Literature

A writer-editor-teacher’s quote of the week #44

” . . . the ‘meaning’ we speak of in literature is different in kind from the meaning of a word or a sentence in the context of a purposeful, real-world exchange. In the latter, the use of words has consequences, in that it gives rise to action, whereas in literature – even literature that seeks to inspire readers to political action – words lack direct application. When we speaking of ‘meaning’ in relation to literature, we quite often meaning something like ‘significance’ or ‘point,’ but when we speak of, say, the meaning of a line of poetry, we mean something more like interpretation or paraphrase. And this is where confusion is liable to arise, for we can also interpret or paraphrase a meaningful expression. But the difference remains, for, absent a need for clarification, we can use a meaningful expression as is, and there are ‘measures of meaning’ with such expressions – actions, consequences – that literature lacks.”

– from the essay “Wittengenstein: A Memoir” by Garrett Caples, available on the website of the Poetry Foundation

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