That’s not what I meant!

I loved this story by Dr. Michael Bauman on the issue of intentionality:

While I was a National Endowment for the Humanities scholar at Princeton, I debated a feminist literary critic on the nature of meaning. She spoke first, explaining why she thought that meaning ought to equal the reader’s interpretation, not the author’s intention. When her 10-minute introductory remarks were completed, she sat down.

I walked to the podium, turned directly to her and said, “Thank you, Professor X, for agreeing with me that meaning equals the author’s intention.”

“That’s not what I meant,” she insisted loudly and forcefully enough for all to hear.

I paused to let the point sink in, and then said again, “Thank you, Professor X, for agreeing with me that meaning equals the author’s intention.”

She was speechless. She could not argue that I was wrong unless she first agreed that I was right. I had silenced her by precisely the same means she had tried to silence Shakespeare and Spenser, and she didn’t like it. She wanted to privilege her words and meaning, by excluding them from the evacuative grid through which she intended to pull Chaucer’s or Wordsworth’s.

Please go read his whole post. Very worthwhile.

J. Randal Matheny

Be pithy.

6 thoughts on “That’s not what I meant!

  1. We see this all the time with liberalism. They want to be able to say anything they can without the consequences of meaning and consistency. Words still mean something and we must abide by the consequences.

  2. Indeed, thank you for sharing. I’ve already had my daughter read it and we’ve discussed the tactics it reveals. The evil one’s stock in trade is lies, and pollution of language effectively hides the truth. Reminds me of 2 Thes. 2:10. If one loves the truth and seeks it…

  3. I love this example. It is still wisdom to answer a fool according to her folly.

What do you think?