Monday, April 7, 2008

To Beg the Question

In this blog we were challenged with the question of how to read Angela Carter's The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman. However, the question assumes the premise that in fact there exists a "correct" way to read this particular book. I therefore porpose that it is fallacy to prefer a specific method of analyzing any particular text at the expense of another method. Inasmuch as it is an already established fallacy to read a text for the purposes of artistic intent, thus also it a fruitless endeavor to propose that a book should be read in a specific way; rather one may only propose how a book may be read in any analysis, and for the aforementioned reasons I would assume this ethic to be the foundation for all of critical theory.

I will use another example of a text from the modernist movement in order to demonstrate my point. James Joyce's novel Finnegan's Wake is a novel which I feel perfectly demonstrates that a right way to read a text does not exist. Similarly, we must not assume that a correct way to read The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman is required for an analysis of the text, for such an analysis would be the result of bias by virtue of its premises. Furthermore, interpretations are also subject to subjectivity and whether or not an audience perceives a text to be racist-which its the accusation leveled against The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman in particular-is no doubt determined by context.

The particular problem under discussion arises from assuming that the protrayal of African natives in The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman-by use of stereotype and the unfavorable image-encompasses all persons of African ancestry. Indeed, one might assume any portrayal of a minority or that of peoples unlike the author in this or any other text to represent be the result of a discriminating generalization. However, this is in an audience's assumption of the author's intent, which, while valid and possible, cannot be called definitive. This bias could not therefore be assumed a universal truth-across time and circumstance-of this or any other text which inspires a similar reaction.

Works of fiction are also complicated by the mechanisms of vaguery, satire, and pastiche in the way the works of non-fiction could not. One could not deny that the Mein Kampf is a racist text, but what of The Infernal Desire Machines of Doctor Hoffman where the themes of racism, where they can in fact be said to appear, are at best subsidiary to the rest of the plot? Were we to summon the presence of an author of any work and obtain their verbatim account that their texts were indeed created with racist intentions, should their interpretation alter the body of critical theory which depends upon her work? Given the argument above and accepted fallacy of artistic intent, I would say no, it should not.

No comments: