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Old 08-11-2017, 05:45 AM   #1
John F
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Authors and Symbolism

Saw this posted on another forum. Sorry if this was posted before (I did a quick search):

"Document: The Symbolism Survey"

Quote:

By Sarah Funke Butler December 5, 2011
Books

In 1963, a sixteen-year-old San Diego high school student named Bruce McAllister sent a four-question mimeographed survey to 150 well-known authors of literary, commercial, and science fiction. Did they consciously plant symbols in their work? he asked. Who noticed symbols appearing from their subconscious, and who saw them arrive in their text, unbidden, created in the minds of their readers? When this happened, did the authors mind?

...
https://www.theparisreview.org/blog/...bolism-survey/

P.S. I edited my original post; I duplicated the first paragraph in the post. I included this P.S. so the first two replies have context.

Last edited by John F; 08-11-2017 at 01:03 PM.
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Old 08-11-2017, 06:11 AM   #2
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Is there some hidden symbolism underlying the fact that it's written twice?
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Old 08-11-2017, 08:26 AM   #3
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If he saw it posted, then his excerpted quote is incorrect.

The quoted paragraph only occurs once and I read the article.
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Old 08-11-2017, 08:36 AM   #4
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It IS an interesting article!
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Old 08-11-2017, 08:46 AM   #5
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Wow. One of the most interesting things I've read in a long while. As a reader, I've sometimes felt that I wasn't always up to the challenge of seeing the symbolism in some books. It's nice to now understand that what I thought was necessary is not only not necessary, but not desired by many authors.

That the searching and groping for hidden meanings in a work, can pull the enjoyment right out of the thing.

I do love hearing an author's own feelings on their characters. But after I've finished a book, not before.
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Old 08-11-2017, 01:24 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Deskisamess View Post
Wow. One of the most interesting things I've read in a long while. As a reader, I've sometimes felt that I wasn't always up to the challenge of seeing the symbolism in some books. It's nice to now understand that what I thought was necessary is not only not necessary, but not desired by many authors.

That the searching and groping for hidden meanings in a work, can pull the enjoyment right out of the thing.

I do love hearing an author's own feelings on their characters. But after I've finished a book, not before.
But it does keep English professors employed.

I'm reminded of the famous story of the SF author who sat in the back of a college English lecture about his book and listened to the professor talk about all the symbolism in the book. The author stood up and said "That's not what I meant at all". The Professor replied "What do you know? You are just the author." [I first heard the story with Issac Asimov as the author. I suspect the story is apocryphal, but it sure ought to be true]
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Old 08-12-2017, 02:49 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by pwalker8 View Post
But it does keep English professors employed.

I'm reminded of the famous story of the SF author who sat in the back of a college English lecture about his book and listened to the professor talk about all the symbolism in the book. The author stood up and said "That's not what I meant at all". The Professor replied "What do you know? You are just the author." [I first heard the story with Issac Asimov as the author. I suspect the story is apocryphal, but it sure ought to be true]
Why does the author get the final say? We can only read and evaluate what ended up on the page, not what the author says he or she intended.
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Old 08-12-2017, 03:13 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Catlady View Post
Why does the author get the final say? We can only read and evaluate what ended up on the page, not what the author says he or she intended.
Like all art forms, writing, isn't really about the Artist, it is about the interaction between the artist and the viewer/reader.
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Old 08-12-2017, 03:24 PM   #9
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Why does the author get the final say? We can only read and evaluate what ended up on the page, not what the author says he or she intended.
You are certainly can say what a work says or means to you. That's part of the fun of reading a book, listening to music or watching a movie. But that isn't to say that what it means to you is what the work _means_, i.e. the one true meaning of the work. That's the difference. The professor is trying to telling the class what the work _means_. The author is the only person in a position to say what the work was intended to mean.
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Old 08-12-2017, 04:25 PM   #10
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You are certainly can say what a work says or means to you. That's part of the fun of reading a book, listening to music or watching a movie. But that isn't to say that what it means to you is what the work _means_, i.e. the one true meaning of the work. That's the difference. The professor is trying to telling the class what the work _means_. The author is the only person in a position to say what the work was intended to mean.
When I was in school, no professor was ever that dictatorial. When we discussed literary works, sure, there were certain interpretations that seemed to be the norm, but alternative interpretations were welcome as long as a student could defend them.

P.S. The author can certainly weigh in on what the work was intended to mean, but that isn't necessarily what the work DOES mean.
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Old 08-12-2017, 05:19 PM   #11
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I had a teacher in college who read sex into everything. Now, whether he was just an utter pervert who saw it everywhere or if he choose the literature to assign the class to be on this specific topic (with the idea that the young students might actually be willing to read it), I'll never know.
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Old 08-12-2017, 05:27 PM   #12
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I had a teacher in college who read sex into everything. Now, whether he was just an utter pervert who saw it everywhere or if he choose the literature to assign the class to be on this specific topic (with the idea that the young students might actually be willing to read it), I'll never know.
Peter Pan? You have to look hard to find it except this professor used the movie rather than the book.
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Old 08-12-2017, 06:52 PM   #13
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The author is the only person in a position to say what the work was intended to mean.
The last time I asked an author about what his latest book meant, his reply was that it meant he was addicted to eating and paying his rent. Any other meanings were in the reader's imagination.
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Old 08-12-2017, 07:00 PM   #14
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But it does keep English professors employed.

I'm reminded of the famous story of the SF author who sat in the back of a college English lecture about his book and listened to the professor talk about all the symbolism in the book. The author stood up and said "That's not what I meant at all". The Professor replied "What do you know? You are just the author." [I first heard the story with Issac Asimov as the author. I suspect the story is apocryphal, but it sure ought to be true]
Brings back memories of the Isaac Asimov short story (The Immortal Bard??) in which a college professor flunked William Shakespeare.
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Old 08-12-2017, 09:40 PM   #15
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Thanks for linking to this fascinating article and bit of history.

I've never cared about symbolism. It has little to do with my reasons for reading. If I'm told the value of a book resides primarily in it's symbolism I'll read something else. When I do read something that people love for it's symbolism I rarely get the symbols or underlying meaning. To me it's a story. With a few exceptions where the symbols are obvious, and even then I usually need to have them pointed out to me.

I have no objection to symbolism. Writers should write the way they want to write. Readers should read the way they want to read. It just doesn't interest me, probably because I rarely notice it.

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