Our new favorite blogger, Goldstein!, is back in action with a follow-up cleverly titled "Follow-up," and subtitled, "semiotics, intention, and reading 'Scott Thomas'." Goldstein! has the charming quirk of presuming that "leftists," by which he means those who disagree with him, spent their formative years sucking mango lassis around a campfire while the sultry, Anglo-Indian voice of Gayatri Spivak entranced them with readings of her translations of Derrida. I for one am willing to aver that the majority of the anti-this-war Donkle contingent on the internet neither knows nor cares two damns and a shit about textual indeterminacy, moments of signification, or, ahem, "the 'death of the author' [as] a hermeneutic construct." I suspect that most folks who read such turgid, undergraduate nonsense wonder in their own words what Groucho Marx once wondered: Can you sleep on your stomach with such big buttons on your pajamas?
In interpretive situations, the appeal is always to the author’s intent, because it is intent that governs meaning. But the intent--and the meaning--is fixed at the moment the signifiers are signified. It is the author at that moment that we are interested in when we are trying to determine what a text means, from the perpective of interpreting it.This, of course, is precisely the sort of dense-but-facile cant that gave post-structuralism a bad name and helped give lit-crit a reputation as a joke from which it's only very slowly recovering. Beneath all its pompous jargon beats a jealous yearning for critic to usurp both author and reader. All the high-flown yammer about indterminacy boils down to bathetic efforts to justify the critical enterprise as necessary to mediate "indeterminate texts." You may be familiar with them in their common names: articles, stories, poems, books.
The idea that we as readers might approach our readings with rigor, asking not only "what did the author intend to say" but also "what did the author end up saying" is a valid and valuable one. The idea that we might untether words and sentences entirely and let them mean fuck-all what we want is the professional envy of the world's vast and expanding population of failed writers, lame William Gass impersonators, and wannabes to political-cultural relevance. Those people also deserve jobs, and I begrudge no man his money-making scams and schemes, but really. The idea that authorial intent can be a weilded as a cudgel against an author's credibility but not offered in return as bona fides is nothing but loaded dice. The proper critical response to Scott Thompson is not to yawp about the signfied signifier signifying signification, but simply to point out that his writing is rather derivative and his anectdotes likely exaggerated, but that what he, as a young man, says and feels about war is true. It is horrible, irrational, and drives men occasionally to bravery and often to cowardice and horror. That this simple framework for understanding the soldier's diary entirely escapes Goldstein suggests that he should have spent less attention to Jacques Derrida and more, say, to Stephen Crane and The Red Badge of Courage when it was assinged to him in the seventh grade.