Where do meanings come from?

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2017-12-07

Authors

Van Wyck, Nathan Robinson

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Abstract

What is the relation between the bearer of meaning and the source of meaning, and what is it for something to bear meaning? This essay explores two sets of metaphors: on the first, the bearer of meaning is the source of the meaning, and meaning is something revealed, disclosed, or brought out from within the bearer; on the second, the bearer of meaning is distinct from the source of meaning, and meaning is something imposed, added, or placed onto the bearer from outside. Through readings of André Bazin, Denis Donoghue, Adam Phillips, Walter Pater, Stanley Cavell, Henry David Thoreau, William James, Charles Tomlinson, William Carlos Williams, and Marianne Moore, the conflict between the two sets of metaphors is seen to open up onto the question: What are the limits of sense, and are they to be acknowledged or overcome? The author invites us to think of the limits of sense as facts we need to acknowledge if we are to make sense. The essay ends with a discussion of how we might acknowledge limits of sense as limits of sense and of how we might acknowledge fact as fact.

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