Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Embracing the Intentional Fallacy

Though I have been warned throughout my career as a student of English literature to beware the intentional fallacy, to let the literature speak for itself and to leave the author’s biography out of analysis, I am now finding that the evaluation of satire is inextricably tied to an understanding of the author’s motivations. In determining the effectiveness of a piece of satire, one must understand the author’s desires while writing it. Assuming that each individual satirizing colonization wishes to restore the proper power balance between natives and their colonizers will lead to a fundamental misevaluation of the work.

For example, Patricia Grace has said she does not write about the Maori people with a political agenda in mind. Though some of her works may be more political than others, she does not feel personally oppressed or angry and is not trying to inspire a revolution. Therefore, we should consider her writing not for what particular progressive feelings it arouses in us but rather for what it portrays about contemporary Maori life.

In contrast, John Kasaipwalova is in fact trying to inspire a revolution. Understanding that he essentially quit writing to more actively subvert the powers that have oppressed his community is crucial to our interpretation of Betel Nut is Bad Magic for Airplanes. In this case, we ought to consider how strongly it motivates us to feel angry about the injustice and become part of a larger process of social change.

King falls somewhere in between the radical and the passive writings of Kasaipwalova and Grace. He desires awareness for the land disputes facing Native Americans, but not necessarily a revolution. In Borders, he reveals the tensions between Native Americans and “whites” without the anger that cloaks Kasaipwalova’s writing. Therefore, his satire ought to be judged on how clearly we come to understand the issues of stolen nationality for the Native Americans.

Satire within literature is writing with a specific purpose rather than a mere expression of art. Our evaluation of it, therefore, must involve moving past our Formalist roots to a new role which involves an understanding and an appreciation of the psychological and historical mindset in which a humorist was writing. 

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