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A Vocabulary of Hundred Words


I wish to impress upon you today, a matter of critical importance regarding the human capacity to interpret the world by which it is surrounded by. Understandably, you may not consider this issue to be of  as much critical importance as your weekend plans or the fact that Shane got off with Emma. Nevertheless,  countless outstanding thinkers have poured blood, sweat and tears over this issue and therefore both the party and I UNCLE JOE, have decided that this matter is of critical interest. Naturally, as ever you have the full option of disregarding the entire conversation, in which case we have a lovely place for you at the ‘People’s Experimental Facility’ where you can flip burgers or sit inside a cubicle all day for the rest of your life with a bottle of cheap booze injected straight into your veins.

Now that we have separated the  wheat from the chaff  as far as the readership is concerned, we may now proceed with a thorough discussion of the subject at hand, namely that of interpretation. To put it simply we can say that, there are essentially three philosophical theories regarding interpretation. Let us briefly summarise all three of them before proceeding to discuss their interrelations and finally their collective inadequacy.

First and foremost there comes perhaps what could be considered as the most elaborated and discussed one of them all: semiotics or structuralism. The structuralist perspective on interpretation views this process as a system of signifiers and signifieds. Thus according to this idea, once we interpret something essentially what we are doing is, we are cognizing a series of signs which direct us to a meaning. If I where to audaciously shout out “BOLLOX” for example I would not only be creating a series of sound waves audible to those misfortunate enough to be in the vicinity, but also conjuring an image of a male mammal reproductive organ (the species of which is not specified in this particular utterance). In addition to this, I would be making a proclamation intended to discredit an idea or a point of view. Hence what we have here is one signifier (the word bollox) and two signifieds. A symbol and it’s two meanings. The use of this particular word has indeed been the subject of a court case after the ‘punk’ band Sex Pistols (the reason for the use of commas could perhaps be the subject of another sermon) have decided to name their famous album ‘nevermind the bollox’. The defence of the band was that the sign here does not indicate testicles, but the refutation and discrediting of an idea. Anyway, the implication here is that the meaning comes first, and the sign is parasitical to it. Without the essential object the sign gets its meaning from there would never be any signs to speak of.

Second theory of interest is what is known as phenomenology. Phenomenology’s main suggestion is that the meaning of all objects of cognition are not engrained within the objects themselves but they are in fact created by the human agency (people) who perceive them. So contrary to the implication of structuralism, that there is an actual true meaning, a structure if you will beneath all signs and systems of signs, phenomenology insists that these meanings are created during the process of cognizing these objects. So if one were to simplify the difference of position between structuralism and phenomenology it boils down to the age old debate about literature. Is it the author’s actual intent that we are trying to uncover, or is it rather our own interpretation of the text that matters? Structuralism would more likely to be taking the former position and phenomenology the latter.

Finally, the third theory of interpretation, which is for some reason the one closest to the heart of yours truly is: Deconstruction/Post-structuralism. The idea here is that the dichotomy between ‘actual meaning’ and ‘interpreted meaning’ is a false one to begin with. That there is not even such a thing as a distinction between the two. A good deal of work has been produced to display how distinctions between signifiers and signifieds are themselves artificial products. One of the fields this has been argued is gender roles, it has been argued for example that gender itself is something that is not given to us by birth, but something we pick up from society as we start to learn our place within it. It is something that is taught and not just merely acquired.

Ok, now that we have drawn a very simplistic topography of the field we are intending to operate in, let us look at the problem they all share in common. The problem is they all come across as making suggestions about matters of fact, whereas in truth what they do is they create imperatives. To put it in a way a person with a vocabulary of hundred words would understand (as if any of them would make it this far): ‘they say this is like this, but they really say this SHOULD BE like this’.

So for example when a structuralist claims that there is a true meaning to every sign that we can think of, they are in fact suggesting that with sufficient work we can dig it up. So they are basically telling us that we have a duty to extract that meaning. It is just like religion, religion and myth don’t just state to us alleged facts, but it also tells us the way we should be living our lives. Look at the bible, it just appears to be a chronicle of Jesus and his buddies hanging around, what it really is however is a manuscript which sets out a series of rules and regulations on how we are to live our lives. Well, similarly philosophy in general, or philosophy of interpretation in specific are not just mere observations on how their authors think we cognize and interpret the world around us, but a guide on how we should act and behave according to what their authors believe to be established facts. After all, why would they have the drive to come out and make these statements of ‘facts’ if they did not have a genuine belief that the world would be a better place if everyone recognized their version of the world to be true and behaved accordingly. A-ha! So every statement of an idea carries with it an imperative to structure the world, and maybe even the universe. Including this article you are reading. In fact, I, Uncle Joe am so concerned about making my ideas popular to the point of having them adopted by the semi-literate masses, that I will attempt to summarize the point of the above paragraph in one easily digestible sentence:

“Basically yeah, we come up with ideas and shit, just to fuck with other peoples heads an’ shit innit.”

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