How and where is 'meaning' developed? - Politics | PoFo

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Is there an inherent meaning to a piece of artwork? Such as a painting or a novel.

If there is an inherent/true meaning, does it form upon it's production or consumption?

If there is no inherent/true meaning, how is there coherent and shared meanings as opposed to a multitude of superfluous subjective interpretations?

Spoiler: show
These are excerpts that I think are interesting and seem somewhat relevant to these questions and might be interesting perspectives for others. But it's necessary for answering the questions other than I believe these to be compelling and interesting perspectives and might help develop one's own perspective.

Source - John Storey - Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction, 5th edition
p. 69
Whereas Adorno locates meaning in the mode of production (how a cultural text is produced determines its consumption and significance), Benjamin suggests that meaning is produced at the moment of consumption; significance is determined by the process of consumption, regardless of the mode of production.

p. 74
In his elaboration of Althusser’s method of symptomatic reading, he rejects what he calls ‘the interpretative fallacy’: the view that a text has a single meaning which it is the task of criticism to uncover. For him the text is not a puzzle that conceals a meaning; it is a construction with a multiplicity of meanings. To ‘explain’ a text is to recognize this. To do so it is necessary to break with the idea that a text is a harmonious unity, spiralling forth from a moment of overwhelming intentionality. Against this, he claims that the literary text is ‘decentred’; it is incomplete in itself. To say this does not mean that something needs to be added in order to make it whole. His point is that all literary texts are ‘decentred’ (not centred on an authorial intention) in the specific sense that they consist of a confrontation between several discourses: explicit, implicit, present and absent. The task of critical practice is not, therefore, the attempt to measure and evaluate a text’s coherence, its harmonious totality, its aesthetic unity, but instead to explain the disparities in the text that point to a conflict of meanings.

p. 126 Post-Structuralism
Post-structuralists reject the idea of an underlying structure upon which meaning can rest secure and guaranteed. Meaning is always in process. What we call the ‘meaning’ of a text is only ever a momentary stop in a continuing flow of interpretations following interpretations. Saussure, as we have noted, posited language as consisting of the relationship between the signifier, signified and the sign. The theorists of poststructuralism suggest that the situation is more complex than this: signifiers do not produce signifieds, they produce more signifiers. Meaning as a result is a very unstable thing. In ‘The death of the author’, the now post-structuralist Barthes (1977c) insists that a text is ‘a multi dimensional space in which a variety of writings, none of them original, blend and clash. The text is a tissue of quotations drawn from the innumerable centres of culture’ (146). Only a reader can bring a temporary unity to a text. Unlike the work that can be seen lying in apparent completion on library shelves and in bookshops, the text ‘is experienced only in an activity of production’ (157). A text is a work seen as inseparable from the active process of its many readings.

See Jacques Derrida p. 126-128
Nice simple summary by Rick Roderick: 307 Derrida and the Ends of Man
This is another important part of Derrida’s take on language and language practices; the idea that there could be the right interpretation. In a way there is no more powerful idea in the discipline of philosophy than the idea that there could be the right interpretation. After all it’s that idea that allows us to give our student B’s and C’s as opposed to the A’s we would make if we had written the paper. It’s what keeps us – it seems – continually to read Aristotle and so on, in order to get them right, finally.

Derrida makes the outrageous claim that in the last analysis there is no such thing as the right reading; the right interpretation. There is no interpretation that can bring interpretation to an end. Good books, really great texts, do not cut off interpretation; they lead to multiple interpretations. Great examples of this would be The Bible, which I think it’s pretty obvious has not yet reached closure on interpretation. I mean, you know, I grew up in a community where there were Baptists, Methodists, Church of Christ. Took me a while to get into the city and meet Jewish people, Muslims, others. It became clear to me that reading the Old Testament; was difficult to come up with The Right Interpretation, and what was wrong was the very idea that there could be the right interpretation.

Now the converse is the claim that people find outrageous, but it’s not made by Derrida. That means that since there is no “the right way”, then any way is as good as any other. Now Derrida is not compelled to hold that view and he doesn’t. Not every way to speak and/or read is as good as any other! And let me just put it simply: no-one holds that view. Derrida, to the extent that he refuses to play a standard philosophical game just will not play. The fact that there is no final book, you know, one last master encyclopaedia containing all the wisdom, total coverage, final knowledge, the last book, none other ever needs to be written, Derrida considers that a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of perfect interpretation; the right interpretation.

This does not at all mean that we don’t in loose, rough and ready ways judge interpretations… all the time. And this does not at all mean that practically speaking that some interpretations are obviously slightly better than others. Let me return to familiar ones like the traffic light. If it’s red and you see it as green, the outcome can be disastrous; Derrida doesn’t deny it. You know, it’s a bad misreading… bad misreading. But this is a familiar mistake and it is made about a lot of Derrida’s work. Philosophers call someone a relativist by which they mean it’s a person that holds that any view is as good as any other view. My simple response to that is this: that is a straw person argument, no-one in the world believes it or ever has believed it.

No-one – Derrida or anyone else – believes that every view is as good as every other view. That’s only a view we discuss in freshman philosophy class in order to quickly refute it. I mean no-one believes it. There are no defenders of the view and since this tape will be going out, if we run into one it will be interesting, but we will likely find that person in one of the institutions Foucault discussed rather than in some seminar, okay. That’s where we will find them, if anybody believes that. No, Derrida’s kind of slippage is to remind us that the text of philosophy is not fixed; can not be fixed. It is of the nature of the text of philosophy and its relation to language that we cannot fix it once and for all. In a way it’s like the leaky ship where we haven’t got anything to stop the leak so we just keep bailing. I mean, the leak is in the language.

Feliks Mikhailov - The Riddle of the Self - CHAPTER THREE MAN AND HIS THOUGHT
In full accord with the long tradition of empiricism Bertrand Russell held that the social (universal) significance of the word “rain” was the result of abstraction (induction, building of inference) from the individual particulars of perception. For him it is social “depersonalised” language that strips rain of its individual perceptual peculiarities and keeps in the meaning of the word only that which is repeated in an autumn drizzle and a tropical downpour. But we see that a word contains the universal (our Something) in its meaning because it serves us as a means of intercourse, “doing things” in relation to rain, when we shelter together from the rain, pray for rain, study the possibility of preventing it or making it by artificial means. In all these cases the ways and means of our intercourse and activity (particularly language) establish not the mere sensations that are personally unique or the same as everyone else’s, but the meaning of real rain for our life-activity, its objective role in our social and personal lives, the role it plays precisely because it is rain, because this is its objective essence that does not depend on us. And it is for this reason that our “initial”, apparently direct perception which Russell took as the sensuous individual basis of all human experience, is itself guided and filled out by the universal meaning of the ways and means of intercourse and activity that we have learned (this is the idea behind Marx’s thesis that our senses become theoreticians).
This can also be stated in another way. Thought means constantly organising and checking one’s life-activity, one’s being, with the help of the historical means of intercourse (particularly language), whose social form reveals and establishes the objective properties of nature and social relations. To be (a human being) means transforming in the process of joint instrumental activity the objective forces of nature into modes of one’s life-activity, and thus into the socially significant content of one’s thought.

Thus, people’s objectified activity as the historically developing mode of their life is their social being, and this is what determines man’s social consciousness, mode of individual being, and individual consciousness. Consequently, thought itself is, like the organisation of the body, its very existence, abilities, etc., a result and moment of people’s joint objectified activity. Individual being and thinking are not even two sides of the same medal. Rather they are manifestations of the individual’s whole mode of life and the difference between them is not given primordially but develops historically. Man himself noticed this difference (later to become a contradiction) only when the integral mode of social, historical activity in the course of its development generated and gave social form to separated mental and material production (thus opposing one to the other).
Is there an inherent meaning to a piece of artwork? Such as a painting or a novel.

Not really, no. You could say that a novel or a poem have an 'inherent' meaning in the sense that they are constructed out of words, and words have meanings. But even those 'inherent' semantic meanings themselves take their meaning from a particular social context which is historically contingent. Did the word 'autumn' mean the same thing in, say, the 18th century that it means now? Denotatively, yes, but connotatively, no. And the situation with respect to, say, painting or sculpture is even worse. When we look at, say, the Venus de Milo, do we see the same statue that the ancient Greeks saw? Yes and no - it is physically the same object, but it has very different meanings for us than it would have had for the ancient Greeks. We no longer believe that Venus is a goddess, for example, and for us the statue has a nostalgic value which it wouldn't have had for the ancient Greeks themselves. For us, it is a relic from a lost civilisation, but for them it was fresh and new. And so on and so forth.

If there is an inherent/true meaning, does it form upon it's production or consumption?

I would say both. The 'meaning' of a work of art, insofar as it exists, is the result of a collaborative process between the producer and the consumer of that artwork.

If there is no inherent/true meaning, how is there coherent and shared meanings as opposed to a multitude of superfluous subjective interpretations?

Sometimes that collaboration is more or less successful, and sometimes it is unsuccessful. ;)
Feel free to ignore as my manner of thinking is more like a journey through things rather than refined conclusions that are shared. I don't know what I think until I've explored it so not sure what will come out in reaction to your post.
Potemkin wrote:Not really, no. You could say that a novel or a poem have an 'inherent' meaning in the sense that they are constructed out of words, and words have meanings. But even those 'inherent' semantic meanings themselves take their meaning from a particular social context which is historically contingent. Did the word 'autumn' mean the same thing in, say, the 18th century that it means now? Denotatively, yes, but connotatively, no. And the situation with respect to, say, painting or sculpture is even worse. When we look at, say, the Venus de Milo, do we see the same statue that the ancient Greeks saw? Yes and no - it is physically the same object, but it has very different meanings for us than it would have had for the ancient Greeks. We no longer believe that Venus is a goddess, for example, and for us the statue has a nostalgic value which it wouldn't have had for the ancient Greeks themselves. For us, it is a relic from a lost civilisation, but for them it was fresh and new. And so on and so forth.

I would say both. The 'meaning' of a work of art, insofar as it exists, is the result of a collaborative process between the producer and the consumer of that artwork.

Sometimes that collaboration is more or less successful, and sometimes it is unsuccessful. ;)

Is denotation perhaps a more stable form of meaning relative to connotation?
Though still subject to a lot of instability with conflicting denoted meanings.

Perhaps meaning is something that is approximated as figuring it out is an inexact act although we can set limitations on what is a more likely interpretation/meaning. Which I suppose is what structuralism helps to do in trying to understand the structure/rules that allow meaning to function, from this perhaps helps clarify the limits of meaning.
p. 113-4
Spoiler: show
Saussure makes another distinction that has proved essential to the development of structuralism. This is the division of language into langue and parole. Langue refers to the system of language, the rules and conventions that organize it. This is language as a social institution, and as Roland Barthes (1967) points out, ‘it is essentially a collective contract which one must accept in its entirety if one wishes to communicate’ (14). Parole refers to the individual utterance, the individual use of language. To clarify this point, Saussure compares language to the game of chess. Here we can distinguish between the rules of the game and an actual game of chess. Without the body of rules there could be no actual game, but it is only in an actual game that these rules are made manifest. Therefore, there is langue and parole, structure and performance. It is the homogeneity of the structure that makes the heterogeneity of the performance possible. Finally, Saussure distinguishes between two theoretical approaches to linguistics. The diachronic approach which studies the historical development of a given language, and the synchronic approach which studies a given language in one particular moment in time. He argues that in order to found a science of linguistics it is necessary to adopt a synchronic approach. Structuralists have, generally speaking, taken the synchronic approach to the study of texts or practices. They argue that in order to really understand a text or practice it is necessary to focus exclusively on its structural properties. This of course allows critics hostile to structuralism to criticize it for its ahistorical approach to culture.

Structuralism takes two basic ideas from Saussure’s work. First, a concern with the underlying relations of texts and practices, the ‘grammar’ that makes meaning possible. Second, the view that meaning is always the result of the interplay of relationships of selection and combination made possible by the underlying structure. In other words, texts and practices are studied as analogous to language. Imagine, for example, that aliens from outer space had landed in Barcelona in May 1999, and as an earthly display of welcome they were invited to attend the Champions League Final between Manchester United and Bayern Munich. What would they witness? Two groups of men in different coloured costumes, one red, the other in silver and maroon, moving at different speeds, in different directions, across a green surface, marked with white lines. They would notice that a white spherical projectile appeared to have some influence on the various patterns of cooperation and competition. They would also notice a man dressed in dark green, with a whistle which he blew to stop and start the combinations of play. They would also note that he appeared to be supported by two other men also dressed in dark green, one on either side of the main activity, each using a flag to support the limited authority of the man with the whistle. Finally, they would note the presence of two men, one at each end of the playing area, standing in front of partly netted structures. They would see that periodically these men engaged in acrobatic routines that involved contact with the white projectile. The visiting aliens could observe the occasion and describe what they saw to each other, but unless someone explained to them the rules of association football, its structure, the Champions League Final, in which Manchester United became the first team in history to win the ‘treble’ of Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup, would make very little sense to them at all. It is the underlying rules of cultural texts and practices that interest structuralists. It is structure that makes meaning possible. The task of structuralism, therefore, is to make explicit the rules and conventions (the structure) which govern the production of meaning (acts of parole).

I would wonder what limitations one would be able to specify and how aspects of what a thing is frames what interpretations are possible. The breadth of interpretations for an abstract piece of art seems greater than perhaps what is accepted as the reasonable interpretations of something like what the color of a light in a set of traffic lights at the center of an intersection mean.
Thinking I need to explore further Marx's sense of the abstract concrete. It might give a clearer impression as to how some meanings are more stable than others and to consider how those meanings are actively maintained. Which points to why no matter an individuals belief, it does little to overturn certain meanings because the meaning must be shared and for it to be shared, depending on what it is, certain conditions that maintain one meaning need to alter in order to create and maintain new meanings.

Though might add other elements that aren't found within the structure of language itself but in it's relation to the real lived experiences people. In the sourced book, it seems that the connotations are often things that can only come from lived social relations and experiencing the world.
That if you were outside the cultural/social realm of a certain peoples, it seems one would have no comprehension of the connotations of things. Or at the very least to perhaps have an entirely different set of connotations and thus different meaning. It seems difficult for me to conceptualize just how far this extends. When I think of John Bergers' A Way of Seeing where I presume he repeats Walter Benjamin's general thoughts for a broader audience, I see how he emphasized the way in which an image could be manipulated. To add sound, to zoom in on particular parts of the picture rather than see it holistically, how its meaning is manipulated by being set in a museum or on a billboard, how art itself has an entirely different meaning because of photographic technology and a capitalist economy that commercializes things.
And then in your example, beyond the major differences between Ancient Greek society and our own is even a difference of temporal relation.
It seems there is so much that changes one's impression beyond what is apparently immediate. Even beyond just broader society and how it has shape one's own consciousness is ones direct experiences which might color one's impression of a work, where one piece brings someone to an emotional high and for others resonates little in thought and emotion.

I like that you used the word collaboration because of what it reminds me of. Which is some piece by Andy Blunden in criticizing limitations of past theorists of Activity Theory and his own effort to find the 'cell'/Unit of Analysis that best worked for the theory. Which for him, project collaboration was the answer:
From 'An Interdisciplinary Concept of Activity - Andy Blunden' Abstract
It is claimed that the concept of ‘project collaboration’ – the interaction between two or more persons in pursuit of a common objective – forms such a unit of activity, the single ‘molecule’ in terms of which both sociological and psychological phenomena can be theorised. It is suggested that such a clarification of the notion of activity allows us to see how individual actions and societal activities mutually constitute one another and are each construed in the light of the other.

And I suppose that points to where shared meaning may come about in a unified activity towards a common end. The shared project becomes like the social sphere in which shared meanings can function, the set of rules and interpretations are unified among two or more people.
The citations seem like an intermediate understanding of "meaning" at best. Basically, they're talking about the many to one relationship between ideas and forms. Words have multiple meanings. Words put together into sentences can have multiple meanings. Sentences put together, paragraphs put together, chapters put together, etc can have multiple meanings. The same thing applies to steps in dance, strokes in art, notes in music, etc.

An advanced understanding of meaning requires looking at the many ways that aesthetics can be interpreted, and realizing a common ground between those interpretations. This is where relativism is superior to contextualism. Relativism understands the general structures required regardless of the specific agency exercised to create structure. From here, we reach a sublime or transcendental meaning that's openminded to all potential interpretations.

Some people might say that in itself is a matter of opinion. There would be preference to the sublime or transcendental in contrast to the agreeable or beautiful. Higher order reason would be preferred to lower order reason.

Those people can argue that, but those arguments intrinsically fail when confronted by themselves. It's like saying the difference between red and brightness is a matter of opinion. OK, but that's not exactly the same as red versus blue. Claiming red versus brightness is a matter of opinion works at first, but when it's confronted by red versus blue, the result is darkness from red and blue destroying each other.

It's only in academia this doesn't happen because academia creates buffer zone accommodations for the diversity of human nature to prevent incompatible paradigms from destroying each other...

...but in the real world, incompatibility leads to conflict when transcendental meaning isn't realized.

As for historical interpretations...

...everyone doesn't look at art in a historical manner, and history itself is vague. Many people look at art towards the future instead of the past, and the past comes from many different paths, many of which only partial information is recorded by society. Even those records can be twisted.

Social meaning is realized from the random collaboration of many people's sense of time when it comes to how aesthetics are interpreted. Some people look upon aesthetics according to the past of how they're produced in an accurate manner, yes. Other people look upon aesthetics look upon aesthetics in an inaccurate manner. Some people look upon aesthetics according to how else they could have been produced.

Other people look upon aesthetics according to what potential production they unlock into the future. For example, when people dance to celebrate their love for each other, they're celebrating their relationship for how it will blossom afterwards. They're realize a new part of their life, and can't wait to see where things will go from where they are.

Some people look upon aesthetics according to alternate futures. For example, some people dance out of mourning for what will no longer become feasible. Others dance because they're looking to just express themselves in the moment. Even different people anticipating the future have different futures in mind.
Meaning is neither fixed nor arbitrary. America, for example, can mean a land of opportunity, a capitalist empire, the land of the free, or a nation-state founded on genocide. But it can't mean the Slavic homeland, the birthplace of Islam, the cradle of civilization, etc. So meaning is socially and historically contingent.
I agreed with previous perspectives about the historical nature of things, but I hadn't come to some sense of how. This still seems somewhat shallow but, I felt it did help me.

I think this way of looking at things relevant to seeing how there's an 'objective' culture that exists outside of one's individual consciousness, and in another sense is within the self. As we of course inherit a language that has been developed through history, concepts which have arisen only on the basis of how society developed and allowed the consciousness of certain people to become aware of certain perspectives and further develop the collective human culture/perception.
Spoiler: show
Returning to the subject of the “ideal”, it must be acknowledged that the word “ideal” is used today mainly as a synonym for “conceivable”, as the name for phenomena that are “immanent in the consciousness”, phenomena that are represented, imagined or thought. If we accept this fairly stable connotation, it follows that there is no point in talking about any “ideality” of phenomena existing outside human consciousness. Given this definition, everything that exists “outside the consciousness” and is perceived as existing outside it is a material and only a material object.

At first sight this use of the term seems to be the only reasonable one. But this is only at first sight.

Of course, it would be absurd and quite inadmissible from the standpoint of any type of materialism to talk about anything “ideal” where no thinking individual (“thinking” in the sense of “mental” or “brain” activity) is involved. “Ideality” is a category inseparably linked with the notion that human culture, human life activity is purposeful and, therefore, includes the activity of the human brain, consciousness and will. This is axiomatic and Marx, when contrasting his position regarding the “ideal” to Hegel’s view, writes that the ideal is “nothing else than the material world reflected by the human mind, and translated into forms of thought”. [Capital, Afterword.]

It does not follow from this, however, that in the language of modern materialism the term “ideal” equals “existing in the consciousness”, that it is the name reserved for phenomena located in the head, in the brain tissue, where, according to the ideas of modern science, “consciousness” is realised.

In Capital Marx defines the form of value in general as “purely ideal” not on the grounds that it exists only “in the consciousness”, only in the head of the commodity-owner, but on quite opposite grounds. The price or the money form of value, like any form of value in general, is IDEAL because it is totally distinct from the palpable, corporeal form of commodity in which it is presented, we read in the chapter on “Money”. [Capital, Vol. I, pp. 98-99.]

In other words, the form of value is IDEAL, although it exists outside human consciousness and independently of it.

This use of the term may perplex the reader who is accustomed to the terminology of popular essays on materialism and the relationship of the material to the “ideal”. The ideal that exists outside people’s heads and consciousness, as something completely objective, a reality of a special kind that is independent of their consciousness and will, invisible, impalpable and sensuously imperceptible, may seem to them something that is only “imagined”, something “suprasensuous”.
In Hegelian philosophy, however, the problem was stated in a fundamentally different way. The social organism (the “culture” of the given people) is by no means an abstraction expressing the “sameness” that may be discovered in the mentality of every individual, an “abstract” inherent in each individual, the “transcendentally psychological” pattern of individual life activity. The historically built up and developing forms of the “universal spirit” (“the spirit of the people”, the “objective spirit”), although still understood by Hegel as certain stable patterns within whose framework the mental activity of every individual proceeds, are none the less regarded by him not as formal abstractions, not as abstractly universal “attributes” inherent in every individual, taken separately. Hegel (following Rousseau with his distinction between the “general will” and the “universal will”) fully takes into account the obvious fact that in the diverse collisions of differently orientated “individual wills” certain results are born and crystallised which were never contained in any of them separately, and that because of this social consciousness as an “entity” is certainly not built up, as of bricks, from the “sameness” to be found in each of its “parts” (individual selves, individual consciousnesses). And this is where we are shown the path to an understanding of the fact that all the patterns which Kant defined as “transcendentally inborn” forms of operation of the individual mentality, as a priori “internal mechanisms” inherent in every mentality, are actually forms of the self-consciousness of social man assimilated from without by the individual (originally they opposed him as “external” patterns of the movement of culture independent of his will and consciousness), social man being understood as the historically developing “aggregate of all social relations”.
It will readily be appreciated how much broader and more profound such a positing of the question is in comparison with any conception that designates as “ideal” everything that is “in the consciousness of the individual”, and “material” or “real”, everything that is outside the consciousness of the individual, everything that the given individual is not conscious of, although this “everything” does exist in reality, and thus draws between the “ideal” and the “real” a fundamentally dividing line which turns them into “different worlds” that have “nothing in common” with each other. It is clear that, given such a metaphysical division and delimitation, the “ideal” and the “material” cannot and must not be regarded as opposites. Here they are “different”, and that is all.

Hegel proceeds from the quite obvious fact that for the consciousness of the individual the “real” and even the “crudely material” – certainly not the “ideal” – is at first the whole grandiose materially established spiritual culture of the human race, within which and by the assimilation of which this individual awakens to “self-consciousness”. It is this that confronts the individual as the thought of preceding generations realised (“reified”, “objectified”, “alienated”) in sensuously perceptible “matter” – in language and visually perceptible images, in books and statues, in wood and bronze, in the form of places of worship and instruments of labour, in the designs of machines and state buildings, in the patterns of scientific and moral systems, and so on. All these objects are in their existence, in their “present being” substantial, “material”, but in their essence, in their origin they are “ideal”, because they “embody” the collective thinking of people, the “universal spirit” of mankind.

In other words, Hegel includes in the concept of the “ideal” everything that another representative of idealism in philosophy (admittedly he never acknowledged himself to be an “idealist”) – A. A. Bogdanov – a century later designated as “socially organised experience” with its stable, historically crystallised patterns, standards, stereotypes, and “algorithms”. The feature which both Hegel and Bogdanov have in common (as “idealists”) is the notion that this world of “socially organised experience” is for the individual the sole “object” which he “assimilates” and “cognises”, the sole object with which he has any dealings.

But the world existing before, outside and independently of the consciousness and will in general (i.e., not only of the consciousness and will of the individual but also of the social consciousness and the socially organised “will”), the world as such, is taken into account by this conception only insofar as it finds expression in universal forms of consciousness and will, insofar as it is already “idealised”, already assimilated in “experience”, already presented in the patterns and forms of this “experience”, already included therein.
It will be appreciated that the main difficulty and, therefore, the main problem of philosophy is not to distinguish and counterpose everything that is “in the consciousness of the individual” to everything that is outside this individual consciousness (this is hardly ever difficult to do), but to delimit the world of collectively acknowledged notions, that is, the whole socially organised world of intellectual culture with all its stable and materially established universal patterns, and the real world as it exists outside and apart from its expression in these socially legitimised forms of “experience”.
For Marxism, constructivism and essentialism are not mutually exclusive, since the meaning of essence is taken from the Hegelian genealogy rather than the subjective idealist current and is understood as social and historical, critical activity. Thus, all social and cognitive processes do have a meaning which is indeed “constructed” by the subject, but the subject is a social subject, rather than an individual, whose activity is socially and historically conditioned. In line with the Hegelian genealogy of philosophical terms in Marxism, the “essence” which is revealed by social practice is the dialectical unfolding of the thing through successively deeper and deeper meanings. Essentialism then is concerned not with some final essence which can never be revealed, but rather is concerned with the process of revealing ever deeper meanings.

And I think it might help with the subject of meaning somewhat, in the latter part in which Ilyenkov speaks about representation. Where certain objects develop perceived properties that aren't found within the object itself, but through other real/existing things/relations.
For example, the name “Peter” is in its sensuously perceived bodily form absolutely unlike the real Peter, the person it designates, or the sensuously represented image of Peter which other people have of him. The relationship is the same between the gold coin and the goods that can be bought with it, goods (commodities), whose universal representative is the coin or (later) the banknote. The coin represents not itself but “another” in the very sense in which a diplomat represents not his own person but his country, which has authorised him to do so. The same may be said of the word, the verbal symbol or sign, or any combination of such signs and the syntactical pattern of this combination.

This relationship of representation is a relationship in which one sensuously perceived thing performs the role or function of representative of quite another thing, and, to be even more precise, the universal nature of that other thing, that is, something “other” which in sensuous, bodily terms is quite unlike it, and it was this relationship that in the Hegelian terminological tradition acquired the title of “ideality”.
It is here that we find the answer to the riddle of “ideality”. Ideality, according to Marx, is nothing else but the form of social human activity represented in the thing. Or, conversely, the form of human activity represented as a thing, as an object.
Marx characterises the commodity form as an IDEAL form, i.e., as a form that has absolutely nothing in common with the real palpable form of the body in which it is represented (i.e., expressed, materialised, reified, alienated, realised), and by means of which it “exists”, possesses “present being”.

It is “ideal” because it does not include a single atom of the substance of the body in which it is represented, because it is the form of quite another body. And this other body is present here not bodily, materially (“bodily” it is at quite a different point in space), but only once again “ideally”, and here there is not a single atom of its substance. Chemical analysis of a gold coin will not reveal a single molecule of boot-polish, and vice versa. Nevertheless, a gold coin represents (expresses) the value of a hundred tins of boot-polish precisely by its weight and gleam. And, of course, this act of representation is performed not in the consciousness of the seller of boot-polish, but outside his consciousness in any “sense” of this word, outside his head, in the space of the market, and without his having even the slightest suspicion of the mysterious nature of the money form and the essence of the price of boot-polish.... Everyone can spend money without knowing what money is.

And I imagine this is how there can be connotative meaning in things that don't literally denote certain things. A fantasy movie/novel can still speak to our experiences as it wouldn't make the emotional impact it does if it didn't resonate with us somehow.
Which itself is historically and socially contingent.
p. 124
What makes the move from denotation to connotation possible is the store of social knowledge (a cultural repertoire) upon which the reader is able to draw when he or she reads the image. Without access to this shared code (conscious or unconscious) the operations of connotation would not be possible. And of course such knowledge is always both historical and cultural. That is to say, it might differ from one culture to another, and from one historical moment to another. Cultural difference might also be marked by differences of class, race, gender, generation or sexuality. As Barthes points out,

reading closely depends on my culture, on my knowledge of the world, and it is probable that a good press photograph (and they are all good, being selected) makes ready play with the supposed knowledge of its readers, those prints being chosen which comprise the greatest possible quantity of information of this kind in such a way as to render the reading fully satisfying (29).

Again, as he explains, ‘the variation in readings is not, however, anarchic; it depends on the different kinds of knowledge – practical, national, cultural, aesthetic – invested in the image [by the reader]’ (Barthes, 1977b: 46). Here we see once again the analogy with language. The individual image is an example of parole, and the shared code (cultural repertoire) is an example of langue.

And I assume that the parole is some symbol/image or what ever that finds its meaning in the social meaning. How could one perceive meanings without the society in which one has developed their sense of reality through shared language.
And this seems to be something characteristically human perhaps, this desire for meaning, which I have some vague sense of being integral to our consciousness.
Spoiler: show
Symbols and signifiers that express the subject in relation to its environment are the materials that create meaning for us. The reality in which subjectivity constitutes itself is random and opaque; but the human being is a creature who is driven by this instinct to generate meaning, just like birds build nests. Everything that enters our lives becomes the material by which we create meaning and identity when it is translated into language. This meaning can range from mythologies, religions, philosophies and ideologies, to sophisticated scientific world-views. The events that form our lives are oftentimes trivial, random, or ugly, but they initialize our existence and make life real, not just a thought process. We begin to free ourselves from the randomness of these events by ritualizing them, repeating them, or assigning a meaning to them that originates in our needs rather than in reality itself. The constitution of subjectivity itself can be compared to the creation of a language. Signs become symbols when people use them in order to create their own definitions of what things are. Language, therefore, does not primarily describe reality for us; it mainly carries a system of order that originates in the human need to organize the world according to our needs.

A language cannot be created at will; a context of interpretation has to exist prior to the creation of any language. This implies that there is a dimensional shift, a gap between reality and language. Neither language nor the subject emerges continuously from reality; each comes into existence as a discontinuity. Once it exists, it transforms the reality within which it exists forever, because it creates new systems of signification which are themselves real. The human being is random, contingent, and nevertheless absolute. It bridges the gap between the symbolic order and the real: As ego it is an object of language, and at the same time it is the subject that speaks, the animal capable of language, and therefore caught up in a process of meaning-making. Language creates reality, but it is also a symbolic space that tries to mirror and describe “real” reality, that which lies outside the human mind. This duplication causes the confusion that has haunted our thinking for millennia, and has caused all kinds of philosophical errors.

So I suppose the objectified forms of culture and human understanding would still exist in the form of books and such even if there were no subjects to interpret it. But being an individual with a consciousness is of course required to perceive meaning and it's a meaning that socially and historically contingent. And whilst there is some sort of universal culture, where we have shared language and concepts available to us. Our different positions within a society based on objective divisions and how those positions shape our experience of the world can create differing social perceptions/meanings.

So we perceive things in certain objects that don't actually contain those things. And our sense of those objects come through the felt experience of them which we can then relate to other similar feelings. Where one tries to express/communicate what something is like, sometimes in rather poetic fashion, through the creative use of certain things that evoke particular feelings in the reader.
Which they may not have directly experienced even but have a means of transcribing a similar experience to it in order to empathize with what it might be like.
I don’t think im ready to handle aesthetics but a change of perspective for me has been an increased interest in Hegels method and the subject of his work which gets away from the abstract individual posited against the natural world. Instead taking peoples activity within culture as a focal point. Here meaning can be objective in some sense, although contingent on the capacities of humans as meaning is derived for their activity within the world. Which can be studied on the basis of the various collaborative projects which have since emerged in civilization.

Rather than positing a word independent from the world in some sort of formal structuralism, words and concepts are incomprehensible from their real world activity from ehich they originated and have developed. Such concepts aren’t nothings with a series of predicates/attributes attatched upon which if one abstracts the attributes one realises there is no essence behind these appearences.

Rather the essense of things is social in its nature but not on account of a subjective idealist biew of any fleeting view of a particular individual, but that meaning is stable in cultural forma of life activity. Thus they change but not with ease or randomly but in accordance with the changes of human needs and activity organized around those needs.

This is a curious thing for me as Hegel I suspect is able to overcome a great deal in at least considering culture and peoples activity rather than abstract individual as every individual is social in their very nature. The capacity to communicate as a human being is necessarily dependent on such a fact, as proven by Lev Vygotsky quite clearly.

But in regards to art or some created works i see the active side of the audience in the meaning of a thing with the crisis and eventual split/reformation of the catholic church. Where people who werent clergy started challenging established interpretations and eventually organized their own basis of mediation to God.

In the mean time ill have to settle with a speculative materialist/naturalist view of Hegels invididual mediating by the particular to the universal. Otherwise stated as an individual thing mediated by some social practice/activity to a concept/ideal. So that there isnt a universal posited to the individual which is vulnerable to nominalism but instead is actualized through human collaborative activities (made more concrete) in which each seeks identity with the others but there never exists such an identity between the concept, its practicr and individuals who realize that practice.

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