John Barton Wolgamot gave his name to a Society in Michigan, founded, more or less, by Keith Waldrop; he also wrote and published (via vanity presses) the poem that was to provide the text and title of John Ashley's composition In Sara, Mencken, Christ and Beethoven There Were Men and Women. The same text was also published earlier under the title In Sara Haardt Were Men and Women, and he had been working, when he died, on a third work, also with the same text, but with a third title, Beacons of Ancestorship, that later became the title of a Tortoise album (who also named a track after the previous work, with "Men" and "Women" transposed). Waldrop reports that Wolgamot sent copies of the first two to Mencken, and that those copies were given to the Enoch Pratt Free Library (a catalog search on their website for "Wolgamot" does not currently give any results). For unknown reasons, the Encyclopedia of American Poetry identifies Wolgamot as a literary historian. Aside from that curiosity, basically everything one can find online about Wolgamot concurs with the information given in the poetry foundation link, a recollection by Waldrop (information substantially reproduced in this interview with Waldrop, though he can't quite keep his story straight). Very little actually goes beyond what's contained there; no Ashley or Tortoise fans, for instance, report having actually gotten their mitts on a copy in some library somewhere, or even having confirmed Waldrop's claim that the book is referred to in any account of Mencken's library. The story, or parts of it, is passed around; it comes up, for instance, in Kyle Gann's book on Ashley.
It seems quite probable to me that there never was a Wolgamot; that the name was made up (the family name, perhaps, derived from Rosmarie Waldrop's mother's maiden name, Wohlgemuth?). Looking just at the poetry foundation link, the story is really just too pat. No further copies are extant—no one remembers Wolgamot's name at the first publisher's, and Waldrop buys the last remaining copy the second publisher has. No one is likely to look through all of Mencken's jottings to find the one that Waldrop refers to (without giving any bibliographical information). Waldrop describes the way Ashley's piece was made (reading one page/sentence in one breath, then the next, editing out the spaces between the readings), and later in the story, when he finally meets Wolgamot and tells him that the poem was set to music, the only things Wolgamot is recorded as having said in response are that "it was hard to imagine reading his book out loud", but that "'it would have to be a sort of'—he hesitated, considered—'well, a breathless reading'"—what a nice confirmation for Ashley! Immediately prior to that we get a hypothesis and confirmation much closer together:
Ashley had done a formal analysis of the book, in an elaborate chart, showing that the book is in four movements-there was no sign of this, no markings-four movements of equal length. I was not entirely convinced. But the first thing Wolgamot said was, “You realize, this is in four movements.” And Ashley immediately brought out his chart, which Wolgamot wouldn’t look at. Just as he had no interest at all in hearing the composition.
Note that in the interview, Wolgamot is reported as having found the reading of his piece so imaginable that he at one point actually contemplated it himself:
Which reminds me: when Wolgamot heard that in Bob's composition the text was actually spoken, he said that at one time he had thought of reading it out loud. "But then I decided against it," he said. "I suppose that—if you did read it—it would have to be a kind of, well, breathless reading."
Early on, Waldrop writes that he "claimed that the work was a funeral piece for Sara Powell Haardt, intimating, however, that while Sara was Mencken’s on earth, she was Wolgamot’s in eternity"; in the paragraph before, Waldrop mentions a phone call between Mencken and Waldrop. Then, during the meeting between Waldrop and Wolgamot:
I asked him if he had ever met Mencken. He said he hadn’t but, “I talked to him on the phone once.” I said I supposed, then, he had never met Sara Powell Haardt, and I could see Ashley was remembering my silly theory. And Wolgamot said, “No, I never met Sara Powell Haardt. I used her name, because her last name’s Haardt and my middle name’s Bart.” But he went on, “Of course, in the book, I represent myself as having an illicit relation with her. In a book like this, there has to be some love interest.”
The encounter with Wolgamot reveals no information not already stated or speculated about earlier (sometimes immediately earlier); speculations, moreover, are always confirmed, never disconfirmed, so that Ashley and Waldrop's powers of analysis and perception are emphasized. And since their theories about the structure of the bizarre text are confirmed by the text's eccentric author to be correct, we are encouraged to believe that the structure really is there—as we might not so easily or successfully be encouraged if Waldrop's liner notes just asserted of a text attribute to Ashley or himself that it was in four parts and perfectly suited for a "breathless" reading (not just Ashley's eccentric choice but the result of recognition of just what the text requires). But I suspect that the text really is by Waldrop or Ashley and that the whole Wolgamot story is false, false, false! And obviously false, in fact, in a way that makes its repetition somewhat baffling.
Here is a thing which you may have observed. There are people about who don't like it when the word "literally" figures in a sentence whose overall thrust is figurative. It is contended that something has gone wrong, or at any rate it's not an ideal state of affairs. As far as I have been able to determine by arguing with people, the reasons are something like the following: (a) such sentences are (literally) false, or (b) they involve a misuse of the word "literally", or (c) at the very least it's desirable to have a word that functions the way the complainants think "literally" ought to function and no otherwise. So you may have heard it said, but I say to you that (a) such sentences are just as false without the word "literally" in them and no one objects to those, and (b) figurative uses are not misuses, and finally (c) this is not only not desirable, it is not possible.
Consider the following two sentences:
On no occasion has anyone uttering the first been saying something which is, sensu stricto, true; some particular someone uttering the second on some particular occasion might have been, but it seems unlikely. We know what speakers of these sentences are getting at, of course, and they might therefore be conveying something true to us listeners: that they were very angry; are very hungry. What they are saying is, nevertheless, literally false.
Most people, being for the most part sensible, do not get in a tizzy about that. They don't respond, unless failing in attempts to be humorous, "no you weren't" or "no you couldn't". Nor does even the most persnickety person reply to (1) by saying that the speaker surely misunderstands the meaning of "beside" (or "myself" or any of the other words in the sentence).
How drastically does the situation change when we revise the sentences, add to the hyperbole a little bit!
This is guaranteed to raise the hackles of a number of persons, though the precise reason for this horripilation is a little hard for me to make out. One consideration offered is that neither (3) nor (4) is (literally) true. But then, neither were (1) or (2), and, as already mentioned, no one really minds about them. One might account for the difference thus:
Everyone knows that "beside myself" in (1) and "eat a horse" in (2) are meant fancifully, figuratively; in a word (but not literally a word, hahaha) not literally. It isn't literally true, granted, but we know that we aren't meant to take the statement literally. But the speakers of (3) or (4) specifically direct us to take their words literally! They disclaim figurative intent about as clearly as they can!
This isn't really satisfying, though. For one thing, we don't get the same vociferous objections—or as far as I know any objections at all—to sentences such as the following:
And they seem to be of basically the same kidney as (3). Granted, "honestly" vel sim. don't function identically to "literally"; they don't disclaim the figurative in the exact same way. (Obviously this caveat does not apply to (7) or (8).) But why does no one fulminate thus?
You aren't being honest, you're being hyperbolic! You weren't really or actually beside yourself, and you just said you were being honest, were really and actually beside yourself! You may not be joking precisely, but you're not being totally straight either, are you? It clearly is hyperbole and has many coats of varnish, and you just said the opposite! You are definitely being figurative, and you just said you weren't! Goddammit, I believed you!
(At last, one wishes to say, a practical use for the Oulipo! Evade misguided pedants through definitional literature!)
It's not really the falsity of (3) and (4), and in general other sentences in which "literally" is deployed to figurative effect, that annoys people, I take it. My impression is that the real complaint is that "literally" is being used incorrectly, that "literally" is unique in that it, unlike every other word, can only be used, well, literally. There is something offensive about using a word which means "not figuratively" with figurative intent.
It seems, too, as if it really does depend on the fact that, while "literally" means literally, it's being used non-literally that grates. After all, it would be odd to object that "infant" is being used incorrectly in the following sentence:
It's true that "infant" doesn't mean "unrealistic, petty, egocentric, yet powerless despot" (or whatever we might think Mann meant to suggest regarding Tolstoy). But it's not misused. It is, in fact, perfectly aptly used. It's because "infant" means what it does—because it refers to, you know, infants—that its application to the adult Tolstoy does what it does.
It sure seems as if the same thing is happening with "literally"---that is, that it's because "literally" means "not figuratively" that it can be used to strengthen the use of a tired figurative trope. Let us quote from a scholarly article, whose bibliographic information I'll just give inline right here: "Literally speaking", Michael Israel, Journal of Pragmatics 34 (2002) 423–32. Ok? Here we go:
As I will argue, the word’s notorious misuse actually marks a natural development from its orthodox usage: people use the word in this way precisely because they do understand the notion of literal meaning, and they associate it, naturally enough, with plain speaking and honest expression. (424)
the folk model of literal meaning seems to be unchanged. In both cases, literal meaning is associated with directness, plain speaking, and, fundamentally, with truth. The shift itself seems to reflect little more than an equivocation between sentence meaning and speaker meaning. This sort of shift is, in fact, quite common with modal expressions whose basic function is to emphasize the fit between reality and the way it is described, and the examples in (10) show uses of really and truly which closely parallel the use of literally in (8):
(10) a. Her guacamole is truly out of this world.
b. She really pulled the wool over our eyes.
As Brugman notes, the adverbs here effectively signal ‘‘that the conventionalized nonliteral meaning [of a figurative expression] ... is being used in a strict sense’’ (1984: 34). (429)
The whole paper is worth a look.
The OED has a good expression of the use of "literally" here discussed; it signifies that "some conventional metaphorical or hyperbolical phrase is to be taken in the strongest admissible sense". It is easy enough to construct a notional origin for this use of the word: some set phrase is getting overused, worn out, bleached, and a speaker, reaching for it, wants to indicate to her listeners that she's not just saying mouthing something, no, she really means it. You could easily say "I could eat a horse" while not being very hungry, especially if it's becoming a conventional expression of hunger, so you say you could literally eat a horse. And, again, it's because "literally" functions as it does in its approved contexts that it works here too.
When, after all, would you use "literally" in the approved sense? When you are aware that your utterance might be taken otherwise than you intend, because some figurative sense is most plausible---or plausible enough, or if you just want to be careful to avoid misunderstanding available at all---and you wish to forestall it: I don't mean this thing that suggests itself, I mean what my words mean on their face.
The same thing is happening in (3) and (4), it's just that the location of the face, so to speak, has shifted. I want you to know that when I say "I was beside myself" I don't just mean "I was annoyed" or "I was ticked off"---I want you to know that I mean what my words mean on their face---where what they mean on their face is the figurative meaning, that I was enraged. (Rather, that is, than that I was merely ticked off.) Quoting Israel quoting Brugman: the conventionalized nonliteral meaning is being used in a strict sense. (What could be clearer?)
So, again, it's hard to make out the claim that "literally" is being misused. Firstly because there's no reason to think that a figurative use of a word is a misuse (I don't have a ``theory'' of the figurative so I may be skating on thin ice in characterizing the use under discussion as figurative but I think it's probably fine), and it's laughable to think that it would be wrong to use a word figuratively just because its literal meaning is "not figurative"---as laughable as thinking that it's wrong to apply a word figuratively to an adult because its literal meaning is "not an adult". And secondly because the non-literal use in question is exactly what you'd expect given the literal uses. It's the right use!
Some people with whom I've had this argument have, at this point, lamented the idea that we're "losing" the literal use of "literal". (They think to score points off me because I actually do think the loss of the "uninterested"/"disinterested" contrast would be a shame.) But we aren't losing the literal use of "literal", any more than sentences like (9) or the imprecation "don't be such a baby" have led us to lose our vocabulary for the very young.
And, of course, it's just not possible to keep a word from being used figuratively. Especially given that "literally" seems tailor-made for the use to which misguided pedants so object. Any proposed replacement, stipulated to mean "literally (literally!!!)", would be suborned to figurative purposes before long, by the exact same process that affected "literally" itself. It is, after all, useful. And I'm not aware of anyone attempting to use "literally" to indicate that her words were, in fact, to be taken literally and not figuratively at all who has been unable to do so.
1. Rapidly rapidly
Set out from Marathon
Swift as his name;
Died ent'ring Athens but
Won for his hurrying
2. Hippity Hoppity
Thomas Stearns Eliot's
Verses careened twixt the
Deep and the odd;
One of the latter's got
Creatures compared to the
True church of God.
3. Higgledy Piggledy
Dolce far niente is
Charming indeed, but is
Counter to pride;
Rouse yourself now from this
Pastoral torpor, with
Olga your bride!
4. Watterson Watterson
Calvinist doctrine's con-
Cerned to distinguish the
Goats from the sheep;
Strive to attain to the
Top of the heap!
And there follows indeed a short excerpt. But why "complete short examples are a virtual impossibility"? La Belle Dame isn't a terribly long poem and the Compendium contains many examples of moderate length; why not just give all of "Cauliflower sans Merci" as the example? Well, for whatever reasons, the editors, of whom Mathews was one, decided against that, which is terribly annoying, since the excerpt they do reproduce is tantalizing and it's not easy to get one's hands on the full text (it having been published in a small Canadian literary journal, "Atropos", that lasted, as far as I can tell, three issues). Until now, that is, for the full text is reproduced below, with the apparent errors from the original printing intact, but the original formatting as regards spacing, line indentation, etc. not intact. One may be interested to know that the table of contents for the issue classifies "Cauliflower sans Merci" as "fiction".
Transplant. This procedure was first used by Harry Mathews before his introduction to the Oulipo; it entered the Oulipian repertory during the preparation of the Atlas, in which it was described as a double lexical translation.
Two texts are chosen, of similar length but differing in genre. Each text is rewritten with the vocabulary of the other. Complete short examples are a virtual impossibility. Here are the subtitles and opening paragraphs of the two sections of Cauliflower sans Merci, where the source texts are (a) Keats' La Belle Dame sans Merci and (b) a recipe for the preparation of cauliflower with tomatoes:
The central thought in my solution to the interpretive puzzle is that valuing, in Nietzsche's recommended practice, involves the generation of "honest illusions". It can be thought of as a form of make-believe, pretending, or, the non-Nietzschean phrase adopted here, "regard … as": S values X by regarding X as valuable while knowing that in fact X is not valuable in itself. The motivation for this interpretive strategy arises, perhaps not surprisingly, from what I have called interpretive constraint (4), namely, the suggestion in Nietzsche's texts that there is some close connection between art, avoiding practical nihilism, and the creation of values.
So Hussain, on p 166 of "Honest Illusion: Valuing for Nietzsche's Free Spirits". The mentioned interpretive puzzle arises out of four constraints; the fourth, as indicated, is that the creation of values and art are closely related. The first three are (1) "A central task of Nietzsche's free spirits is the creation and revaluation of values" (158); (2) "Nietzsche's free spirit 'conceives reality as it is'" (158); and (3) "Nietzsche claims that nothing has value in itself and therefore that all claims of the form 'X is valuable [sc. in itself]' are false" (159; I added the bracketed material). I find this position implausible both interpretatively and substantively: interpretatively because several passages proffered in support seem to me to be better interpreted otherwise; substantively because it seems impossible to prevent the position from collapsing into one Hussain explicitly rejects, in which the free spirits come to believe that there really is value in the world.
In the pages following the blockquote with which this post begins, he attempts to flesh out the relationship of Nietzsche's writings on art to the pretense theory he attributes to Nietzsche. Here are (parts of) two he quotes, GS P4 and GS 299:
Oh, those Greeks! They knew how to live. What is required for that is to stop courageously at the surface, the fold, the skin, to adore appearance … Those Greeks were superficial—out of profundity.
How can we make things beautiful, attractive, and desirable for us when they are not? And I rather think that in themselves they never are. here we should learn something from physicians, when for example they dilute what is bitter or add wine and sugar to a mixture—but even more from artists … Moving away from things until there is a good deal that one no longer sees and there is much that our eye has to add if we are still to see them at all; or seeing things around a corner and as cut out and framed; or to place them so that they partially conceal each other … all that we should learn from artists while being wiser than they are in other matters. For with them this subtle power usually comes to an end where art ends and life begins; but we want to be the poets of our life …
After quoting GS 299, Hussain writes that "it is the example of art that (i) shows us the psychological possiblity of regarding things as valuable even when we know they are not, and (ii) provides a source of techniques that, suitably refined, could help us succeed in regarding things as valuable outside the domain of art proper" (172). Art enables us "to engage in a simulacrum of valuing by regarding things as valuable in themselves while knowing they are not" (175).
But doesn't that actually run directly counter to the passages just quoted from Nietzsche? In the first place, GS 299 begins with a contrast between how things are in themselves and how we might wish them to be for us, without ever suggesting that their being thus and so for us consists in our taking them to be thus and so in themselves. When the physician sugars his medicine, rendering palatable for us something that by [sic] itself is not, we don't think that the medicine thereby becomes sweeter in itself, though the mixture is sweeter than the medicine is; in that sense he makes it—he makes what we confront, what we have to do with—attractive, and no one involved projects the attraction onto the unmixed drug, knowingly or not. Similarly, when we esteem as beautiful or attractive a tableau in which some thing is concealed by another, do we judge "this thing, of which I can see only a part, is itself beautiful"? Isn't it rather than the scene, in which many things that are themselves not beautiful are nicely arranged, is judged to be beautiful? After all—are we not to stop courageously at the surface? Even remarks to the effect that, e.g., "we do not always keep our eyes from rounding off something and, as it were, finishing the poem" (GS 107) do not directly support the reading. It is clear from context that this rounding-off is not the ever-present (hitherto ever-present?) coloration of the world with moral evaluation (in WP 260) with which Hussain immediately pairs it, since it is introduced by saying that "now there is a counterforce" (emphasis added). (Something similar could be said about, for example, the remark somewhere in BGE that we are more artistic than we know, because we perceive things as enduring. That illusion, if it is an illusion, can't be what's presently relevant, because we all already engage in it anyway.)
Substantively, while there is a brief discussion of whether the kind of make-believe that Hussain describes is actually practicable, I don't think it really gets at the issues very deeply. Recall that the free spirit's pretense has a certain content and purpose, having respectively to do with the real existence of values and the avoidance of nihilism (thereby enabling a certain kind of life for the free spirit). This makes the going about of the pretending a rather delicate business; it can't obviously can't be at the front of the free spirit's mind. The pretense that something is valuable in itself can't be accompanied by the thought "… not really, though"; if it is, the "simulacrum of valuing" (p 175) in which she engages will be too overtly pretended to serve its purpose. (In this respect the pretense is decidedly not like any pretense we engage in regarding artworks, which is severely delimited. We do not actually try, or pretend to try, or try to pretend, to talk to the people in novels or paintings. We may talk about them as if they were people, and point out interesting facts about their pretend actions or pretend clothing, but we implicitly recognize a point beyond which we do not carry the game. This, I think, is a large part of the reason the pretense is compatible with the acknowledgement that it's a pretense. If the free spirits' pretense contained inner limits like that, it could not play anything like the role in our lives that actual valuing does. The point here isn't that (as Hussain suggests) the free spirits' valuing, being pretended, wouldn't be like the valuing that had come before, in that, say, "a particular kind of seriousness and gravity that is part of traditional morality could not be regenerated within" it (175n43); it is, rather, that this pretense would seem, unlike the pretenses with reference to which it is developed, to have no "outside". (Unless of course the free spirits hop from valuational system to valuational system, but that seems to me to make the whole thing even harder to maintain.))
If the pretense can't be like that, it must be one in which for long stretches there are no occurrent thoughts about the pretense itself. However, engaging in a really thorough-going pretense is one of the things one would do if one wanted to end up actually believing that things have value in themselves—faking it is a time-honored technique for making it—and it's a constraint for Hussain that the free spirits don't do that. So they must both lose themselves in their pretense, and not get so lost that they end up falling for it: a hard needle to thread.
Part of the discussion in which feasibility is addressed runs thus:
In imaginative play, successfully regarding a pile of wood as the Bismarck under fire requires, or at least when one is, as we say, 'into' the game, engaging in certain actions, or pretend actions—ducking from the incoming shells (just tennis balls, of course), yelling at your gunners to fire back, and so on. It also requires certain physical responses: the increased heart beat, the sweating of palms, and an intense exclusive concentration.
However, as far as I can see, it doesn't require much further than that—and if we can say that doing that sort of thing (having that sort of involuntary physical response, engaging in certain voluntary physical actions in an appropriately engaged way) just is what "regarding a pile of wood as the besieged Bismarck" comes to, then we conspicuously don't need to say that the pretender pretends that the wood really is a ship. The players can just declare "that over there is the Bismarck and these are shells", thereby giving a bit of structure and narrative to what would otherwise be arbitrary; involvement in the game can then come from competitive spirit, or the fun of throwing tennis balls at your friends, or whatever, and no illusion, honest or dishonest, need enter into it.
Three more double dactyls, a morale élémentaire on my constant theme, and a self-descriptive Beautiful In-Law:
1. Higgledy Piggledy
Thomas Browne's essay on
Bodies in jars
Gives the opinion that
Simply not possible
Under the stars
2. Jiggery Pokery
William and Elwyn, the
Usage dictators whose
Book is confused:
Shouldn't be used.
3. Higgledy Piggledy
Nufer the author has
Practiced negation in
Each of his books;
But that devotion to
Writing's just won him some
Mighty odd looks.
5. One lone noble son, foe of few,
One selfless fool (feels offense slow),
One swell fellow (woos belles well),
One new Solon, one boon,
We follow Ben Wolfson.
Nicely recapped by R. L. Anderson:
… let us return to the expressivist account of successful action, which is nicely captured in Pippin’s paradigm examples of artistic intention. Suppose my intention is to write a good poem. Unfortunately, I am no poet, so my results are execrable. The power and interest of the expressivist identification of intention with action arise just here. Precisely because the character of my intention can be defined by the actual outcome of my activity, I run afoul of the lightning-flash identity argument when I insist that this is not the poem I intended to write. My actual poem does express my intention (where that is defined in terms of the process of action), so it is bad faith to disown it. What my discontent seeks is not fairly described as the good poem I intended to write; at best, what it wants is to have had a different intention altogether, one that could have produced a different, better, poem. The availability of this analysis depends on the thought animating the first horn of the dilemma—that the content of my intention is ineluctably defined in terms of the proper interpretation of the resulting action.
Right down to the tendentious "proper" in the last sentence. I think it's worth pointing out how weird the intention to write a good poem is, too, but that's probably inessential. (Obviously, I can only speak to the production of doggerel and parodies, but I don't think I've ever sat down to write anything with the goal of just writing a good X, and it seems like a bizarre way to take artistic intentions generally.)
Nehamas also makes use of this kind of creative example, if I remember correctly, and also uses specifically artistic creation (I believe I've heard him use specifically poetry, for that matter). It's a nice example for polemical purposes but a bad one, I think, for philosophical. It's good for polemical purposes because the bad poet who insists that he didn't mean to write this poem can't, if challenged with the question what poem he did mean to write, produce a different, better one and say: "well I wanted to write this one, see." (Of course, he can say "I intended to write a good poem, not this ungainly mess", or "I wanted to write a poem that would …"—and it's never really been clear to me why that isn't enough. We could call it the Travis Bickle Theory of Intention: "I don't see any other poems around here.") If he could have done that, he would have written that one. It obviously isn't a question of his reproducing an already existing poem, after all, and the only poem on the scene is the bad one actually produced.
That's not essential to the example, though; the example ought to work with any instance of incompetence. It ought to work equally well if I mess up the roasting of a chicken or the construction of a birdhouse, which are (or at least can be) exercises in copying models or following procedures. If the bird is burnt black, or the birdhouse a Escherian puzzle, and I say: "I didn't mean to do that", though, I can say what I intended: I point to the picture in my illustrated cookbook, or woodworking book, and say, "I wanted to make that". To deny that that is a sound expression of one's intention is bats; it would be like insisting that in order really to refer to something we have always to engage in the "singular stroke of eloquence" that Dr. Slothrop attempts in Tristram Shandy, whereby instead of giving the name of a thing one just produces the thing itself. "I wanted to build a [here I produce from my mantle a birdhouse]"—and even here, I could produce another birdhouse, not built by me, since I'm not trying to build an original birdhouse anyway.
To say that the shambles of a birdhouse I actually build "expresses my intention (where that is defined in terms of the processes of action)" begs the question, since clearly the upshot of the processes of action I engaged in—assuming I haven't been interfered with—can't be other than the upshot of those very processes. What might be meant in this case by saying my discontent with it really means that I wish to have intended something else? Does that mean, to have intended to produce a different birdhouse than the one exampled in the pages of my book? Not that. Perhaps it means that I wish to have had different sub-intentions in carrying out the construction project—e.g. that I should have intended to drive the nail in straight rather than incompetently? But that obviously gets us nowhere (I did intend to drive the nail in straight, I'll insist). I am not sure what other reasonable interpretations there are, here, or why we shouldn't just say that while I intended to do one thing, I was incompetent, and thus ended up actually doing something else. On Pippin's account it seems as if I always only execute my actual intentions just fine, and incompetence is isolated to my initial identification of what I'm about in the first place.
The actual birdhouse I end up building can still be plausibly claimed to "express my intention" in the following sense: I intended to build a birdhouse like the one in the book, acted on the intention, and produced this thing, which is very unlike it. And one could sensibly say that, therefore, it's bad faith for me to disown the birdhouse. It's not what I wanted but it is what I did (and if I want to get better at woodworking it would be advisable for me to try to understand what I did wrong). But that's consistent with denying that this thing is what I intended to produce, on any sane use of the concept of intention.
By way of analogy, consider what is the practically rational response when we learn surprising things about the world, such as the fact that apparently solid objects are mostly empty space. It seems to me perfectly practically rational to act as if such objects are as solid as they appear, and to feel trusting in their apparent solidity, even if, when I reflect, I don't believe that they are solid (at least, not in the way they appear to be).
Imagine an old-school model of a salt crystal, a little cube, made out of little spheres of various sizes connected with little rods of various lengths. Is it solid? One way of taking the question is: are the components solid, as opposed to hollow: are the spheres more like ball bearings or table tennis balls; are the tubes dowels or pipes. But perhaps that's not what's meant; what's meant is: is the whole assembly solid. In that case, I find myself uncertain how to answer: what is meant by solid, in that question? Solid as opposed to what? But I might accept the following answer: construct the smallest (geometric!) solid that entirely encloses all the spheres and rods and whatnot, and observe that it's not the same stuff all the way through; it is, in fact, mostly air. Conclude, then, that it isn't solid, even though it's not quite right to say it's hollow or something like that either.
Perhaps something like that would underlie the assertion that "apparently solid objects are mostly empty space"; sc. merely apparently solid but actually not (or there's no point in mentioning it). A (merely) apparently solid iron cube, 1cm on a side, actually is not solid, being mostly empty space. Now there are some applications in which we would indisputably be justified in treating the cube as being "as solid as it appears" (more on which soon); for instance, we might calculate from its volume of one cubic centimeter and iron's density of so and so many grams per cubic centimeter that it has a mass of so and so many grams. This is perfectly in order; we aren't imagining that the cube fails to be solid by failing to be solid iron, that is, by being an iron exterior with an interior of copper, or air, or whatever. Our concern is one that would attach to the iron exterior, too; it too would really be mostly empty space. And this means that the suggestion that the cube isn't really solid itself doesn't affect the propriety of our calculation in the way one might have expected. The calculation that the cube is so and so many grams might be understood to be approximate on the grounds that, for instance, it probably isn't 100% pure iron. Maybe there's even a pocket of air in the cube! That would mean that we wouldn't be getting the right answer from the calculation, because of the non-iron in the cube. But in the ideal case where none of that happens, we aren't in danger of getting the wrong answer on the grounds that the cube isn't really solid, because the figure for density is derived from iron which is similarly mostly empty space—that's what solid iron is.
What is the solidity that the iron cube lacks? Is it that it's not the same thing all the way through? But isn't it?—assuming it's pure iron, isn't it iron all the way through? And the purity of iron isn't impugned by the fact that a chunk of the stuff has, in addition to atoms of Fe, space between the atoms of Fe. "Stuff" used advisedly in the previous sentence: the idea that a piece of iron isn't the same all the way through seems to come from an opposition to the idea of stuffs of things, as if iron, or anything else, could only be solid if the atoms were literally adjacent to one another. Though it's not clear what that would mean. After all, the atoms themselves are mostly empty space, too, right? The electrons aren't all touching the nucleus. (It's also not clear, actually, that one can't say that it's composed only of all the same thing, namely, Fe atoms. The empty space isn't an ethereal entity that also comes into the composition!) What, for that matter, is the solidity the iron cube appears to have? It looks impermeable by raisins; does it look impermeable by neutrinos? Or is it just that—in contrast to puffy gribenes—it looks as if it's not mostly empty space? (But then the puffs in the gribenes don't look as if they're empty space, they look like air bubbles. Air is also mostly empty space in the same way that iron is, but it doesn't look that way, does it?) It seems odd to say that it looks as if it has the solidity that would come from being nothing but Fe nuclei right next to each other.
"I don't believe they are solid (at least, not in the way they appear to be)" undermines itself: there doesn't seem to be another coherent way for them to be solid. On initial reflection, one may be inclined to say that cubes of pure iron aren't really solid, since they're mostly empty space; further reflection ought to lead one to the conclusion that that's just part of what it is for iron, or anything else, to be solid.