Getting Meaning Out of a Text About Meaningless Text

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"Meaning may well be ultimately undecidable if we view language contemplatively, as a chain of signifiers on a page; it becomes 'decidable', and words like 'truth', 'reality', 'knowledge' and 'certainty' have something of their force restored to them, when we think of language rather as something we do, as indissociable interwoven with our practical forms of life. It is not of course that language then becomes fixed and luminous: on the contrary, it becomes even more fraught and conflictual than the most 'deconstructed' literary text. It is just that we are then able to see, in a practical rather than academicist way, what would count as deciding, determining, persuadingm certainty, being truthful, falsifying and the rest -- and see, moreover, what beyond language itself is involved in such definitions. Anglo-American deonstruction largely ignores this real sphere of struggle, and continues to churn out its closed critical texts" (Eagleton 147).

There was a lot to learn from this Eagleton chapter. I think I got most of it, its only a matter of reorganizing all the information I learned and making sure everything falls into its correct place. First of all, I think it is important to understand that postructuralism is: "seeing it [the text] as irreducibly plural, an endless play of signifiers which can never be finally nailed down to a single centre, essence or meaning" (Eagleton 138). In other words, it is impossible to find any definate meaning in any literature or any explanation of literature. Even this blog entry I am writing could be deemed as meaningless because everyone who read it could have a different interpretation of it can it also could be taken apart and have nothing positive or useful left in it (deconstructionism).  

Poststructuralism's affect on society was that it brought up the idea that society really didn't have any solid truths, laws, or rules to base itself upon. This was caused by revealing the relationship between language and society: they are directly tied to each other and since language was determined as a kind of "failure" by poststructuralism because of its lack of a solid meaning, society itself had no solid foundation to stand upon. Eagleton related language and society's "signs" to each other in how they are both interchangeable and how the value placed on any one sign various from person to person. Eagleton stated, "Ideology seeks to convert culture into Nature, and the 'natural' sign is one of its weapons. Saluting a falg, or agreeing that Western democracy represents the true meaning of the word 'freedom', become the most obvious, spontaneous reponses in the world. Ideology, in this sense, is a kind of contemporary mythology, a realm which has purged itself of ambiguity and alternative possibility" (135). Through this quote, Eagleton describes that like language, society's values can be determined by interpretation of what is good and worthwhile and what should not be valued. The example of saluting a flag which is deeemed a value in our society, could be looked upon by someone else from another society and viewed as meaningless. In a way, this idea is a little scary in that it really made me look at personal values and some of our society's value and look at why they were so. These values are able to be questioned and changed perhaps because what they are based off of can be questioned and changed as well, just as with language and interpretation. For example, segregation was once valued; now it is no longer because what was basing the value of segretation is no longer deemed as right or moral. The same can go for personal values. Someone who is Christian and bases their values off of their faith can also have the possibility for change and questioning because others may study that faith and determine it meaningless or interpret it in another way. I feel like I could go on forever with this explanation and I'm only hoping that I'm not completely off the mark with explaining what I read (if I am let me know!!!!). 

However, despite the meaningless that appears from postructuralism, the original quote I picked above points out how society can put some meaning into truth, rules, and laws. This meaning, as Eagleton said, is created from what people actually do. I think we can go back to the example of segregation on this one. Segregation was once valued because it prevented one race from being socially permitted on the same level as another race. It was eventually devalued because of the negative consequences it had on people, from what this social value did. The negative effects segregation had on people wasn't necessarily all through language, but could be visibly seen as well through actions. This source of meaning is what prevents from society having a free for all because of ideas such as postructuralism; in a way it provides some sort of guidelines.

Eagelton's explantion of Postructuralism reminded me alot of our recent class. I could relate to Erica's article and presentation, Dr. Jerz's comments on the internet's effects on literature, and alot of connection to Dr. Jerz's explanation of Platonic Theory and the idea of the "perfect circle". I felt almost a little familiar with the information already because the style of the explanations were already so familiar to me from our past class.

There were several sections throughout this chapter that I noticed were very similiar to some of Erica's explanations about her article (which she did a great job with while underfire, by the way). Eagleton discussed that although many signifiers are used repeatedly, they don't necessarily have the same meaning everytime they are used.Eagleton said:

             "The fact that a sign can be reproduced is therefore part of its identity; but it is also what dividies its identity, because it can always be reproduced in a different context which changes its meaning. It is difficult to know what a sign 'originally' means, what its 'original' context was: we simply encounter it in many different situations, and although it must maintain a certain consistency across those situations in order to be an identifiable sign at all, because its context is always different it is never absolutely the same, never quite identical with itself" (129).     

I think Erica explained some of this in her presentation in how nothing written is really new because we are using the same symbols over again, just in different contexts.

Eaglton's discussion of changing symbols also related a little to the discussion of how the web has affected literature: "...a sprawling limitiless web where there is a constant interchange and circulation of elements, where none of the elements is absolutely definable and where everything is caught up and traced through everything else" (129). The web is like language, in order to explain a text, you have to use more text, just as to provide more information on a word or phrase on a website, you have to link to another website.

Finally, Dr. Jerz's explanation on "the perfect circle" kind of related to what I wrote above on how Eagleton explains how we find meaning in a society that appears to be meaningless. The perfect circle is an ideal that we base other circles off of, just as some truths and values in society are ideals as well. I might be stretching a little on this one, but thats what I thought of as I was reading this chapter. What did you think and what do you think about my explanations? 



Greta Carroll said:

Katie, wow, I’m impressed by your explanation! You did a good job summarizing and explaining Eagleton’s chapter. I thought I understood this chapter better than most of Eagleton’s chapters as well. I really like the quotes you picked out about how “undefinable” literature is and how it is full of complex meanings. Because it really is, when you look at a text, think of all the parts you can single out and analyze and how sometimes these parts are even conflicting. It is a bit scary too as you observed, when one considers that if we accept post-structuralism, then everything is based on other words, which are based on other words, and so on forever and ever, and if that’s the case we really know nothing for sure.

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