Wednesday, January 7, 2009

context and meaning

"...the same words in the same order can nevertheless mean something uttely different when transported to a new context." P. 109 My Mother was a Computer. N. Katherine Hayles
If context determines meaning, this cannot be good for the meaning of the work.
If context is allowed to determine or set meaning, I believe the inevitable implication is that meaning cannot be established and we will chase our own tails through a maze of shuffling understanding that will force us to continue to build walls that are designed to mislead and misdirect. This is in direct opposition to the purpose of language to clarify and direct.
I believe in the historical shift of the definition of words within their use in the language. Meanings are added to words as culture(s) and subculture(s) conflict and attempt to classify existences and interactions by finding new meanings in old terms. I think this movement is similar to birds molting or snakes shedding skin. The beast of language is the same inherently but some new scales have been added to its length. However a snake is a snake regardless of its context. If a snake is found in a shoe store the shoe enthusiast does not try, based on context, to ram one's fit down what must be a shoe opening complete with a tongue. A snake's presence is still a reptile, a snake regardless of its existence in the context of a shoe store.
If context is going to be based on meaning than I think we as readers will be consigned to limp around, fantastically confused by the strange footwear we are attempting to display while it is doing its level best to eat us alive.

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