Experience into Words: Essays on Poetry

By D. W. Harding | Go to book overview

9
Reader and Author

THE spread of psychoanalytic ideas, some of them badly garbled, has raised a number of problems and pseudo-problems in literary criticism. No one now can doubt that an author's work may reveal features of his personality and outlook that he had no intention of expressing and which he may not notice unless his attention is drawn to them, or of which he may even be in the strict sense unconscious. Equally his work may stimulate unnoticed or unconscious processes in his reader and may be enjoyed or disliked partly because of its significance for preoccupations, preconceptions and inclinations which the reader may not recognize in himself. And since the less conscious implications may not be the same for the reader as they were for the author, or for one reader and another, uncertainties of communication arise. Among the apparent problems only some are real and only some are new. But certain familiar problems look more formidable nowadays, partly because of psychoanalytic ideas, and partly because of the obscurity of much serious writing, especially much poetry, in the last half-century.

The simple-seeming assumptions that the author should know what he means and do all he can to ensure that the reader knows too have been challenged. Apart altogether from what we know of the unconscious, it would by now have become evident that no knowledge of an author's conscious and paraphrasable intention would be decisive in defining our own view of his work. As T. S. Eliot writes in discussing Valéry's views on poetry:

He defends the privacy, even the anonymity, of the poet, and

-163-

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