On Meaning

haloRecently I have been listening to audio books in the gym while I work out. It helps to pass the time in an other wise boring activity (row, row, lift, lift). Currently I am listening to a fine reading of Conrad’s “The Secret Sharer”. It is a fascinating story. [BTW, the best free source for audio books]

In his “Heart of Darkness” Conrad has his narrator say:

“The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

What do you think this comment says about the meaning of “yarns” in general?

[In the picture the halo around the moon is where the meaning is to be found.]

30 thoughts on “On Meaning

  1. Meaning is a tough one. I deal with the meaning of meaning in class almost every day. What does that poem mean? What does that story mean? Does it mean just what the teacher says it means? I continue to use this section from Bob’s bible book in class. I find it helps.

    Three possibilities present themselves for consideration and discussion: 1. intention, 2. text, 3. interpretation. The meaning, argue some, is to be found in the intention of the author. If we could only know what the author intended then we could know what the story means, or, we could then measure the intention against the accomplishment. This approach is seen in the “let’s call the author” approach to literary criticism. “If anybody knows what’s going on it’s bound to be the author.” This approach would have us study history, psychology, biography and anthropology in order to understand texts. The New Critics reminded us that the text itself is important, although they emphasized it to the exclusion of all else. Authorial intention, they argued, is difficult if not impossible to ascertain, while the artifact itself, the text, is present to be studied. Reader response critics point out that meaning resides in the mind/brain of the reader. Everyone has sat in a literature class and wondered if there was indeed any answer to the problem of multiple interpretation other than the cynical one of giving the teacher what you think she wants.

    Here is a record of such a debate centering around a modern and brief poem. “Aren’t you just reading that into the poem?” Very often the English teacher cannot prove the validity of his/her interpretation, try as s/he might to build a logical case: the design s/he has just traced out in the webwork of a poem’s connotations and reverberations (perfectly logical in her eyes) begins to waver as students fire at him with alternative connections, last year’s high school teacher’s equally logical structure, and antagonistic literary critics (“Well, if you’re so hot why haven’t you published?”). As the design melts back into a flow of possible meanings, the teacher stammers his/her appeals to justice, then to mercy, but the class has passed sentence: ring-binders snap shut like so many hungry alligators, and the students march off to physics where issues are clear. The teacher exiles herself to an hour of solitary confinement in her office.

    Below is a record of a similar trial, with some concluding judgements. The bone of contention is a poem by Robert Frost:

    Dust of Snow

    The way the crow
    Shook down on me
    The dust of snow
    From a hemlock tree
    Has given my heart
    A change of mood
    And saved some part
    Of a day I had rued.

    The first testimony took place in the classroom of Norbert Artzt, who had written the poem on the blackboard, and proceeded to reveal its perfectly logical pattern. Here is part of his report (printed in College English, April 1971):

    “What is on the board?” I ask again.

    Someone says “words.”
    We have taken the first step. “What do these words do?”
    “They make a statement.” …

    I digress. “Is the statement a complete one?”…
    The answers come. They are seeing the words.

    “In what time of year does the thing take place? Is winter a time
    of life and growth? What about snow? What about dust?”…

    The young man with the long hair is in a frenzy. “The bird is
    scattering dust on the poet’s head. He is burying him. Good grief!
    He is burying him.”

    Everyone feels the chill. They are cold now. They are afraid.
    Winter, dust, crow, snow, hemlock tree- the images are coalescing.
    The deep structure of the poem is emerging in their heads.

    Suddenly the momentum stops.

    “But why?” someone asks. “Why if the man gets a premonition
    of death does his mood change for the better?”

    We move back to “the way”. I ask how the bird shakes the snow
    down on the man, why he does it….

    The bird is drying his wings or landing or taking off. The bird is
    indifferent to the man walking beneath him. I ask what this bird’s
    indifferent act might mean in the context of the experience. Some-
    one suggests that the meaning may lie in the man’s feeling about
    what has happened. The man recognizes that nature is indifferent
    to the life of any particular man.

    I ask again what the thing on the board has said. The long-haired
    boy speaks. He is a genius. He will burn down the White House
    some day. “The poet has realized through this experience that
    death is inevitable and incalculable. It can come at any time, any
    place, to anyone. The poet knows he’s wasting his time in regret,
    wasting life.” The boy becomes prophetic; his name is Jeremy. “The
    poet has had an epiphany. That is why his mood changes.”

    Counter-testimony came from Laurence Perrine – after reading Artzt’s report he wrote, in The Explicator, March, 1972:

    “The way” in which a crow shakes down dust of snow on Frost’s
    speaker is left unspecified, thus permitting several possibilities. I
    can see them chiefly as four: Beautifully, animatedly, cheerily, and
    humorously. First the poem presents a scene of visual beauty, black
    etched against white, the movement of the scattered snow
    counterpoint against the immobility of the evergreen tree. Second,
    the action of the crow presents a bit of life and animation in a
    scene otherwise frozen and without life. Third, the scattering of the
    snow on the speaker is almost an acknowledgment of his presence,
    a greeting, a communication between the two living actors in the
    scene. Fourth, the snow’s falling on the speaker suggests a touch of
    humor, as if the sly crow were playing a practical joke on him. The
    beauty of the action, its evidence of life, its suggestion of a greeting
    and the touch of humor in it combines to lighten the mood of the
    speaker….

    Recounting a very simple incident, Frost strove to give it an
    utter simplicity of form and language. His one sentence poem has
    only one word with as many as two syllables.

    Two additional points. First, the fact that the crow’s action saved
    only part of a day the speaker “had rued” does not imply that his
    sorrow was too pervasive. He may have made a social blunder, for
    instance, and his wife may have spoken sharply to him; but he is
    hardly mourning his wife’s death or the loss of a child.
    Nevertheless, the point of the poem lies in the discrepancy between
    the smallness of the crow’s action and the extent of its effect: it is
    this that tells us most about the sensitivity of the speaker, his
    responsiveness to beauty and life, and his love of nature.

    To judge this case, what voice could be more authoritative than Robert Frost’s? In the film Lover’s Quarrel With the World (1963) he states:

    There’s a little poem of mine, an old one. It goes like this. (He
    recites “Dust of Snow”.) See now. Let’s look at that fair and square.
    (He recites it again, more slowly.) And someone says to
    me,”Very sinister poem!” And I said, “Sinister?” “Yes, the crow, the
    crow is a black bird.” And I said, “The crow figures all sorts of
    ways, but all right , I don’t argue. And what more?” “The hemlock
    tree.” And I said, “Yes?” And he said, “but Socrates, Socrates –
    death of Socrates.” Well you get surprises in this world. I never
    thought of that. I live with hemlock trees, and it’s not the weed that
    Socrates drank at all. And it’s all wrong with the tree. I’m partly
    just as much from the city as the country. But I’m a little more
    country than city. And I know what a hemlock tree is.

    Yet there is a higher appeal. Here is Auden:

    One sign that a book has literary value is that it can be read in a
    number of different ways. Vice versa, the proof that pornography
    has no literary value is that, if one attempts to read it in any other
    way than as a sexual stimulus, to read it, say, as a psychological
    case-history of the author’s sexual fantasies, one is bored to tears.

    Though a work of literature can be read in a number of ways, this
    number is finite and can be arranged in a hierarchical order; some
    readings are obviously “truer” than others, some obviously false,
    and some like reading a novel backwards, absurd. That is why,
    for a desert island, one would choose a good dictionary rather than
    the greatest literary masterpiece imaginable for, in relation to its
    readers, a dictionary is absolutely passive and may legitimately be
    read in an infinite number of ways.

    Need Frost be aware of this hierarchy? In fact, need he be aware of fairly basic implications of his poem? We often need others to help us grasp the meaning(s) of our own dreams. Often the creative work functions as an “other” to the one creating it.

    But in case the issue seems to be resolving or dissolving into valid subjective realities, here’s a new confrontation, revealed by a broader context. After the appearance of Perrine’s attack on him, Artzt (author of the first article) wrote to Jeremy for moral support. Jeremy was then at a Federal Correction Institute for burning draft cards and a draft office. His reply:

    What really craps me out is that guys like you and Mr. P. take these
    things so seriously. Both of you ought to take a long walk in the
    snow.

    What matters in this world is action. When words turn into action
    you have poetry. When they sit on the page or in the classroom you
    have nothing.

    I’ll tell you what you can do for me – you can stop the war. When
    the murders are done with, write me again and tell me what you did
    to stop the killing.
    from Reading the Bible . . . by Bob the Marine

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  2. Thanks for the long quote, sob1989. I remember once getting all excited about Reader Response Criticism until I realized that employing it alone would lead to as many interpretations of a text as there were readers responding. One of my favorite classes in philosophy was when we tried to unscramble ‘meaning’ – from “those red spots mean measles” to “that Stop Sign means stop” to ‘retromingent’ means ‘pissing backwards’ to “Life is like a butterfly” to “I rebel; therefore we exist”.

    Ah, the good old days. Now I just worry about raising my kids!

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  3. And the question: “What do you think this comment says about the meaning of “yarns” in general?” I think Conrad is referring to way in which the meaning of a story (yarn) can bring about a complex intellectual/emotional response that is more than the sum of its parts. A response caused by but not the same as the original yarn – hey! like yarn can make a sweater! 🙂

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  4. Typically meaning lies at the heart of a yarn while, atypically, meaning lies on the outside where once drawn out it envelops a yarn?

    OR

    The location of a yarn’s meaning is dependent on the typicality of its listener and/or the one who spins it?

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  5. I can’t for the life of me figure out what Conrad is saying. Makes me thank my lucky stars that I do analytic philosophy!

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    • I understand your discomfort! When I switched majors from engineering to literature I was similarly puzzled. But soon I learned that mathematics was the best preparation for studying literature!

      Your comment reminds me of another philosopher friend of mine who, many years ago, while he was in a relationship with a woman, complained to me that he never understood her because “she doesn’t speak to me in truth valuable propositions”.

      Within a fortnight they went their separate ways.

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    • It might make more sense in context. Have you read “Heart of Darkness”? This bit comes early on when the narrator is describing Marlow’s tendencies as a story teller.

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  6. More Conrad: T. E. Lawrence, one of many writers whom Conrad befriended, offered some perceptive observations about Conrad’s writing:
    He’s absolutely the most haunting thing in prose that ever was: I wish I knew how every paragraph he writes (…they are all paragraphs: he seldom writes a single sentence…) goes on sounding in waves, like the note of a tenor bell, after it stops. It’s not built in the rhythm of ordinary prose, but on something existing only in his head, and as he can never say what it is he wants to say, all his things end in a kind of hunger, a suggestion of something he can’t say or do or think. So his books always look bigger than they are. He’s as much a giant of the subjective as Kipling is of the objective.

    Conrad wrote:
    Faith is a myth and beliefs shift like mists on the shore; thoughts vanish; words, once pronounced, die; and the memory of yesterday is as shadowy as the hope of to-morrow….
    In this world – as I have known it – we are made to suffer without the shadow of a reason, of a cause or of guilt….
    There is no morality, no knowledge and no hope; there is only the consciousness of ourselves which drives us about a world that… is always but a vain and fleeting appearance….
    A moment, a twinkling of an eye and nothing remains – but a clod of mud, of cold mud, of dead mud cast into black space, rolling around an extinguished sun. Nothing. Neither thought, nor sound, nor soul. Nothing.

    Conrad metaphorically described the universe as a huge machine:
    It evolved itself (I am severely scientific) out of a chaos of scraps of iron and behold! — it knits. I am horrified at the horrible work and stand appalled. I feel it ought to embroider — but it goes on knitting. You come and say: “this is all right; it’s only a question of the right kind of oil. Let us use this — for instance — celestial oil and the machine shall embroider a most beautiful design in purple and gold.” Will it? Alas no. You cannot by any special lubrication make embroidery with a knitting machine. And the most withering thought is that the infamous thing has made itself; made itself without thought, without conscience, without foresight, without eyes, without heart. It is a tragic accident — and it has happened. You can’t interfere with it. The last drop of bitterness is in the suspicion that you can’t even smash it. In virtue of that truth one and immortal which lurks in the force that made it spring into existence it is what it is — and it is indestructible!
    It knits us in and it knits us out. It has knitted time space, pain, death, corruption, despair and all the illusions — and nothing matters.

    [Man seems obsessed by knitting!]

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  7. Here is a philosophy professor writing with clarity: “If I am reasonable in what I accept, for example, and I accept that I am reasonable in accepting that I am reasonable in what I accept, then my reasonableness in accepting that I am reasonable in this way is explained by my reasonableness itself.”

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  8. Very funny story, Bob!

    ucsbalum, thanks for sending that example. It’s interesting: while I can’t make out what the philosopher said in your example any more than I can make out what Conrad said in Bob’s quote, I can see that _if_ for some reason I wanted to figure out what the philosopher was saying, I could probably do so. I suspect the same isn’t true of Conrad’s quote.

    Let me see whether that’s true. I’ll start with your example, ucsbalum. The philosopher is saying that something is true on two conditions. The first condition is that he is reasonable in what he acccepts, and the second condition is that he is reasonable in accepting the first condition. That’s not too hard to work out: the two conditions together amount to being reasonable in believing (accepting) things and reasonably accepting that fact. So it all comes down to reasonably believing that one is reasonable. And what is meant to follow from that? Well, that the philosopher’s reasonable belief that he is reasonable in believing that is explained by the philosopher’s reasonableness itself.

    So the whole thing can quite clearly be paraphrased as follows: “If I reasonably believe that I’m reasonable, then I believe it because I’m reasonable.” That’s not so bad. And there’s no question that that’s what the philosopher was saying. Personally, I think my 14-word version is clearer, but perhaps that’s somewhat a matter of taste.

    Now let me try Conrad’s: “The yarns of seamen have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

    The first eight words are fine, but the rest of the sentence is obscure to me. Of course, a meaning can’t literally lie within the shell of a cracked nut. But what’s the metaphor meant to illustrate? In what way is the meaning of a directly simple seaman’s yard _metaphorically_ within the shell of a cracked nut? Does that mean that it’s accessible in the way that the meat of a cracked nut is? if that’s not what it means, then why use such an ambiguous analogy to say something so obvious? Or what else could it mean?

    And then it goes from bad to worse. To Marlow, we’re told, the meaning of an episode is someting _enveloping_ a tale. It does this in the same way that a glow brings out a haze (which, as far as I know, a glow doesn’t do). Well, even before we begin, it’s not clear what is meant by the ‘meaning’ of a tale here; but I don’t know of any reasonable definition of ‘meaning’ by which a story’s meaning could ‘envelope’ the story itself.

    My strong suspicion is that Conrad either has nothing clearly in mind at all and is creating an unanswerable puzzle for the reader to solve, or else that he does have something clearly in mind but for some reason isn’t writing in such a way that a sincere and thoughtful reader would have a fair chance of sorting out what that meaning is. And along the way, he is helping himself to some homespun poetic imagery to entice the reader into the sense that he’s a fool if he can’t figure out the riddle.

    If that is correct, then I must say this just seems like bad writing. If you’re interested in saying something, then why not say it in as clear a way as possible?

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    • True story, jfc! You may even know the philosopher.

      I think ucsbalum is on to something, “I think Conrad is referring to way in which the meaning of a story (yarn) can bring about a complex intellectual/emotional response that is more than the sum of its parts. A response caused by but not the same as the original yarn – hey! like yarn can make a sweater!” [subjective]

      And jfc is trying and that is good! Three things: 1. have you read Heart of Darkness? [it is a haunting story full of mysterious stuff] and 2. what is the meaning of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor? and 3. as sob writes, “It might make more sense in context. Have you read “Heart of Darkness”? This bit comes early on when the narrator is describing Marlow’s tendencies as a story teller.”

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    • Jfc asks ” If you’re interested in saying something, then why not say it in as clear a way as possible?” Makes sense if you are intending [intention] to make a statement or proposition, but, of course, as Austin taught us, we do all sorts of things with words. “The eagle has landed” comes to mind. [context]

      And to be accurate – in commenting on the Conrad quote we must remember that it is his narrator and not Conrad who utters those words! Big mistake to equate them, I submit. [text]

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  9. Hi, Bob.

    1) I read _Heart of Darkness_ over two decades ago. I forget most of it now, I’m afraid!

    2) What’s the meaning of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony? Well, nothing. It’s a piece of music. It can evoke a mood, but it has no literal significance. Now, if you tell me that Conrad or his narrator is just presenting me with some music in the form of words that I should allow to just wash over me without trying to tease out a meaning, then great: I can stop looking for one! But I wish he (or his pesky narrator) would make it clear that that’s the name of the game.

    3) Sure. there are all kinds of things we do with words. We describe things, command things, ask questions, make suggestions, and so on. In all these things, I think, one uses language well by making one’s meaning as clear as possible to one’s intended audience!

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  10. Thanks, jfc! I agree with much of what you say. But, “Now, if you tell me that Conrad or his narrator is just presenting me with some music in the form of words that I should allow to just wash over me without trying to tease out a meaning, then great: I can stop looking for one!” seems dismissive and reductionist. Conrad is setting a mood (I think the lit crit folks call it “atmosphere”) of “brooding gloom” for the yarn to come, and it’s of interest to note that it’s a story within a story within a story which will allow for levels of meaning to be teased out of the whole. Finally (after reading the entire text) the meaning will depend upon how one interprets “The horror; the horror” as uttered by Kurtz.

    So, yes, the words used by Conrad function in part like the notes used by Beethoven more than like, e.g., “two plus two equal four”.

    From http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/526 :

    The sun set; the dusk fell on the stream, and lights began to appear
    along the shore. The Chapman lighthouse, a three-legged thing erect on a
    mud-flat, shone strongly. Lights of ships moved in the fairway–a great
    stir of lights going up and going down. And farther west on the upper
    reaches the place of the monstrous town was still marked ominously on
    the sky, a brooding gloom in sunshine, a lurid glare under the stars.

    “And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places
    of the earth.”

    He was the only man of us who still “followed the sea.” The worst that
    could be said of him was that he did not represent his class. He was a
    seaman, but he was a wanderer, too, while most seamen lead, if one may
    so express it, a sedentary life. Their minds are of the stay-at-home
    order, and their home is always with them–the ship; and so is their
    country–the sea. One ship is very much like another, and the sea is
    always the same. In the immutability of their surroundings the foreign
    shores, the foreign faces, the changing immensity of life, glide past,
    veiled not by a sense of mystery but by a slightly disdainful ignorance;
    for there is nothing mysterious to a seaman unless it be the sea itself,
    which is the mistress of his existence and as inscrutable as Destiny.
    For the rest, after his hours of work, a casual stroll or a casual spree
    on shore suffices to unfold for him the secret of a whole continent,
    and generally he finds the secret not worth knowing. The yarns of seamen
    have a direct simplicity, the whole meaning of which lies within the
    shell of a cracked nut. But Marlow was not typical (if his propensity
    to spin yarns be excepted), and to him the meaning of an episode was not
    inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it
    out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeness of one of these
    misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination
    of moonshine.

    His remark did not seem at all surprising. It was just like Marlow.
    It was accepted in silence. No one took the trouble to grunt even; and
    presently he said, very slow–

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  11. It’s funny, Bob. The whole thing does effectively set the mood, I agree, and I like it… up until the part about the meaning being ‘outside’ and ‘enveloping the tale which brought it out’. I don’t understand it any better now that I’ve read the lead-up to it.

    But if you could explain the meaning of the passage to me, I’m all ears!

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    • I’ll try: instead of writing a philosophy paper in which Conrad would state, “In this paper I will argue that…” and instead of writing a piece of music intended to evoke an emotional response, he is using words to produce an evocative novel, the meaning of which will come to the reader after completing the story. It is the careful reader who is outside the story and who will come to understand how to finish the sentence “In this novel I will argue that….”

      There is Kurtz, whose story is told by Marlow to a small audience of listeners; Marlow, who is a Kantian when it comes to truth telling, but who will eventually lie, whose story is told by the narrator with a report at the end of how the story effects that audience; and “The Heart of Darkness” whose story is told by Conrad for a larger audience; and the reader who stands outside all and, under Conrad’s direction, produces a meaningful interpretation: Africa is the heart of darkness which brings out in the Europeans who go there to exploit its people and resources their own darkest urges of rapaciousness and savagery.

      Heart of Darkness is an extremely complex story, filled with symbolism. It is told by Marlow in a realistic way, describing what he saw and felt, and how he thought of things, yet it remains quite vague. In the beginning the narrator says about Marlow:

      “to him the meaning of an episode was not inside like a kernel but outside, enveloping the tale which brought it out only as a glow brings out a haze, in the likeliness of these misty halos that sometimes are made visible by the spectral illumination of moonshine.”

      Also, while telling his story, Marlow pauses and asks:

      “do you see the story? Do you see anything? It seems to me I am trying to tell you a dream – making a vain attempt, because no relation of a dream can convey the dream-sensation”

      To which he, himself, answers:

      “No, it is impossible, it is impossible to convey the life-sensation of any epoch of one’s existence – that which makes truth, its meaning – its subtle and penetrating essence. It is impossible. We live as we dream – alone…”

      For Marlow it seems impossible to tell of what he experienced to give an accurate description of the entire situation. His feelings, what he experienced; those things are in his head. He tries to describe things as they were, and everything he mentioned was, in one way or another, meaningful to him.

      Another reason for Marlow (and Conrad) not to try to summarize things and go straight to the core of the situation is the fact that it may be too confronting. Marlow would most likely lose his audience, since they have a totally different view of the truth. The same goes for Conrad – if he were to express his critique directly it would be too confronting.

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  12. Once again, everything you say and everything you quote Conrad as saying is clear except for the crucial bit about the meaning of the story being outside of it and enveloping it, etc. And none of the other things you say or cite, which are themselves clear, seem to lend any of their clarity to that cryptic quote.

    Just to be clear, I’m a big fan of the ‘showing rather than telling’ principle in good literature. If someone wants to show me that a character has been secretly offended by a different character through telling me some subtle things about how that other character reacts, etc., I think that’s great. It’s not that I need to have everything spelled out. It’s just that I don’t think much of writing that involves sentences and even whole paragraphs that don’t have any clear meaning and whose meaning can’t clearly be conveyed. Maybe the joke’s supposed to be on me because I don’t ‘get it’ and am therefore stupid, or something. But I think that’s a little weak!

    I also think it’s great for nonsense-writers to write deliberately nonsensical works, or for people to write tone poems that incorporate nonsensical words in them. But I don’t think much of the practice of writing nonsense and _pretending_ that it has a clear meaning, or of writing something that the reader can’t be expected to understand and then counting on the fact that nobody will say the emperor is naked. And I can’t shake the sense that that’s what’s going on here at the crucial paragraph.

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  13. I changed the picture on the original post for this discussion. 🙂
    Meaning is to be found in that halo around the moon!
    “Seek and ye shall find.”

    [I can see that you now agree with me, jfc! As you know, it is often assumed that (possibly by definition) jfc’s contents of consciousness (sense data, qualia, interpretations) cannot exist unless jfc knows they exist; however unnoticed qualia or unconscious seeing is clearly possible and the case here.]

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  14. The picture does it! I don’t understand jfc’s reluctance to notice that he agrees with Bob.
    Good discussion – we do use words to do many things.

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  15. I’m more and more puzzled!

    First off, I’m not sure about my ‘reluctance to notice’ that I agree with Bob, or what we’re meant to agree about here. What I’ve said is that I don’t understand the meaning of the passage from Conrad. And I realld don’t understand it, as far as I know!

    Now, if I’m reading these last two posts correctly, Bob and Harold are suggesting that I really _do_ understand it but just don’t think I do. I don’t deny the _possibility_ that that is correct, but I’m not sure what basis anyone would have for thinking that.

    The picture of the halo around the moon clarifies part of the quote from Conrad, but not the crucial part. The crucial part (in the sense of the thing I can’t make head nor tail of) is the claim that the meaning of a story could surround a story. I’m not one iota closer to understanding what on earth that metaphor is supposed to mean (unless at some hidden level I have come to understand it all — but how would anyone else who only knows my state of mind through what I’ve written here come to know, way before I do, that that has happened within me?)

    I’m no less baffled than before, and I still suspect (though I’m not positive) that the passage is simply nonsensical both literally and metaphorically. I would be glad to change my mind if someone would explain the metaphor, but I don’t have much hope now that that will happen (or at least, it won’t happen in a way that I consciously understand).

    But hey, it’s just a quote, right? It doesn’t matter to me whether there’s something I don’t get, whether there’s something I get without realizing I get it, or whether there’s nothing at all to get.

    Thanks for trying!

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    • No, it’s not a joke until the audience gets it. I was joking above but it seems jfc didn’t get it. Maybe analytic philosophers are too serious to joke around!

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  16. It would be good to get together for beer and discussion – at the truth table in the Occi?? But I don’t see a real problem with the Conrad quote. Seems clear to me that if the interpretation is in the mind of the reader then it is indeed outside of the story. In fact, in this story there are concentric circles of meaning radiating out from the Kurtz experience.

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  17. No, ucsbalum, I got that you meant to mock philosophers.

    Thanks for attempting to explain it, sob1989. I considered that interpretation at first, but rejected it. Yes, if the meaning of some story lies in someone’s mind, then the meaning is in that sense _external_ to the story — I understand that. But the meaning is not then _enveloping_ the story, either literally or metaphorically.

    To hell with it! I’m no closer than getting it than before. Let’s all have drinks at the Oxy sometime and that will be that.

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