So, like many of my posts, this is something I’ve been stewing over since a post popped up on my Tumblr dashboard.
The post in question was an anon ask to another autism blog, asking for advice on autism coding in a novel they were working on.
They realised, reading back, that the character came across as autistic, which was unintentional.
Which is fine, such things happen, but the most common response I saw was “if you didn’t mean to do it and had no malicious intent, it’s fine”. Which brings me to the death of the author.
That sentiment should be true. If someone had no malicious intent, the end result shouldn’t matter.
But it does.
Now I’m not having a go at this anon. In the grand scheme of things, coding isn’t that bad as long as it’s not being used to make autistic people the butt of the joke while avoiding culpability.
It was the consistency of the response that I want to address.
Telling an author in the writing process that their intention matters more than the final product helps no one. There are arguments for and against taking into account author intention when criticising a work, but it’s best as an author who is worried about a specific piece of criticism to assume that no one will.
And, honestly, when it comes to criticisms of a work that say that work is racist or ableist or sexist or homophobic, etc., authorial intent is usually only taken into account if the author belongs to the group in question or if they had malicious intent.
If someone creates an offensive piece of work, no one cares that the author didn’t mean it.
Again, this example wasn’t about a piece of work that would have been offensive but that response of “you don’t mean harm, so it’s fine” is one that shouldn’t apply, regardless.
Am I saying that authors should pander to imaginary future critics?
I’m saying that authors have a responsibility to not be racist, sexist, ableist, homophobic, etc., in their work and authors should be aware that it doesn’t matter what their intent was if that’s how the work reads.
At the end of the day, the reader doesn’t have a telepathic link to you. All they have is what’s on the page.