08 March 2015

Quick thought on meaning in books & art

I only have one single second to type on this screen today, so I’ll just give a thought that’s easy to relay on account of its familiarity – I’ve thought this thought many times (please don’t think it’s original). First, however, I’ll share a little image that I drew right before publishing this entry. I made it with a felt tip pen:

A quick thought

Let’s say that an author strongly denies instilling her book with any symbolic meaning, yet a reader claims to find a particular meaning in the book: I would not say that the reader is wrong. Likewise, if an author declares that she deliberately intended her text to have a certain meaning, I would never fault any reader who denies the importance—or even the existence—of the author’s meaning.

I view every book as a collaboration between its author and its reader – and the reader always gets the final say. Instead of accurate readers, I prefer creative readers. I think that authors should write when they are moved to write, however they feel like doing it; and readers should read for amusement and to augment the self.

I don’t think that meaning can or even should be fixed. Each age will view the same artwork differently: I am pleased that every book’s meaning remains fluid and changeable. To fix a work’s meaning is like pinning an insect to a board. Poetry is killed when meaning is fixed in this way. Instead, artworks should be used by the interpreting faculty of each spectator, the way that one would use a tool, or medicine, or drug: for the purpose of increasing life’s richness and exuberance.

(All of this is just my way of thinking today – someone could tell me I’m wrong and they’d be dead right.)

I’ll end with a quote from Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”. No one can read Whitman without becoming Whitman: a new and improved Whitman – that’s what I love. Here’s the beginning of section 17:

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