Tuesday, May 21, 2013

What does meaning mean?

"It is a truth universally acknowledged," Jane Austen tells us as she exposes us to her fictional romp, Pride and Prejudice, "that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

In that memorable opening sentence, Austen is playing some of us, those who take her at her word, accepting her observation without question, while others in our midst might apply a the more cynical question, Why buy a cow when milk is so cheap?  A single man in possession of a good fortune may indeed be in want of a wife, but perhaps not just yet.  And perhaps not ever.

Under many circumstances, virtue can be its own reward, although that observation may be seen as being of equal ambiguity to Austen's statement.  Although virtue can in fact prove rewarding, the questions persist:  Who is being virtuous?  What is that individual being virtuous about?  Who is witness to the virtue being enacted?  Virtue, when taken to the merest extreme, can reveal a prig, a naif, an individual out of contact with reality.

Besides all that, what is virtue?  Among other things, virtue is moral excellence.  Our Western, Christian-based ethos has gone so far as to offer seven virtues, offered as the positive side of the equation in opposition to the seven deadly sins.  Chastity ranks high as a virtue.  So do temperance or restraint, humility, charity, and kindness.  Although these were and are held forth as personal goals, they are not recognizable as having dramatic potency unless exaggerated almost to the point of absurdity.

Now we arrive at the nest level of "Besides all that..."  With all these qualities and traits floating about in our remarkable English language, what do these terms mean?  How do we define them in practical, livable terms?  Don't we need to set them in dramatic motion against their polar opposites to provide them a more discernible clarity?

Thus, What is meaning?

The thrust of story is to provide a landscape for such concepts, ideas, and circumstances in order to illustrate their meaning to the point where we can identify them, decide if they are at all attractive, then enlist in a course of action which will make our own life more congruent with them.

If this is so (and you happen to believe it is), the collective we you've been aware of, and you in particular, have spent much time, effort, and thought trying to line up life force and personal philosophy with shadow individuals invented by writers with various motives for telling story.

Small wonder so many societies--including non-literate ones who rely on oral tradition and crude drawings or symbols--take refuge in story.  If we (and you) are not careful, we (and you) are vulnerable to control by story.

If we take the step of comparing our fantasy visions to story, we could be on our way to becoming the very Big Brother George Orwell was warning us about when he contrived the story of 1984.  In this manner, we'd be engaging ourselves in a perpetual war, most likely one waged against self-education or at least, reason.  We'd be propagandizing ourselves with rationale to support belief in the system holding us in thrall by keeping us fearful of experiment and a simple but basic demand for an explanation.

Austen wanted and wrote toward the comedic ending, where single men in possession of a good fortune not only wanted a wife, they wanted one whose virtues (and other qualities) transcended class and were in fact often from a less privileged social rank.

Again with the question, What is meaning?

Meaning is a series of bundles of dramatic information selected and placed in specific order with the goal of producing one or more recognizable emotions.  Meaning is a condition we attempt to provide by the way we live, behave, and believe.

Sometimes, in attempts to to extract meaning from your life to the point of understanding, you find yourself wishing to go back over incidents and experiences, testing the ways of interpreting them.  Other times, meaning is something best shared through the enthusiasms of story.  In those times, life plus enthusiasm is your own equivalent of music, which is yet another window on the rainbow of feeling.

No comments: