Wordbending vs The Intentional Fallacy

The idea of “wordbending” as referenced by my classmate in his presentation on Eminem today was interesting to me–and not just because it sounds like something from Avatar the Last Airbender(Eminem the last Wordbender?). I think one of the things that sets rap apart from the common, colloquial interpretation of the idea of “poetry” is definitely the medium. While rap, spoken word, ballads, etc. are meant to be verbally expressed, I think of poetry in terms of work read privately by the author’s audience. It is basically a private, intimate experience for the reader. At least, that’s how I have always personally thought of it. On the other hand, rap for example is performed and you get rhythm, emphasis, and emotion from the rapper instead of from your own natural interpretation.

However, with rap, I think this is one of its strengths. This allows it to overcome the issue of the Intentional Fallacy, to a degree. For anyone who may not remember, the Intentional Fallacy is the idea that we do not truly know what an author means or intends with his work. Such a view kind of implies that the author’s intent is unnecessary to judging the work. But with rap, the author’s intent is more palpable–there is more information that can be taken in directly from how the rapper presents his work. You can consider: the facial expressions(if heard live or watched on Youtube), the enunciation, the tempo, the articulation, exaggeration, etc.

I believe Eminem’s idea of “wordbending” clearly demonstrates this. Reading it on paper, you may not perfectly, mentally rhyme “orange” with “porridge” and “George”. In order for the rhyme to flow smoother, the rapper’s own manipulation of their articulation of the word may be necessary. In that sense, rap and other spoken poetry bypasses a bit of the misunderstanding a reader may have by directly providing you part of the author’s intent with the words of the piece. After all, as expressed in one of the propositions of the article we read on the Intentional Fallacy:

“The words of a poem, as Professor Stoll has remarked, come out of a head, not out of a hat.”(Wimsatt & Beardsley)

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One thought on “Wordbending vs The Intentional Fallacy

  1. That’s a really interesting connection. I’d never thought about rap/spoken word and the intentionality debate, but the physical presence of the author does certainly stack the deck in favor of a more psycho-biographical reading. Most of the poems Wimsatt and Beardsley had in mind when they wrote that essay were written for the page, with the ideals of timelessness and impersonality in mind. Hard to imagine what they would have said about Walt Whitman or Countee Cullen.

    I think there’s still room for ambiguity around intention in rap and other oral forms, especially when performers have multiple alter egos, or inhabit a persona ironically. That tension is in play when listeners debate misogynistic lyrics, for instance: one might ask if a rapper (or heavy metal or country singer, etc., etc.) is glorifying violence against women, or if he is satirizing an already violent culture. Different groups of people will have different stakes in the interpretation, so the question becomes, who is qualified or burdened with the judgment? … Anyway, nicely done.

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