Friday, May 03, 2019

Complexity of meaning

We must read as if the text before us had meaning. This will be a single meaning if the text is a serious one, if it makes us answerable to its force of life. It will not be a meaning or figura (structure, complex) of meanings isolated from the transformative and reinterpretative pressures of historical and cultural change. It will not be a meaning arrived at by any determinant or automatic process of cumulation and consensus. The true understanding(s) of the text or music or painting may, during a briefer or longer time-spell, be in the custody of a few, indeed of one witness and respondent. Above all, the meaning striven towards will never be one which exegesis, commentary, translation, paraphrase, psycho-analytic or sociological decoding, can ever exhaust, can ever define as total. Only weak poems can be exhaustively interpreted of understood. Only in trivial or opportunistic texts is the sum of significance that of the parts.—George Steiner, No Passion Spent, page 34

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