Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Meaning of "Meaning"


In my notes from a couple of classes ago, I wrote down four things we need to be aware of when we edit a piece: author's style, author's intention, audience, and meaning. I think you said determining meaning was more difficult than we might think.

I wonder if you or others could say a little bit more about meaning and how one goes about determining it. How is it different from intention?

1 comment:

Pat said...

Those remarks were made, as I recall, in the context of a follow-up discussion about Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk's intention may have been to explain the act and discipline of writing to an audience that is well read and literary but is not engaged in creating literature. The meaning of what he produced as a result of trying to carry out that intention is a separate thing.

The meaning of what he wrote might be that the process of isolating and detaching oneself from everyday matters--in order to write fiction worth reading--is difficult and cannot be measured in the same way that other things are. Things like teaching classes year long at a university or, say, winning a chess or art or sports competition.

This is one of many possibilities, of course; a complex piece like Pamuk's will have many meanings, some of them readily accessible to the practiced listener/reader and others less so. A handful of meanings will only be understood by those who are themselves writers--and even fewer by those who are the kind of writer Pamuk is.

We spend a good part of our lives trying to determine the meanings of what we experience--just as we spend much of our lives trying to figure out who we're meant to be and what we're meant to do in this life. With the intention of trying to help us understand him as a writer, Pamuk engages us in acts of reflection and imagination. He engages us in the pursuit of meanings he himself is seeking.