Wednesday, 24 March 2010


The discussions in class have made me think of all the different possibilities that exist when it comes to understanding meaning. The meaning usually associated with a specific word can be altered by using the word in a different context or changing it's function to create a new nuance of meaning. I also thought of the possibilities of meaning as in the different ways an author intended a text to be understood. Can these 'possibilities of meaning' be limited by the author's intention?

In the song 'Forgive Me' by Missy Higgins I was particularly struck by the two middle verses:

Oh my god how you make it hard
Not to pick the apple
Pick the Apple
And Lord I long to give it back

And I was on shaky land
Lost and unsure I opened my hand
And she held it like sinking sand.

What I find most effective is how the apple as a metaphor for temptation effortlessly materialises into the girl's hand between the two verses. Although Missy clearly states that it is a character piece about a man who has been unfaithful to his wife I can't help but imagine the narrator of these verses in particular to be a woman. Perhaps it is this Eve reference, or maybe it is the female vocals, or maybe it's my own projection, but in my mind the hands holding each other in this last image are both definitely female. My question is, is my interpretation wrong or less valid because it is not supported by the writer or the song lyrics? Are the possibilities limited by the words in the text or the author's intentions or do they exist endlessly in the reader's mind too?

Let's take this in another direction. What happens if an interpretation is based on a misunderstanding? Does this create a myriad of new possibilities?

For me the most crucial moment in the film The Lives of Others is when the actress Christa-Maria walks out onto the road infront of a truck. I understood this as an accidental death that had nothing to do with the rest of the plot or the other characters. I found this sense of wastage unbearable. I was instantly overcome by the feelings of pointlessness and loss that I had experienced the year before when two of my friends were killed in a car crash. Afterwards a friend explained that Christa-Maria had seen the on-coming truck and had walked out in front of it on purpose as she couldn't live with herself after betraying her lover to the secret police. My point is that the film had an even more significant and personal meaning to me because of a misunderstanding. At school our interpretation of anything always had to be backed up with evidence but I think there is a difference between the world of factual analysis and the world of possibilities. The former searches only for difinitve answers whereas the latter is fluid. I don't think it can be limited by authorial intent or textual content as meaning is relative and interpretation personal.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Framing Meaning with Words

Calvino described Exactitude using the image of a feather to weigh the souls of the dead. That is the level of exactness we are talking about - but in language. This made me understand that we should not use language vaguely or randomly, but respect the power of each word. We have meaning but we need words to convey it. There are an infinite number of ways to express a specific meaning, each combination of words framing the meaning in a different manner.

A word with a wrong connotation can prevent the meaning from coming through. Therefore the balance between exactness and vagueness must be just right: our meaning must be flexible enough for the reader to take from it their own understanding yet concise enough that the meaning is not lessened or lost.

Phillip Pullman said:

The meaning of a story emerges in the meeting between the words on the page and
the thoughts in the reader's mind.

This raises the question, 'Is a writer a wordsmith whose purpose is to mould his text in a manner that provokes a specific response from the reader e.g. shock, approval, curiosity; or is it the writer's task to create a text containing a myriad of meanings for the reader to extract what they choose?'

In The Art of the Novel Kundera explains:

...the single divine Truth decomposed into myriad relative truths percelled out by men. Thus was born the Modern Age, and with it the novel, the image and model of that world.

In Story Robert McKee adds:

In life, experiences become meaningful with reflection in time. I art, they are meaningful now, in the instant they happen.

I think it is the purpose of the novel, and of art, to capture these relative truths that we experience through life and illuminate them in a way which perhaps makes them more consistent, more part of a universal sense of truth.

There is a quote by Kahlil Gibran The Prophet that supports Pullman's earlier statement:

No man can reveal to you nothing but that which already lies half-asleep in the dawning of your knowledge.

In this sense the reader must have, whether consciously or unconsciously, already sensed the possibility of what you are trying to say.

An important question is how we choose which words we use to describe a universal theme such as love. There is an infinite number of ways to explain it yet how do we choose one that is familiar enough for people to relate too yet innovative enough to give new insights on such an exhausted theme?

I took a quote on love from the lecture on Pullman's Northern Lights. Aristophanes explains to Socrates:

Human nature was originally one and we were a whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is what we call love.

In the feature film, Loving Annabelle, Annabelle explains to her English class what the text they are studying is trying to say:

Through love we feel the intensity of our connection to everything and everyone.
And at the chore we're all the same; we're all

Although these two examples essentially hold the same view of love they have still found original ways of expressing it.

Monday, 22 February 2010

The Forgetting of Being

I started reading The Art of the Novel and found the phrase 'the forgetting of being' very insightful. Kundera describes this concept as the crisis of humanity. With the development of technology, science, consumerism we forget to think for ourselves, we forget how to listen to our own instincts. We become used to being dumbed down, used to being bombarded with information, used to noise, speed and bright lights. We forget to sometimes just stop and be. 'The forgetting of being' reminds me of a song by Regina Spektor called 'Ghost of Corporate Future'. This isn't the best recording but I think the Conncetion Regina creates with the audience, through this song, is evident:

The metaphor of the Ghost of Corporate Future is an obvious reference to A Christmas Carol where the ghosts illuminate the emptiness in Scrooge's life. In a sense Regina is playing the role of the Ghost to society as she Connects us through her music, reminding everyone to hold on to who they are and not fall victim to a meaningless existence. I see art as 'the remembering of being' and artists as activists against this crisis of humanity that Kundera identified.

Ani DiFranko once said:

"That's why I write, you know, to write myself into

She explained that often after she writes something, after she explores a certain possibility, it then comes true. First she thought it was 'spooky' but then she began to understand that when she wrote she was engaging with a higher part of her awareness that was naturally intuitive.

This makes me think of those writers who somehow predicted their own greatness in their writing without realising it and with no way of knowing what was to happen. Anne Frank confessed in her diary how she dreamt of becoming a great journalist and a famous writer but how was she to know that through the tragedy of the war she endured and died in, her diary would become famous and the whole world would know her name?

Another singer-songwriter, Missy Higgins, wrote a song called 'How I Found My Way' about how music means to her what God means to others. In retrospect her lyrics:

Cause I know there will never be a doubt in me
Cause mamma said it was meant to be...

Cause I know there will always be a light for me
Because I found my place in history

...are extremely insightful. How could the school girl, writing this song for a class project, know how prophetic her lyrics were and that very soon her name would be firmly down in history as one of Australia's greatest musicians ever?

'Remembering who you are' is a common theme in Missy's songs. 'Steer', 'We Run so Fast,' and 'Going North' are all about going away from the city and that fast pace of life and finding somewhere peaceful where she can 'remember' and Connect with herself again. My favourite line from 'Steer':

'The city screams and all your dreams go unheard.'

directly connects with the idea of 'the forgetting of being'. Missy explains how her environment directly affects her and her reflections illuminate all these themes:

'The more time you spend there away from the city the slower you get and the slower your thought processes go and it's almost like all the cogs kind of slow down and as a result it creates more space somehow in your brain for all these thoughts to come flooding in, all these things that in the city somehow, without realising it, you've been running away from, you've been pushing aside with all this noise that's been cluttering your head. But there's something really confronting about spending a lot of time with space because you realise things you didn't beforehand.'