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Let Me Explain Mansplaining to You

Every summer my extended family gets together for a week at the beach. You would think that with most of them being academics, we could pick pretty much any week in the summer and they could make it. This turns out not to be the case. In a break from tradition, both my nieces (both the one with the Ph.D. in chemistry and the one with most of a Ph.D. in musicology) managed to make it for the full week.

This was most fortunate, as it gave them to opportunity to benefit from the wisdom of their aged uncle. So when the topic of mansplaining came up, I graciously offered to explain it to them. They, being well-bred young ladies, cast their comely visages toward me, with their innocent eyes wide and with expressions of delighted gratitude. “Oh dearest uncle!” they cried, “Do, please, bestow upon us the benefit of your experience!” Such treasures must be shared, so now I will explain mansplaining to you, too.

Mansplaining is usually understood to be some guy explaining something to some woman, regardless of their respective qualifications in the subject. This is true so far as it goes, but it misses the essential point. This isn’t just something that guys do to women. We do it to each other, too. Not every guy. Some few poor benighted souls lack the mansplaining gene. But 73.6% of guys have it. [1] This is amply enough to make it a thing.

Why do we do it? For the pleasure it gives: for the frisson. The mansplaining need not be extended. Just having some visitor ask where is the men’s room will do it. Then there was the time that a guy wandered into the office because he knew he was looking for a law office on the floor, but couldn’t remember which one. I asked a few questions about what sort of legal matter he was involved in, and figured out from that which of the three law offices on the floor he was aiming for, and walked him to it. This was mansplaining nirvana: doubly so, since I got to mansplain to him, and then mansplain to the receptionist at the right office. That made my whole week!

But might not who or more guys try to mansplain at each other simultaneously? Of course! It happens all the time. When this occurs, it becomes a competitive activity. This explains every sports and/or politics argument ever made, and indeed most of the internet. This also explains the notorious reluctance of guys to ask directions. That is pretty much entering into the competition by lying on your back and exposing your throat.

Competitive mansplaining need not be a bad thing. Quite the contrary: correcting another’s factual error is a particularly satisfying form of mansplaining. This gives an incentive to get your facts right. This often leads to the memorization of a bunch of useless trivia. No competitive mansplainer wants to be caught getting wrong the first appearance of Spider-Man [2] or how many home runs Babe Ruth hit [3]. Indeed, competitive mansplaining leads to systemic progress in human knowledge. A minor example is modern advanced sports statistics. Nowadays they are used to gain a competitive advantage on the field, but they originated from guys who wanted better weapons for arguing whether Cobb or Mays was the greater player [4]. And really, what is the scientific method but a way to get the upper hand at mansplaining? Isaac Newton was the greatest mansplainer since Moses.

The problem arises when mansplaining is non-competitive. Some mansplainers surround themselves with non-mansplainers, thus allowing their mansplaining to devolve into bullshit [5]. Some do this through personal charisma. I imagine that Christopher Hitchens was one of these. Whenever I read him, I pictured him at a cocktail party with a drink and a cigarette, expounding bullshit to a circle of rapt admirers. More common is to use a power differential to achieve unencumbered mansplaining. Donald Trump has the financial resources to ensure that he is surrounded by persons either lacking the mansplaining gene or willing to suppress the urge for financial benefit.

This brings us back to man-on-woman mansplaining. The traditional power differential across the gender divide made women an easy target for bullshit mansplaining. We are only talking about it now that the womenfolk have gotten uppity.

My nieces are good girls. “Thank you, most learned uncle!” they exclaimed. “It all makes sense, now that you have explained it to us.”

At least that is how I remember it.

 

[1] You can look it up.

[2] Amazing Fantasy No. 15.

[3] 714. There is an argument for 715, but it is deeply misguided, deserving more of pity than scorn.

[4] It is close, but the correct answer is Mays. He also had the better nickname.

[5] In the technical, Frankfurtian sense of the word.

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72 thoughts on “Let Me Explain Mansplaining to You

  1. Mansplaining always struck me as a useless insult in many circumstances. It makes sense as an accusation if the man knows the women well enough to know her qualifications in particular subject. At times where a man does not know a woman well enough, like on the Internet, or in many occasions in real life than it just seems as another way to put somebody down with a political twist.

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    • Well, a female college grad is much more likely than a male college grad to have taken at least some courses in women’s studies. To get some idea of what I’m talking about, when I was looking for grad programs to apply to, while females still make a distinct but slowly growing minority of the faculty in any philosophy department, I can’t remember a single female faculty member’s CV not containing at least one published paper that had an explicitly feminist angle.

      Thus, as good Bayesians, any random guy should expect to know less about feminism than any random girl. Thus, from a woman’s perspective, since she doesn’t know if some guy spouting off to her about feminism in fact has written a paper on it, but she can still reasonably suppose that the likelihood is low, said guy spouting off about feminism can be expected to be talking out of his ass, and this is offensive.

      You just have to reverse the equation for the men’s side of the picture. Unless you’ve taken a course in feminism, the random woman on the internet can still be expected (in the statistical sense) to know more about it than you. Therefore spouting off about feminism is likely to be an attempt to bullshit.

      But since this is the internet, that’s just what 1% of it is for. (The rest is for porn)

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    • LeeEsq: Mansplaining always struck me as a useless insult in many circumstances.

      Actually, it does describe something that happens. I think I read somewhere that the original situation in which it happened a male reader was explaining a book to a woman who happened to be the author.

      The problem with it is that it works pretty well as a general purpose rhetorical accusation against anyone in the named group trying to say anything, even if it is unobjectionable.

      In contrast, you can’t really call people murderers and have it stick unless they’ve actually killed someone. “Murderer” is a fairly precise accusation to make against someone.

      “Mansplaining” differs in that it works pretty well as long as the person who is talking is a man. It’s up to the wielder of the accusation to be judicious in leveling it.

      This is the reason the OP has to include the self-effacing jokes so that it’s clear that everyone knows that he knows how he might come across. And I did the same exact thing by starting this post with the “actually” italicized for the same reason.

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      • “It’s up to the wielder of the accusation to be judicious in leveling it.”

        Sadly, this is not the most a frequent event. The accusation is more likely used to shut the man up, regardless of what he’s saying because he’s a man. I also think there’s a greater probability that this accusation is used in the case where the woman, being the receiver of the information, and being more ignorant of the facts, accuses the man of mansplaining, to hide her ignorance, particularly if the woman is a hard core feminist of the SJW type.

        I’ll also note that this site does not recognize the word mansplaining in spell check, therefore it does not exist as a “real word”. Thus endest the lesson.

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      • If mansplaining came from a situation where a male reader explained a book to it’s female author than I’m even less impressed with the term. Readers explain the works to the author all the time. Its why we have that joke about an author getting called out by a professor on the meaning of the author’s book when the author sits in on the class. Th entire death of the author literary theory is based on the idea that the writer is not the sole interpreter of the book.

        I recognize that mansplaining is a thing and part of sexism and the belittling of women. It is still used too much as a rhetorical tool. Like Damon said, it is used as a way to silence men in a particular argument.

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        • Asimov told that story. He was in a classroom and the professor, who didn’t know who he was, was lecturing about the meaning of one of his stories. Asimov rose to the bait, and disagreed, concluding by identifying himself as the author. The professor responded that this was irrelevant.

          In any case, this all is consistent with my point that mansplaining is not a uniquely male-on-female phenomenon.

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          • In any case, this all is consistent with my point that mansplaining is not a uniquely male-on-female phenomenon.

            It is not uniquely male-on-female, insofar as boorishness is common enough. However, it is gendered.

            It comes to this: people, in this case men, express status by playing the role of “the knower,” “the speaker.” We all do this. We are all doing it now. However, this status gap can be expressed in various ways, with various degrees of presumption and arrogance. Men (some men, not all men) routinely assume they get to do this over women-in-general, regardless of the actual status of the woman. Furthermore, they do this in situations where they might be more respectful and cautious when dealing with another man. And more, they can be stubbornly unwilling to cede ground to a woman, when a similarly situated man would be treated with respect.

            I lived quite a few years facing the world as a man. I’ve now lived a few as a woman. The difference is staggeringly obvious, despite the fact my professional status has improved much.

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          • I don’t think a book of non-fiction, by being non-fiction, completely escapes the possibility that it might contain more, or less, or different than what the author intended. There are numerous times, even on this site, where we’ll take a “non-fiction” analysis of a legal problem or a historical issue or an economic policy and suggest that what the author *really* wants is something different, or suggest that the implications of the analysis are different.

            Still, the other facts you mention–e.g., the person not even having read the book–are relevant. They certainly put the “founding example” in a new light. And while I haven’t read your link, I’ll take your word for it that the dude was a blowhard.

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      • “Actually, it does describe something that happens. I think I read somewhere that the original situation in which it happened a male reader was explaining a book to a woman who happened to be the author.”

        Actually, that sounds like a great thing everyone should do. I am inclined to encourage readers to disagree with the the author’s overt proclamations regarding their own work. It’s a useful exercise. It can also be a bit like that South Park episode where the boys write a horrid book of fart jokes and is then embraced by the literary community.

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        • Here is how it played out:

          I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great–if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets–a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

          He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

          I replied, “Several, actually.”

          He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

          They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

          He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

          So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book–with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

          Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said–like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer–“gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

          But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless–for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

          [source]

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          • veronica d: the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier

            I think this kind of kills the “hey, the author isn’t the final arbiter of what a text means” excuse. Maybe the author shouldn’t have the final say, but it is certainly more valid than what someone thinks based on reading a review about it.

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            • Maybe the author shouldn’t have the final say, but it is certainly more valid than what someone thinks based on reading a review about it.

              Well, yes in general, but no for here.

              While ‘death of the author’ is a reasonable literary position(1) to take (If a bit rude when speaking to the actual author.), it’s not a reasonable position to take for non-fiction.

              You can either agree with the writer of non-fiction, or disagree, but it’s not up for interpretation what the text ‘is saying’. Even if the text is so unclear that two possible readings can happen, people can’t pick one side while the writer says ‘No, I was trying to say this other thing.’.

              1) Actually, I *don’t* think it’s a reasonable position to take, but others disagree. I think what a writer intended the book to mean is, indeed, important, *in addition* to the meaning that others get from it. Trying to pick one or the other is stupid, they are two completely different things, and I don’t even understand how there can be argument there.

              I understand how ‘death of the author’ showed up to counter the idea that the writer’s intent was the *only* thing worth discussing, but it did that by claiming that wasn’t worth discussing at all!

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              • I’m not so sure, DavidTC.

                At least in certain academic disciplines, a good portion of writing in the discipline is based on how one interprets other works in that discipline. Historians, for example, bicker often over what the greats and not so greats meant when they said x or y or how applicable their analyses are to different situations.

                You could counter that I’m missing the point, and I’m not 100% sold on what I’m saying, to be sure. I realize I’m conflating academic discipline writing with non-fiction, and of course, there are other types of non-fiction around. You could also, with justice, suggest I’m eliding the point you made about disagreeing with non-fiction (which you accept is something that’s done) with disagreeing over interpretation. Also, a major source of disagreements over interpretation often have to do with the original writers being unclear or with the interpreters not having read or read closely enough the ones they’re interpreting.

                Finally, I agree almost completely with this point you made:

                I understand how ‘death of the author’ showed up to counter the idea that the writer’s intent was the *only* thing worth discussing, but it did that by claiming that wasn’t worth discussing at all!

                (I say “almost completely” and not “completely” because I haven’t read enough of death of the author types to know if they, or how many of them, really do say it’s not worth discussing at all.)

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                • At least in certain academic disciplines, a good portion of writing in the discipline is based on how one interprets other works in that discipline.

                  Interpreting what they ‘meant’ isn’t the same thing as death of the author, which is basically the idea we should completely *ignore* what the author meant.

                  (I say “almost completely” and not “completely” because I haven’t read enough of death of the author types to know if they, or how many of them, really do say it’s not worth discussing at all.)

                  Oh, trust me, that’s what lit crits mean when they say that. The original paper that coined the term was talking about exactly that.

                  Like I said, it was a pushback against the idea that writer’s intent was *everything*, which often completely ignored the fact their intent…failed. If they were making an allegory to something that no one understood…why should literary critics *care* about that if *all* the readers missed it? Or if everyone was seeing something the writer didn’t intend, perhaps we *should* talk about it when discussing the work.

                  The problem is, like I said, this theory was framed not as ‘We should also consider how *readers* are interpreting this.’, and instead framed as ‘We should pretend this work is a complete entity unto itself and that we have no idea who the author even is or what they themselves have said about the work’.

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                  • Very post-modern: not is its content, but in the idea of taking a perfectly reasonable point and running with it far past the point where it is helpful or sensible.

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      • “Actually, it does describe something that happens. I think I read somewhere that the original situation in which it happened a male reader was explaining a book to a woman who happened to be the author.”

        And IIRC, all of her friends described a large number of very similar experiences.

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  2. This explains every sports and/or politics argument ever made, and indeed most of the internet.

    I have never, ever, ever seen this behavior. Especially not here, at this very blog I am writing upon, right now.

    (Also, you forgot to add “music arguments” there; though you may feel that’s covered by “most of the internet”, I feel compelled to point out that it’s a common-enough phenomenon that it deserves its own header.)

    This post reminds me of one posted recently elsewhere. A female music journalist asked females in the music industry to tweet examples of sexism they’d encountered in the industry. Mixed in amongst things that clearly were sexism was one that read something like: “After our show, a middle-aged guy went on and on to me about how our [presumably drummerless] band needed a drummer.”

    My feeling was: that guy wasn’t buttonholing you about your lack of drummer because you are a woman; he was doing it because music fans (and musicians) often have very specific ideas about How These Things Should Be Done, and they are Going To Tell You About Them. A male musician would probably have received the same spiel.

    A song about the phenomenon – isn’t “Conversational Karate” a great term for it?:

    https://youtu.be/e0-0ZRXA5d8

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    • I feel compelled to point out that it’s a common-enough phenomenon that it deserves its own header.

      This is completely incorrect. I can’t believe I even have to point this out.

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  3. Great post!

    [cw: ironic sexism]

    Mansplaining is a real thing. On the one hand, it is simple boorishness. On the other hand, there really is a gendered aspect to it. Plenty of studies show how men attempt to dominate conversations.

    So here’s the thing, this gets really fucking tedious.

    Which is the crux of the matter. We gals can sense when you guys are puffing out your chest, yanking out your dick, and trying to be the big guy on the scene. Trust me, this shit is obvious. And it’s just as obvious when you ain’t!

    When you do it to other guys, what-evs. We can mock you from the sidelines. When you try to do it to us, to do it at our expense — Ha! As if! Go rest your little man-brain.

    And this is when it gets ugly, cuz men (some men, not all men) just cannot accept taking backseat to a gal. They just can’t. It drives them batty in its infinite wrongness. (Men are very emotional creatures, vacillating between rage and a boundless sense of insignificance.)

    Which is pathetic and hilarious, ’cept for when the man gets so pissy he becomes a menace.

    So anyway. I’ve always thought this was a super thoughtful article.

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    • “On the one hand, it is simple boorishness. On the other hand, there really is a gendered aspect to it. ”

      I have never seen a woman do it to me or any man in my presence; I’ve never had somebody describe a woman doing it to a man.

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  4. Actually, when I realized that the differently-gendered term for stereotypically-gendered communication style was “bitching”, I realized that “mansplaining” was better because it’s an attempt to improve the amount of knowledge in the world rather than merely complaining.

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  5. Mansplaining isn’t men talking to women or just men talking. It is privilege manifested. It is men assuming a position of authority on account of them being men. It is men being dismissive of the perspectives of non-men. It is men assuming that their say carries weight because they are men.

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    • Correct, Kazzy.

      But that doesn’t mean that misapplication of the mansplaining charge to “just men talking (saying things women don’t want to hear)” or “just men talking to women (saying things women don’t want to hear)” isn’t rampant. (It doesn’t mean it is rampant either, but just because it’s mightn’t be rampant doesn’t mean it isn’t common. That doesn’t mean it’s common, either, but just because it mightn’t be common doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen with some regularity. That doesn’t mean it happens with some regularity, either, but just because… and so on.)

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    • It is men assuming a position of authority on account of them being men. It is men being dismissive of the perspectives of non-men. It is men assuming that their say carries weight because they are men.

      This is a perfect description of the way a lot of feminists handle men’s challenges to their dogmata. And specifically, how the term “mansplaining” is often used in practice.

      There’s a beautiful symmetry to it.

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      • “This is a perfect description of the way a lot of feminists handle men’s challenges to their dogmata. And specifically, how the term “mansplaining” is often used in practice.”

        I’ve never seen an example of this.

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  6. Richard Hershberger:
    Asimov told that story.He was in a classroom and the professor, who didn’t know who he was, was lecturing about the meaning of one of his stories.Asimov rose to the bait, and disagreed, concluding by identifying himself as the author.The professor responded that this was irrelevant.

    The professor had a point. The author has a legitimate point of view on the work, but once the work is finished and out there interacting with readers, the author’s opinions are no longer privileged(*), and any other reader’s opinion is just as valid.

    The TV Trope for this is “Death of the Author”. Note that that’s only the metaphorical lit-crit sense – literal author deaths are covered under “Author Existence Failure”…

    A counterpoint, as the TV Tropes page covers in detail, is Borges’s “Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote”. Which, like a lot of Borges, to me has a brilliant theme and is well-crafted but at the end of the day comes up just a bit short of convincing me.

    Note: Many, if not most of you, already knew this. Given the thread topic, however, I couldn’t resist.

    (*) The only question I didn’t answer on the XKCD “Big Data” survey was “What is a word you always misspell?”. I knew there was a word which I always spell with an ‘e’ in the middle that gets corrected to an ‘i’. That word is “privilege”. Now I remember.

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    • I am pretty much on board with that, when it comes to works of art/fiction.

      Where I start to have a problem with it, is when people want to bring the principle into nonfiction, as well as actual interpersonal communication or debate.

      In that case – while I still agree that the sender’s intention is not the end-all, be-all definitive interpretation of a message (communication is a two-way street, and it can certainly be the sender’s fault, that their intended message is not being received) – I do feel that, all else equal (barring evidence otherwise), we should give the sender slightly more weight than the receiver regarding the intended meaning of a message. To do otherwise makes meaningful communication very, very difficult if not impossible, if what *I* think you said is just as valid an interpretation of what you said as what *you* think you said.

      I’m not saying we should privilege the sender by much; but I’d go with at least a default 51/49 split (that split can be altered by other evidence) maybe.

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      • That’s….not what death of the author is.

        Death of the author is something that, at heart, applies to *art*. (Generally to literature but it can be used in other contexts, too.)

        Art is hard to define, but the definition that makes the most sense here is that art is a message *inside* something else. There is the text (or whatever) itself, and that is *intended* to create a message or an emotion. Two levels.

        It is why some photographs are art, because they have that second level, and some are not, because it’s just a photo of a can of soup so we remember what kind to buy at the store and the photographers didn’t particularly want to convey *anything*. It is why we used to idiotically argue over if video games were art, because a lot of them really *didn’t* have any sort of second level until recently, or had the most superficial one.

        Death of the author is arguing we should look at that *second level* in a specific way. Lit crit can try to figure out what emotions and feelings did the creator intend us to get, and in what context was he trying to get a message across…and then there’s the theory of death of the author, which says the only thing that matters is what *actually ends up* being received by the viewer, and nothing else should be considered.

        Arguing about what someone ‘actually said’ or what a piece of text that has a comma splice means, is an entirely different thing. That’s arguing over *first level*. Which you can do with literature also.

        Now, to hedge my comment a bit: Death of the artist can *also*, to some extent, apply to the first level, but basically in the context of ‘Should we bother to learn any facts about the author at all, like where they are from?’, not, for example, ‘When the writer stated he was from Rome in an interview, we should ignore any context of the fact he lived in Georgia, and if the reader assumes he meant Rome in Italy, that’s fine.’, which is how ‘Death of the Author’ would really be applied to *that*.

        In reality, no lit crit class is going to ‘allow’ readers to interpret first level stuff however they want…although they might tell the reader to *discard* everything outside the work itself.

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        • I don’t think we are actually disagreeing. I’d go slightly further, and say that there are more than two levels – what the text is, what message(s) the creator intended, and all the ones that receivers receive.

          The point of art, in a way, is explicitly *for* “meaning” to escape the creator’s control.

          I just think it seems like sometimes people want to apply this concept to real-life communications, and that is usually a mistake. Ambiguity and misinterpretation can often enhance the experience of art. In real life, they usually just lead to trouble.

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          • I don’t think we are actually disagreeing. I’d go slightly further, and say that there are more than two levels – what the text is, what message(s) the creator intended, and all the ones that receivers receive.

            The weird thing is, I agree with death of the author in certain contexts. When someone experiences some art, be it a painting or a book or music or whatever, the *only thing* that matters to them is what they thought that art meant, and often times I think *art* itself forgets that. (All too often art becomes a big puddle of incestual self-references.)

            The problem is death of the author is a dumbass way to approach literary criticism, and sorta makes the entire concept of literary criticism very very stupid.

            It’s like someone in government, when trying to figure out problems in a transportation system, making the point that the entire purpose of the transportation system is to move people where they want to go, which is entirely correct, and if it fails to do that it has failed, which is also correct, and…so we should completely disregard how the system was designed to work, and just look at how people are using it, which is, uh, bone stupid.

            If the system fails to work as expected, perhaps it might be a clever idea to actually talk about *why that is happening*. Compare and contrast expectations and actualities, that sort of thing.

            Likewise, if people are getting something else from an artistic work than what was intended, perhaps people *whose job it is to specifically talk about these things* could, I dunno, talk about those things, instead of just pretending what was intended by the author literally does not exist.

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            • One thing that the Justine Sacco situation showed us is that we have achieved “Death of the Tweeter”.

              Remember the scene in Strange Brew where Bob McKenzie is in the brewery, about to drown in beer, and he says “Doug and I always used to talk about how awesome it would be to drown in beer but this is cold and Doug’s not here and this isn’t awesome, this sucks”?

              It’s like that, but for the internet.

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              • Well, the problem there was the internet mob.

                And it’s easy to point to some example where the mob didn’t really understand things and clearly overreacted, but the problem with those mobs is that they *always* are overreactions, even if they understand the situation *correctly*. It’s very easy to get hung up on how ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ they are, and pretend that matters. It doesn’t.

                That said, the fact it’s easy to retweet a *single* tweet and have people react to it without any context or knowledge of the author is basically taking death of the author to a new level. It’s like lit crit under the post-structuralism, except done by dumb people two sentences at the time, and the meaning they are looking for is ‘something to be outraged about’.

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                • It’s like lit crit under the post-structuralism, except done by dumb people two sentences at the time, and the meaning they are looking for is ‘something to be outraged about’.

                  I keep hoping that things will evolve into smarter things but instead they keep evolving into dumber things.

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            • The weird thing is, I agree with death of the author in certain contexts. When someone experiences some art, be it a painting or a book or music or whatever, the *only thing* that matters to them is what they thought that art meant,

              What is the role of the critic in this? If the only thing that matters to me is what I think the art means, so much so that what the creator of the art thinks it means is irrelevant, then the opinion of some third party surely is at least as irrelevant, if not more so.

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              • If the only thing that matters to me is what I think the art means, so much so that what the creator of the art thinks it means is irrelevant, then the opinion of some third party surely is at least as irrelevant, if not more so.

                That is exactly how I feel.

                It is possible, in *some* sense, to argue that the only thing that matters about a work is how each individual person perceived it.

                However, in *that* particular sense, who the hell needs critics to start with? What are they even trying to do? Why are they stating that no one should care what the author thinks about the work…and then stating how *they* think about the work?

                In addition to the obvious practical problem, there are *metaphysical* problems with that. Known facts about an author, or statements the author has made, *impact how viewers see the work*. They are, in a sense, part of the work. We think of Tolkien differently because we know his stuff is 60+ years old instead of modern, and there is no way around that.

                And, ironically, the entire point of ‘death of the author’ is pushback against the idea that people can be viewing art ‘incorrectly’. No, they claim, whatever someone gets out of the work is all that matters. Which means that by attempting to dictate that readers ‘shouldn’t’ consider these outside facts they already know, they *themselves* are committing the very sin they are fighting.

                Except here they don’t even have the moral high ground of being the *creator* of the work, who at least has the knowledge of what the work was *trying* to convey. They’re just sorta dictating how people ‘should’ view art based on some random rule.

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      • Oh, I agree – the whole Asimov thing doesn’t make any sense if it was in the context of non-fiction, unless he was trying to clear up something he had inadvertently left ambiguous. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts…

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    • The professor had a point. The author has a legitimate point of view on the work, but once the work is finished and out there interacting with readers, the author’s opinions are no longer privileged(*), and any other reader’s opinion is just as valid.

      Do not assume a specific school of literary criticism is *true*. Just because that school *says* that thing does not make thing correct. There a bunch of schools of literary criticism, and they treat authorial intent in various different ways.

      And, also, this was a work of non-fiction, and thus, no, the professor did not have a point.

      The TV Trope for this is “Death of the Author”.

      Brain….hurt…

      That’s not the ‘TV Trope’ for that! That’s the literary criticism term for it!

      ‘Professional Wrestling’ is the TV Trope for a type of sports entertainment. The ‘Author’ is the TV Trope for the guy who writes a story.

      I like TV Tropes as much (probably more) than the next guy, but they didn’t invent ‘Death of the Author’.

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      • Sigh, probably failure on my part in the first place. Just like the Law of Unintended Consequences is the one that will always be enforced by the universe, any time we think we’re being clever we should always remember what a very wise man identified as the “Failure Mode of Clever”. Apparently I, not having much of a positive history on this site, failed when I thought I was being clever and was just responded to as the failure mode would dictate… Mea culpa. I’ll be much more guarded in the future.

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        • No worries, man, I was half kidding myself. I just found that a really weird way to say what you said.

          And it’s a little annoying how people seem to have internalized a specific type of lit crit as being handed down by God.

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          • No problem, I’ve slept on it and I’m good.

            Really, I only did it that way to make the little joke about “Death of the Author” not referring to a Terry Gilliam style “And at that moment the animator suffered a fatal heart attack” moment.

            Plus, I cited Borges! That’s like double pretension points, isn’t it?

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  7. I agree with Veronica’s and Kazzy’s comments above about “mansplaining” referring to something very real, the gender/power dynamic in male/female communications that usually works so that the man tries to dominate the conversation. And yet….

    ….it doesn’t seem to work for me. It seems to be more like a shorthand to put people on the defensive and shut down discussion altogether. And yet….

    ….maybe that’s not a 100% bad thing. Maybe it is good for a guy like me who sometimes tries (both with and without fully knowing it) to dominate conversations with women to be knocked down a few pegs and be reminded of what I’m doing. And maybe my protests against it are of the sort, “I wasn’t civil to you when you wanted to speak, but now that my right to speak is being challenged I’m going to demand on civility” (and yes, I realize we’re not talking about civility per se, just using an analogy). And yet….

    ….sometimes I’m around groups of women who do shut me out, or seem to, or who use sexist language that sometimes bothers me. That happens very, very rarely, and even then, when I’m in a minority, I still enjoy a lot of male privilege. I also realize that a marginalized person engaging in an ism against a non-marginalized person is different from a non-marginalized person engaging in that same ism, if we can even call it the same ism.

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