Phenomenology

The next English essay on my plate is about that six-syllable word in the title. It is some philosophy (gotta say it better than that in the essay) about how our consciousness creates meaning. Of course it’s more complicated than that, but I’d say that’s the basic idea. In theory of literature, this is applied to texts, so that phenomenologists (six-syllable people) argue about whether writing has definite particular meaning before it is perceived by a reader to mean something or other.

So, for example, does what you have read here actually mean anything or have you constructed the meaning? Have you put thoughts in the author’s head, and words in her mouth?

For example: “I love you.” — What kind of love? Where and when was this said? Who said it, and to whom? What came before it? What comes after? Does the person say this to many people or rarely ever?

I think where this theory leads is ultimately useless. Of course what an author thinks is never completely completely exactly exactly what the reader thinks, because his/her thoughts are not your thoughts. What I think is rubbish is that when you take this theory to a logical extremity, readers can create legitimate non-intended meanings out of what they read, and in creating the meaning of the text – all of these creations are just as acceptable as the next one. Well, no, there must be a limit somewhere because the author meant something and that meaning should have carried in the text, if it was any good. It is true though, that meaning depends on a reader’s historical situation. You are led to think a text means what it is saying because of your context, and this never has to be explicit in the words of the text itself.

I was going to talk in my essay about the Bible. Some people think that because readers form meaning from the text and that everyone’s reading is just as legitimate – there are many interpretations to what the Bible is saying. a) That’s preposterous, but b) in some limited ways the idea is alright. What’s preposterous is that there is a certain textual integrity to the Bible, despite its vastness, so that your interpretation is limited by necessity to be consistent with all the other parts of the Bible. There’s also an integrity to God such that if your reading deviates from His character and will, then it’s invalid. What’s valid about that changing conscious formation meaning is that context does allow different minds/mindsets to approach texts differently and pick out different emphases. So at different stages of your life you will find different aspects of a certain character resonate more with you or it will seem more important or relevant.

Enough. Now to actually work on the essay.

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