The Streams of Life and Practices of Reading

Reading takes us into a hermeneutical space. Texts are not enclosures of words whose messages are finite and limited. Text is a hermeneutical space constructed with imagistic or verbal signs capable of generating unlimited interpretations. The West privileged singular monarchical meaning/interpretation for a long time. We can trace this bias in Plato. In his work, Protagoras, we can find Socrates making derogatory remarks on issue of differing interpretations. In fact, Plato went on to condemn poets as liars. Openness to ambiguity, polyvalency or polysemy had to wait till about 16th century AD where a form of non-literalness or metaphysical emptiness surfaced. Against Plato’s lying charge, Philip Sydney remarked that the poet did not affirm anything and therefore never lied.

We can also find Christian allegorical interpretation of the Song of Song from the Bible giving rise to a critical practice that allows multiple interpretations of the image of the beloved. She stood for God, Christ, Israel and the Church and was regarded as theologically meaningful and morally edifying. Allegorization is not excessive. It is limited but is sufficiently open to embrace polyvocality.

William Emerson expounded a theory of literary ambiguity in his book, Seven Types of Ambiguities. This openness was further sustained by new critical explorations of irony, paradox, total meaning in the works of A I Richards, Cleanth Brooks, John Cowe Ransom, W K Wimsatt, and Monroe C Beardsley. The openness, thus, went on a picnic which advocated that author brings nothing but words and posited that it is the reader that brings all that makes sense. But it was only with the advent of Emberto Eco’s, The Open Work, the actual concept of openness was articulated as an aesthetic category.

Multiplicity, plurality, and polysemy then steadily acquired hegemony in our understanding of our reading practices. Since, then, the theoretical expansion of hermeneutical boundaries led to the further growth of openness leading to the acceptance of postmodern unlimited interpretations. This opens us to aesthetics of vagueness that is oriented toward amorphous indeterminacy. Reading an open text means we enter its inscribed indeterminacy and vagueness.

Texts that are not the only embodiments of vagueness. Reality itself is vague. I refer to it as fullness. But we cannot enjoy this ontic fullness all at a time. We have to take it sip by sip. But each sip brings an ocean into us. Thus, interpretation, meaning and reading live in the ocean of openness. But each of them carry the ocean at several levels. Reading takes us to the semiotic levels of ‘ the bit of the ocean’ that we are trying to sip. It takes us to the stream of words which then evoke/ button up streams of thoughts which in fact rise from the streams of life.

The words are signs and are composed of phonemes. No words nor phonemes are absolutely determined or precise. Vagueness characterizes them. It runs through and permeates all sign-chains. It is this vagueness that pushes signs to specify themselves further through new semantic associations and interpretations. It is vagueness that sets the process of semiosis in motion. Coming to the text is, therefore, is entering this ocean of semiosis. It opens us to the energetic and the vital sides of texts. It leads to the formativity or the formation of different phonemes into words and signs. Swimming the ocean of semiosis opens us to the dynamism of semiosic possibilities through which we construct meaning as we read.

Reading is a formative activity. It forms or brings to birth new interpretations. Reading can draw or mine plurality of interpretation from the text. Reading, thus, introduces us into the hermeneutical space of text where we enter the process of semiosis and derive interpretations that move our life and being in the world. Therefore, there is a performative as well as libidinal dimension to our practices of reading. We enjoy our very process of reading. It has a formative aspect that forms ourselves. Reading is a way of returning to the streams of life with new perspective. This return is not an intellectual return alone where by the reader arrives with a deep insight. It is deeper than that. It has an ontological dimension. It touches and transforms our life and being-in-the-world. Text opens us new possibilities of being-in-the-world.

There is aesthetic power of transformation in the act of reading that is unleashed differently at different levels by the texts in different readers. The streams of life remain upstream. It is vague. Downstream we have the streams of words. Words are vague but semantically loaded. The practices of reading take us to the semiotic streams of thought and meaning that provoked by the practices of reading. We are then able to come upstream to the streams of life with an insight that transforms our lives as well as the world. We can transform the streams of life through reading. The act of reading therefore, in principle can become a life stirring experience.

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Hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue.

- Fr Victor Ferrao