While driving back to school from Roan Mountain, Tennessee, I was able to dig into a few gritty (think sclereids in pears) topics, while listening to Coldplay‘s cathartic and apocalyptic X&Y (here at W&L we have a famous apocalypse class). I found a couple of interesting blogs: one on culture with a Protestant skew, another deals with what might be described as “big picture socioeconomic technoenvironmental culture analysis”. I just call it “fun to read,” especially the part about Saving the World. Wrote a long email to Professor Brown about the relevance of hermeneutics to current culture wars. Foucault’s Pendulum has got me thinking like a nihilist (if every interpretation of a text is equally relevant, then there is no authoritative interpretation, and we might as well forget about finding any objective meaning in any text). Nevertheless, the following concept has made me question whether “purpose in life” and “epistemological objectivity” are mutually exclusive ideas:
Eco‘s characters partially enact literary theory, as they demonstrate the way that meaning is manufactured by consciousness, and how it may be impossible for any human reading to be without meaning. As in semiotics, it is possible that there is an order antecedent to even the consciously random and that any manufactured meaning is true or false only to the degree that it is believed.
Eco’s work illustrates the postmodernist literary theory concept of hypertextuality, or the inter-connectedness of all literary works and their interpretation. A woven fabric of cultural consciousness is imitated and, in fact, investigated.
Despite this disturbing thought (I abhor the ethical implications of a nihilist metaphysic, siding with Flannery O’Connor against Stephen Crane’s “Open Boat” mentality…this brings back memories of John Woodmansee’s excellent instruction in English at NCSSM), I have enjoyed contemplating the role of texts in the meaning of our lives. One physicist, Alan Sokal, seems to dismiss postmodernism as so much B.S., and his practical joke of a scientific paper is worth skimming, if nothing else for the amusement (commentary is available at Wikipedia). Oh, and who were the Cathars anyway (of course they were heretics…isn’t it interesting that orthodoxy cannot exist without concomitant heresy?)?
To add to all the mounting intellectual excitement, Cornel West is coming to W&L! I was suprised and disappointed not to find his name on this list!