Thursday, April 17, 2008

"Against Theory"

Many of the points made by the Knapp and Michaels were indeed difficult (though not impossible) to follow. It may be because their work is groundbreaking and they therefore have to lay much of the groundwork for their arguments themselves. Nevertheless, the discussion on intention captivated me. In speaking of meaning and intentionality, the authors support the idea that the meaning of a text can never change. They state that "in all speech what is intended and what is meant are identical. What is intended is The authors admonish against reaching separate conclusions based on perceived authorial intent. One of their more pressing points is that there can be no intentionless meaning. If x states I think therefore I am (let us think of the statement as y), then that is exactly what x means. A consideration of why, for example, x stated y would prove incongruous if it led to the conclusion that the statement means: You that don't think are not. This would be considered a case of intentionless meaning. I want to argue against this. In the above case of x, what we have is an intended meaning in: I think therefore I am. In the strictest of senses, x is merely reflecting upon his own (specific) reality. However, there is (not an intentionless meaning, but) a (possibly) unintended meaning of: You that don't think are not. By assuming that what is intended is identical to what is meant, we assume that one cannot mean what they did not intend. For example, in x's statement of y, x may not have intended to comment on anyone else, but he did. X commented on others that do think and those that don't think. Here, x may have stated y based on a societal, value-spefic impression (acknowledge or not) of thinking, especially considering how people may have been deemed thinkers and non thinkers in that society. Therefore, x's statement, outside of what he intended, means something different or has an expanded, unintended meaning. To restrict our understanding of x's statement to simply what we see in his illocutionary expression is a practice in oversimplifying an extremely complex world. Exploring unintended meanings can help reduce their frequency (especially if those unintended meanings are harmful in one way or another). A closing question to consider: Let us assume that x is a man living in a society that previously believed that women are incapable of thinking (whatever thinking is); By stating y, what meaning has he forwarded about other people in general, and women in particular, that he may not have intended?

1 comment:

Roger Market said...

"By assuming that what is intended is identical to what is meant, we assume that one cannot mean what they did not intend." Exactly. So, under this logic, misunderstandings are impossible, aren't they? However, we know they are definitely POSSIBLE.

I just don't know about this article. I think the reader is more important. If a writer says something, THAT'S what he means; but a reader can interpret it differently based on his/her own experiences and perceptions. Moreover, if there WAS no writer (like the wave poem), that doesn't mean a reader cannot find meaning (and even if the words were just random words, not a poem, there is still meaning in that they ARE words!).