andalus: (silence)
[personal profile] andalus

Grice's On Meaning shows that there are two definitions for "means." 1) The natural: "X means P," where P is a natural consequence of X. 2) the non-natural (meansnn): "A meansnn something by X". Meansnn has to do with the interpretation of intentions, and is cancelable. Grice's example is "The three rings on the bell mean the bus is full," which can be cancelled by then saying "But it isn't in fact full." Natural "means" by contrast is not cancelable. You cannot follow "Those bumps mean measles" with "but he hasn't got measels."

In terms of literary studies, writers often use the two versions of means interchangably, or, worse, argue from one to the other. One can argue, for example, that a Marxist or a Freudian reading of a text is looking for natural meaning: "X means P by virtue of class struggle, or sexual repression, etc." This says nothing, however, about the text as a speech act.

Meansnn is about representation or communication (depending on whether you're reading Searle or Grice). Let's say an ecocritic argues that Moby Dick has a meaning of industrial capitalism as a good or a bad. Does this also say that Moby Dick meansnn to disseminate the notion of industrial capitalism good/bad? Does this say that Melville as author is concerned with industrial capitalism good/bad? Does this mean that a reader of Moby Dick must engage with industrial capitalism good/bad? These are all things of interpretation/representation, which have to do with intention, which is not the domain of natural meaning.

Then again, Meansnn simply brings the uncertainty of other minds into the sentence-level structure of language. Is Moby Dick a thing towards which we should have speaker uncertainty, or, instead, a vast yet theoretically understandable complexity? Is it the speech act of a person or instead a cultural object, within which and out of which proceed myriad strains of meanings and intendings?

Then again again, treating the text as a cultural object tosses aside everything art about art, the fact that it is made, by a human, in an act of representation/communication. The difference between Moby DIck and a tree or the MTA Transit System, is that in Moby Dick, to mis-apply Searle, the illocutionary act is achieved by getting the audience to recognize that it is the author's purported intention to perform that illocutionary act. While the MTA may have meaning, the representation/communication (meaningnn) of Moby Dick is a function of how much we believe that the author believed that we would believe it to be an act of representation/communication. This same would also apply if, say, an artist (a discrete speaker) put an MTA subway map in an art gallery.

Then again again again, is this just inventing a discrete author-actor when what is more interesting to talk about is an assemblage of actors, including but not confined to psychological pressures, cultural mores, generic considerations, audience expectations, the nonhuman, etc? What makes a single human mind more interesting to talk about, given the uncertainty involved and the remove at which the mind is from us? Human agency is fascinating, but how does it escape being seen, in the end, as a weak illusion in the face of the world-world?

I've been arguing for a rhetorical interpretation of the lyric, which presupposes communication which presupposes a communicating actor. The trouble is largely that I know many people will already disagree, and many will already agree, and I want to know what the difference between them is.

Date: 2016-02-03 06:36 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
cf Latour on the postcritical?

Date: 2016-02-04 02:27 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
What most authors most directly mean is either 1) plain to grad/professor level readers or 2) something professor/grad level readers specializing in the author in question will be assumed to understand, so it's impolite to imply they don't. So what can we then study?

Early on (to 1910, say, though it happens again with each crop of canon expansion): Subtleties to their meaning, peripheral meanings, meanings of writers sensibly but incorrectly deemed incoherent, crazy or wildly experimental.

When those were exhausted, or had filled in enough basic gaps that it became impolite to assume professor/grad level readers hadn't had all those sorts of gaps filled in: Meaning trends, e.g. what it means that people keep trying to mean the same things or to mean different things.

When those had become too complex or numerous to keep up with, or too brilliantly right to add to: Attacks on the concept of meaning in the intentional sense (or the other, which mostly takes intention down with it).

Notice how the oneupmanship escalates from knowing more than critics to knowing more than authors to knowing better than to author at all.

At every point there are countereddies/revivals of the older sorts, and lots of attempts to mix these levels of concern, more or less paradoxically. Or attacks on one whole class of interpretation that do or don't valorize another one. Proportions have shifted over time, but the four (apparently) basic needs of appreciating, understanding, deprecating and dismissing the literary object have all been at play for pretty much ever. The ceremony has never been all jackal, but they certainly seem to dominate at times.

Date: 2016-02-10 11:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
how do you describe to yourself the sort of things you want to do.

Date: 2016-02-12 05:52 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think they're not hard to describe to yourself once you find them. They can be hard to describe to others, I guess, and certainly can be hard to translate into terms certain others will embrace.

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