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Is the ‘Intention’ There? On the Impact of Scientism on Hermeneutics

  • Zhang Jiang (a1)

Abstract

Ever since the mid-twentieth century, there has been a prevailing tendency of eliminating the author’s existence in his or her text, as well as the existence of his or her intention. The practice of negating the meaning of the author’s intention and thereby imposing arbitrary interpretations on the text to serve the critic’s own interpretive purpose, has led contemporary literary hermeneutics onto the wrong road of relativism and nihilism. It is sensible for us to identify an impact of scientism on such a hermeneutic tendency. However, no matter how we try to deny and dissolve the author’s intention, its being in the text is a hard fact that always determines the text’s quality and value and influences the readers’ understanding and interpretation. The author’s intention runs through the whole process of the text’s creation, displaying itself in all the plans and designs of the text, such as its language, structure and style. It is a false question to ask whether intention exists in literary creation, and the idea that the other person can be totally independent of the author’s intention to assert the meanings or significance of the text will finally lead us to nowhere but sheer subjective imagination. Any serious and responsible critic must research in depth to first bring out the author’s intention, and then bring out the text’s historical and social milieus. This is the foundational step towards fair and justified interpretation of the text. Since literary works are the objectification of the authors’ thoughts and mind power, we, whatever theories we are interested in, should give the author and his or her intention due respect. This is undoubtedly a scientific attitude toward literary studies.

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1. Wimsatt, W.K. and Beardsley, M.C. (1989) The intentional fallacy. In: W.K. Wimsatt Jr. (Ed.), The Verbal Icon: Studies in the Meaning of Poetry (Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky), pp. 318.
2. Here, one could particularly refer to R. Wellek (1986) A History of Modern Criticism 1750-1950. Volume 6: American Criticism, 1900-1950 (New Haven: Yale University Press.
3. Bell, C. (1913) Art (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company), p. 8.
4. Barthes, R. (1977) Image Music Text: Essays Selected and Translated by Stephen Heath (London: Fontana Press), p. 111.
5. Barthes, R. (1970) Writing Degree Zero. Translated by A. Lavers and C. Smith (Boston: Beacon Paperback), p. 17.
6. Husserl, E. (2001) Logical Investigations, Vol. 1. Translated by J.N. Findlay (New York: Routledge), p. 191.
7. Barthes, R. (2002) S/Z, Translated by R. Miller (New York: Blackwell), p. 22.

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