In a recent exchange between Douglas Murray and N. T. Wright on the Unbelievable? Podcast, Douglas poses the following conundrum: Is it the case that we are meaning-seeking beings, or, that we are meaning-seeking beings and there is meaning to seek? This, it seems to me, is the basic choice every man faces implicitly as a fundamental part of his maturation, and every philosopher faces explicitly as a fundamental part of his matriculation.
In the early 90’s, I attended a performance of the Mikado put on by the college troupe my younger brother was involved in. There was one member of the cast who’d taken it upon himself to refuse to act when on stage. He would appear, shuffle to the places he was supposed to stand, and then shuffle off, when the scene required it. I asked my brother what that guy’s deal was, and he said they couldn’t remove him because of the threat of a complaint against the school, and that he was “protesting” the caricature portrayal of asians in the musical, by refusing to act.
I think there is a lack of subtlety in the modern debate around meaning and truth. People struggle with ham-fisted dichotomies and adversarial arguments that never go anywhere, because of this low resolution notion of meaning. I want to suggest that we think of meaning in three different ways, and that each of them has a context and a scope that is appropriate to that distinction. VALENCE Valence is the truth value of a proposition.
Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Sea Symphony” is often giggled at for its overt sexual imagery, given to it by the famous poet who supplied it’s libretto. One must concede, the titterers have a point. Walt Witman’s “limitless heaving breasts”, and “husky nurse” who sings “her husky song”, are visuals that are rather hard to refute. But, just as much as Witman’s poetry is littered with sexual symbolism, it is also laden quite heavily with religious imagery.