In the vast controversy over meaning, on which I have ranted, two schools develop, in my view. One, which I approve of, which Umberto Eco serves as an exemplar, and another more radical one in Derrida. It could be that Derrida is the original wave roaring and crashing on the sand that is followed by the “espuma” that caresses the sand in Eco. Be it as it may, in order to escape the danger of creating any strawmen, I’ll leave it to others to prove or disprove such assertions and simply want to put forth my take on the matter of interpretation.

To me the questions central to all of this is: Is there a limit to interpretations? Is there ever a risk to over-interpret? Even if no interpretation is ever final, is it ever treated as final? And if that assertion—“No interpretation is final”—is but an interpretation, and thus not final, does that open the window that allows the Other interpretation: That an interpretation is, or can be, final?

The reader here might ask me, as I have asked myself: “Why would I want to limit interpretations?” For one thing, I despise the duplication of words used, the writing within writing. Language looks stressed, filed with lined-through “is”, and explanations, no, excuses being given as to why a word is used—words that onced seemed perfectly elegible for use—they are now treated as criminals. What is the problem? It is a lost of faith. God is dead? No. The author is dead. Therefore everything is permitted—that is the way it seems to me. Some might say that to accept a limit would be to tolerate dogma and tyranny. But the reverse seems more true. If there is no limit, how would you declare a thought, idea, ideology “Dogma” or a state “tyrannical”?

Various declarations are given: That there is no pre-existing meaning for language to grasp; every line of text, or meaning, covers another, suppresses another meaning. The list is more complicated than I can comprehend. Derrida’s poor Japanese friend probably broke his chop-sticks after reading Derrida’s letter. But reading Derrida one reads the heroism of Nietzsche and Freud. He is “announcing the death of a tyrant.” Perhaps the problem here is the appraisal given to language, where words “impose” themselves. Is this personification of language warranted? Perhaps he take Saussure too quickly on his word.

“. . . Everything that has been said up to this point boils down to this: in language there are only differences. Even more important: a difference generally implies positive terms between which the difference is set up; but in language there are only differences without positive terms. Whether we take the signified or the signifier, language has neither ideas nor sounds that existed before the linguistic system, but only conceptual and phonic differences that have issued from the system. The idea or phonic substance that a sign contains is of less importance than the other signs that surround it."

How do we know what is and is not in language? Is the meaning of the word, the “idea” I wish to express (produce) or is the word, the language, which produces our ideas, our thoughts? Communication—and I which to differentiatiate from Saus for a moment—occurs by us using signs (not signs using us) that we use as if they re-present, to some degree, what we have in mind. There are no positive relations. A tree for all intended purposes might be called a shree, and in some pronunciations that might be the case, but the ideas in the mind remain the same—a picture of a brown stick with some green stuff hanging from it (to make a sketch of the situation, as it might be possibly conceived).

The choice of diverse signs is done with the simple idea to reflect, in greater degree, the different states of mind. The difference in signs is not a necessity of language (language here being synonymous with communication. Even in the absence of a set of different signs, the mind still has a vigorous life. It is this grey matter that interest me in the study of language.

I could use one sign and still say more than it could have intended- the text spills more meaning that it is warranted because of the interpretation the Other obtains, or projects onto the text. But while some words, like “Gay”, can mean two things, it cannot mean all things. The interpretation is governed by the context in which it is used, and also a larger context outside of the text. When was the text written? For an example. These facts, when known, limit the interpretation given. If the text is truly by itself—no known time, culture, author, demographic etc, etc, then speculation can run unchecked, but this situation is rather the exception than the norm.

Is the number of possible interpretations given to a text infinite? If we take language as some in-itself system that dawned on man, like mathematicians believe of their trade, in which there are only arbitrary differences to study, in which, whether in considering the sign or signified, neither ideas nor sounds etc existed before the system. In such view we are nurtured, by language, into a self. (How can this be verified is anyone’s guess) We lack an “I” naturally. We are “blank slates” that are inscribed by the linguistic system.

Constructions, deconstructions are conducted, effected, the results of human beings. Our knowledge is holistic, arising from a perceived coherence, which is the construction I refer to. The text speaks of something, not everything and understanding is possible by our ability to know what is that something. The properties that derive from the text might be based on relations within, but also without, as often a text refers to another text and that one to yet another. The chain is not infinite as some texts contain no referrals to an outside text. What is said by the text is not under any obligation to be meaningless by this arrangement.

Eco, seems to me, proposes a conjectural criticism, in which interpretations are not final, or complete, but they can be rejected as “bad or far-fetched”. For him there is such a thing as “over-interpretation”. He is “for” subjecting the text to an analysis, to deconstruction, to conjecture, speculations etc, but not to any which one. So a criteria exist, or should exist, is possible, in his opinion. This criteria from which theories are tested for accuracy might be the consensus of an interpretive community, but I say that this is about the consensus of a community of share-users of language. That means that a word may mean what it usually means within the community. That should be the de-fault meaning—the preferred interpretation. If there is a special use proposed by the speaker, then, as in Derrida’s texts, those cases must be defined; but again, the words used to defined the special case of the initial word, must also themselves be taken to mean what the general community has taken them to mean. There is no escaping this chain of return to the group, because communication is communal and so is language.

Let us examine the community. From the community we attain two characters: The ideal author and the ideal lector (these can be made into speaker/listener). When I read a text, I have in mind an ideal author who writes what he wants to be understood. He could be in fact intending to lie to me, but a lie is only possible, still, by me understanding the words used in the text. My ideal author is learned, so he knows the language used for his text. This means that he uses “cat” as I use cat. We share concepts because we share a language. If I doubt his command of English, probably a suspicion that arises when someone makes no sense and the text is “dkjsahfsd”, then I can only speculate on what the bloc is trying to say.

Similarly, the author has an ideal reader/lector. As I am writing this post, I have in mind for my reader someone who knows English, who shares with me that common ground that thus might allow us common concepts which we might share. Nor the author or lector is empirical to one another, in most cases. You have not seen me nor I you, yet English is not a dead language and thus, someone, somewhere, at some time, when they come in contact with this post will be informed by it, if they share the language. He might read what I have written and understand that my text did not have the intention to speak about the radioactive decay of carbon. He will find the words in the text but the context does not support that interpretation. He does not need to ask me in person that.

I like Eco because such option has allowed him to analyse certain texts, literary works and bring them out in a new light. He can do this by historical reconstructions of the time, the people, philosophies and ideologies involved in the discourse of the time. Likewise, this checked-relativism would prevent the rise of a Ministry of Information that would decide what is the Truth. Dogma would be bounced against generally accepted criteria—which is pretty much the case it is now. In such a world, I would be able to make a case against the cruelties of a government by appealing to a common ground, a fetter, a limit that declared when enough is enough.

This post is too long. Should be in the essay section.

I don’t mean to be flippant, and I really hate to make the titanic effort this post took to write seem uneccessarily verbose, but to me, one question springs immeadiately to mind. What do you mean by infinite? Are we talking “boundless”? Are we talking “uncountable”?

As there are a finite number of brains on the Earth with the ability to discern a given text with utilizing similar neural pathways with which to do such a thing, I’d say that the answer to your question is that no, it isn’t infinite in the sense of being “boundless” but it would be a “very large number such that it might as well be infinite”.

I think maybe more what you mean is “Is there a way to cut down that very large number?” Is that accurate?

Nice take on the biology of it, but I was looking a the sociological nature of meaning as well.
Oldphil, sorry for the lenght.