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May 3, 2017 / Congau

The Uttered Meaning

Whatever is said has a meaning – if not, nothing is said. Whoever speaks has a message, we would think, but doesn’t always succeed in conveying it. The private thoughts are to be changed into public words and put together according to conventional grammar and the speaker may then lose control. Maybe he doesn’t say what he intended or maybe nothing at all.

A listener has more than words to rely on; intonation and gestures may ease the understanding, but a reader only has the words; put together by letters without feeling. Whatever is written is written.

What could the writer possibly have meant? Maybe he was confused and just rambled. Perhaps his words were related to a private experience inaccessible to the reader? Whatever the case, only the text is speaking. It is true that an objective context may sometimes help us understand, but the subjective origin remains subjective; inaccessible and therefore irrelevant.

The reader of course has no property right to the text. Whatever he understands, whether he catches some of the writer’s intention or misunderstands completely, that doesn’t change anything of what is written. The reader may let his private experiences start a train of associations, but that is not where the meaning of the text is found.

Art is expression of feeling, it is said. That may be the case, but the function and effect of art must be judged independently of its content. Literature does something to us, no doubt, and the poet lives his emotional life with his muse, but when the words have been released, they are independent of their creator.

Between the poet and the reader there may be an emotional connection or maybe there is none. The artist creates with feelings and the observer may also feel something; something similar or something completely different. But the poem or the painting is in the middle and it feels nothing. It has only a meaning and only in it is the meaning to be found.

One wants to be so subjective in our individualistic time. Anyone is to be flattered and told that they are right about their feelings and supposedly there’s no accounting for taste. Sure, we may feel whatever we want, but we must not forget to seek the objective meaning for that’s the only way to communicate. Literature creates feelings, but above all it has a message.

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