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Intentional Fallacy

One of the critical concepts of New Criticism, “Intentional Fallacy” was formulated by Wimsatt and Beardsley in an essay in The Verbal Icon (1946) as the mistake of attempting to understand the author’s intentions when interpreting a literary work. Claiming that it is fallacious to base a critical judgement about the meaning or value of a literary work on “external evidences” concerning the author’s intention, Wimstt and Beardsley held that “the design or intention of the author is neither available nor desirable as a standard for judging the success of a work of literary art.” This is closely associated with the New Critical notion of the “autotetic text”, according to which the meaning of a work is contained solely within the work itself, and any attempt to understand the author’s intention violates the autonomy of the work. TS Eliot-in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” (1919) had argued – that “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation, are directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry.” Stylistically as well as conceptually, Intentional Fallacy was against the Romantic conception of literature as a vehicle of personal expression. With the entry of structuralism and poststructuralism into the literary arena, literature began to be seen as a purely linguistic artefact, and intentional fallacy was strongly underscored with the Barthesian concept of the “death of the author.”

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