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Old 09-03-2004, 12:53 PM   #401
Child of the 7th Age
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How did Child see those historical links?
My ears are indeed burning. And thanks for the kind words, Bb . I have been running around all morning on errands and will unfortunately be doing the same most of the afternoon. While I can't enter wholeheartedly into this very interesting discussion of canon and the role of author and reader, I can at least say how and why I personally approached the text in this way, and how ideas are generated on this particular board.

Bear with me, since what I am saying may sound a bit strange.....

I essentially see it as trains on different tracks. (Actually that's on a good day; on a bad day I view it more as very balky carts!) Tolkien is roaring down one track and Child or Fordim or Bb or whoever are each roaring down their separate track. There are a few points where these tracks intersect and many points where they do not. The trains generally cross at those points where the two conductors share something in common: a way of looking at things, a perception, a field of common knowledge, even certain personality traits. When that happens, when the two trains collide, then something exciting can happen. There can be meaning seen on the reader's part where none was seen before.

The interesting thing to me is that each of us carry different wagonloads of goods with us. I am never going to "see" the philogical implications of certain things Tolkien writes in the way that Shippey does, nor am I going to "see" the literary themes like Bb or Fordim. I'm capable of listening to their discoveries and appreciating them, but I am far less likely to come up with similar discoveries.


But it's more than academic background. It's all the things that have shaped my personality and my life: how I view people, the kind of circumstances I've known, my philosophical and religious beliefs. For example, I have spent a great deal of my life looking at the past and trying to assess the impact of past on present, so I am naturally acutely aware of any situation when this happens, even if it occurs in the pages of a myth. When I notice and read the Letters, I will pick up on those passages where Tolkien reveals his own attitude to the past, whether in terms of Numenor, the Elves, or his view of history as the "long defeat". I will internalize these ideas and when I look at the text a tiny part of me will be able to almost carry on a mental discussion with the professor. It is more a matter of the questions I instinctively pose, rather than flashes of inspiration or anything like that.

It's almost as if you can enter into Tolkien's creative process, following in his footsteps, and that's an exciting prospect to me. At the end of this process, I (or whoever takes the lead) comes out with something we would label an insight. In a similar way, for example, I am acutely aware of "class" issues in LotR....because of things that I grew up with (although my response may not be what another person would expect!).

It is possible, of course, to take this process one step further: to search below the surface. The interesting question to me is why I feel impelled to see things in a particular way-- whether in terms of history or class--and someone else does not. I have been exposed to many ideas and experiences in my life. Only some really hook me and change the way I look at things. Why did history "hook" me, literature "hook" Bb , or geography/geology "hook" Pio ? I wish I could answer that....

In any case, if we set down enought individual insights on a given topic, then you can get a group dynamic going on a board like this. Someone takes Child's insight, relates it more tightly to Aragorn in a different way, and a new insight is born, this one even wider than before. Altogether an interesting process, since none of us could have reached the particular end point we did if we had been journeying solely on our own without fellow companions. So not only are our individual trains intersecting with Master Tolkien: we are also intersecting with each other in some kind of crazy fashion.
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Old 09-03-2004, 01:59 PM   #402
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So, do we have to accept all statements of 'fact' that Tolkien made as equally valid? Surely the facts of geography are unquestionable? But he changed certain geographical 'facts' over the course of his writings. Or 'facts' about the nature of his races - they changed. Or 'facts' about particular characters- again, same thing. Simply, he never stopped creating & changing the 'facts' about Middle earth, & if he'd lived he would have carried on doing that.

So what are we left with - talk about 'a fox that isn't there' - the more precisely you try to define 'canon' - either in terms of the facts of the world, or the writer's moral position, the more confused you become, & the less unquestionable 'facts' you find yourself with.

So, in a sense, there is no 'canon', in the sense of a coherent, self consistent sub created world. Which makes me wonder whether there ever could have been - isn't the problem the fact that sub creation is a dynamic, on-going process - Tolkien didn't 'sub create' Middle earth, he spent his life sub creating it. So Middle earth would never have been complete, set in stone, even if Tolkien had been given the Elvish gift of immortality.

Any interpretation we may put on his works, any, even the most outlandish fanfic, could have come from Tolkien himself, given the right circumstances & enough time.

In that sense, this thread can never answer the question, because the reader ultimately makes the choice whether to go with what Tolkien left us, & tries to make it as consistent within their own mind as possible, or they say, 'well, Tolkien might have ended up with 15 foot rabbits in Middle earth, so I'll put them in, or believe that they're wandering around there somewhere' (maybe fighting for survival against the Wild Were Worms in the Last Desert?) My own feeling is that if you go too far down that road you'll end up with the whole thing unravelling in your hands.

And that's the question - how precious is Middle earth to you, & how big a risk are you willing to take with it? Its very easy to only take what you want from Tolkien & ignore the rest, but surely the risk in doing that is that you don't learn anything from him. Has Tolkien got anything new to teach us?

I don't know whether I'm defending my old position here, or taking up a new one. I will admit that the Nazis & a Mythology for England thread has made me think twice about my more dogmatic statements regarding what Tolkien was trying to achieve with LotR & with the Legendarium as a whole. And this is where the author's personal life comes into the question of canon, because if his own personal experiences feed into his writings & what he wants to do with them, & wants them to do (ie the effect he wishes them to produce on his readers) then do we have to take that into account?
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Old 09-03-2004, 08:22 PM   #403
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Davem wrote:
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So, in a sense, there is no 'canon', in the sense of a coherent, self consistent sub created world.
Yes - this is where many discussions of "canon" are, I think, misguided. For, as I tried to say long ago in the early pages of the thread, you cannot simply ask "what are the facts about Middle-earth?" Middle-earth is fictional. There is no real world to which the texts refer, and with reference to which propositions may be true or false. One can only have a discussion about the "true story" of Middle-earth if one first decides upon certain principles by which to select which statements to take as fact and which not to.

So when you ask:
Quote:
So, do we have to accept all statements of 'fact' that Tolkien made as equally valid? Surely the facts of geography are unquestionable? But he changed certain geographical 'facts' over the course of his writings. Or 'facts' about the nature of his races - they changed. Or 'facts' about particular characters- again, same thing. Simply, he never stopped creating & changing the 'facts' about Middle earth, & if he'd lived he would have carried on doing that.
. . . the problem is that "accept" is not defined. What does it mean to "accept" a fact about Middle-earth? Accept that this particular text contains this particular statement? There is certainly no problem with this. Accept that some fact is true about Middle-earth? That's nonsense - there is no Middle-earth. There are only texts.

HerenIstarion wrote:
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Besides, relating it to Canonicity issue, if such an assumption (option 1 in origin of Moral Law) were imperative for the Author, and he made it explicit in his letters...
Which it certainly is. And indeed that means that when we discuss Middle-earth, we must accept, within the fictional world, that option 1 is true. Our opinions about that assumption in the real world ought to have nothing to do with our opinions about the same in Middle-earth (unless we find option 1 so glaringly self-inconsistent that we cannot even suspend disbelief and accept it in Arda).
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Old 09-04-2004, 02:32 AM   #404
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Originally Posted by Aiwendil
What does it mean to "accept" a fact about Middle-earth? Accept that this particular text contains this particular statement? There is certainly no problem with this. Accept that some fact is true about Middle-earth? That's nonsense - there is no Middle-earth. There are only texts.
Yes, but the texts refer to something beyond themselves, so to what extent do they refer to the same thing- or do they all refer to different, but similar 'Middle earths'. This was my point way back, when I questioned the approach of taking parts of The Fall of Gondolin & combining them with parts of Tuor to create a new 'complete' account. This brings in the question of the author's intent at the time of writing. If there are only texts then Middle earth is merely an expression of of the artist's desire(s) at the time he wrote, & any internal consistency of the world they refer to is secondary - yet isn't this the very thing Tolkien struggled so long & hard to achieve?

'Accept that some fact is true about Middle-earth? That's nonsense - there is no Middle-earth. There are only texts'

This I would argue with - of course, I can't give a precise definition of Middle earth, & I don't think Tolkien could have either, but Middle earth is 'real' to many of us, because Middle earth exists for us beyond the texts - the very fact that people can write fanfics about ME, or speculate on the character's motives shows that in some sense Middle earth has a kind of objective existence for readers. The texts are the way we're introduced to Middle earth, our way into that world, & Tolkien clearly understood that, or he wouldn't have speculated on other's adding to that world.

The texts, illustrations, movies (for some), even the philosophical & religious speculation all 'constellate' around, or grow out of the 'thing' (whatever it really is) that we understand as Middle earth. The texts themselves are just that - they're written as accounts by observers, or redactions by later writers from earlier texts, each one referring back to a time/place/event which we, the readers of those texts, can never experience directly. In other words, Tolkien is recounting to us 'old tales of long ago'. So, the texts are not Middle earth, they are about Middle earth - they refer to something which exists beyond themselves.
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Old 09-04-2004, 11:30 AM   #405
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davem said:

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The texts themselves are just that - they're written as accounts by observers, or redactions by later writers from earlier texts, each one referring back to a time/place/event which we, the readers of those texts, can never experience directly. In other words, Tolkien is recounting to us 'old tales of long ago'.
and also:

Quote:
So, do we have to accept all statements of 'fact' that Tolkien made as equally valid? Surely the facts of geography are unquestionable? But he changed certain geographical 'facts' over the course of his writings. Or 'facts' about the nature of his races - they changed. Or 'facts' about particular characters- again, same thing. Simply, he never stopped creating & changing the 'facts' about Middle earth, & if he'd lived he would have carried on doing that.

So what are we left with - talk about 'a fox that isn't there' - the more precisely you try to define 'canon' - either in terms of the facts of the world, or the writer's moral position, the more confused you become, & the less unquestionable 'facts' you find yourself with.
To me, this is the real crux of the matter--the fact that the "facts" continually change is what makes Middle-Earth seem so real. Reading about it is exciting because it is just like historical research: the accounts conflict. Places are described in one way in one source and in another way in another source. This is the ideal situation for what Tolkien was doing--presenting accounts by observers or later historians. I think it's vastly more appropriate that the accounts should not always line up.
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Old 09-05-2004, 08:50 AM   #406
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Davem wrote:
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Yes, but the texts refer to something beyond themselves
Do they really? In the philosophy of meaning there are two major schools of thought - the correspondence theory of truth, which holds that propositions "refer" to real things and their truth-value depends upon the state of the real things, and the coherence theory of truth, which holds that a proposition's truth-value depends on its logical consistency with a set of other true propositions.

Now, I don't mean to get into a debate on meaning. But I think that, whichever of the two views one holds in general, one must view the statements in a work of fiction, especially in one so convoluted and self-contradictory as the Silmarillion, with a coherence theory in mind. For the statements in the texts cannot possibly refer to real things; Middle-earth is fictional. But if they don't, in the most literal sense, refer to things, then what do they refer to? Perhaps, one might say, they refer to imaginary things - that is, to things in the minds of various people. But of course, different people will imagine things differently; and it is strange in the extreme to say that Tolkien was in fact really writing about the neurons in my brain.

I think that the text does not refer to imaginary things. Rather the opposite. The text does not refer to anything except itself. It is we that refer to it when we imagine Middle-earth. Out of the mish-mash of texts and notes we can find vast networks of statements that cohere well, and from these we can formulate an imaginary world. Of course, there are different ways of choosing the set of coherent statements.

We imagine Middle-earth. That is what allows it to exist beyond the text; that is what allows fan fiction; that is what allows us to speculate on matters not discussed by Tolkien. But all of this begins with the text. And if two people, with their different minds and different images, are going to discuss "canon", then the place to which they must look is the text.

Whereas you say:
Quote:
The texts, illustrations, movies (for some), even the philosophical & religious speculation all 'constellate' around, or grow out of the 'thing' (whatever it really is) that we understand as Middle earth.
I would say the opposite. The "thing" - the imaginary world - grows out of the texts, illustrations, etc.
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Old 09-05-2004, 11:51 AM   #407
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So, back to Faerie...

Our ancestors believed in Faerie, the Other World, Heaven, in short, in other dimensions of 'reality', beyond this one. Middle earth may be a secondary world, an imaginary dimension, yet it partakes of one of these 'dimensions' - Faerie. Now faerie was believed to be absolutley real, & still is by many people (just as Heaven is, though I'm not implying equality between the two). There are numerous works - Evans-Wentz's Fairy faith in Celtic Countries, Robert Kirk's Secret Commonwealth, etc.

Now, I know we've been here before, so I won't go over old ground, but merely make the point that simply because an 'imaginary' (fictional or one accessed through the imagination/second sight) has no basis in physical fact, that does not mean it does not 'exist', or have an internal 'reality'. The texts are our means of accessing that 'imaginative' dimension, & the 'fact' that we may each percieve that imaginative dimension slightly differently, does not in itself mean that we are not experiencing the same thing, anymore than the fact that I & someone who is colour blind don't see a red flower in exactly the same way means that we are looking at different flowers. We are see the same flower in different ways, & the flower has an objective existence.

Tolkien was writing about a 'place', a self consistent world, & it has an 'objective existence in the sense that even though each reader of the texts may not 'see' it in exactly the same way, they are all 'in' the same place, mentally, when they read it (ok, not 'all', in that some of them may find events which Tolkien presents as tragic as being hilariously funny, but I'm speaking about all those who respond 'normally' - as opposed to abnormally, not implying any 'moral' judgement - the death of a good person is tragic, etc)

What Tolkien does is to tap into archetypal situations & figures, & they have an 'objective' 'reality' in that they arise/exist in the collective rather than the personal unconcious. So, while Middle earth is 'fictional', & all we have 'physically' are the texts, the question arises as to the extent to which Tolkien is allowing us access to that 'objective' dimension (whether internal or external to the human mind). Middle earth or faerie is an objectively existing 'realm', internally consistent, & the inhabitants & places described by Tolkien are 'real' within that dimension. Tolkien gives individual forms & personalities to those things, but did they arise out of the 'archetypal' unconscious dimension, 'given' to him - as he seems to have believed, or did he consciously make use of archetypal/mythical images - which he didn't believe he was doing?

If the images & stories did arise out of the mythic imagination, & he didn't invent them consciously, then they have their origin in the objective psyche, & so have an objective origin & existence, & that is perhaps the reason why they strike us as 'real', & why Middle earth may be the particular experience of Tolkien, (but it is an experience of an 'objective reality') which he passes on to us, but the 'real' Middle earth is just that - 'real'. So Canonicity would require faithfulness not just to the texts, but to what the texts arose out of & have their existence in.

So the question is about the extent to which Tolkien communicates his experience of that objective reality, & how close what he sets out for us in his writings is to that 'reality'.

Or in other words, how much are Tolkien's writings about Faerie in line with 'canon'? Is he simply making use of old ideas & beliefs, or is he attempting to recreate them, give them a new face, make them accessible, & this is all tied up with what he wanted to achieve. Why did he feel it was important to give England back its lost mythology - merely because he didn't like the idea that 'Johny Foreigner had something that dear old Blighty didn't have, or because he felt that a national mythology gave a people access to something ineffable, but at the same time something life giving. Form the TCBS' comments it would seem to be the latter.

Whether he succeeded or failed is down to the individual reader to answer, but his (original, at least) intent was to put us in touch with something that did have an objective 'reality'. The texts 'refer' us to that reality, or at least are attempts on Tolkien's part to open us up to the possibility of connecting with it.
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Old 09-06-2004, 03:55 AM   #408
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pour some oil on the flames-ss, my precious-s-ss, we do...

Well, let me present you with several statements, which, alas, are not original, but the result of which I immensely enjoyed when expressed in literature, like to, say, Stanislav Lem's short stories (probable and improbable dragon (dragon was [im]probable, not hunt), hunt one was concerned with, but I do not remember the name right at the spot to refer you to)

Let us, in the light of recent developments, go, than:

Humanity is the part of the universe. Allegedly, it's mind/imagination can not reach outside the universe and imagine things which are from outside. Being the reverse of said, the following maxim states, that, therefore, human mind is capable of imagining what is in this universe. Following this crooked logic, one may argue, that, since it can imagine all things which are part of the universe and so exist, all things human mind can imagine may be parts of the universe and exist.

With which, let me take your leave
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Old 09-06-2004, 06:17 AM   #409
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It strikes me there may be an analogy with Atlantis. Originally we had Plato's Timaeus, which is the text that began the whole thing, yet that text sparked multiple searches for remains of the 'real' Atlantis - ie, it struck a chord in people, & they began a search for what the text 'referred' to. Its irrelevant whether Atlantis ever 'really' existed in this world, because something symbolised by the text was 'calling' to those who read it.
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Old 09-06-2004, 02:09 PM   #410
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Davem wrote:
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The texts are our means of accessing that 'imaginative' dimension, & the 'fact' that we may each percieve that imaginative dimension slightly differently, does not in itself mean that we are not experiencing the same thing
It's not just a matter of individuals seeing things differently, though (that's only part of it). Tolkien saw things quite differently at different times, and the texts contradict each other.

Actually, I'm not sure to what extent our disagreement is real. You say the texts describe a place; I say the place is described by the texts. The crux of the disagreement would seem to be causality - whereas you think of the fictitious place giving rise to texts about it, I think of the texts as creating the fictitious place.

It's almost a moot point, except that I think your way of thinking about it gives rise to a pseudo-problem about canon. That is, if you say, as you do, that Middle-earth is a place and that the texts were written about it, then it makes sense to ask the question "what is the truth about Middle-earth?" Which facts really correspond with Middle-earth and which do not? Was Gil-Galad the son of Fingon or the son of Orodreth? If we apply a correspondence theory of truth to the texts then these questions make sense, and it is troubling when there seems (as often happens) no good way to answer them.

The problem is resolved by looking at things from my perspective. There is no single truth about Middle-earth because there is no single, original Middle-earth. It is of course true that you can take various coherent sets of statements from the texts and use as the basis for the imaginary place. But there's no need to be shocked or dismayed when you discover that someone else has taken a different set and done the same thing.

Of course I don't deny that archetypes and such are objectively real psychological features. But let's not confound these archetypes with the facts about Middle-earth. The archetypes are present in countless works of literature stretching back over thousands of years; many, if not most, of these works of literature contradict each other. They involve the same archetypes but the specific facts they assert are in contradiction.

So I certainly would not be averse to saying that, in a sense, the texts of the Silmarillion, LotR, and The Hobbit are about objectively real archetypes. But the specific, self-consistent reality of Middle-earth arises from them.
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Old 09-07-2004, 03:03 AM   #411
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Originally Posted by Aiwendil
It's almost a moot point, except that I think your way of thinking about it gives rise to a pseudo-problem about canon. That is, if you say, as you do, that Middle-earth is a place and that the texts were written about it, then it makes sense to ask the question "what is the truth about Middle-earth?" Which facts really correspond with Middle-earth and which do not? Was Gil-Galad the son of Fingon or the son of Orodreth? If we apply a correspondence theory of truth to the texts then these questions make sense, and it is troubling when there seems (as often happens) no good way to answer them.
Yet Tolkien clearly believed that he was 'discovering' rather than inventing, so he clearly felt that there were such 'facts' & that was the reason he continued working on the stories & making changes till they felt 'right'. Middle earth had an 'objective' existence for him. He may not have 'discovered' who Gil-Galad's father was, but he knew it was one or the other, & he couldn't bring himself to simply toss a coin, because he 'knew' that one of them was the father of Gil-Galad & the other was not, & his role was to discover his parentage, not dictate it.

This is as much a matter of understanding & acknowledging how Tolkien thought about & approached his work. Middle earth was an 'objectively existing place as far as he was concerned, & we can't actually prove him wrong.
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Old 09-07-2004, 06:41 AM   #412
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Davem wrote:
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This is as much a matter of understanding & acknowledging how Tolkien thought about & approached his work.
But there's a difference between understanding how he worked and understanding how we ought to think of the texts.

If I understand you then the "objectively real Middle-earth" you speak of is the imaginary place inside Tolkien's head - specifically, the imaginary place inside his head where every aspect of the history "feels right" to him. I of course have no problem with this as a definition. But you cannot so define it and then use the fact of the definition to show that the author's intent is the ultimate aribiter of canon - unless you so define "canon" as to make that statement trivial.

The trouble with this claim is, again, that Tolkien is dead - and even if he weren't, he's a distinct person whose mind cannot ever be fully read. How, then, are we to know which Middle-earth is the right one? Of course, we can always try to choose a set of statements from the text that we think correspond with his wishes - taking the latest statements where we can and so forth. This is what we are doing in the Silmarillion project. But this ultimately comes down to choosing a set of rules and then applying them to the texts.
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Old 09-07-2004, 07:57 AM   #413
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Well, all we can say is that Tolkien accessed Middle earth through his imagination, not that it is all only imagination. I can't see that its a more 'rational' or logical approach to state that there are millions of different Middle earths out there, each existing in the mind of one of Tolkien's readers.

Quote:
How, then, are we to know which Middle-earth is the right one?
How can we know which Atlantis is the right one?

Those 'searching' for Atlantis - whether its physical remains in this world or as some kind of 'imaginative' place/state - don't believe they're all searching for a different place - as far as they're concerned there's only one Atlantis which they are using the text/s to find. So, did Plato invent Atlantis, or did he merely use the already existing idea of Atlantis as a useful metaphor?

Your approach fails to answer what for me is the central question - why do we respond as we do to Middle earth, why do some of us feel it to be 'real', where does that sense of longing for it arise? Your position would seem to be that if we do respond to it in that we we're over-reacting (at the very least), or even that we're not responding in a sufficiently 'sane' & detatched way, that' there's something 'wrong' with us that we take a collection of texts so seriously.

Perhaps.

But for me that explanation doesn't work, because in my experience the more intensely people experience Middle earth, the more 'real' it is to them, the nicer people they are, & I can't explain how something that isn't 'real' can have a REAL, practical, & most importantly beneficial effect on people.
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Old 09-07-2004, 09:35 AM   #414
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Well now we're getting back into territory covered rather exhaustively earlier in the thread. It seems to me that you're saying that there is an objectively correct, internally consistent, Middle-earth that exists independent of anyone's thinking about it. If this is not what you're saying, then I don't see where we actually disagree. If it is, then I've got to wonder which Middle-earth it is. Is it, for example, the one where Turin returns to slay Ancalagon or the one where he returns to slay Morgoth? If you hold the view I formulated above, then there must be an objective fact about it. Either one is true or the other is. Is this the view that you hold? If so, then which one is the "real" story?

Quote:
Your approach fails to answer what for me is the central question - why do we respond as we do to Middle earth, why do some of us feel it to be 'real', where does that sense of longing for it arise? Your position would seem to be that if we do respond to it in that we we're over-reacting (at the very least), or even that we're not responding in a sufficiently 'sane' & detatched way, that' there's something 'wrong' with us that we take a collection of texts so seriously.
Again, we are getting into stuff that was already debated extensively. I tried to make it clear then that I don't think it's at all silly or wrong to take Middle-earth, or any other literary world, seriously. We respond to it for profound psychological reasons. You may not like this explanation, but it is an explanation. There is no inexplicable mystery in my view.
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Old 09-07-2004, 10:11 AM   #415
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We respond to it for profound psychological reasons.
Its not about 'why' we respond, but what, if anything, we respond to.

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Is it, for example, the one where Turin returns to slay Ancalagon or the one where he returns to slay Morgoth?
We can't know, because Tolkien didn't discover in time, but we can know that one of them is correct & the other isn't, because, given time, Tolkien would have discovered which one was 'correct'. If an explorer seeking the source of a particular river has two alternative possibilities but dies before he can determine which is correct, that wouldn't mean each of them was 'equally correct', or that people were free to choose which of the alternatives they preferred. And that would still be the case even if no-one else was able to go find out which is the case. We have to accept that some facts about Middle earth will remain unknowable to us, but that in itself doesn't mean the place itself has no 'objective existence' or that the response the texts evoke in us isn't to something 'real'.

Perhaps the problem is that you're arguing for the sole 'reality' or the texts (if I understand you right), while I'm arguing for the reality of what the texts refer to. So for me, 'contradictions' in the texts are not relevant.
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Old 09-07-2004, 11:12 AM   #416
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Originally Posted by Aiwendil
The problem is resolved by looking at things from my perspective. There is no single truth about Middle-earth because there is no single, original Middle-earth.
Hmmm. . . I wonder if we're not all barking up the wrong tree at the moment. It seems to me that rather than considering whether or not there is a single 'authorised' or 'true' or 'real' or 'canonical' version of Middle-Earth, we might not get further by examining how these questions pertain to the primary world. There really is "no single truth about [the primary world] because there is no single, original [primary world]." We all know that while we all share the same reality we do not live in or percieve that reality in the same way, with the effect that we all have our own versions of reality that occaisionally meet up with or overlap other persons' versions (I am very fond of Child's criss-crossing railroad tracks image here -- although there is a terrible risk of crashing into one another from time to time, isn't there!).

In this respect, I think that LotR accomplishes an almost perfect act of mimesis in its reflection of our world. Just as we have conflicting versions of the world, which we attempt to render into one meaning-full version that we can call our own, so too is Middle-Earth wonderfully incomplete and multiple. We are forced to address it as such and come up with our own versions of it.

The big difference in this thread seems to be a very simple one:

Some of us tend to refer to the author's version of the world that he created as but one among many. It may be a priviledged version with much to offer, but it is by no means definitive or final. Let us call these members of the thread the agnostics (they know there is meaning, they know what their relation is to meaning, but they aren't going to pin it down on any one specific entity or utterance).

On the other hand, some of us tend to look to the author's version of the world that he created as the best or, even, the only valid one. It is definitive and final. These people are not arguing that it makes perfect sense all the time, or that it is plainly or clearly written, but they do maintain that the truth is out there ( ) and that it can be found with enough work and time (and faith?). Let us call these members of the thread the believers (they know there is meaning, they know what their relation is to meaning, and they know that this meaning -- however fuzzy -- can be pinned directly to Tolkien).

I rathar think that -- true to form -- Tolkien either wanted or had it both ways. On the one hand, he created a variegated world that reflects in its complexity the complexity and incomplete nature of the primary world. He wanted readers to apply it to their own experience and draw what meaning they could or would from it. Total freedom. Agnostics rejoice.

On the other hand, he saw himself as a reader of the text -- particularly given his stance that he is merely an editor/translator working from source materials. As such he could not resist putting his own imprimanatur upon the text in the form of his own privileged interpretation. Believers rejoice.

These two stances are not entirely compatible, nor are they -- I think -- entirely contradictory. Who among us doesn't want to simultaneously create meaning for our own lives, and seek meaning in some other source or authority (God, any -ism, a loved one, etc).

It's not that Tolkien was being truthful or realistic -- I just think that he was being excruciatingly honest.

NOTE: I do not include in this the category of "atheists" -- those who believe the text has no meaning -- for the simple reason that the mere act of reading implies a faith that contradicts this idea: if reading were truly meaningless, why would anyone do it?
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Old 09-07-2004, 01:16 PM   #417
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Aiwendil makes the point that we have been going over old ground, but that's inevitable, because the author's intent & purpose is either central to our understanding & interpretation or it isn't. If an artist paints a picture of a tree (Eru alone knows where I got that idea from ) then it is either a picture of a 'real' tree or its a picture of an imaginary tree. Of course, we could agree to discuss the picture as a work of art, & ignore the real tree of which its a picture (if it is one), but if the author's intention in painting the picture was to refer us to the tree (the tree is in danger of being felled & he wants our help to prevent that happening, or the area in which it stands is in danger of being developed, or perhaps we've lived in a city for so long we've forgotten that there's a real tree there & he wants to tell us about it so we can go there & experience it, whatever), then by treating the painting simply as a beautiful work of art, we ignore the artists purpose.

My own feeling is that we cannot ignore the artists intention, & that until we take into account the painter's purpose in painting the tree we will never get a true understanding of the meaning, the reason the painting exists at all. So inevitably we go round & round on the question of whether it has an objective referent (is that the right term?), because until we have agreed on that we can't go any further in our discussion of the painting. Why did the artist paint that tree, & is it a real tree or not? We could split off into two groups, & discuss our respective understandings, but if we are to come together & discuss it as a single group then we have to agree on our understanding of the meaning for the artist of what he painted, & why there's a painting at all.
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Old 09-07-2004, 02:37 PM   #418
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Note: I started writing this response before Fordim's and Davem's last posts but had to rush off to class; so the first part doesn't take them into account.

Davem: All right, I think I understand your view, though I continue to find it strange and of course I still disagree with it. Can you say the same of my view? I only ask because I wonder whether I have not been sufficiently explicit or whether we are simply at a dead end.

It seems improbable in the extreme that either of us will convince the other. But it still might be interesting to discuss one view or the other without agreeing on it.

In your view, as you say, there is an objective fact about whether Turin returns at the end of the First Age or at the end of the World, but that fact is not knowable by us. Would you then say that the "canon" is unknowable? And if it's unknowable and yet people read the books and enjoy them and have intelligent discussions about them, then can it really be that important anyway?

In a way I keep feeling that our views are not actually in contradiction, but rather that we're simply talking about different things. I cannot deny that Tolkien had intentions, and that given enough time and suitable pressure for publication he would have arrived at a final version; nor can you deny that the texts do form a body of statements and that we can extract coherent sets of them and thus envision our own imaginary Middle-earths. But then you say that Tolkien's intention defines the "truth" about Middle-earth and I say there is no single truth about Middle-earth. Yet both of these are simply definitions, which are arbitrary anyway. It's as though you insist "Apples are sweet" and I say "Wrong! Lemons are sour!"

So what I wonder is what specific consequences you draw from your view and whether these differ substantively from mine.

Fordim wrote:
Quote:
These two stances are not entirely compatible, nor are they -- I think -- entirely contradictory.
Yes, this is something like what I was just getting at with respect to my view vs. Davem's. What does it really mean to say that "Tolkien's version is final and authoritative"? Does authoritative merely mean that it's the view of the author, the authority? Well, no one denies that! Or are we really dealing with a moral directive here, something like "One ought not to hold a view of the texts that differs from that of the author"? Besides being a bit presumptive, that's problematic since it's impossible to divine the exact thoughts of Tolkien, and in many cases his own thoughts were very different at different times.
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Old 09-07-2004, 07:09 PM   #419
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Originally Posted by davem
We can't know, because Tolkien didn't discover in time, but we can know that one of them is correct & the other isn't, because, given time, Tolkien would have discovered which one was 'correct'.
But, as Aiwendil points out, Tolkien's own thoughts and intentions changed over time. What he may have thought was "correct" at one point in time may well have seemed "incorrect" to him later in his life. Would you argue that Tolkien's latest thoughts on a particular issue should always take precedence on the basis that he was moving ever closer to the "truth" as he grew older? Even where those thoughts might conflict with his published works (for example, his ideas on the origins of Orcs, arguably)? Maybe his earlier ideas were the more "correct", but how would we ever know?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hegethistle
NOTE: I do not include in this the category of "atheists" -- those who believe the text has no meaning -- for the simple reason that the mere act of reading implies a faith that contradicts this idea: if reading were truly meaningless, why would anyone do it?
I think that there's a case to be made for the atheist reader. Someone who reads the book simply for pleasure and gives no thought to what it might mean to them or the world around them. Of course, it's unlikely that such a reader would hang around here on the Downs for very long, but it is (to my mind) a valid response nevertheless. Indeed, I could probably class myself as having been such a reader when I first read LotR.


Quote:
Originally Posted by davem
My own feeling is that we cannot ignore the artists intention
I go back to what I said earlier in this thread. How many people read LotR with any idea of, or inclination to understand, Tolkien's intentions? 1%? Less? Tolkien "enthusiasts" are in a massive minority when it comes to those who have read LotR. Are 99%+ of people who read the book are misguided or simply wasting their time?
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Old 09-07-2004, 08:12 PM   #420
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I think that there's a case to be made for the atheist reader. Someone who reads the book simply for pleasure and gives no thought to what it might mean to them or the world around them.
Ah, but then the meaning of the reading act would be to generate pleasure for the reader. The reader would still be 'using' the text to realise some 'purpose'. Such a limited and shallow purpose is sad and boring, but it still proceeds toward and through the meaning of the reading act for the reader.
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Old 09-07-2004, 08:48 PM   #421
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Her silver slippers glimmering like fishes' mail in the moonlight, and dancing effortlessly like the whispering brook, and bearing other cliches of grace and loveliness, Bethberry attempted mimesis, a reference to the real actions of Goldberry.

"Ahem, boys... er, gentlemen."

In this house, the discussion does not continue amongst the men after the ladies withdraw for the night. And withdrawing I am.

*looks around and collects all the candles, yellow and whites ones, their tapers flickering in her hand, and walks away with them*

May I suggest that you all retire also to think over your positions and words er they become too... hasty? Besides, I wish to join the frey, but must wait now until another day.

Using verse even worse than the original thought in some other author's imagination or unfully formed intention, and tripping over a bowl of lilies inexplicably left out on the floor, Bethberry curtsied graciously to all the verbal combatants and withdrew, humming to herself and taking all the light with her.

"We can always continue in the dark" whispered one voice.

"isn't that where we've always been?" asked another.

Yet a third announced, "What a daft save that was."
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Old 09-08-2004, 01:11 AM   #422
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(Whispers in case Bethberry is listening at the door)

Is the art seperate from the artist - can we treat the art as if it simply appeared out of nowhere, or pretend that we know nothing about the artist - or should we do that? The art stands alone, & that's all we have. If the artist meant anything, had any reason for painting the picture, that purpose should have gone to the grave with him. What was Leonardo's purpose in painting the Mona Lisa, & even if he had one, should we care?

Or, how important is Tolkien the man, the artist, in this discussion. Perhaps I'm arguing against myself (A habbit of the stupid ), because if Tolkien was attempting to communicate some 'objective' truth, then his part, to the extent that he succeeded, is irrelevant, & his contribution only plays a part to the extent that he failed. Yet, even if he was attempting to communicate an objective 'truth' it was his attempt, & we should respect that.

Its as much the Author, the Book or the Reader we're discussing, because the book is the author's attempt to communicate something to the reader. I'm happy enough to accept that there were different things the author wished to communicate at different times in his life, & that early stuff can & does contradict later, but I'm not entirely satisfied with it, because he continued to use the same stories, & its as likely that he was simply attempting to communicate his understanding of 'truth' from different angles, giving different aspects priority at different times. Perhaps, to pursue my earlier analogy, we have various sketches of the Tree, from different angles & with different numbers of branches, different shaped leaves, etc - some would argue from this that the artist was making up the tree, because if he was painting the tree differently each time then he couldn't have had a real physical model. Yet it could simply be that he never got the chance to study the tree properly - he only ever saw it from a distance, from the window of his train as he travelled into work each morning, & from his fleeting glimpses he tried to communicate not the tree itself, but his response to it.

And yet, does that matter, if all we have is the painting - I can see the argument, but I just feel that before we dismiss his intent, we must come to an understanding of what that intent was - to the extent that's possible, rather than just dismiss that unkown as unknowable.
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Old 09-08-2004, 08:29 AM   #423
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Davem wrote:
Quote:
Is the art seperate from the artist - can we treat the art as if it simply appeared out of nowhere, or pretend that we know nothing about the artist - or should we do that? The art stands alone, & that's all we have.
This has always been more or less my view, though obviously one not very popular in literary circles. It has always seemed strange to me that the value of a work of art should critically depend on something as unknowable as the author's innermost thoughts. If it were discovered that Beethoven's fifth symphony had in fact been written at random by a team of millions of monkeys, that would do nothing to dislodge it from its place as my favorite piece of music. If it turned out that "Beowulf" had in fact been written in the early 20th century, a fact covered up by some massive conspiracy, I would not suddenly call it pastiche and condemn it to oblivion; I would still read and enjoy it.

Of course, such things are remarkably improbable. Works of art do not form at random, and it would be extremely difficult for an artist of one time to produce a work that so perfectly fit a much different time. That is where the importance of the artist lies, I think. The artist is like the inventor or the scientist in this regard: his or her importance lies not in the fact of being an artist, but rather in the art produced. We do not think that to appreciate the theory of relativity we must appreciate the details of Einstein's inner thoughts; rather, we appreciate Einstein because he produced the theory of relativity. The theory is what really matters, and so it is, I think, with the art.

Quote:
And yet, does that matter, if all we have is the painting - I can see the argument, but I just feel that before we dismiss his intent, we must come to an understanding of what that intent was - to the extent that's possible, rather than just dismiss that unkown as unknowable.
Indeed; I hope I haven't given the impression that I think it is worthless to inquire into the author's intent. I think it is worthwhile, but for a different reason. The fact is that the artist physically produced the art - that is, the texts have their present form as a direct result of certain processes going on in Tolkien's brain. It's not surprising, then, that by studying Tolkien and Tolkien's mind, we can learn things about the text. A first-time reader of LotR may not be aware of any Catholic overtones in the work. Reading Tolkien's letters, he or she discovers Tolkien's Catholicism and its role in his writing, and comes to appreciate that aspect of the work. It's not that LotR has Catholic elements simply because Tolkien said so; those elements are inherent in the text. But studying Tolkien the man may help to illuminate such inherent elements.

Now I think I'll fall silent lest Bethberry comes around again.
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Old 09-08-2004, 09:01 AM   #424
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Bethberry comes in, brushing toast crumbs off her shirt, and licking a stray bit of honey from her fingers, having had a hard time sleeping for the playing in her head those whispers of davem...

davem, did Tolkien know the author's intention when he wrote about The Battle of Maldon or Beowulf? Lost to the dim echoes of time are the Anglo Saxon bards who gave him and us the poems. Yet that did not stop Tolkien from engaging with the works and giving us fruitful things to consider about them. Are we to have two different kinds of reading, one for ancient texts about which we cannot ascribe any authorial authorising, and one for modern texts about which we must say is insufficient since we must go to other things outside it to understand what it means?

On the other hand, if we consider the text as an self-contained object which holds its meaning, which the reader digs out, then we assume a certain condition on the part of the reader: a kind of blank entity which the text fills up, a bucket, waiting impassively to be filled up. I don't think this model really describes the kind of reader Tolkien was--it cannot account for how he saw newly.

But if we become more self-reflexive as readers, asking ourselves why we respond to certain things and not others, asking ourselves what other stories we are reminded of, what other experiences--in short, if we consider the value of our different interpretations--then I think we get closer to where the value of literature lies--creating experiences which allow us to be more fully human, more fully aware, more fully responsive. We will always endlessly be caught in the pursuit of meaning because that is important, but if we become too set and hardfast in saying that our end goal is simply to determine meaning, then we overlook the glorious aspect of faerie (which I might be tempted to say is the experience of all art and not just fantasy, but I grant this could be reductive), which is this seeing newly for the first time.

*wanders off thinking she really needs a second cup of coffee*

Edit: cross posting with Aiwendil, whose post I must now go read.
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Old 09-08-2004, 09:07 AM   #425
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aiwendil
If it were discovered that Beethoven's fifth symphony had in fact been written at random by a team of millions of monkeys, that would do nothing to dislodge it from its place as my favorite piece of music.
No, but you'd know that the monkeys weren't trying to write a beautiful piece of music, that they weren't trying to communicate anything to you, or inspire any emotional response, so any response you did have to the music would have its source solely in you. That's not the case if Beethoven wrote it - that fact adds another 'dimension' to the work - it was written with intent - specific intent, to produce a specific response in its hearers. Beethoven wrote it for a reason, it exists for that reason, & if he hadn't had that reason to write it, it wouldn't exist, & you wouldn't ever have experienced your favourite piece of music. From this point of view, the artist/composer/scientist is as important as what they produce, even if their intention/motivation is ultimately unknowable. The work is in a sense a 'manifestation' of the worker, the effect the worker has on the world, the 'imprint' he makes on the physical or mental universe around him. There must be some personal aspect to the work, & some 'transcendent' aspect, if the work is true art (imo).

(edit cross-posted with BB) I will only add that I think Tolkien did attempt to take into account the authors of the ancient texts he studied - particularly Beowulf - & a good part of the Beowulf essay is spent attributting motives, desires & beliefs to that unknown poet (he even gave him a name, if I remember rightly!)- so he clearly felt that it was of such importance to take into account the artist in an attempt to understand a work of art that if he didn't know about him, he would make up a character for him - so for Tolkien, it seems, an artist could be discovered, dug out from his work, in fact it almost seems that he felt it necessary for an understanding of the work to have the possibility of a 'dialogue' with that author - even if Tolkien had to create the author in order to have the dialogue.

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Old 09-08-2004, 12:58 PM   #426
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Quote:
The work is in a sense a 'manifestation' of the worker, the effect the worker has on the world, the 'imprint' he makes on the physical or mental universe around him. There must be some personal aspect to the work, & some 'transcendent' aspect, if the work is true art (imo).
Well that's the crux of our disagreement. I'm afraid I hold fast to the view that the art is valuable in itself, without reference to its creator, though again I don't think that this makes studying the author unimportant. I recall some old threads where I argued this; I'll dig them out and link to them if I get a chance.

Anyway, I wonder whether there's any value in further discussion of the issue, with such a fundamental disagreement.

And I still wonder to what extent this is all anything more than a disagreement about definitions.

Edit: Here are those links; each of them touches on issues we've also touched on here, though they cover a lot of other ground as well:

Book of the Century

Are There Any Valid Criticisms?

Dumbing Down the Books

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Old 09-08-2004, 01:25 PM   #427
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'Is 'Art' transcendent, or does it have a transcendent dimension, or put us in touch with one.

Perhaps the argument is between the Platonists & the Aristotelians, in which case it probably never will be solved.

Replace 'transcendent' with 'impersonal', objective. Did Middle earth come to us from Tolkien, or through Tolkien. It seems to me that your position is almost Platonic in its own way, taking the art, Middle earth, as a 'given' a thing which exists in & of itself, not arising from Tolkien, because if it did arise from the mind of Tolkien alone, then how can you not see Tolkien's beliefs & values as central to an understanding of it?. It seems that on this question I'm arguing for it being the product of a man's mind, so the owner of that mind must be taken into account if we are to understand what it produced, while you are almost arguing that is should be seen as an objectively existing thing, which is just a 'given'. I become the 'subjectivist' & you the 'objectivist'.
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Old 09-08-2004, 06:28 PM   #428
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Has Bęthberry gone? *Saucepan breaks out the port and cigars*

Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
Ah, but then the meaning of the reading act would be to generate pleasure for the reader. The reader would still be 'using' the text to realise some 'purpose'.
Well of course you are right. If someone derives enjoyment from a book, and nothing else, it still means something to them. But I was thinking more in terms of a class distinct from your "agnostics" and "believers". On your definitions, both of these classes are aware that there is some meaning to be derived from the book beyond the story itself, but the "agnostics" take their meaning from the text alone, while the "believers" are convinced that the meaning derives from something beyond the text. To "atheists", there is no meaning beyond the story itself, which simply serves to amuse them and perhaps divert them for a while from the realities of life (to which it bears, for them, no relation).


Quote:
Originally Posted by Fordim Hedgethistle
Such a limited and shallow purpose is sad and boring, but it still proceeds toward and through the meaning of the reading act for the reader.
I would disagree that such purpose is either shallow or boring to those who approach the book in this way. These readers may find meaning to their lives elsewhere, or perhaps they regard such meaning (in spiritual terms) as unimportant. They might well consider it boring to look any further into LotR beyond the story itself, while finding fascinating other pursuits which you or I would find mind-numbingly dull. But I would not dismiss pure and simple enjoyment of the story told in LotR as shallow and dull, and I rather suspect that Tolkien wouldn’t either.

And, while we are on the subject, I am not so sure that the term "agnostic" (the group to which I imagine that I have been relegated ) is appropriate in this context, since it implies an uncertainty as to the existence of any meaning beyond the story itself. Your definition of this class, on the other hand, holds that they are aware that such meaning exists. It is just that they are not too bothered about pinning it down, and are content to simply apply their notion of it to themselves in whatever manner seems appropriate.

Nevertheless, I accept your definition. I am quite content to accept that there is meaning within LotR beyond the story. It "means" something more to me than just a good story. To me, this is a consequence of Tolkien tapping into issues central to human existence and experience, whether they be archetypes, character traits, aspects of morality and so on. And I don’t doubt that this was both intentional (in some respects) and subconscious (in others) on Tolkien’s part (although, as has been said, his intentions and subconscious motivations would have changed, however imperceptibly, over time). But I would class myself as “part-believer”, because I do have an interest in exploring such ideas (otherwise, why would I keep returning to this thread). It is just that this “external meaning” is not something which is central to my life (whether in relation to LotR or otherwise). And I have no difficulty in accepting and understanding those who regard such matters as unimportant, irrelevant or fruitless (the confirmed “agnostics” and the “atheists”).
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Old 09-08-2004, 08:45 PM   #429
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Humming and in a gentle temper tonight, Bethberry glides in with trays full of smoked Stilton cheese, camembert, paté, light salads and leafy greens, crackers and a variety of fresh breads. Sniffing the air, she quietly throws open the windows to air the room out and then pours herself a large glass of port. She lights candles in empty wine bottles and takes a chair.

Leaving aside for now the categories and classifications of readers, I would like to refer back to something davem.

Quote:
No, but you'd know that the monkeys weren't trying to write a beautiful piece of music, that they weren't trying to communicate anything to you, or inspire any emotional response, so any response you did have to the music would have its source solely in you. That's not the case if Beethoven wrote it - that fact adds another 'dimension' to the work - it was written with intent - specific intent, to produce a specific response in its hearers. Beethoven wrote it for a reason, it exists for that reason, & if he hadn't had that reason to write it, it wouldn't exist, & you wouldn't ever have experienced your favourite piece of music. From this point of view, the artist/composer/scientist is as iportant as what they produce, even if their intention/motivation is ultimately unknowable. The work is in a sense a 'manifestation' of the worker, the effect the worker has on the world, the 'imprint' he makes on the physical or mental universe around him. There must be some personal aspect to the work, & some 'transcendent' aspect, if the work is true art (imo).
Let me draw on a personal experience here. From time to time, I come across old letters, notes, commentaries, recipes, written by hands who are no longer here. These written messages are inexpressibly precious to me, coming as they do from those who will never write again to me. These messages were no grand expressions of literature. They express nothing greater than the daily routine and activities in the lives of the writers and some thought and reflections on those affairs. Sometimes to my chagrin and shame I found them tedious in their banality. They were written with no greater intent than out of love for me and to share something of their time with me, who lived thousands of miles away.

Now my fingers trace the letters, because for me handwriting is the ineffable trace of the human being. And in the absence of the authors who wrote them, those messages take on new meanings, meanings which the writers did not intend and which I never at the time thought of. The passage of time and the absence of the writers has given them new meaning.

Now, I collect those flimsy pieces of paper and ink and store them in a box. Someday someone will find that box, looking through the effects I leave behind and, if I am important enough or if my own writing reaches enough people, maybe someone will pore over those shards of memory, trying to piece together their importance for me and the meaning the messages disclosed. Or maybe just those I leave behind, close to me, will do that. And they will provide another layer of meaning upon those pages and the handwriting. And I could say the same thing of the delicate pieces of crochet work which my mother produced before she could no longer use her hands. Those pieces had a beauty at the time of their creation, but they have a more substantive meaning now, for in the tiny stitches I can now see the evidence of her struggle with her looming incapacity and fate. I could not see that then. It is only later, in retrospective, that the evidence comes forth.

We read intent backwards, just as you say, davem Tolkien did in his work on the Beowulf poem. In order for Tolkien to arrive at his understanding of the poem, he, as you say, "attributed motives, desires and beliefs" to the poet. This, then, is Tolkien's process as a reader and interpreter. Yet we have no way of ascertaining whether these motives were in fact the poet's motives or whether they rather functioned to help Tolkien produce his interpretation. He as reader uses this poetic personae as an entry point to help him arrive at an understanding of the poem. He reads backwards. Our understanding of intention is often like this, arrived at reading backwards.

This is an important part of the reading process, but it does not necessarily or logically reflect the actual intentions of the author at the time of writing.

*stops to refill her port and then sits back comfortably in a large leather chair.*
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Old 09-09-2004, 12:49 AM   #430
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Originally Posted by Bethberry
We read intent backwards, just as you say, davem Tolkien did in his work on the Beowulf poem. In order for Tolkien to arrive at his understanding of the poem, he, as you say, "attributed motives, desires and beliefs" to the poet. This, then, is Tolkien's process as a reader and interpreter. Yet we have no way of ascertaining whether these motives were in fact the poet's motives or whether they rather functioned to help Tolkien produce his interpretation. He as reader uses this poetic personae as an entry point to help him arrive at an understanding of the poem. He reads backwards. Our understanding of intention is often like this, arrived at reading backwards.
All of which I accept, but...

I think with Tolkien there is something more going on - the 'Elf-friend' figure. If we take The book of Lost Tales, for example, we see that it is not simply a collection of old stories - it is a collection of old stories which Eriol-Aelfwine has passed on. Eriol is not just a peg to hang the story on, he is the conduit of story, he makes Faerie available to later generations. I thnk this is why Tolkien felt it necessary to (re)construct the figure of the Beowulf poet - stories only exist if they are told, &so there must be a teller. We have the same thing with the other Elf-friends throughout the stories, & they are the central figures in the two time travel stories.

As Flieger has pointed out Tolkien himself is the greatest Elf-friend, & in a sense he is a character in his own stories - he is the one who translates, passes on, the contents of the Red Book - LotR exists because Tolkien the Elf-friend has served as that conduit of story, from the Third Age to ourselves. Effectively he has written himself into his mythology. So we have, in a way, two Tolkien's, one the Oxford Professor, who can, if one wishes, be put aside, but the other Tolkien cannot, because he has become absorbed, by his own intention, into the mythology, as its conduit to ourselves.

So, how different are these two Tolkiens? Are they the same man, or is the 'translator' Tolkien different from the man, with different motives & aims? How did the translator Tolkien come into possesion of the copy of the Red Book which he translates & passes on to us - did Tolkien the man have an explanation for that?

This is what we miss - the chain of story - when we ignore the role of the storyteller, which was central to Tolkien's mythology - all the 'texts' are retellings & redactions - they are all accounts of events told by storytellers - 'living shapes that move from mind to mind', not simply the events themselves, but the events being told & retold.
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Old 09-09-2004, 08:15 AM   #431
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Quote:
posted by davem
This is what we miss - the chain of story - when we ignore the role of the storyteller, which was central to Tolkien's mythology - all the 'texts' are retellings & redactions - they are all accounts of events told by storytellers - 'living shapes that move from mind to mind', not simply the events themselves, but the events being told & retold.
Oh, I have never said that the role of storyteller in the tales should be ignored. Far from it. Look at how Chaucer plays with the personae of tellers of tales in Canterbury Tales. Medieval literature is full of this fascinating multiplicity of perspectives, a multiplicty which became increasingly restricted as we developed concepts of "Author" and the standard Nineteenth century omnisicient narrator.

But this is a far, far jump from the kind of investigation into Authorial Intention which you have been positing in the past, to my mind.
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Old 09-09-2004, 08:55 AM   #432
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Originally Posted by Bethberry
But this is a far, far jump from the kind of investigation into Authorial Intention which you have been positing in the past, to my mind.
I'm not changing my position, merely coming at it from another angle. My point has always been that authorial intention, in fact authorial 'presence', has to be taken into account if we are to understand a work of fiction - particularly so with this work of fiction, where the author is not simply adopting a Chaucerian role a la Canterbury Tales, but plays a central role in the existence of the story - the Elf-friend is not merely a redactor, he is a living link with a lost past - literally so in the case of the Notion Club Papers.

Tolkien stands both 'outside' his mythology as its creator & inside it as its 'translator', & so he, the author, the man Tolkien, must be taken into account not just because he himself is a character in the secondary world, but because the whole world is a product of his own experience & exists because he desired it to exist.
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Old 09-09-2004, 10:28 AM   #433
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Originally Posted by davem
authorial 'presence', has to be taken into account if we are to understand a work of fiction - particularly so with this work of fiction
What do you mean by "understand"?

My point, as always, is that different people will have different goals in this regard, will adopt different approaches (which may or may not require an understanding of authorial intent and/or involvement) and will reach different conclusions. I doubt that I would consider most of them "wrong" in doing so (and I only say "most" because I am excluding the likes of the white supremacists).

Ultimately, what is the purpose of a work of fiction such as LotR? To be enjoyed? To be analysed and/or interpreted? To provide enlightenment? To change patterns of behaviour? Most probably Tolkien intended all of these things to one degree or another. But clearly he could never have expected every one of his readers to experience all of them. Is it not therefore the case that the purpose of the work is personal to the individual reader and depends upon what he or she expects and, in practice derives, from it? Regardless of his original intention in creating a work, once an author publishes it he effectively gives carte blanche to each reader to "use" it in whatever way seems best to that individual. In light of this, how can we ever truly "understand" the work?
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Old 09-09-2004, 12:54 PM   #434
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SpM I can't deny that's what readersdo, but can we assume that Tolkien wanted to communicate something specific, whether his readers picked up on that or not?

In the Beowulf essay he re-constructs the poet, tells us his motives, & what he wanted us to understand. He doesn't ever say 'This is my opinion, this 'poet' is entirely my own invention & interpretation, if you don't like it go find your own'. He clearly believed that an artist has an intent, means something, wants too communicate something to his audience. If Tolkien thought that way about art, then clearly he intended us to approach his own art in that way.

Is there any value in attempting to understand Tolkien's meaning - to the extent we are capable of doing so? I'm simply uncomfortable with this idea that the reader has nothing to learn from the artist, that the artist has nothing of value to teach. & that ultimately, there's no point even making the effort to look outside one's own experience, to the wisdom & experience of another.
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Old 09-09-2004, 03:03 PM   #435
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Davem wrote:
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I'm simply uncomfortable with this idea that the reader has nothing to learn from the artist, that the artist has nothing of value to teach. & that ultimately, there's no point even making the effort to look outside one's own experience, to the wisdom & experience of another.
I don't think that anyone posting in this thread has made that claim. I think it is quite valuable to study the artist; it can provide tremendous insight into the work. The question is not whether studying the author is worthwhile; it is whether the author's views are the ultimate aribiter of opinions about the work and the only source of value for the art.

And still I wonder to what extent the debate on this thread is simply a case of everyone arguing at cross-purposes. One group says that different readers have different views; the other concedes this. The other says that the author wrote the book for a reason and that studying him is worthwhile; the first group grants this.

What does it mean to say that the author is the final arbiter of "canon"?
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Old 09-09-2004, 04:03 PM   #436
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Quote:
davem posted
I'm simply uncomfortable with this idea that the reader has nothing to learn from the artist, that the artist has nothing of value to teach. & that ultimately, there's no point even making the effort to look outside one's own experience, to the wisdom & experience of another.
Quote:
Aiwendil posted

I don't think that anyone posting in this thread has made that claim. I think it is quite valuable to study the artist; it can provide tremendous insight into the work. The question is not whether studying the author is worthwhile; it is whether the author's views are the ultimate aribiter of opinions about the work and the only source of value for the art.
May I add my voice to what Aiwendi has here written. If I decide, after reflection, that further discussion is worthwhile, I might return to reply to his other question.
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Old 09-09-2004, 05:04 PM   #437
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Originally Posted by Aiwendil
I think it is quite valuable to study the artist; it can provide tremendous insight into the work. The question is not whether studying the author is worthwhile; it is whether the author's views are the ultimate aribiter of opinions about the work and the only source of value for the art.
Like Bęthberry, I endorse what Aiwendil has said entirely.

But I would also add this. When LotR was first published, the text itself, together with the text of The Hobbit, were all that readers had to go on. Later, when Tolkien changed the Foreword, he added some autobiographical material, but it was limited. Other bigraphical material concerning Tolkien was limited too. So, friends and family aside, only those who were moved to write to him (something that he came to regard as rather bothersome) or take the time to do some delving could stand any chance of learning anything about the man himself. Tolkien was perfectly aware of this. Indeed, he no doubt positively encouraged it, as I understand that he was a very private person. So, he surely must have recognised that the vast majority of his readers would know nothing about his intentions in writing the book or his views on the themes covered. He could not expect (and would no doubt have been horrified at the thought of) every reader bombarding him with their questions. So, while I agree that authorial detail can be immensely valuable (to those who are interested in it), it was simply not available to many of his readers.

I myself knew almost nothing about the man until roughly 18 months ago, when I first joined this site. I didn't even know that Tolkien was a religious man. This despite LotR having been my favourite book for some 25 years. And I most certainly do not regard any of the five or so times that I read the book during that period as being less valuable than when I read it now.

Which is probably why I am so keen to stick up for those who read and digest the book, apply what meaning they see within it to their own life (if they are so inclined) and delve no further.
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Old 09-10-2004, 02:57 AM   #438
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Quote:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Aiwendil
I think it is quite valuable to study the artist; it can provide tremendous insight into the work. The question is not whether studying the author is worthwhile; it is whether the author's views are the ultimate aribiter of opinions about the work and the only source of value for the art.

Like Bęthberry, I endorse what Aiwendil has said entirely.
Not the ultimate, just the prime arbiter & source of value, & the one to which the greatest weight should be given. Its about understanding what another human being has to say to you, not about your opinion of what he's saying. And how can you even have an opinion of what he's saying if you don't listen as objectively as you can? What I bring to reading Tolkien's works has little or no value, (imo) in comparison to what Tolkien has to teach me.
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Old 09-10-2004, 07:38 AM   #439
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Quote:
Its about understanding what another human being has to say to you, not about your opinion of what he's saying. And how can you even have an opinion of what he's saying if you don't listen as objectively as you can? What I bring to reading Tolkien's works has little or no value, (imo) in comparison to what Tolkien has to teach me.
I will assume, davem, that you have taken this position as a rhetorical or logical strategy, to attempt to redefine the discussion rather than as a literal statement that we who do not agree with you do not listen to others but operate out of our own personal vanities and egotism. The first I consider a fair part of discussion; the second I consider unfair and disrespectful of the many who have given a great deal of thoughtful time and effort to this thread.

Where are we to find this person who you want to teach us? You seem to treat the concept of Author as separate from Art, some kind of validating or authorising principle which helps us understand the Art (aka the Text). Thus, it seems to me, you would give priority to such extra-textual statements as can be found in letters, diaries, personal reminiscences.

For me at least, I would regard this position as denying the value and integrity of the Art; it says that peripheral and extraneous statements must take precedence to the Art/Text, which somehow fails to identify itself adequately and must be explained. This is like saying that readers cannot understand literature without some sort of guiding hand.

It seems to me that this concept of Author is a substitution for God as source of ultimate meaning. (Forgive me if this offends your personal beliefs or values, or those of others.) I would say that, if the Art / Text is to have some sort of universal or transcendent value, it ultimately must be given to the ages; it must be understood anew for each generation/reader.

And what do you mean by "listening objectively"? Are you suggesting that SpM, Aiwendil, Fordim and I are reading solipsistically and self-centredly? Am I not to bring my understanding of Anglo Saxon literature to bear on my reading, or my knowledge of northern myths and other mythologies? Can I not bring my understanding of why people find such worth and value to quest literature? In short, must I leave behind other Art/ Texts in order to listen to your god-like Author?

Maybe I can put it this way: When I listen to and speak with the people around me, I am invariably involved not just in decoding idiolects (mine and theirs) but the entire range and variety of dialects which make up the English language and the social culture of my time. It gets a little crowded at times, but to suggest that there is just one valorising or validating voice, the person I am speaking with, limits the nature of language. When we speak with others, there is always this balancing or negotiating of one out of many, of listening to the unique voice out of the plurality that makes up language.

Treating Author as God strikes me as limiting the Art very much. It isn't that I don't listen to Tolkien, but that I bring to my conversation with him my conversations with other Artists as well. And Tolkien now being dead, that conversation must involve the Art he left behind.
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Old 09-10-2004, 08:17 AM   #440
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Bethberry
I will assume, davem, that you have taken this position as a rhetorical or logical strategy, to attempt to redefine the discussion rather than as a literal statement The first I consider a fair part of discussion; the second I consider unfair and disrespectful of the many who have given a great deal of thoughtful time and effort to this thread.
To be honest I was simply putting my own position as clearly & concisely as possible, & I can't see that anything I said implied lack of respect for you or anyone else. Its just I find the alternative position too close to 'deconstructionism' - which has always screamed Emperor's New Clothes!!! to me. Simply, I hold to the position that we are obliged, in so far as that is possible to give prime importance & weight to the author's views. I see the art as a manifestation of the artist's will & desire, & as his or her attempt to communicate an experience of the trancendent. As far as Middle earth is concerned the author is 'God'.

Quote:
Maybe I can put it this way: When I listen to and speak with the people around me, I am invariably involved not just in decoding idiolects (mine and theirs) but the entire range and variety of dialects which make up the English language and the social culture of my time. It gets a little crowded at times, but to suggest that there is just one valorising or validating voice, the person I am speak with, limits the nature of language. When we speak with others, there is always this blancing or negotiating of one out of many, of listening to the unique voice out of the plurality that makes up language.
But surely the other person's 'voice' is the only thing worth concentrating on in the conversation, as its the only new thing, the only unknown, so the only thing worth paying attention to - all the other things you mention may be present, but they are obstacles, & should be (as far as possible) transcended, & only accepted as impediments to communication.

Quote:
For me at least, I would regard this position as denying the value and integrity of the Art; it says that peripheral and extraneous statements must take precedence to the Art/Text, which somehow fails to identify itself adequately and must be explained.
No, it says that in the case of Tolkien in particular the art is the artist, & vice versa.

Quote:
In short, must I leave behind other Art/ Texts in order to listen to your god-like Author?
As far as humanly possible, I'd say.

Quote:
Are you suggesting that SpM, Aiwendil, Fordim and I are reading solipsistically and self-centredly?
I'm suggesting we all are (myself included), & that that's a bad thing, & gets in the way of our understanding what an artist has to say to us.
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