Schrödinger’s Fave

Schrödinger’s cat posits that a cat, locked in a solid steel box, and whose life depends on whether or not a particular radioactive atom has emitted radiation or not, is both alive and dead, until the exact moment that the cat can be observed. Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger devised this thought experiment in 1935 to illustrate problems he saw in current interpretations of quantum mechanics. Since then, it has been used and reused and re-re-reused in increasingly incorrect and irrelevant ways.

This is one of them.

In college, my creative writing professor was a zealous proponent of New Criticism, a popular school of thought in the mid-twentieth century where you shouldn’t ever acknowledge anything outside of the work when you consider that work. At its most basic, it’s The Death of the Author. And because he was terrible, my creative writing professor constantly repeated his belief in the importance of two main aspects of New Criticism: the biographical fallacy and the intentional fallacy.

The biographical fallacy critiques the view that works of creative art (visual, literary, musical, etc.) can be interpreted as reflections of the life of their authors. The intentional fallacy is the argument that authorial intent doesn’t matter and indeed should not matter in understanding a work of art.

And Death of the Author in general assumes that what the artist might have meant will never be known and doesn’t give a single fuck about that, so you have to find your own meaning.

I really like the Death of the Author method of interpreting a text. It’s a less rigid, more personal way of engaging with media. I also think it’s a great stance for an actual author or musician or showrunner to take. I’ve always felt that what art means to the artist and what the art means to the audience are vastly different. Neither of them is wrong! But ultimately, when compared to what the reader takes from a book, what the author intended doesn’t matter.

…Until it does.


This is what I’ve taken to calling “Schrödinger’s Fave”: Every creator you look up to is simultaneously The Best and The Worst, depending on how much you know about them.

The truth is, it’s not always possible or wise for the reader to divorce the art from the artists. What an artist thinks or believes or supports can change how a person reads or interprets their work, although one should not automatically assume things about an artist based upon their work. We all make art about things we would never do or even want to do in real life. But to say that an author or a musician or a comedian’s known actions, statements, behaviors, and beliefs shouldn’t influence how their work is consumed and interpreted is naive, restrictive, and frankly dangerous.

Watching a Bill Cosby stand-up special fifteen years ago was a very different experience than watching the same special today, knowing what we now know. Knowing that the New Zealand film industry was exploited to hell and back because of the Lord of the Rings movies means viewing them is never going to be as carefree and wonderful as it was when they were new. Discovering that Ayn Rand was on welfare in her later years makes…well, no, nothing makes reading Ayn Rand worth it, but it’s still really funny.

Knowledge alters not only the interpretation, but the experience.

Recently, I learned that Ray Bradbury was, er, not a nice person. Not long after, I learned that Alice Sheldon, the woman behind James Tiptree, Jr., killed her disabled husband and then herself (there is debate that it was a suicide pact, but no consensus). Both giants of classic science fiction, both favorites of mine…and both of their work is now irrevocably tainted in my eyes because of their beliefs and actions in life.

We all react to these kinds of revelations differently. Sometimes it’s anger, or betrayal. Sometimes it’s flat-out denial.

And maybe a little self-preservation at the outset would help. Maybe reminding ourselves that even the most amazing writers and painters and singers and actors are only human, always fallible and sometimes horrible, would help prevent that gutting emotional upset.

Then again, maybe it wouldn’t. After all, until we open the box, until we see for ourselves, the cat’s still alive.

A. F. Linley

A. F. Linley was born in Connecticut and raised in New York's Capital District. She is a long-time government copy editor and a casual writer of various types of fiction (including government copy). She wrote her first story when she was nine and decided to pursue writing as a career when some well-meaning but foolish elementary school teacher assured her that she could make a living at this. She lives with her partner near Saratoga and is frequently mistaken for a competent adult. You can find more of her writing at or or