Your faithful blog committee moderates posts and comments on a rotating basis. I was “on call” on Tuesday evening and, returning home in despair after a night at Miller Park, inadvertently published posts by Professors Greipp and Papke under my own name. The mistake was fixed in the morning.
But I found the latter error intriguing. Here I was, ostensibly the “author” of a post regretting “dominant ideological prescriptions related to, respectively, autonomous individualism and the bourgeois market economy.” It was as if someone had replaced my bedside Edmund Burke with Jean-Paul Sartre.
But here’s the thing. I do agree – in a sense – with David’s point.
If, in the terms David invokes, the author is part of a “collective subject “whose work is “trans-individual” in that it is permeated by others in its creation, then it seems equally probable that it is permeable in the ways in which it will be understood. This should be so quite apart from whether someone else appropriates parts of the work and turns it to a different purpose. (I once heard Rage Against the Machine used as part of a presentation at a corporate board meeting.) The “established forms” and “reigning sentiments” that the author invokes may, even because of the creativity with which he invokes them, provoke responses other than those he anticipated.
Of course, many works benefit from the contribution of others and all authors work in a social context that contributes to what they say and how it is read. But beyond that, an author – or, for that matter, a musicial or visual artist – loses control of the meaning of her published work. Others may understand it or use it in ways that she never intended, e.g., Ronald Reagan’s use of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born In the USA” as a patriotic anthem rather than an expression of irony and anger.
I don’t pretend to know what intellectual property law says about this. One can’t have a property interest in how someone perceives a work although one can, I suppose, have a property interest in controlling its use and exercise that interest in a way that hampers the manner in which the work itself can be used to furthers this unintended and undesired understanding. I guess that implicates, among other things, the concept of “fair use” and I have nothing to add to that.
But, as a matter of interpretation, I don’t think that there is anything wrong with reading a work or hearing a song in a way that its creator did not intend and, in fact, may categorically reject. My mother was a painter who always told me that a work of art (including hers) was not limited to an artist’s intent or interpretation.
On my personal blog, I occasionally post Sunday music videos (generally live performances) often around a theme and sometimes in support of some political or – more often – philosophical observation. (This post on theodicy was in honor of the beginning of my Law & Theology seminar.) Once in a while, a commenter, in high dudgeon, will say that Thom Yorke never meant that or Dylan repudiated his Christianity.
I don’t care. They can point brilliantly to things in the world. But I get to say what it means to me.
Mom would be proud.