The Anscombian response to this worry is that it’s a mistake to break the act down into component parts, a mistake to think of the intention as something that’s outside of the physical act, either as its cause or as a mental state existing either prior to or alongside it. That’s why she says your hug isn’t given its meaning by the words “you silly little twit” “occur[ring]” to you while you embrace your old acquaintance, they have to be “seriously meant.” And you could mean the hug to be ironic even if you were thinking only affectionate thoughts at the time you administered it, or thinking nothing at all. The correct answer to the question, “why did you hug him?” would still be, to show my contempt.
Combine a deflationary theory of photographic agency with a richly intentionalist approach to understanding what photographers mean by making photographs. We are now equipped to make sense of Winogrand’s practice of discovery. The photographer takes a picture of a beggar on the street, not intending that the scene look precisely so. Its looking precisely so is his discovery—it goes to his credit, not the camera’s. At the same time, by making the photograph, he means to tell us something about the beggar and how we should see him. Maybe he also means to tell us something about being a photographer, who means by making, even as what he makes is not just what he means.
So there is a sense in which Winogrand’s personal crisis expresses a theoretical position, just as there’s an equally important sense in which that theoretical position and the alternatives to it (what it might mean to intend something, and especially what it might mean not to or what it might mean for your reasons to be treated as causes) were becoming at the time of that crisis central to literary theory and aesthetic production. Indeed, in what is now an aesthetic and a political as much as a philosophical sense, the structure of intentional action has recently emerged as a crucial issue.
If I understand Emerson correctly, his allegory of photography contends that, while photography may look like shopping at a flea market, it’s really more like standing a round at the bar.
Let me be clear, the problems I raise do not stem from a dissatisfaction with the way October authors repeat a kind of party line. In fact, I envy the unity and consistency of the resolve and of course their massive impact on the discipline (what is there, politically speaking, besides anti-hierarchy in the humanities?). My point is that the basic set of claims shared by many of these authors is mistaken.
Likewise, if meaning is made by the reader, then the difference between the two texts could never be the kind that Borges’s narrator identifies which essentially derive from the difference between two authors and their intentions and not the difference between two contexts of reading, or two experiences of reading. Specifically, like in Cortázar text above, the differences would have to include everything that is part of the reader’s experience of them, including, for example, the typographical differences between Cervantes’s Don Quixote and Menard’s.
Photography helps us to see and to feel what we are but cannot know. Then again, knowing when to trust our feelings—when we feel them to be right and not just ours—is not just a matter of affect, but of assertion, about what we think others could have meant. Not knowing what they could have meant does not mean they did not mean something or that we cannot know it. Properly acknowledging one’s “kin” requires that we risk the public and corrigible claim to understanding what was said.
It is, typically, an aesthetic intuition. Aesthetic intuitions are first of all intuitions, in the everyday sense of hunch, in the psychological sense of an act of perception, and in the philosophical sense of an act of the imagination. What characterizes them not just as intuitions but as aesthetic is that they share with aesthetic experience their subjective, affective, non-conceptual nature, and with aesthetic judgments their reflexivity and their claim to universal validity, most often expressed as a claim to reflect factual truth.
All fluorescent bulbs will eventually go out; only Flavin’s intentions can make some of them also be about the fact that they will eventually go out. All of us may think of the ephemeral when we look at a fluorescent bulb flickering; only the belief that this (or something else) is what Flavin meant us to think turns our responses into interpretations.
As I try to make this out I may find myself hesitating among several possibilities: that Manet simply took advantage of the earlier painting’s meaninglessness; that he was in some way actively interested in the palpable discontinuity within the painting between artist’s intention and unrealized meaning; that his own painting stands as a reading of Velázquez’s, where reading means something distinct from but not without relation to interpretation.