep love for humanity. Fine as an intention to take into account when interpreting the poem ("papakwanz doesn't know what words mean..." or, more generously, "papakwanz had a strong sense of irony..."), but probably not very useful as an interpretation in and of itself, because except in extremely odd and unlikely contexts, that poem does NOT carry any sort of meaning that could be interpreted as love.

With a more nuanced and complicated book like F451 where there isn't such an obvious departure between intention, interpretation, and product, these questions are much harder to address, but that doesn't make them less important. Bradbury says he intended it to be about TV not freedom. Fine. Duly noted, Ray. Now prove it. He may make a compelling argument, he may not. No matter how compelling it is, it is rather unlikely that it will be 100% "right" in the sense of being able to account for every possible meaning of every word/sentence/paragraph/metaphor/etc. in the book. Why? Because language is not something within Ray, but something that Ray is within; he is not in full control of the language that he uses, just as he is not in full control of the cultural influences that inflict themselves upon him. He artfully shapes them, of course, but there is always something that exceeds his grasp, just as there is always something that exceeds any artist's grasp. Does that mean he has no idea what he's writing? No, of course not. But even at the very second that he puts pen to paper, even if he could record every conscious thought as he writes or thinks about writing the book, there's something else going on in and around him that he is not aware of. And of course, his memory of those intentions, and his interpretation of the products of those intentions, will change. Perhaps he will get a clearer perspective, perhaps not. The extent to which those intentions and the interpretations are unmediated by other factors is, of course, impossible to know. So, again, for Bradbury, maybe he says the book was about one thing, not about another. Fine Ray. I'll keep that in mind when I read it again, and it will possibly affect the way I interpret things. But just because he says it don't make it true.
posted by papakwanz at 4:18 PM on June 5, 2007 [4 favorites]


What's being lost in this discussion, but raised in your comment and this reply to it, is that authorial intent is distinct from an author's reporting of that intent.

D'oh!
That's what I said. :)
posted by papakwanz at 4:23 PM on June 5, 2007


The government, seeing this as a good thing, then cemented the situation with the Firemen, but they only did this after people had essentially stopped reading of their own accord.

Now, it's been a while since I read it, but I'm pretty sute that boosk were actually illegal in it, and the firemen and the goverment actively persecuted ownership books. That's a bit different from people just not caring. The whole memorising books thing wouldn't make any sense for a start.
posted by Artw at 4:31 PM on June 5, 2007


I like to read books.
posted by nola at 4:42 PM on June 5, 2007


I'm pretty sute that boosk were actually illegal in it, and the firemen and the goverment actively persecuted ownership books.

now THAT'S fucking funny!
posted by quonsar at 4:44 PM on June 5, 2007


Me not so good typey today.

I should go back to the threads about pictures of cats.
posted by Artw at 4:58 PM on June 5, 2007


Obviously, the author's intention is important. But no [good] author would dispute what others take from the work.

What's interesting is that while Bradbury was not worried about the loss of our freedoms it just so happens that if you dumb people down [with TV for instance] you set them up to take away their freedoms without them even realizing it.

While you were busy watching American Idol the Patriot Act was passed...kind of thing.
posted by Rashomon at 4:59 PM on June 5, 2007


Marty: You play to predominantly, uh predominantly a white audience, you feel your music is racist in any way?
David: No!
Nigel: No, no, of course not....
David: We pro...we say, we say "love your brother", we don't say it, really, but..
Nigel: We don't literally say it.
David: No, we don't say it ...at all.
Nigel: No, we don't literally mean it, but we're not racists.
David: No, we don't believe it either, but...that message should be clear anyway.

-Spinal Tap
posted by otherthings_ at 5:03 PM on June 5, 2007


What blahblahblah said.
posted by humannaire at 5:04 PM on June 5, 2007


Not much I can add to the "authorial intent" arguments above, except that I think the literary arts are quite a bit different than dance, music, painting, etc., where the validity of multiple viewpoints on the "meaning" of the piece in question is pretty much taken for granted. As one poster mentioned above, the "artist's statements" in art galleries can be jaw-droppingly inane...yet today's art colleges emphasize language about art as an all-important gateway to larger recognition.

But a writer, using language as an art form, has a lot more credibility than other artists in talking about their works, although I am of course familiar with and sympathetic to the idea that once any artist releases his or her work, it's fair game for anyone to derive whatever meaning they want from the work.

BTW, I agree with the poster above who sees Bradbury's work as "obese," although I would not use that word. I would characterize his work as prissy and self-consciously "writerly." I am more of a PKDick fan.
posted by kozad at 7:47 PM on June 5, 2007


obviously, f451 is about a post peak oil world where people have to burn books to keep warm

but seriously, i think the worth of an author's opinion over what his book "means" is related to what kind of book it is and how honest the author is with himself ... i don't believe bradbury's being honest with himself, here ... the whole "censorship" theme is just too obvious, as in bludgeon the reader over the head with it obvious, to be dismissed, and it may be that he prefers to think of the tv aspects of the books because, "wow, i predicted big assed screen wall tvs" and "i was a little clumsy about that censorship stuff, wasn't i?"

why are people shocked that he's pro-bush? ... bush wants to take people back to a mythical small town, small city midwestern kind of country and bradbury wishes to hell he'd never left the place ... the martian chronicles isn't mars, it's iowa ... or illinois ... or michigan

only a midwesterner could have written his stuff ... and yeah, when i think of what his books are "about", i think of what the midwest was like in the 20s and 30s ... i think of my dad and my mom and how they actually grew up in his world and how i can still see traces and echoes of it left in these times
posted by pyramid termite at 8:55 PM on June 5, 2007 [1 favorite]


only a midwesterner could have written his stuff ... and yeah, when i think of what his books are "about", i think of what the midwest was like in the 20s and 30s ... i think of my dad and my mom and how they actually grew up in his world and how i can still see traces and echoes of it left in these times

Yeah, I agree. I tend to think of Bradbury, too, when I recall my pre-adolescent childhood in a small town. I recall it very fondly—though I think its virtues were largely in relation to the specific context of it being my childhood. I certainly don't think it's an appropriate model for a modern civil society. But, yeah, there's something deeply nostalgic about Bradbury and nostalgia is inherently conservative.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 9:08 PM on June 5, 2007


Is it possible that Bradbury has been discovering and exploring the best-meaning-for-him of his book, and refining his views of it, just as we've been discovering and exploring the best-meaning-for-us?

That said, no, I never took it as being about official censorship. 'Book burning = Nazis' is a knee-jerk response. Read Beatty's speech, just before they go to burn Montag's house. It's clear to the characters, and it's clearly stated for us, that the official apparatus was an afterthought, and a poor second, to the quiet and massive degradation, and even depravity, of the public mind.

I first read F451 in 1995 and found it mildly cautionary. I next read it in 2002 and found it terrifying. I plan to read it in 2009, assuming I can find anywhere to read it out of earshot of a TV. I don't think I'd get anything more out of it if I had to listen to "Next on the Violence Channel: An All-New Episode of 'Ow! My Balls!'".

Would Diana Moon Glampers be pleased with the fast-cut, audio-compressed, and unchallenging style of our beloved contemporary TV? I believe she would. Her and Beatty both.
posted by eritain at 9:54 PM on June 5, 2007


cultures are not the product of one man. Stories can be

Name one. Name a story that is completely the creation of one single person with absolutely no outside influences whatsoever.


Oh please. Must he also invent the language? An act of creation is largely an act of synthesis, a reworking of existing symbols. That doesn't mean he is not firmly in control of that synthesis. He might not be, or he might be dishonest about his intentions or not competent to exercise control, but the decisions are open until completion and only open to one person.

You spoke, jefgodesky, of unambiguous versus ambiguous plots, but there really is no difference. The reader is always able to offer alternative interpretations because the story is told in words, and words themselves are open to interpretation (and if taken to be figurative, can bear little resemblance to a literal interpretation).

After all this, those disagreeing in this thead seem to still be stuck on what "about" means in the context of a story. If that is the whole of the conflict, there is very little disagreement here at all.
posted by dreamsign at 10:16 PM on June 5, 2007


Uh... kind of a mixed bag there, dreamsign. "An act of creation is largely an act of synthesis, a reworking of existing symbols." is pretty much exactly what I was saying, so I'm not sure where the snark comes from.
posted by papakwanz at 11:28 PM on June 5, 2007


Why the hell do all the modern writers seem to be such big supporters of the established institutions of power?

Iain Banks and Ken MacLeod (who also has a pretty good blog) are pretty opposed to the established institutions of power.

And China Mieville's an honest-to-god Trotskyist, of all things.
posted by infinitywaltz at 12:13 AM on June 6, 2007


papakwanz -- sorry if I misunderstood, but that looked like a dodge to me. Creative control is a separate issue from material, though they can be connected.

I understand the position that there are no "meanings" in objects of any kind (that would indeed be mystical); only what we give them. In that sense, the author's intended meaning is not any more authoritative than anyone else's. But stories are also messages. That our protagonist is killed on page 92 and that his struggle against overwhelming forces were meant to symbolize the human condition are not all that different. They are messages from the author to the reader. That they become garbled, or were inexpertly conveyed, is beside the point. I also make no bones about it being *important* to discover the message. Only that if there is one, it's silly to pretend that you can decode the story better than the author him or herself. Not impossible, but unlikely.
posted by dreamsign at 1:16 AM on June 6, 2007


infinitywaltz has three good examples. All three are really good authors, BTW.

OT: I'm a bit confused about all the hate piled on local TV news in here. I take it that the USAnian TV news are different from what I'm used to (I'm Norwegian), but what excactly is wrong with it, if it's possible to sum it up in a couple of sentences?
posted by Harald74 at 2:20 AM on June 6, 2007


I'm pretty sute that boosk were actually illegal in it, and the firemen and the goverment actively persecuted ownership books.

The books were illegal, but at one point Bradbury recounts the history of their illegality, and mentions that books were only made illegal by the government after most people had stopped reading or wanting to read anyway. The illegality was the government taking advantage of a preexisting condition by getting rid of the very small minority of people who still wanted to read or think.
posted by unreason at 3:35 AM on June 6, 2007


but what excactly is wrong with it, if it's possible to sum it up in a couple of sentences?

" ______, the new threat against our children"

"and now, we're going to trade quiche recipes with brillo the clown"
posted by pyramid termite at 4:22 AM on June 6, 2007


Wikipedia for Barthes Death of the Author concept. (What a pity it turned into that tired old robotic dog of a 'postmodern' debate...)

At least Smedleyman mentioned Neil Postman... THANKS (-: ... some excerpts from "Amusing ourselves to Death" ...

Somewhere in that book he described fictional "real local news" about your community. They'd have information like "Ms Haversham from Nr 27 is down with the flu" and then everybody could go visit her.
Instead all the news are about something I can do fuck all about, maybe except by proxy by proxy by proxy by proxy.
posted by yoHighness at 4:31 AM on June 6, 2007


'Book burning = Nazis' is a knee-jerk response.

Yes, but in the context of 1953, when it was written, a perfectly reasonable association to make. The news reels of Nazi book-burning rallies were still fresh in everyone's minds. He writes about book burning, not book pulping or book shredding. With the passage of time, comparing situations to that of the Nazis has become cliché, but in 1953, this wasn't out of bounds or "knee-jerk."

F451 fits pretty firmly into the genre of dystopian science fiction novels, though it's good to see everyone reminding me of the subtleties, all these years after I read it.
posted by deanc at 7:13 AM on June 6, 2007


I don't understand Bradury's point. How can you have an intelligent discussion about censorship without talking about self censorship and the inherent dumbing down of society that goes along with it? If you write a story about "people are turning into morons by TV," and also about how that society turns into a society with thought control, than that is obviously a story about censorship. How can it not be?
posted by afu at 7:31 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


pyramid termite: I think I got the gist of it... :)
posted by Harald74 at 8:12 AM on June 6, 2007


stories are also messages. [...] They are messages from the author to the reader. That they become garbled, or were inexpertly conveyed, is beside the point.

Well, first off, that they become garbled, etc. is not beside the point. But more importantly, saying that a story is a message vastly simplifies what is an extremely complex piece of work. It also implies that stories are teleological driven and determined from the outset and that an author's intentions were fully conscious from the word 'go' and stayed that way throughout the entire process of writing, revising, rewriting, editing, rerevising, etc. I'm sorry, it just doesn't work that way. Sure, an author may have some general ideas about what they want to write when they begin, but stories unfold to the author as they are being written just as they unfold to the reader as they are being read. It's not a jigsaw puzzle wherein every piece fits neatly if you only knew the big picture.
posted by papakwanz at 9:17 AM on June 6, 2007


The illegality was the government taking advantage of a preexisting condition by getting rid of the very small minority of people who still wanted to read or think.

I still don't get the how-that-is-not-censorship part.
posted by Artw at 10:30 AM on June 6, 2007


All this makes me think, "Why bother writing anything at all, if people are going to ignore your thoughts on what you've written?" There's nothing worse than people not believing you when you speak or discrediting what you have to say about your own art.
posted by agregoli at 10:35 AM on June 6, 2007 [1 favorite]


"Why bother writing anything at all, if people are going to ignore your thoughts on what you've written?"

Well, if you care that much about what people say about your work and are planning on becoming a cranky old fart fifty years later and then telling everyone they've got it all wrong (despite contradictory statemeents you yourself have made) which you wish to be taken as absolutely authoritive maybe the writing game isn't for you.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on June 6, 2007


EB wrote: I think my argument is that the author is, all things being equal, in general, the most reliable "interpreter" of a text—but, all things are not often equal and of course the author's reliability as an "interpreter" of a text should be evaluated in each specific case.

So then what status do you give to the comments made in this thread and lots of other places by authors who say emphatically that they are not, in general, the best interpreters of their own works? Are these just more special cases?

I'm with papakwanz (I think) in suggesting that we critically weigh the comments of the author like we would any other interpreter. If the author's interpretation is convincing, great. But if it's not convincing, I don't feel obliged to turn my brain off and nod my head and say, "Well if that's what the author says, then I must be wrong."

Maybe all you're arguing for is that it's a good idea to at least listen to the author's interpretation because it's more likely to be helpful than some random critic? That seems reasonable, but I've had enough bad experiences like kozad's (artists whose interpretations of their own work is totally inane), that I'm not sure I'm willing to go that far.
posted by straight at 11:56 AM on June 6, 2007


All this makes me think, "Why bother writing anything at all, if people are going to ignore your thoughts on what you've written?"

If you think your novel doesn't get across what you want without a bunch of extra comments "explaining" it, then maybe you need to do some more revising.
posted by straight at 12:01 PM on June 6, 2007


The illegality was the government taking advantage of a preexisting condition by getting rid of the very small minority of people who still wanted to read or think.

What Artw said above. This is what all censorship is like. The majority object to a book and instead of just not reading it, they use government power to make sure no one can read it. The only novelty in F451 is that the majority objected to all books and the minority was particularly small.
posted by straight at 12:16 PM on June 6, 2007


But they didn't use government power, not initially. The government only stepped in once the destruction of books and lack of intellectual curiosity was well a steeled part of the culture.
posted by Snyder at 1:57 PM on June 6, 2007


steeled=settled
posted by Snyder at 1:57 PM on June 6, 2007


But they didn't use government power, not initially.

And if that was all the book consisted of it wouldn't really be about censorship.

The government only stepped in once the destruction of books and lack of intellectual curiosity was well a steeled part of the culture.

and that would be why it's about censorship.

The "oh, people simply didn't like books" bit doesn't make the "goverement thugs burn all books and considers readers to be dangerous thought criminals" bit to be any less about censorship.

Now, if the book burning thugs were only a minor background element I guess you could argue that censorship is a minor theme, but since the main character is a goverment sponsored book burning thug, and the majority of the book is about preserving books from the book burning thugs, well you see what I'm saying...

And if people really, really didn't like books then why would any kind of enforcement by necessary anyway? That's kind of nonsensical.
posted by Artw at 3:44 PM on June 6, 2007


And if people really, really didn't like books then why would any kind of enforcement by necessary anyway? That's kind of nonsensical.

Well, imagine it in the context of, say, Prohibition. A great many people wished to ban alcohol, so it was banned, Temperance started as a moral movement, but became political. (Simple explanation, yes.)

...the majority of the book is about preserving books from the book burning thugs...

But it's not. Montaug saves one book, but he destroys it later, after he memorizes it. The community he joins does not have secret cache of books, but is made of people who have preserved the knowledge and beauty of the literature in their own minds. It was less about saving the physical essence of the books, but preserving human curiosity and knowledge for a time when books were no longer outlawed. (Most likely after the war at the end of the book.)
posted by Snyder at 10:37 PM on June 6, 2007


« Older Did Win Butler (of Arcade Fire) steal some guy's b...  |  Vincent Laforet takes cool pho... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments