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Thoughts on Meaning and Reading

Hilary_Brashear's picture

Our discussion of information and meaning related to what I have been discussing in my social theory class. We have been reading the work of the early 20th century social psychologist Hebert Mead who posits “meaning arises and lies within the field of the relation between the gesture of a given human organism and the subsequent behavior of this organism as indicated to another human organism by that gesture.”[1]For Mead a gesture, or to put it in terms of our class a certain code, only takes on meaning when the person to whom the gesture was directed responds in an anticipated manner. For example if I am having a fight with a friend and I leave the room slamming the door, if my friend was no longer in the room when I slammed the door and therefore did not experience the slamming then that action had no meaning. While I wanted the action to contain information about my frustration, because she was not there to receive and decode that action it takes on no meaning. If she had been there to decode it and read it as sign of my anger then she decoded the action as I anticipated she would manner and meaning was created.

I find the idea that meaning is not inherent in any action or object or piece of information is an especially interesting idea to think about in relation to the reading about the different kinds of reading. Traditional close reading for me often implies that there is some inherent meaning in a text that we will uncover or unlock through close reading. If we apply Mead’s definition of meaning then we can change our relationship with literature and with reading. Meaning now comes from whatever sort of relationship we have with a text. We can determine meaning from our interaction, and close reading of a text isn’t necessarily the only path to generating meaning.

For this reason I don’t see the increase in hyper reading as something that should be viewed as a crisis. But I also think hyper reading works better for some types of literature than for others. I am a sociology major and most of the readings I am assigned follow a certain predictable format so it is very easy to skim and pick out key words (I always like to look for the words/ phrases, “Thus”, "in conclusion," "in other words" "in summary”) After I have picked out the points I think are the most salient then I go back and re- read what I have highlighted to make sure I understand. Even though I haven’t necessarily read every word of the essay or book I still feel like I have a good handle on the material. However while I think hyper reading is especially conducive to this kind of writing it is not the best way to read all types of writing. Sociology readings are more about the conclusions, observations, and theories of the authors. Discussion of word choice and syntax are not particularly part of the discourse. However for an English class, where studying the language is the goal of reading, I don’t think my method of reading that I apply to my sociology readings would be as effective.   

[1] Mead, George H. Mind Self and Society. Toronto ON: University of Toronto, 1967. Print. (76)




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