Wednesday, February 11, 2015

many meanings come from many experiences

In Fish's, Is There a Text in This Class, Fish describes in detail the Reader-Response Theory. The part of this paper that especially intrigued me was the idea that the reader's meaning comes from a context in the form of experience, and because of this there are endless "obvious" meanings to one text. He explains why it is impossible to think about reader-response without the reader having any context. "It is impossible even to think of a sentence independently of a context, and when we are asked to consider a sentence for which no context has been specified, we will automatically hear it in the context in which it has been most often encountered". What may be an "obvious" analysis of a text may not be so obvious. There are endless amounts of "obvious" ways to try and interpret a text. While some literary theorists may say that the subjectivity of the reader is harmful towards reaching a "conclusion" to a text, it seems apparent that within a text there can be no absolute answer. When we try and limit interpretation of a text, we limit the many possibilities of what the text could become.

I will admit that I have had great difficulty translating my thoughts on these theories into art form as I have never been a great maker of art. However, this piece above represents the sentence, "I never said she stole my money". This sentence has seven words, and seven different meanings depending on which word you emphasize. I chose to try and use symbols so that there are two paths of interpretation. 1) The viewer must first interpret the symbols into a sentence, and 2) the viewer must then interpret the sentence. When I first read this sentence a while ago, I emphasized "said". In this meaning, the speaker is saying that they never "said" that the woman still his or her money. This means that the woman may have stolen his or her money, but the speaker never said this statement to anyone in an accusatory manner. This is a short example of the many "obvious" interpretations that can come from only one sentence.
The questions that I would like to discuss is, how can we objectively analyze a text without allowing our past experiences to bombard our brains while we read? Is objectivity truly necessary in order to reach a reasonable response to a text, or does our natural subjectivity help us understand a text more accurately?

1 comment:

  1. Great! I think Fish would certainly say that total objectivity-- despite what the New Critics might say-- is a totally impossible thing to achieve. While Fish believes that context can help us understand meaning, and things can't mean endless things because they are always situated into specific contexts, he would most certainly say that words change meaning as they are nested into new or different contexts... So in that sense, there can be no final or stable or "true" meaning of any utterance...