Tag Archives: meaning

Consciousness, Culture, and Art: Informal Comments on an Imagist Poem by William Carlos Williams

In part of this post on William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Pot,” Thomas F. Bertonneau suggests meaning is bigger than mere associations between things, images, ideas, etc. He seems to be saying the ability to make meanings has its source in common grace. “Meaning is not only a type of synchronicity; it is a type of Grace. It takes an occasion, such as the careful composition of ‘The Pot,’ to bestow itself, although undeserved, on the percipient. A sense of this drove the humanities at their constitution, but as Western culture has gradually repudiated basic notions like the beauty that is truth lauded by Keats in his Ode, as it has expelled the supernatural, the Christianized sacred, and the pre-Christian sacred, it has impoverished itself of meaning, which it now in fact disdains, pretending to ‘deconstruct’ it. In the 1980s, when I attended graduate school in Comparative Literature at UCLA, the old guard of the professoriate still clung vestigially to the institutions of meaning; they still urged their young acolytes to acquire as much knowledge as possible so that as many things as possible might at any moment be brought into constellation by an instance of meaning.”

The Orthosphere

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The poem to which this essay’s subtitle refers is one of the much-excerpted and much anthologized verse-interpolations in the Menippean combination of verse and prose, Spring and All (1921), that the New Jersey poet William Carlos Williams (1883 – 1963) produced at the acme of his self-consciously Imagist phase in the years after the First World War.  The poem carries no title, but, according to the tenets of Imagism, presents itself to the reader as an instance of res ipso loquitur or “the thing speaks for itself.”  In a later phase of his insistent creativity, Williams would adopt as his poetic motto the formula, “no ideas but in things,” the implication of which is that experience is not solipsistic, nor consciousness hermetic, but that any self-aware navigation of the world presupposes an intentional relation between the navigator and the world that he navigates, which he records as…

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Four Brief Quotations About the Urgency of Living

I can’t remember the name of the book where I found these, but I thought they were worth snapping —

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A Look at Unfashionable Philosophy

“Wittgenstein and Barfield disagree on a number of important matters; Barfield wrote that Wittgenstein never attempted historical analysis, and was therefore missing the proper foundation for evaluating language. Curiously, though, they also seem to share some significant ground. Barfield’s understanding of metaphor seems to mirror some of the claims that Wittgenstein makes about ostensive definition, though Barfield would claim that a poet (or, to use Wittgenstein’s language, one who has been inducted into the game of poetry) is able to glean a deeper insight from poetry than Wittgenstein would be willing to allow.”

The Thick of Things

It can be well worth one’s time to read unfashionable philosophy, and doubly so when one is able to read it with a mindfulness of the thinkers that are being celebrated in the modern day. When one does this, questions about the provenance of ideas and human capacities that tend to be held just beneath the surface are able to shoot up into view. Good ideas, and good questions, can be found in many places, and reading those people who are not the toast of the modern academy is an excellent way to be reminded of that fact. This essay puts together two men, one fashionable and the other not, who lived in the same period and, for most of their lives, lived in the same country.

As far as I am aware, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Owen Barfield never met. Barfield knew of Wittgenstein, and mentioned him briefly in one of his essays, but I…

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Owen Barfield on Disputing the Meaning of a Word

In his essay “The Development of Meaning,” Owen Barfield wrote, “When we are disputing about the proper meaning to be attached to a particular word in a sentence, etymology is of little use. Only children run to the dictionary to settle an argument.” (Found in “Notes on Frey” by Daniel Nester.)

Barfield’s quotation reminds me a little of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s guidance on language, which he summarized with, “don’t think, but look!”

‘Words have real but relative meaning’

“The paradoxical idea that words have real but relative meaning leaves room for misrepresentation by those who wish to capture language for their own use. From ideologues to deconstructionists, they take the piece of the paradox that suits them and deform it by ignoring the rest.” — Jon Ralston Saul, in The Doubter’s Companion: A Dictionary of Aggressive Common Sense

God and meaning on Twitter — a snapshot

One way to deal with contradictions in the Bible

Remember that the text is interpreted by the community. The community that values the text interprets the text. A church is a community centered around a mode of interpretation. Certain themes in the Bible get priority over others; certain passages are given special status as keys that unlock the rest of the book’s meaning.

The meaning, in this case, is not dependent upon complete agreement in all the data. For example, some people have argued that the discrepancies between the Gospels only elevate the points on which they agree. That’s a reasonable point. If you were researching a current topic, and all your sources disagreed on most points, then the points on which they agreed would be considered valid points.

The community probably won’t use this kind of hifalutin language! Still, if not implicitly, then passively, the community interprets the text within its communal life.