Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A little less meaning here!

Verbatim David Brooks, "The Problem with Meaning", January 5 2015:
The ultimate authority of meaningful is the warm tingling we get when we feel significant and meaningful.
It's the world-famous Dada semanticist David Brooks on the idea that a kind or brave action could give "meaning" to a life, crusading against all that modern promiscuity of meaningfulness: while the rest of us postmodern chumps worry about getting buzzed by those floating signifiers, Brooks is dodging the signified; where we choke on sound pollution, he sees a surfeit of sense. Stop making sense and start making structure!
Meaningfulness tries to replace structures, standards and disciplines with self-regarding emotion. 
No way, really? Could you repeat that?
Meaningfulness tries to replace moral systems with the emotional corona that surrounds acts of charity.
No, I guess you couldn't. Though what that doesn't mean could be exactly the same thing as the other one doesn't mean, if you follow me.

By "meaningful", of course, to be fair, he does not mean "meaningful". That would be so drearily conventional.

Ordinary meaning is content as in "form vs. content" but Brooks-meaning is "contentless":
Because meaningfulness is built solely on an emotion, it is contentless and irreducible.
Ordinary meaning is shared by a speech community; as stodgy old Wittgenstein insisted, there can be no such thing as a private language. But Brooks-meaning is entirely unsharable:
Because it is built solely on emotion, it’s subjective and relativistic. You get meaning one way. I get meaning another way. Who is any of us to judge another’s emotion?
Not I!

It's possible there's some Hemingway-absurdist Torah mysticism in there, in opposition to the traditional Torah practice that derives meaning from observance. Don't try to derive anything! If you follow the Law in every particular, p's and q's, jots and tittles, in the understanding that it is entirely meaningless, you could be a kind of existential saint. Santiago Brooks, the Old Man and the Feuilleton, plying his couch through the shag in the battle for his ten meaningless paragraphs!

Whereas you, you lazy, sensual pile of meat, you want it all to signify something. A weakness, a crutch, a sentimentality.

It's possible it's the interiority of meaning, the inside of the sign, that has him spooked. It's the teipsum he's been fleeing all year. The Serpent told Eve, if you eat that fruit you'll be like God, you'll understand good and evil.

"Care for a piece fruit?"

"No thanks, I'm good."
There are no criteria to determine what kind of meaningfulness is higher.
Give me form, give me structure, give me hierarchy. Shut up about meaning.
There is no hierarchy of values that would help us select, from among all the things we might do, that activity which is highest and best to do.
Wonder how that applies to his life. What are his choices? What are his highest and best activities? Does he really avoid doing things that are down in the middle of the scale and only moderately good?
The philosophy of meaningfulness emerges in a culture in which there is no common moral vocabulary or framework.
We need a common vocabulary, but not bogged down in the swamp of significance. Thoughts in a scaffolding soaring to heaven, light and strong, freed of their semantic burden!

He's really out of his mind. Just for a few minutes, it was getting stuffy in there. Don' t know why he never opens a window though.

Images from Un Chien Andalou by Luis Buñuel and Salvador Dalí (1929). 

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