|The Meaning of Night|
Still wrestling with my chapter on the De Nuptiis, I'm reading the Metalogicon by John of Salisbury. Here is a wonderful thing he has to say about meaning:
Le sens en effet est la signification du mot. Et s'ils lui font défaut, une parole est vide et inutile et pour ainsi dire morte, de sorte que, d'une certaine façon, de même que le corps reçoit sa vie de l'âme, la signification du mot lui sert à vivre (p. 170).
This is the French translation by F. Lejeune, published in 2009, and luckily so for me since I would have been slower to integrate the Latin. The translation also solves the problem of quoting him in French in my dissertation. Thanks to en excellent index, I have also quickly been able to find out who Philologia was for John of Salisbury. Here is my English translation of the passage from the French.
"Meaning is indeed the signification of a word, without which the word is dead, since, in a way, like a body which depends on the soul for life, the signification of a word allows it to live."
Another English translation gives:
"A word's force consists in its meaning. Without the latter it is empty, useless and (so to speak) dead. Just as the soul animates the body, so, in a way, meaning breathes life into a word".
This is Daniel McGarry's translation, p.81. Here is the Latin
vis enim verbi, sensum est; quod si destituatur, sermo cassus et inutilis est, et, ut sic dixerim, mortuus: ut quodammodo, sicut corpus ad vitam vegetatur ab anima, sic ad vitam quamdam verbi sensus proficiat.
The word vis gives force in English and signification in French, which comes from the Anglo-Norman significaciun, according to the O.E.D. Sensum gives meaning in English and the French sens, which feels more natural since it is closer to the Latin. I'm not sure where all this is going, but, in any case, these different translations show the circular nature of signifying : word, meaning, meaning, word. I think John is right; you can't seperate word from meaning without a kind of death.
So what's the point of Gumbrecht's book? I think he is tired of meaning, all sorts, and wants to imagine an entirely other type of intellectual activity that could rise above hermeneutics. But couldn't this be the soul-death of the discipline? Where would we be without meaning? He uses Heidegger's essay "The Origin of the Work of Art," an essay which I once found terribly problematic in terms of how it represents work and how it represents art, as well as his concept of Dasein, being in the world, not interpreting it or being a subject in it. Still, I like Gumbrecht's book, though I haven't finished it yet. I like his attempt to surpass meaning, sort of like a meditative mind clearing, a move to having no head and non-being (his last chapter is entitled To Be Quiet for a Moment: About Redemption). Maybe it is about embracing that death.
I'm having trouble picking a poem today. I have lots of poems which contain the word meaning. I think I'll put one I wrote while mourning the death of meaning, blaming it on men, of course.
These men would destroy meaning with
a force equal to the bomb.
Love turned to contract,
its attributes of folly
which are feeling.
A world without meaning
or feeling like a funeral shroud,
a winding sheet of white
which death announced and called for
These men would destroy meaning.
No poetry, no thought
tapped in movements between bodies,
no sentient wisdom,
no harking to the present call.
Burning the witches of remorse,
leaving us simmering over pots
in fires clamped down,
These men would destroy meaning,
gather verse to sticky prose
and bind the two together,
These men would destroy meaning.
Let me gather in my breast
the contrast and the opposition,
the pregnancy of thought,
give birth to new before the end is brought.
Sometimes I get tired of reading the work of male intellectuals and philosophers, though I suppose I can't blame John of Salisbury and I try not to be overly aware of the gender of the author while reading. It sort of gets in the way, of the meaning.