I’m increasingly understanding an important distinction in the intent of authors, which I’d like to share in half-baked terms for you to pick apart. Bear in mind this is just a model I’m finding useful at the moment.
I have, to this point, assumed that all descriptive non-fiction is analytical. That is, a non-fiction text is authored to say what it means. And so one can judge the meaning and the worth of a work by reading it and understanding it. This is a useful assumption. Because it mostly is true. Some works may be better written than others, may use language more artfully, and be easier to get drawn in. But ultimately a writer says what they are trying to say.
But I’m increasingly understanding another kind of authorial intent. That, for the sake of classification, I’ll call literary. In these cases what is written is largely irrelevant. The point is to provide the reader with an aesthetic experience, of language, of concepts and of their relation. The text itself may be explicitly meaningless, untrue, or downright offensive. But that doesn’t matter: the point is to experience the brilliant artistry of the author.
So I read Kant, for example, analytically. And he makes a couple of excellent, excellent arguments. Unfortunately he takes 500 pages to do it, and says lots of things on the way that make no sense whatsoever. So I find I don’t much like Kant. And I talk to philosophers who are Kant fans and they have no desire to discuss the analytic points I’ve discerned. To them Kant isn’t making great arguments about Epistemology, he is a literary artist, exploring the language and dynamics of the philosophical form. I see the same thing in some theologians. It might be possible to write a theology completely devoid of any analytical insight, but that provides a transcendent aesthetic experience.
Does that make sense? If so, when literary works can sound like they’re making analytic points (but either terrible ones or ones that are obviously wrong), how do we tell the difference? How do we tell the difference between intentional meaningless, conceit, and general cluelessness? My gut reaction is to cry that the literary emperor has no clothes, but the small vestige of intellectual humility I have left gives me cause to pause.