Thursday, December 19, 2013

Some reflections on reliability and the making of meaning

1. In our lives as well in literary works we constantly evaluate someone’s opinions and behavior, other people’s words and actions. It seems that ascribing meaning to what we see around us is an inescapable part of our being in the world alive and active… In fact we cannot escape meaning. To be alive is to permanently be facing meaning everywhere. 

2. The way we come to conclusions - or at least to a more or less strong impression – regarding the person or the behavior being evaluated has to do not only with our skills but also with our own values or standards (as individuals but also as members of a community or society). That should be true when we deal with literature as well as when we deal with real life. 

3. I guess that those values and standards play a role in our own relationship with external reality even before they play a role in our interpretation or evaluation of other people and of behaviors in general. Indeed, why do we isolate, identify, separate in the chaotic amount of information that we are facing all the time only some aspects or elements of it that we consider (that our brain considers) relevant? When we identify and isolate something as relevant we are, without maybe being aware of it, already interpreting and attributing meaning to what we isolate or identify as relevant in reality’s vastness. What we isolated and identified we transformed into a meaningful element that will play a role in our interpretation of reality (or of a literary work).

4. Even so I think we can speak about two moments in the process of our relationship with reality: 1) We identify, we isolate, we see significant elements or aspects of that immense reality in a particular situation; 2) We then proceed to evaluating, we interpret those elements or aspects of reality subjectively influenced by our own values (how much our own personal values are the values of our society is also a question we have to ask ourselves).
And in this way we come to some conclusions regarding individuals and forms of behavior - or at least we get a more or less clear impression of what’s going on. 

5. If we as individuals were not in permanence interpreting (not always in a very active way or being aware of it) what we see and hear… the world wouldn’t have meaning and our lives wouldn’t have meaning. 

6. We share with other people our particular way of isolating or identifying meaningful elements in the chaotic totality of the world. Differences in education, ethnicity, gender, age, etc., certainly play a role in our identification of what has meaning; but it is when we start to evaluate the meaning and importance of each of those elements that more differences in opinion may arise. 

7. As said before, the concept of reliability in the interpretation of the narrator and of the character’s words and behavior in literary works is crucial. Words and behavior only have a correct meaning when we can relate them to someone in particular in a particular situation. The same words and behavior may have very a different meaning and importance depending on who is talking and acting and depending on what was the particular event or situation where they took place. 

8. Some words have a strong ideological or political (and in consequence emotional) value in some societies – but not in others. Political here means just that: values were added by a particular community (or a group in a community) to a word independently of what we could say is the neutral meaning of that word. Not everybody will submit to that ideological transformation of the meaning of a word though. That “tainted” meaning of the word can be deliberately or unconsciously ignored by the others members of the speech community. It can even happen that a particularly “tainted” use of a word instead of being accepted as valid or justified by the community in general becomes a trait which characterizes the small community which “tainted” it with a particular ideological or political or emotional value.

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