“Death of the author” dies at age 53

A satire site summarizes JK Rowling’s swan dive into the sewer:

“What’s amazing is that not only has J.K. Rowling positioned herself as the female Orson Scott Card,” said comparative literature professor Nicole Mathews, “but she has also done so in a fraction of the time. It took Card decades to fully explain his deeply upsetting hatred and many more years to face backlash. Rowling is managing to accomplish this in a matter of weeks. That’s powerful. That’s progress.”

“And just like Orson Scott Card, Rowling included a ton of pro-trans symbolism in her books without realizing it,” Mathews added. “What was once Ender’s soapy naked bathroom fight with another boy is now the magical Sorting Hat that places you into a category when you are born into the school, forcing you to figure out your own place for yourself.”

Now explain HP Lovecraft. He was an out, hate-filled racist from day one, and wasn’t embarrassed by it, and his work still holds a certain degree of squeamish respect. Could it be the hypocrisy of pretending to be a liberal, open-minded progressive while hiding the rotten blemish at your core is the damning part? Maybe not…Card was always a conservative Mormon at heart.

Maybe what’s dying here is the “death of the author” itself.


  1. Snarki, child of Loki says

    The horror of HP Lovecraft was not confined to his writing, one might say.

  2. wahl says

    One obvious difference between Rowling, Card and Lovecraft is that Rowling is a woman, and as a culture we have an expectation of better behavior from women in the spotlight.

  3. raven says

    Not only did Orson Card out himself as a right wingnut Mormon, but his writing went way downhill.
    I read some of his earlier books and they were at least OK.
    The later ones became more and more unreadable.
    One day, I started one, decided it wasn’t very interesting, and said, “Why am I wasting my time reading this?”
    Never read anything of his ever again.

  4. says

    @4 Lovecraft was never “in the spotlight” until after he passed away. He was long dead before much of his work was rediscovered and popularized.

  5. says

    I’m among those — and there are many — who feel that evaluation of art is largely independent of evaluation of the artist. Daniel Barenboim made this point by performing Wagner in Israel, and it was largely accepted. Chuck Berry was not a nice man at all, but I don’t hear about that mattering to anybody. People still read Ezra Pound. We don’t actually know very much about the personal lives or beliefs of many famous artists, but if we found out some unpleasant fact about Shakespeare would that matter to the value of his work? Many people just find it disturbing to watch Woody Allen movies, and I can certainly understand that. But nevertheless they are what they are, learning that he may have done something atrocious doesn’t change the work.

    Living artists get money when people consume their work and that is a legitimate reason, I think, to boycott someone who you feel doesn’t deserve to be rewarded with a cut of your own money. And in the case of Rowling, she wrote popular but artistically undistinguished books, so there’s less tension there. But the general question is one of aesthetic and moral values, and people can legitimately disagree about it.

  6. lotharloo says

    I can easily separate the dead artist from the art and I have no problem enjoying art work created by assholes. But as you say, when it comes to living artists, that’s harder to do in particular because the artist enjoys fame, power, and money. So no, I am more comfortable with not consuming art by asshole living artists. I have not any Woodie Allan movie after I have become aware of his general asshole behavior.

  7. flex says

    A creative work can transcend it’s creator.

    To be clear, any creative work is a form of communication. This not only requires the creator to generate it, but the medium to carry the message, and the receiver to interpret it. As all communication is imperfect, the receiver’s interpretation will be different than the creator’s intention.

    This does not mean that we should ignore the creator’s bias, ignorance, arrogance, racism, or other personal traits which assuredly impacts their creations. These do need to be known so that the receiver is alerted to messages which are less obvious than the overt message of the work. This is less important in creative works like sculpture or painting (although it can be present). It can be very important in literature where the medium itself is very much a multi-layered message, things as minor as word choices or punctuation can dramatically change an underlying message, possibly without even the author’s awareness.

    But at the same time, being aware that a work includes author’s known biases can help inoculate the reader from those biases and enjoy the creative work, even if the reader condemns the author’s personal views.

    So I still enjoy Lovecraft, although there are some stories which I definitely find cringe-worthy. I will still enjoy Rowling, the messages in her work of tolerance and acceptance may be wider than she intended, but I have the ability to see that her work (as the receiver of her communication) is broader and more tolerant than she may personally be. Authors are just as human as we are, and I’m aware that some of my favorite authors had reprehensible traits.

    All that being said, my views are my own. There is enough great fiction to read that a person can make a decision to avoid authors with known reprehensible personal traits (or who have made reprehensible public statements), and still have plenty of things to read. I have friends who have removed from their shelves all books where the author has been shown to be misogynist or racist. I do not condemn them for this, and they are not lacking reading material.

    However, Kipling remains on my shelves. I enjoy his writing even knowing the colonialism and white-man’s burden embedded in his works. As the recipient of his communication I can choose to interpret his works in a better light than he wrote them. I can do that with Marryat, Poe, Dickens, Dumas, Verne, Doyle, Chesterton, Saki, Upfield, Freeman, Stout, Christie, Lovecraft, Asimov, Vance, Ellison, and scores of other authors I enjoy.

    A creative work can transcend it’s creator.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    Where does the hate come from?

    Rowling’s transphobia seems to be based upon gender essentialism. (Being a clueless dumb-dumb, I invite anyone to correct my usage of that term.) For Card, his bigotry stems from spending a life steeped in the faith-based toxic masculinity of the Mormon cult. Lovecraft was the overly-sheltered child of a rapidly-dying, upper-class, WASP family, living during an era where racism was still considered “scientific”. Like Card, Mike Nelson’s sexism and anti-LGBTQ attitudes derives from a religion that teaches that “salvation” means obedience to a god–or, rather, his earthly spokesmen (and yes, they are nearly always men)–who hates anyone who isn’t sufficiently heterosexual and male.

    Sadly, there is nothing we can do about Lovecraft; he’s too busy being dead to attend sensitivity training. I don’t hold out any hope that Card can come to some progressive revelation so late in his life, but if enough public pressure and shame were put upon them, maybe we can get Rowling and Nelson to rethink the prejudices that give them so much comfort.

    Or am I being way too optimistic?

  9. hemidactylus says

    PZ, do you mean death of the notion of addressing works at the textual level and ignoring the author as source and biographical context? Barthes inserted birth of the reader as interpreting text in their own light, but as a reader unsavory authorial traits may color my opinion of a work, genetic fallacy be damned.

    Of course reading Barthes colors my perception of your intent in invoking authorial death.

  10. brucegee1962 says

    Lovecraft created a world that transcended, and to some extent, contradicted his worldview. (If all of humanity is just a brief interlude between cosmic horrors, then the differences between races are amazingly irrelevant.) Also, his mind was so twisted that even his racism was messed up — your fine upstanding Puritan ancestor was probably an evil warlock who wanted to possess you.
    But the main thing about creating a whole mythology is that it can transcend the author. There has been some great work recently in supplements that expand the Cthulhu mythology to include other cultures, and Lovecraft Country does a marvelous job of deconstructing the entire complex. After JKR is gone, it will likewise be left to the fan fic to take her world into a better place of gender recognition. Although I suppose that would require her to still have some fans left, which might be unlikely at this point.

  11. brucegee1962 says

    @9 flex
    Kipling is another interesting case. Of course “White Man’s Burden” is execrable, but “Gunga Din” isn’t bad, and some of the other “Barracks Room Ballads” are about the common soldiers’ gradual realization that they have more in common with the people they’re fighting against than with the toffs who command them.
    And “The Man Who Would Be King” is just as relevant today as when it was published: if you go into Afghanistan expecting to be worshiped as a god or welcomed as a liberator, you will get what you deserve.
    There’s also the fact that his jingo-ism bit him back, hard, with his son Jack in the great war.
    Why is it that so many writers get worse as they get older, I wonder? Does it ever happen in reverse? I suspect I’ve gotten more liberal as I’ve gotten older, not less.

  12. HappyHead says

    When your only company is a thesaurus and fear, you learn to express your fear with a lot of fancy words.

    Lovecraft was a man who was effectively raised in a bubble – his mother was his primary (and nearly sole) source of personal contact, and was just as racist as him, and most of his exposure to the outside world was either through her, reading things she approved of, or looking at it through a window, and most of what he was taught was fear – fear of anything and everything, including himself. On top of that, he was suffering from MS, which killed him relatively early in life, after slowly robbing him of his own body one piece at a time, each day spent dreading everything in the world around him, and what it would take from him next.

    While his prejudices were and are quite horrible, it’s easy to see where they came from. If anything, he’s a testament to exactly what an overly sheltered life does to a person’s outlook, and why it should be avoided.

  13. consciousness razor says

    Since the author of “The Death of the Author” died in 1980, and since it was also strongly rejected by some even in 1967 when it was first published, it’s probably safe to say it was already dead some time ago and can’t become more dead now. Probably. Be that as it may, beating a dead horse remains a popular pastime.


    To be clear, any creative work is a form of communication. This not only requires the creator to generate it, but the medium to carry the message, and the receiver to interpret it. As all communication is imperfect, the receiver’s interpretation will be different than the creator’s intention.

    I disagree that all creative works are forms of communication. To take an example from my own experience, I write music, and it doesn’t need to communicate anything to anybody. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s how it is, as a matter of fact.

    Somebody else might weave baskets or make paper clips in a factory or whatever. Those creative works also don’t need to be communicating a message that requires interpretation, not in the way that a piece of language (for example) is communicated and interpreted. They’re simply things that people create (which of course takes work), and they may not have any meanings in that sense.

    Very generally, I don’t think language is an appropriate model for all types of creative work, because it has certain features which are peculiar to it and need not apply to others. For the same reasons, I’d make similar claims about music, painting, architecture, or any other specific artform. But it’s typically not necessary, since (unlike literary theorists and their ilk) you don’t often encounter many musicians, painters, etc., who are tempted say such things to begin with.

  14. flex says

    Consciousness Razor wrote @15,

    I disagree that all creative works are forms of communication. To take an example from my own experience, I write music, and it doesn’t need to communicate anything to anybody. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s how it is, as a matter of fact.

    Maybe we need to define our terms a little better then. With a very broad brush we can define two types of communication, one type is with the creator’s intent to communicate and the other when the creator is communicating without intending to. An archaeologist can read a communication from long-dead indigenous people by how a flint was knapped. There was certainly no intent to communicate there, but a message was found.

    Clearly, this view of communication can be seen as overly broad. Expanding communication to this extent allows communication from everything we perceive. The way a bird flies or a tree grows can be viewed as a communication and provide a message or inspiration. Personally, I don’t think this is an invalid view of communication so long as this type of communication is seen as not being caused by anything with agency. These messages do not come from a deity, and a tree or bird does not (typically) intend to communicate a message to you. The messages you receive are formed by your mind, not by the intent of an external stimulus. But; all messages you receive are formed by your mind, including those generated with intent from a creature with agency.

    Communication can occur without intent. Let’s look at Lovecraft as an example. The overt message of Lovecraft, the mythos he created for entertainment value, was that humanity is not the center of the universe. That humanity doesn’t even know how insignificant it is, and the exceptionally intelligent or sensitive people who do understand, and internallize, that truth generally go mad. August Derleth’s shoehorning this mythos into a battle between good and evil happened after Lovecraft’s death, and I don’t know if it is because Derleth thought it would market better that way or if Derleth himself couldn’t accept the insignificance of humanity. This overt messages is very original (although not without precedent), and well worth discussing.

    But let’s for a moment look a the communication of attitudes and ideas in Lovecraft’s work which occurred without his intent. Because I don’t for a moment think that Lovecraft really intended to communicate the racism and antisemitism found in his works. To him, at that time, those beliefs were acceptable and a normal part of society.

    Which brings us right back to the OP. It is easy to avoid works which have a clear intent to communicate and promote abhorrent beliefs. To begin with they don’t sell well. But aside from that, if the central thesis of your novel, the idea the writer is aiming to communicate, is that darker-skinned people are inferior, a reader can usually pick that up right away and choose to put the book down. It’s even easier with non-fiction works. The Bell Curve states right away that it claims to show that colored people are not as smart. The only reason to read it is to either refute the ideas, or if you are already primed to believe it, re-enforce the prejudices you already have.

    The problem people have with Lovecraft, or Card, or Rawling, is not with the intentional message from the author. The problem is that there are, inevitably, messages from the author which can be communicated without intent. Praising Lovecraft for the Cthulhu mythos without mentioning his unintentional depictions of racism is allowing the communication of racist ideas, and normalizing them. That normalization is the danger, and why many people choose to simply avoid works which have been identified as normalizing beliefs which we consider abhorrent. I’d like to believe that I can enjoy the overt intent of an author while being aware of the dangers of normalizing the unintentional contextual messages.

    Further, those contextual messages are fixed in time. Rowling could learn that her remarks are hateful and wrong, and repudiate them. Does that mean it would be okay to read the Harry Potter novels again (assuming you stopped because of her remarks)? If you feel that Rowling’s ideas were wrong when she wrote those novels, and those ideas are unintentionally incorporated into those novels, then they remain there even if if the author changes their views. Of course, if the point is to not give money to a person with with reprehensible views, then having an author change their views does rehabilitate their works. Again, decisions like this are made by people individually, and people will disagree. To some the contextual message is more important than animosity toward the author, to others the author’s viewpoints are more important than any contextual message in their works.

    Finally, on a more personal note, the music you compose has no intended message. I accept that. The listener of the music you compose may find a message in it. That’s not your intent, but it can (and probably does) happen. That message may not be expressible in English, the message may be joy or sadness, gaiety or grief. It may invoke a feeling of peace and tranquility, or rage. None of these messages are your intent, but the listener may receive them. This doesn’t make you a bad composer, or them a poor listener. If you tell the listener that there isn’t any message, but the listen hears one anyway, there is no reason to get upset at them. It’s part of being human.

  15. Rowan vet-tech says

    @17, be that as it may, apparently he’s very much an anti-feminist, pro-forced birth, only-votes-republican asshole so….

  16. Allison says

    (The “liking problematic things”/”liking art done by problematic people” problem.)

    Artists vary as to how much their problematic characteristics bleed into their work. I can still like Marion Zimmer Bradley’s books despite what an awful person she was in person. On the other hand, Woody Allen’s Humbert-Humbert-ness infects his movies, especially his later ones. Manhattan was the one that pushed me over the edge, and now I can’t see any of his movies without being grossed out by it.

  17. says

    @#16, flex:

    From what I have read, even Lovecraft’s racist, antisemitic contemporaries thought he went too far (I’m not going to go dig out references, but I’ve seen this from multiple sources so it shouldn’t be too hard to confirm), so I kind of suspect that claiming he didn’t intend for it to come through in his work is wishful thinking.

  18. iammarauder says

    With the Mike Nelson stuff I am really not surprised. He was head writer for most of the episodes (even a lot of the early ones), and there are a few jokes in the early episodes that are bad – but surprisingly few compared to other shows from that era. However once Joel leaves the show the those jokes get steadily worse…

    One episode is a real stand out though, and has a “running gag” (using it as a term of art, because it sure as hell wasn’t funny) of “woman is really a man” throughout the whole thing (it is season 8, episode 12, “The Incredibly Strange Creatures Who Stopped Living and Became Mixed-Up Zombies”). I have no idea how they actually thought it was appropriate at all. It has everything you would expect to hear from a 4chan edgelord troll today…

  19. consciousness razor says


    Clearly, this view of communication can be seen as overly broad. Expanding communication to this extent allows communication from everything we perceive. The way a bird flies or a tree grows can be viewed as a communication and provide a message or inspiration.

    Alright. All I have to do is put some big scare quotes around the word, and then I’ll be able to say it about all creative works just like you wanted. Not how wiki defines it: “Communication (from Latin communicare, meaning “to share”) is the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs, symbols, and semiotic rules. ”

    I bet I could do the same with lots of different things. Let’s take it for a spin. Any creative work is a form of “noodling for catfish.” Any creative work is a form of “matrix multiplication.” Any creative work is a form of “Stalinism.” Any creative work is a form of “not being a form of anything.”

    It seems to work fine with just about any substitution, if I don’t have to worry about whether it’s a true statement, as it’s merely something I felt like saying. Maybe yours was also just something you felt like saying, and of course you’re free to say anything you want. But that does sort of deflate its significance as a factual claim, no? And if i can’t or shouldn’t interpret it that way, then it probably shouldn’t be stated so prosaically as a premise in an argument.

    Personally, I don’t think this is an invalid view of communication so long as this type of communication is seen as not being caused by anything with agency.

    But that wouldn’t mean it’s invalid. When it is literally (and not figuratively or falsely) happening, both parties who are communicating are (at least typically) agents who have some way of understanding one another to some extent.

    So what if it happens to be true that there is a God, who is in fact deliberately communicating to people via birds and trees and whatnot, and some people can somehow interpret it? Then that would not be an invalid form of communication due to the presence of this god’s intentions or agency. Instead, it would be a legit, no-nonsense and fairly uncontroversial use of the word of “communication,” which can be taken quite literally in the ordinary sense that it’s used in English all the time.

    Both of us would simply be wrong about what’s happening in such situations, since we thought there aren’t any gods. (Maybe it’s all situations that we’re wrong about, since you allow for it to apply to “everything we perceive,” but it doesn’t make a big difference to me how many it is.) I’m okay with being wrong. I’d prefer that to not caring about what’s true, because the former means I can still learn things, as I like to do.

    If you tell the listener that there isn’t any message, but the listen hears one anyway, there is no reason to get upset at them.

    I didn’t say I would be upset. I wouldn’t even be surprised. But i wouldn’t be incorrect, when I say there’s no meaning that i was sharing with the person, which was being conveyed through the use mutually understood signs, symbols or semiotic rules.

    Personally, when I just look around at the world and see something beautiful, like the sunset or whatever, I don’t actually need it to have a meaning then either. I’ll make one myself, if I’m in the mood for that sort of thing, but even that isn’t necessary. It suffices for me that the experience is enjoyable.

    I don’t think you’ve given me any reason to believe it must be different, when it’s something created by a person. Being artificial, as opposed to natural, just doesn’t seem to carry those sorts of implications with it. People may be the only source of “meaning” in the world, or at least they’re the most familiar and easily recognizable source. But that’s not equivalent to claiming that everything we do is meaningful. Plenty of shit we do seems to be meaningless, which isn’t to undercut the value it may still have, but only to say it doesn’t happen to have certain properties/relationships/etc. which make it appropriate to talk about its meaning.

  20. says

    Death of the author was never a get out of a jail free card to enjoy “problematic” works and/or authors; it was intended to free readers from the tyranny of authorial intent. I can both think Rowling’s prejudice results in some blinkered perspectives in the work and be free to subvert the intended meaning as I see fit, by say, seeing the Houses as a metaphor for gender assignment.

    If the author is not at least a ghost then reading the sorting hat in that way is not only wrong but damages Rowling.

    Works belong to their readers.

  21. flex says

    @ #20 The Vicar,

    … I kind of suspect that claiming he didn’t intend for it to come through in his work is wishful thinking.

    I think otherwise. It is very hard to separate yourself from your work. There is a lot of overt sexism in Anne McCaffery’s work, but I don’t believe she ever noticed it. I’m not a huge McCaffery fan, so I could be wrong about her having an epiphany which showed her how poorly she portrays women in her early work. Her style did appeal to a lot of teenage woman who grew up in households where a women’s subservience to a man was natural. It wasn’t necessary for McCaffery to create plots with that idiosyncrasy, but a lot of authors at the time were doing it and it probably felt natural. There were few enough woman authors, and even fewer SF novels with a female protagonist. (Look at the work of C.L. Moore if you want to see what was expected of woman authors prior to McCaffery. Although when collaborating with her husband Henry Kuttner under the pen name Lewis Padgett Moore produced some incredibly insightful fiction. The Moore/Kuttner team wrote All Mimsy Were The Borogroves, and The Twonky, both excellent short stories.)

    I also can compare Lovecraft to authors who were very popular at the time, if lesser known today. R. Austin Freeman springs to mind. Freeman is little known today, and mainly for his mysteries featuring a character called Dr. Thorndyke. Freeman was arguably the most successful mystery novelist in the 1920’s. Freeman was a medical doctor who clearly believed in the degeneracy of people from the Slavic regions, the superiority of white men over colored people, that criminal tendencies can be inherited, that measurements of the distance between the eyes and the size of the cranium can discover criminals, and almost invariably portrayed Jewish people according to the popular stereotype, what we would now call antisemitic. Freeman published a non-fiction book called Social Decay and Regeneration which advocated segregation, limiting marriages and forced sterilizations of people whom he called “sub-man”. One of the groups of people Freeman considered “sub-man” were Bolsheviks. Freeman also thought that the British Labour Unions were destroying British trade and was a supporter of the Eugenics movement. Freeman was not considered unusually prejudiced at the time, and was one of the most popular writers for over thirty years.

    Then there is the example of Sax Rhomer, the creator of Fu Manchu. If you read the original works of Sax Rhomer, you will find some incredibly racist ideas expressed, but he was widely popular. In Agatha Christie’s early works a good bit of antisemitism is apparent, when you look for it. It startled me when I first noticed it, but once I noticed it it was hard to miss. Christie did seem to change her opinions after WWII, which is to her credit.

    Lovecraft was not an abnormality. The idea that different “races” of mankind were “advanced” or “degenerate” based on the color of their skin was a common idea among the white intelligentsia of the time (scare quotes because I do not agree with how those words are used). It was considered, because of gross miss-understandings of evolutionary theory (I blame Huxley for this), to be proven by the best science. I could easily name another dozen authors from the first half of the 20th century who’s work show racism and antisemitism. To varying degrees to be certain, but Lovecraft was not the most overt racist writing fiction at the time.

    There were a few exceptions. I would count Robert E. Howard, one of Lovecraft’s closest correspondents, to have less of a prejudice against darker-skinned men than many other authors. This opinion of mine is based on his writings, I haven’t read any of his letters. This may have been due to his upbringing among some of the poorest people in Texas, where he probably interacted with people of many shades of color, and found they shared humanity. That being said, Howard had problems with women, which is very clear in his writings.

    H.H. Monroe, AKA Saki, appears to have little prejudice, but he had an unusual upbringing which included both travels in India and a stint in the Burmese police. Which may have shown him how similar all humanity is. As an aside, I’ve always wondered if Eric Blair, AKA George Orwell, joined the Burmese police force because of Saki. It’s probably unrelated, but their writings have similarities in tone which suggests to me that Eric Blair enjoyed the works of Saki.

    My opinion is that Lovecraft, in spite of the mythology which has developed around him, wasn’t as far from mainstream thought as people today think.

    I find Lovecraft was a man of his time. Lovecraft took the best of contemporary knowledge and used that to, accurately, diminish humanity’s role in the universe to insignificance. Lovecraft’s notions about humanity, and the subdivision of humanity into races, was flawed. These notions do show up in his writings, and I believe they are inadvertent reflections of the common beliefs of the time. I do not believe the racism we now see in Lovecraft’s works was intentional. There are countless examples of other authors who demonstrate similar beliefs, and many scientific works from the period show similar beliefs.

    *Lest anyone think that in my list of authors from the period I’m picking on their favorite, I will say that I chose authors who I still read (and re-read) with pleasure. I acknowledge that the authors listed above are flawed (all of them), and their work often shows those flaws, but they are all masters of the craft of writing. I also understand that I am incredibly privileged in that the flaws in their works invariably show me, a white male, as the pinnacle of humanity; so the racism/sexism inherent in these stories is not directed at me. This privilege allows me to not feel insulted when I read them, which undoubtedly helps me ignore the racism/sexism I do notice. Conversely, a hatred of one of the authors I mentioned because of their racism/sexism and refuse to read them is understandable. I’m not saying these authors need to be read, only that I find them enjoyable. There are authors who I feel everyone should try to read, like Jorge Luis Borges, but my list of those authors is quite short.

  22. says

    I don’t get the premise. Trying to explain why a human being can write something that many people love, while at the same time being a horrible person, is nonsensical. Human beings are way more complicated than that. You can’t (usually; isn’t all knowledge provisional?) boil someone down to some simple essence. Asking why a person has contradictory qualities is like asking why a person doesn’t conform purely to a stereotype. So for Lovecraft, the dude was racist, but that doesn’t mean he couldn’t write astral horror. One doesn’t necessarily preclude the other.

    “Could it be the hypocrisy of pretending to be a liberal, open-minded progressive while hiding the rotten blemish at your core is the damning part? Maybe not…Card was always a conservative Mormon at heart.”

    I don’t know who exactly PZ is referring to here. Who’s pretending to be liberal? Fans of Cthulhu? It doesn’t make sense to me if he’s only referring to Card in this instance. 몰라요…

  23. flex says

    consciousness razor @22,

    But i wouldn’t be incorrect, when I say there’s no meaning that i was sharing with the person, which was being conveyed through the use mutually understood signs, symbols or semiotic rules.

    I agree. You are not incorrect, but neither is the listener who finds meaning in your work. And I think we are talking past each other a little bit.

    If I write a message saying, “I like cheese”, the probability of miss-interpretation is rather low. There are only a few ways to reasonably interpret the message. Although an infinite number of possible interpretations are possible (e.g. the message may not be in English), the probability of most of them is vanishingly small.

    Now consider the message of a novel, or even a short story. 20,000 words linked together to tell a tale. Many of them are really superfluous. They are not used to tell the tale directly, but are part of the language we use. The authors intent may be to send one or two messages. The reader is trying to figure out what those messages are. The author is also, inevitably, sending out additional messages. As an example Edgar Allan Poe deliberately abbreviated and miss-spelled words in order to send the message of the social status of certain characters, a good example is The Gold Bug . That was a deliberate message sent by Edgar. The readers, even today’s readers, pick up the message that Jupiter (a former slave), is uneducated and only suited for menial tasks. For many years readers have received an additional message, one we don’t really know if Poe intended it. The message is that Jupiter, and by extension black people generally, is incapable of being educated to the same level as Legrand. Maybe Poe did feel that way about black people, maybe he didn’t.

    We can argue that Poe, by the evidence of his writings, held the belief that black people cannot be educated. We can also argue that the idea that most black people cannot be educated was a common belief at the time, so that Poe included that message unintentionally. Jupiter may have been shown with those characteristics because that’s how everyone though colored people talked, and what position they held in society. We can also argue that Poe did not believe that black people are generally incapable of education but that Poe believed that Jupiter had the potential but lacked the opportunity. We can argue this because we only have a few dozen lines in a longer story about a treasure hunt to give us insight into the character of Jupiter. (Yes, we can learn more about Poe’s attitude toward people of color through his other writings and what we know about his life.)

    But regardless of what Poe intended, the short-story, The Gold Bug used to be one of the few stories showing African Americans taught to American schoolchildren. So we move on to considering the reception of the message. Black children who read the story in school learned that people of their color were uneducated and fit for menial labor, so did white children.

    Even if Poe intended to portray Jupiter as a sympathetic character, a hard-working servant, this is not what the recipients of that possibly unintended message received.

    You are correct when you tell someone that your music has no intended meaning. A listener who finds meaning in your music is also correct when they tell you they found meaning in your music. Neither of you are wrong. A message can be received when one was not intended to be sent. A lot of miss-understandings occur because of messages received which were never intended to be sent.