William K. Wimsatt (1907-1975) was an esteemed American literary theorist and professor, renowned for his work in the field of literary criticism. One of his significant contributions was the concept of the "Intentional Fallacy," as explored in his co-written book with Beardsley, The Verbal Icon (1954).
The Intentional Fallacy
The Intentional Fallacy is the mistake of evaluating a work based on the author's intention or design. Wimsatt rejects the idea that an author's intent should influence the interpretation of a text. According to him, a work of art should be evaluated independently of the author's intended meaning, and the act of reading should be an autonomous activity unaffected by external factors, such as the author's biography.
The Intentional Fallacy liberates the act of readership from the author's omniscience, emphasizing that the relationship between a text and its audience is independent of the author's presence. The act of reading becomes a self-serving, aesthetic function, free from the influence of the author's intent.
Wimsatt also introduced the concept of the "Affective Fallacy," which involves the error of evaluating a text based on the emotional response of the reader. He advocates for a critical and intellectually informed reading experience, devoid of sentimental indulgence. The act of reading should maintain a certain level of clinical accuracy, focusing on the mind rather than the heart.
The Affective Fallacy encourages readers to have a level of critical distance from the emotional impact of the text. It emphasizes that the act of reading is a cerebral activity rather than an emotional one.
The Concrete Universal and the Domain of Criticism
Wimsatt also introduced the idea of "The Concrete Universal," which represents a degree of precision that serves no practical purpose but is valued for its aesthetic qualities. This concept suggests that "the concrete universal" holds aesthetic significance rather than serving any practical function.
In the "Domain of Criticism," Wimsatt argues against reducing a poem or artistic entity to purely aesthetic effects. He emphasizes that an artistic entity should not be reduced to merely aesthetic aspects and urges a broader consideration of critical analysis.
William K. Wimsatt's notable works include:
- Hateful Contraries (1965)
- The Verbal Icon (1954) [Co-written with Beardsley]