• Posted: Nov 27, 2011 13:12:00
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In the previous post Tricks of the Mind, I wrote: "... the above image is also a portrait of the individual who lives in that house. And it isn't an opaque portrait. There are numerous values being expressed and numerous decisions that have been made, all layered one upon the other in a kind of montage of personality quite readable to anyone who takes the time to delve into the details, to anyone willing to move past all the dubious wisdom of their own predispositions, reflexes, and echoing voices." The same might be said of the above set of images. But there is also something more general going on when we look closely at something, when we "unpack" it.
While I use the term "unpack", I suppose the term that has received more currency within intellectual circles of late is to "deconstruct" things. That is, to take something apart, say a work of literature, art, or music, to better understand its structure and how its system of signification works. Such an exercise can reveal a great deal about how language works in the hands of a particular artist or practitioner. However, understanding how a particular piece of art, literature, or music works isn't the same thing as understanding its message or meaning or consequence. Unpacking meaning is more my interest here.
Humans have been reading "signs" for significance or meaning for hundreds of thousands of years. And we aren't the only species that does so. Just watch a deer as it sniffs and listens before entering a meadow, or almost any other species as it scans its environment for danger and interesting things to eat. Meaning is health. Meaning is danger.
But we humans are capable of reading meaning into what we encounter on many more levels of significance than just health or danger. Therefore, it is sad to see how so many of the stories, signs, and pitches that beg for our attention each day seem predigested down to almost meaningless reductions aimed at prompting action we don't need to think about. Buy or don't buy, come in or stay out, are you with us or against us, act now not later are reductionist categories that fail to account for and exploit the richness with which we might understand and move within the world we share with each other and all the rest of Earth's creatures. Unpacking the significance of signs before us in all their history, interrelatedness, dynamism, power, and consequence would, beyond a shadow of doubt, secure freedom and riches for each of us well beyond our wildest imaginings. We need only learn how to do it. But listening to reductionist infomercials, self-serving talk show hosts, and pompous politicians all attempting to sell us a bill of goods will never ever reveal what we need to know.
May your researches into unpacking verifiable significance prove ever more fruitful. And may you never lack for opportunity to share what you've discovered. Brothers and sisters in discovery, there couldn't be a more healthy basis for community amongst humans.
Saturday, November 24th, 2007