Study Guide

Wimsatt and Beardsley - Major Arguments

Major Arguments

Nothing—and we mean nothing—is more important to understand about us than our unfathomably deep emotions about authorial intention, audience, and the meaning of a work of art. Of course, we'd like you to read everything in our sort of vast body of work, but if you were a castaway on the proverbial desert island, we would say take "The Intentional Fallacy" and "The Affective Fallacy." We are confident you will find them thoroughly illuminating reads.

We want you to leave these pages convinced of a few important points:

  • Don't think you can climb inside the author's brain. And don't bug living authors: they wrote the work; don't make them explain it to you.
  • When you see a text, imagine it as evidence. If it helps, picture it in a CSI-like sealed baggie labeled "Exhibit A," because it's up to you to puzzle it out, Sherlock.
  • Don't take it personally—the poem, that is. Unless it was penned by your enamored boyfriend (and even then), the poem is meant to be read by many people. It's not a psychic link up between you and the author. Get over yourself.
  • Never mind if the author liked to kick puppies. That's sad and sick and so forth, but it shouldn't inform the way you read the poem. Biography does not matter, so who cares if he or she hated his or her parents?
  • Leave the psychology at the door. Unless it's Freud's own texts you are studying, any complexes the author has or had don't matter a whit.
  • When you get all weepy about a poem/movie/song/ringtone, you obscure your own understanding of it. Not only do tears get you all worked up; they also make you walk away from the piece with nothing but your own emotions. Work on having a healthy relationship with all texts.

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