Professor of Comparative Literature Peter J. Rabinowitz contributed an essay titled “The Intention Debates” to A Companion to Literary Theory, edited by David H. Richter and published by Wiley Blackwell.
In his article, Rabinowitz explores the theoretical disputes around the fundamental question, “What is the bearing of intention on readers’ dealing with texts?”
Although the question goes back at least as far as Plato and Aristotle, Rabinowitz takes as his starting point Wimsatt and Beardsley’s famous 1946 polemic, “The Intentional Fallacy.” The essay attempted to eliminate authorial will from discussions of literature and has served as a point of orientation ever since.
Instead of offering a historical account of the changing answers, Rabinowitz offers a conceptual map. By looking carefully at each of the key terms in the question (is, bearing, intention, reader, dealings, texts), he reveals six different axes along which theorists have argued, and demonstrates why it has been impossible to come to a consensus.