Please Read Responsibly

One of the biggest arguments in contemporary literature is that author intent is irrelevant. No matter what meaning an author believes their text to have, once it’s out in the world the only thing that matters is the meaning the reader extracts from it because the reader is the one truly engaging with the text. I find this argument compelling, especially in regards to my on-going project @SocialLit because the potential exists, through retweets and shares, for a person in a different country and/or culture to read a poem I’ve tweeted and therefore approach the piece in a completely different context than I could anticipate.

If I take this idea to be true, that author intent isn’t as important as the reader’s interpretation, then I think it’s only fair to ask an audience to read responsibly. On social media sites, especially Facebook it seems, people are more apt to share and comment on articles or pieces that bother them than the ones they actually enjoy. And don’t misinterpret this, I believe this is important. Critique is evidence of a healthy literary culture, which is why when people lament the loss of literature or literary thinking in America my news feed, in a strange way, reassures me that it is alive and well. But critique is only one aspect. The potential exists for a news feed to be used as a kind of literary, and blogerary if you will, salon. It’s a space where people can promote the writings and ideas they feel deserve a platform for display. In saying this, I don’t mean to suggest that a person shouldn’t read and comment on writing that challenges their own opinions or biases, because that would be ignorance, what I’m arguing for is balance.

It’s important that we, as an educated society, are talking both about what we like (pun somewhat intended) and dislike. It’s easy to take for granted how effectively emotions are expressed and shared through a social media presence. All those spiritual quotes about the energy you put out being what you get back have never been more pertinent to an age than ours. For example, if I tweet something out of anger or sorrow, I am literally putting that emotion and information out into the public for anyone, anywhere, to read. And that tweet, when read, can influence someone’s thoughts, even if only for a second or two. I make every attempt to be conscious in the way I use sites like Twitter and Facebook because even though what I write or say can be taken a number of ways, I want to do my best to keep my presence positive and productive.


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One Response to Please Read Responsibly

  1. You may find this ironic, but I disagree on a number of levels … What is actually communicated is what is important, and not whether it was intended with niceness, nastiness, positivity etc etc. Hence the importance of the reader and their interpretation. That’s (my interpretation of the idea of) the logic of the ‘death of the author’. It doesn’t give total freedom to the reader, however. After all, there’s the texts, the depth to which good reasoning can offer other perspectives, the purpose at hand, the command of vocabulary and historical references at the reader’s disposal. And a million other factors that might make one reading ‘better’ than another.

    But it does leave the reader free, in pretty much any circumstance, to debate meaning without prior censorship (or self-censorship). And it leaves authors free to say things that are not ‘positive’ or ‘balanced’ or ‘productive’. Anger, pettiness, boredom, violence, scheming, hypocrisy, sarcasm, destructiveness and self-loathing are legitimate material for art – and for other users of social media too. And if I express these things in disagreement with others, then there is a possibility of reaching a more subtle (or simply more accurate) position as a result of the ensuing debate.

    Finally, there’s no logical superiority to the idea of ‘balance’.

    You have already demonstrated this.

    After all, you’re attempting to make a one-sided argument for it.

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