Wednesday, February 4, 2009


I'm going to break the trend and talk about the fascinating Literary Theory book instead of further discussing how to define literature. I found a quote while reading today that really interests me:

"For Husserl, in other words, meaning is something which pre-dates language: language is no more than a secondary activity which gives names to meanings I somehow already possess. How I can possibly come to possess meanings without already having a language is a question which Husserl's system is incapable of answering."

Language fascinates me. I'm a speech-language pathology major as well as a Spanish linguistics major, and the Spanish stuff requires a minor in English linguistics, and I also have a minor in German. Obviously I just really like language. So, naturally, these two sentences (p. 52) caught my attention. I fully agree that meaning pre-dates language; how do you think anything was conveyed before people began speaking or signing (no one is completely certain if people spoke first or signed first, although speaking is more likely)? Everything in the world inherently has meaning attached to it, and humans have added arbitrary symbols and sounds to accompany that meaning. I could say "está lloviendo" or "es regnet", or I could wiggle my fingers in a downward motion or simply point out the window, and all of those things would signify "it's raining". If I knew no words for "rain" at all, I could still convey the idea. Although humans are biologically structured to learn language (that's how we learn it without ever really being taught, like we have to learn to read and write), it all really is arbitrary. But that whimsical nature of language is part of what draws me to it. It never ceases to thrill me when I realize that I no longer have to go through the process of thinking in English to understand something, or when I am trying to think of a word but the one that comes isn't of the language I'm using at the moment. I think we should always view language simply as a tool used to help convey meaning, rather than the language being the meaning. And this is where I tie it all in: When we are reading a novel or a poem or song lyrics or anything else, it's about the meaning packed into those words and the message you understand without putting words to it. Alliteration and rhyme are nice sometimes, but the real message is not in those poetic devices.

And THAT is why T.S. Eliot owns Madonna.

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