On intentionalism and “boys”
Kevin Baker, Harper’s:
[Obama]didn’t show a spark of anger, even when Romney slyly found a way to call him a boy, comparing Obama’s statements to the sorts of childish lies his ‘five boys’ used to tell. How the right’s hard-core racists must have howled at that! Mitt, at long last, has secured his base.
Well, what can I say? We allow such arguments because we allow (incorrectly and from a linguistic standpoint, incoherently) that legitimate methods of interpretation support the validity of these kinds of assertions — however likely it is that we’ll dismiss the assertions as, in individual cases, ludicrous and desperate attempts to take ownership over another’s meaning by trying to get a consensus of (motivated) intepreters to pretend the meaning they have replaced the original with is not only plausible, but, looked at purely textually, could be sold as a “reasonable” reading of the signs to a number of well-intentioned people unaware of how exactly language truly functions.
Important to note here is that, with Barker’s charge, we have the possibility of an actual interpretation: that is, a deranged and race-baiting Kevin Barker might truly believe that Romney intended the use of “boy” to obliquely reference and then reinforce to his racist GOP base anti-black language that, from my experience at least, was last fashionable at around the time Opie Taylor was skipping rocks along Mayberry creeks; alternately, though, it could be that Barker doesn’t believe any such thing, but instead has decided he can suss racist language out of the transcript of Romney’s remarks, arrange that language in an “interpretation” he presents as plausible, and then pin it to Romney regardless of the Governor’s intent, in effect replacing Romney’s signs with his own, and then attributing them to Romney.
In which case, he hasn’t interpreted at all. Baker has simply replaced his own intent with Romney’s, then attributed to Romney the base intent that is in fact his own.
Intentionalism just is.
Which, while I’m on the subject, let me just say this: Romney should be thanking his cultish God he didn’t have to call to his dog at any time during the debate with Obama. If the dog was a boy dog, I mean.