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After Meaning

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The machinery of meaning is tiresome. Or there is something annoyingly youthful about it–and if not youthful, then pathetic.

I write to myself of two decades ago. An age in which all art was aligned in one of many ways to forces beyond it–crusaders and anti-crusaders. Or so it seemed, or so I received it from better minds. And before that, to myself of three decades ago, struggling to understand and in not understanding thus presuming a meaning I could not grasp.

Reading now, Moby Dick is a rambling beauty of sentences, lubber rich in the details, and a flight of the homeless, of men from women and into the oceans. The Great Gatsby was written by a man who feared women less, but hated them more. Nick’s bitter narrative is but a tale of hopelessness, against all dreams and loves–sooty, brash and grim. Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses” shimmers, piercing in perception, unforgiving in the celebration of shore, tide, and the grime of a place. And not wallowing in it either, but holding it out like the diamond-hard mystery of life.

Even so, as good as they are (and truthfully, I’ve never cared for Gatsby; yes, capitalism be-dammed, but Gatsby’s just a nasty bit hate), they all wind up and deliver a contrived load of ulterior meaning. Bishop slams into her’s, as if she realized the poem was coming to an end and readers would need something profound to distract them from what might be judged a fragment. Melville keeps returning to his, as if he forgets it (and I think he does) in the act of writing, in the clear obsession of fact and syntax–but he hurries back with vengeance. Fitzgerald back-writes his “meaning” into the book. His clock faces, eyeglasses, and smoking guns spliced in with big flashing lights: signifier, signifier, signifier.

The best narratives are larger than meaning; the best lyrics are beyond paraphrase. But some survive themselves anyway.


Written by Jere

January 31, 2016 at 6:41 pm

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