Did the writer even mean that?

I have often heard criticism of English literature criticism, mostly aimed at the notion that the critics are looking far too deeply into the use of language, to the point where they are inventing intentions of the writer. I Such criticisms are uninformed.

Any writer worth their salt, or intently interested in how words evoke and provoke meaning, and who has become successful in doing so, most certainly makes deliberate choices in the words they use and their arrangement. Take poetry for example. If you’ve ever tried to write poetry yourself, you will recognise how important every single word and punctuation mark is. How utterly clunky a word can feel when it is read back and is so clearly not the right choice; how utterly disappointing it is when the phrase you spill onto the page just doesn’t quite capture what you want to say – and worse, you don’t have the skill to fix it.

Successful poets are those who are able to attend to this level of precision, and overcome these deficiencies, almost always through sustained hard work and dedication to the craft. The writer of novels is no less the perfectionist; the necessity for precision and its granularity, whilst more obvious in the poetic context, is as abundantly clear to the novelist.

To suggest that I as the reader am inventing possible meanings that were never there or intended by the author is preposterous to say the least. Yes, my interpretation may be wrong, but to suggest that the author didn’t deliberately use language as they have to be interpreted in some way is a misunderstanding of what characterises a writer: someone who would willingly, passionately and vociferously discuss every single word they have ever put into the public sphere.

I’m Paul Moss. I am a learning designer at The University of Adelaide. Follow me on Twitter @edmerger

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