Intentions: Negotiated, Contested, and Ignored

Intentions: Negotiated, Contested, and Ignored

Intentions: Negotiated, Contested, and Ignored

Intentions: Negotiated, Contested, and Ignored


A philosophical study that introduces a new concept of intention into literary analysis.

The relationship between an author's and an audience's intentions is complex but need not preclude mutual engagement. This philosophical investigation challenges existing literary and rhetorical perspectives on intention and offers a new framework for understanding the negotiation of meaning. It describes how an audience's intentions affect their interpretations, shows how audiences negotiate meaning when faced with a writer's undecipherable intentions, and defines the scope of understanding within rhetorical situations.

Introducing a concept of intention into literary analysis that supersedes existing rhetorical theory, Arabella Lyon shows how the rhetorics of I. A. Richards, Wayne Booth, and Stanley Fish, as well as the hermeneutics of Hans Georg Gadamer, fail to account for the complex interactions of author and audience. Using Kenneth Burke's concepts of form, motive, and purpose, she builds a more complex notion of intention than those usually found in literary studies, then employs her theory to describe how philosophers read Wittgenstein's narratives, metaphors, and reversals in argument.

Lyon argues that our differences in intention prevent consistency in interpretations but do not stop our discussions, deliberations, and actions. She seeks to acknowledge difference and the communicative problems it creates while demonstrating that difference is normal and does not end our engagement with each other.

Intentions combines recent work in philosophy, literary criticism, hermeneutics, and rhetoric in a highly imaginative way to construct a theory of intention for a postmodern rhetoric. Itrecovers and renovates central concepts in rhetorical theory -- not only intention but also deliberation, politics, and judgment.


I have by means of speech removed disgrace from a woman; I have observed the procedure which I set up at the beginning of the speech; I have tried to end the injustice of blame and ignorance of opinion; I wished to write a speech which would be a praise of Helen and a diversion to myself. -- Gorgias, "Encomium of Helen"

In its sophistic origins, Rhetoric toyed with authorial intention and its significance for interpretation and evaluation. Gorgias, having given a speech in praise of the defamed harlot Helen of Troy, in his last four words, explicitly supplements his earlier stated intention, and so renegotiates the meaning of his speech and forces his audience to revise their responses to his argument and their understanding of the author's purpose. Is this really an argument about Helen's innocence, or is this simply a diversion for a bored sophist, or is it both (as Gorgias claims)? The encomium's ambiguous meaning is commonly discussed, but there is more here. In addition to explicit play with the relationship between authorial intentions and meaning, Gorgias also toys with the audience's intentions or purposes. Any audience hearing or reading the piece is called on to revise their interpretation, to analyze what is a proper understanding of the text as a whole, to voice their prejudices, and to discover their relationships to the purposes of the argument and the desire for diversion. In effect, the speech calls on the audience to foreground their intentions in listening and interpreting. Gorgias's probings . . .

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