literature is divine revelation

an apparent paradox of literature is that readers routinely appear to get more out of a work than writers put in. there are two ways to resolve this paradox: either the readers are wrong, or they are somehow right. we will start by considering the first case, in which the readers are wrong. the argument in favor is simple, readers are simply seeing things that aren't there. the best example of this perspective is an old meme that makes the rounds every so often about the "blue curtains", the english teacher in this case taking on the role of the overinterpreting reader. the meme’s message is clear: the author only put in "the curtains were blue" to mean that the curtains were blue, and it is making fun of the english teacher/reader who "mistakenly" gets a lot more out of it than thati suppose you could argue that the meme is ambiguous and doesn't favor either position, but i feel that the use of the word "thinks" for the teacher vs. "meant" for the author, plus emphatic use of the word "fucking" in "the curtains were fucking blue" support my interpretation. if only the meme creator had assured us of this by adding in "What the meme creator meant: 'The English teacher is fucking wrong'". . so relatable to those who struggled through writing essays about the scarlet letter in AP lit!

the glaring issue with this perspective of literary analysis is that it is narrow, overly literal, or in other words, autistic. the assumption is that there is nothing present beyond what is explicitly and unambiguously stated, "what the author intended". this is fine if you're working within an autistic medium such as code, in which the color property of the curtain object evaluating to "blue" (or its numeric equivalent) is simply an atomic fact. reading anything more into it would be foolish, and in fact having anything more to it would be undesirable, considered a bug.

but, this sort of autistic analysis is inappropriate when applied to literature (or all art, for that matter) because literature/art is fundamentally a schizo mediumwhat does autistic literary analysis end up looking like? the example that comes to my mind is the website tvtropesfor those unaware, it's a wiki where contributors try to identify and catalog examples in media of plot devices and conventions, the titular "tropes". each trope has a page with a generic description and a big list of all the media it appears in, and then the page for each media work has a list of all the tropes that appear in it.. they originally started off just listing tropes in tv shows (hence the name), which i suppose is acceptable considering that tv writers often fall back on tried-and-true plot structures because of the sheer number of episode plots they have to come up with, especially in long-running episodic television shows. every sci-fi show has to do the "time travel episode", for example (and i love every single one of them).
but i think tvtropes crossed a line when they vastly extended the scope of the wiki to include nearly all cultural output, including art and literature. the issue is that deconstructing a work into a list of tropes ends up being a rather intellectually-poor and surface-level method of analysis, because tropes for the most part are only concerned with the plot of a work. that makes it easy to play the game of "spot the trope", but this approach can only lead to a very literal reading of a work. seperating a work into a list of atomic tropes also makes it more difficult to look more generally at overarching themes or patterns.
the worst part, i think, is that overall the "tvtropes school of criticism" mindset promotes a stifling, constricted view of literature and art in general, where artists are just picking out and putting together different tropes from a catalog like lego blocks in order to create their works. then, the intrepid troper comes along and tries to deconstruct the work into its constituent blocks and obsessively catalog them all (why?). perhaps someday the troper tries to reverse the process, recreate the work from the list of tropes, and notices something startling: it's not quite the same as the original, even though the pieces are definitely all there. nothing is missing, and yet something is. the work is greater than the sum of its parts...
. this is the other way the paradox can be resolved, in favor of the readers, who are correct when they see more in a work than the author put in. sure, to varying extents authors make careful choices to include certain elements, images, motifs, themes in their works to achieve a deliberate effect, but there are also parts where they let "jesus take the wheel" and write down whatever comes to mind as if channeling some divine presence, or swap words and syntax until something "feels" right. this can happen both intentionally (the stream-of-consciousness style of writing) and unintentionally ("these details don't matter so much so i'll just come up with something random for them"). the author wrote ("meant") the curtains were blue, but they picked blue specifically because it felt right, it just had to be the color of the curtains, and when the readers pick up on why this may be, they may even surprise the author.

this is why in literary criticism, the author's interpretation of a work ideally should not enjoy a privileged position amongst other interpretations, the work of an author is not entirely their own. when an interviewer once asked thomas pynchon what he meant by a particularly perplexing passage from gravity's rainbow, he replied "i don't know". this is the transcendent aspect of art and literature, this is why it exists in the first place, to try and reveal what cannot be expressed directly. in a similar vein, a prominent film director was once asked what he was trying to say with his movie, and he replied: "why are you asking me, i put everything right there in the movie. if i could tell you so easily, i would not have had to make it." and a while after writing all of the above, i came across an interview in the paris review with celebrated novelist umberto eco, in which he corroborates everything i'm saying:

But did writing novels change your idea of how much you could influence the reader as an author?

I always assume that a good book is more intelligent than its author. It can say things that the writer is not aware of.

Does a good translator ever offer a suggestion that opens up possibilities you hadn’t seen in the original text?

Yes, it can happen. Again, the text is more intelligent than its author. Sometimes the text can suggest ideas that the author does not have in mind. The translator, in putting the text in another language, discovers those new ideas and reveals them to you.

where do these extra ideas and meanings in a text come from, ones that the author is unaware of? here is one theory: literature is divine revelation, and writers are merely the conduits, the mediums, the channelers through which it comes down to the world. but the language of God and the language of angels cannot be understood by us directly, it must be translated, transformed, packaged in a form that is comprehensible to us as it is delivered to the artists, and then interpreted by others. this is why the field of "literary criticism" exists, they are the interpreters of literary prophecies and revelations, tasked with coaxing out their messages.

to be continued, edited, etc.