Tuesday, January 13, 2009

context and meaning part II

I was wrong. Context does determine meaning. I was very much caught up in the metaphor and I think the metaphor may still have some force. This has two parts. My argument against myself why context does indeed inform/cause meaning and secondly why the snake metaphor still has some teeth, as it were. After a fairly involved conversation with my father, he gave me this idea/quote: "One meaning, many significances." Context is essential to meaning. W/o context there are no boundaries to harness language into a usable form. For example the word "love" by itself on a page has no context. While it does not have infinite meanings, there is no way to determine what meaning is to be applied without context. The reader is left adrift without the word's context. Context acts as a mold into which language is poured and set so when the mold is removed the form and shape is legible and coherent. As context of history changes, the finished item (meaning) will either be ground into nothingness, be molded into another form altogether, merge w/ another meaning or successfully hold its own.
Context limits language. Context limits us as humans by keeping language grounded but at as context changes the significance of the meaning is changed/adjusted based on the bias imposed by the reader's context. Thus the snake in the shoe store would retain its meaning as a snake but its significance is being out of the cage. The snake out of its expected environment would prompt a different reaction than viewing the snake in the zoo. Same meaning; different significance, possible panic versus simple animal voyeurism.
Could be taking text out of its context be the highest hermeneutical crime? I would argue, tenatively, that taking text out of context nullifies the rest of the individual's agreement and points to a possible logical fallacy. Text is not meant to bent to the reader's purposes. Nor does the reader serve the text unconditionally but the reader needs to observe context as the number one rule in extracting and interacting with texts/narratives.To a certain extent, I think complete dependence upon reader response in the vein of "what does it meant to you?" does this. This is what prompted the original snake metaphor. I would like to suggest that accurate reader response to generate the best discussion and understanding of the text is reader response based on context of the text from the viewpoint of the reader's historical bias/context. The ability to connect from various contexts from multiple readers is a joy and a pleasure and I think the purpose of meaning.

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