The Loci of Meaning

In all communicable existence, there are multiple loci of meaning. What these loci are and how they might be delineated is an immaterial, albeit interesting, affair. What is material, however, is that such distinctions can in fact be drawn and that they are real in a metaphysical sense. That is, to distinguish one meaning-locus is not to engage in a kind of mental fiction-making, but rather to determine an existentially-actual locale where meaning is conveyed in a particular manner. To do this is best done by delineating some loci, so that the reader might learn my understanding through example.

Divisions of loci might be made in any way according to the flavor and passion of the mind at any moment. For instance, lets propose a distinction between linguistic and pictoral meaning. Connotatively, we might distinguish these prima facie from their very material substrata – linguistic meaning is found in words and their relations, pictoral meaning is evident in a depiction. The loci of meaning thus depends on the structure of the things in question — a sentence connotes its meaning in a manner totally distinct from that of a picture. Denotatively, however, we might distinguish between linguistic meaning as a particular and pictoral meaning as a general affair. That is, linguistic meaning is propositional by and large — one cannot speak without proposing some this or that, saying in a definitive, interrogative, hypothetical, consequential etc. way. A picture might be described linguistically, however. We might say of a picture that it shows this, or that it contains that, or that such and such colors are evident therein. In this way, the meaning-locus in a picture is of a totally different kind and category from that of language. Where a language proposes, a picture displays at the ready for language to propose such and such about this display. (Of course, language is more complex than this. A set of sentences might cohere in a manner whose meaning is more display-oriented than propositional. Take, for example, the sonnets of Shakespeare – these do not merely propose, but display, albeit linguistically).

Now this is merely to describe loci with respect to form; that is, linguistic and pictoral meaning are forms of meaning. We might, however, also distinguish loci with respect to that which the form intends to convey. Thus, above, the denotative form of language intends a different meaning according to its form – a question intends something different, ie. interrogative, from a mere statement, which is descriptive or (perhaps) normative. Can all such affairs be nested under linguistic form? Perhaps. But can’t we conceive of a picture which might display a question? Again, perhaps.

But again, this is merely intention with respect to form. We might talk of intention more generally without respect to form whatever. In this, I might make use disciplinary investigation as the line of division. Thus, for instance, history intends to convey something unique from chemistry. Perhaps they may intend similar affairs; this, however, is immaterial. If history intended to convey all that chemistry intended, we might, perhaps, call them the same disciplines except for their methods of investigation. But if two methods are intending to convey the same facts, clearly such a proposition cannot hold as each method will convey a fact according to its method. Thus, the atomic examination cannot ever possibly convey that which the examination of 15th century Russia might. This might is totally obvious. But, consequently, the utmost ends of each discipline are entirely different, one neither impinging nor dealing with the other. No science can do “more” than some humanitarian discipline, nor can some humanitarian discipline do more than some computational-mathematical discipline, for such a statement would suppose that methodology and intention can completely overlap. Again, this not being the case, we find that the locus, the meaning-locale, evident in each discipline is totally unique. History cannot “say,” or “propose,” what Chemistry might or vice versa — to each is accorded its own responsibility and its own method of producing meaning.

But this much is academic. Communicatively-speaking, in general human discourse, we might also distinguish between loci according to communication as such. Esoteric communication cannot mean in the same way that exoteric communication might, for instance. Thus, the Kabbalah cannot mean in the same way that Nietzschien Lebensphilosophie might. There may be methodological overlap, conceptual overlap, intentional overlap, propositional and presentational overlap between these two. But there cannot, however, be a totalizing identity between the two. What one finds in the Kabbalah, for instance, means according exactly to what the Kabbalah is. Thus, in the tree of life diagram or in its Rabbinic punning, Kabbalah’s meaning-loci convey exactly according to what such affairs are. One cannot displace out of the Kabbalah what it hopes for. One cannot “put it in terms of” some other conceptual schema without, therein, producing some new syncretic form. Questions of textuality, here, are important, as are ideas of “overarching” meaning schemata. For instance, Kant’s architectonic expresses a certain meaning schemata developed by him alone. This much cannot be said of “Kabbalah,” though it might be said of the Zohar, supposing it didn’t undergo editing by someone other than its author. The Kabbalah is a set of meanings, coherent into what one might call a singular locus dependent on whatever Kabbalist he speaks to. The meaning of the Kabbalah is thus more diffuse, in a very real sense of the word — it is spread thin out over all practitioners, texts, etc. The esoteric nature of the Kabbalah thus depends on individual actors to intend and upon some interpretant or observer to abstract intentions out of it, as something ineffable is assumed herein. Not so for Kantian thought — one need merely read Kant’s work and the surrounding literature, all of which presupposes a full-meaning evident in the texts read and interpreted.

Thus, if one desires to be as knowledgeable as possible, merely for the sake of knowledge itself, he ought in no way limit is exposure to meaning. That is, he ought sample and surfeit himself with those all loci which the human condition has facilitated. To presuppose that some locus outstands and outshines another is, thus, to propose a category mistake in that your own view of loci has itself become a locus, an overarching view with respect to all possible views. One need instead take an agnostic view to all loci, allowing them to appear before him exactly as he reads, finding in them their own meaning on their own terms, investigating the texts before them exactly as they are, only thereafter relating the loci he finds to some other loci. For example, the ineffability of the Kabbalistic view might stand near the Taoist view. The inquisition of the question might stand near the fear of suspicious hermeneutics (ie. these wonder what lies behind, these “want to know”). But are any of these “the same”? No, they are merely poles and fixtures in the great forest of meaning, each marking points in the deep continuity between all things, pins in the cushion that is the “Great Lump” of mass existence, as Zhuangzi has so eloquently put it.