Sunday, May 1, 2011

Meaning Without Intention

"However one might understand this text, one could not understand it as a representation of 'the meaning of a particular utterance.' We agree with this--if it implies that the random marks mean nothing, are not language, and therefore cannot be interpreted at all...Our point is that marks produced by chance are not words at all but only resemble them."

Knapp, Steven, and Walter Benn Michaels. "Against Theory." Critical Inquiry 8.4 (1982): 723-742.

I disagree with the assertion from Knapp and Michaels that marks produced by chance aren’t real words, and just resemble them. Regardless of whether there is intention or not, I think that all words do have meaning and therefore should be given equal representation. Granted, words produced by chance are likely not as complicated as those produced with intention. When we present our thoughts and ideas, we impress our intentions to the audience. The words we use to express this intent are formed in a certain way to produce an end meaning. However, even if words are produced by chance, we recognize those words to have specific meanings. Parrots are used as an example in the text. Although a parrot may not know what it means when it utters “Water is pouring down from the sky,” this shouldn’t represent a meaningless statement because those who hear this will interpret this in multiple ways. The fact that our own intentions are exposed to interpretation from our audience should confirm that a supposed “meaningless” statement or word can and does have meaning. Even if intention is absent, it can still possess meaning because the audience will see it as such. The “condition of language prior to the addition of intention” should not be dismissed as a word with no meaning simply because it is devoid of intention. They assert that “random marks mean nothing…and therefore cannot be interpreted at all.” I fail to see the validity in this argument, because what some may construe as a series of random marks void of potential interpretation can be viewed differently to other people. Meaning still exists even though intent may not be present because a word is subject to interpretation, and therefore given meaning.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Ian. In my opinion words have meaning if we give them meaning. In fact, words are just marks that we have given meaning to any ways. If an individual is sitting down finishing a bowl of alphabet soup, and they happen to look down and see the word "great" spelled out they will recognize the word and its meaning. This just goes to show that random marks placed together without any intent can still form a word and still have a meaning.