, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

What is a text? In what manner does a text exist as an object of knowledge, as something that can be read, known, and commented on? How can a text be considered containing a meaning, and where does this meaning come from? What meaning is derived from the text, and what meaning are we adding as readers? These questions are essential to the understanding of literature, of where the literary text ends, and where the reading begins.  While there is no definite answer to such abstract inquiries, the meaning of a text is often neither predetermined by the text, nor completely subjected to the audience, but is posed to certain constraints. The meaning of a text evolves from the reader’s experiences and attitudes, it depends on the kind of text involved and how the text is used.

The world produced by the literary text is an incomplete world, and the text requires the readers to complete it with their past experiences.  When reading a text, the readers often create envisionments which are constantly evolving, painting rich pictures of understanding of the literary world, to which they compare with their experiences. An example of this process is in the readers’ various interpretations of the society in “Brave New World” by Aldous Huxley.  Throughout the novel, “Brave New World” was a world where uniqueness is uselessness, and uniformity is the status quo. In such society, where the people, for the most part, were described as truly happy and contented with their “soma”, some readers interpret this world as a utopia. Terrence, a member of goodreads.com, commented, “It’s funny to think but I would say the society is a Utopia. Sometimes I wish I could just forget all the hate, all the war and all the other bad things in life. Ignorance as they say is bliss”. [1] However, is a world where individuals are deprived of individuality and freedom at all welcoming? Our experiences in the contemporary world make it hard for us to accept this. No reader of the modern-day wants to become an ignorant robot. When the protagonist of the novel exclaimed, “I want God, I want poetry, I want danger, I want freedom, I want sin.” The society is to be judged by its merits and in light of the readers own personal positions.  The readers accept, modify, ignore or reject interpretations of the meaning of the text according to their experiences, and attitudes.

The extent to which the reader is involved in constructing the meaning of the text depends on the author’s intentions, and the kind of text involved. For instance, one would expect the reader to be more involved with a poem than with a phone directory.  Scientific textbooks in school’s curriculum present its readers with no more freedom than to accept or reject the text. On the other hand, a literary work, such as a novel, poem, or speech, invite active participation of the reader, and their full attention to literary devices and linguistic mediations.  For example, in “Lord of the Flies”, the writer described the fire, “One patch touched a tree trunk and scrambled up like a bright squirrel. The smoke increased, sifted, rolled outwards. The squirrel leapt on the wings of the wind and clung to another standing tree, eating downwards. Beneath the dark canopy of leaves and smoke the fire laid hold on the forest and began to gnaw”. His strong use of literary devices presents the reader with a vivid image of an alive and large and powerful fire that is “gnawing”, and eating the forest.  The readers then use these imagery terms, and paints a picture that corresponds with the author’s description. While the text does not have one unchanging meaning, the author’s intentions, and the type of the text provides a framework to its readers’ interpretations.

How a certain text is considered containing a meaning is predicated by its purpose. Take the famous “Gulliver’s Travels” by Jonathan Swift, for example. Whilst the original work was written as a satire, it did not stop children from reading it for pure entertainment. Unlike the rich themes of individuality, utopia, power and humanity’s limits of knowledge that were included in the novel, in the form of a picture book, the anecdote is merely a bed-time story about an adventurous big boy, who finds a new world.  Another example is how archaeologist also used poems, and texts inscribed in stones as a reference to the prehistoric society. The meaning in which these text are concerned of is more on the period of time in which its author lived, and its author’s perspective of the world, than on the plot of the story that the text reveals. The purpose and use of the text influence its meaning, and connotations.

So what is a text? Where does the meaning of the text derive from? The argument becomes all the more complicated of the idea of the implied reader, being an informed one. Would this mean that the connotation of a text would discourse for other audiences? Perhaps, there is no distinguishable line between a text, and its readers. Perhaps, the meaning of a text evolves from the reader’s experiences and attitudes, the kind of text and the author’s intentions. Perhaps, it is determined by the usage of the text. Perhaps, there is no definite answer.

[1] Brave New World Discussion.” Brave New World. N.p., 27 Feb. 2008. Web. 02 Sept. 2012. <http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/18173-utopia-or-dystopia?auto_login_attempted=true&gt;.