|||

The danger of meaning

I would comfortably say that I'm often searching for meaning in things. This feels like a good thing to do, to not accept face values but to prod and question and figure out what's actually going on. And upon finding meaning I'm happy and satisfied. My work is done. I can move on.

So I was intrigued, on starting to watch Examined Life - a series of interviews with contemporary philosophers, to come across Avital Ronell's rejection of meaning.

(Sidebar: I know Ronell is apparently what we might call a "controversial" figure and a pretty horrible person, by some accounts, but I'm just interested in this idea of Heidegger's she articulates here.)

It's worth watching, but in essence, meaning makes things satisfying, so we are prone to accept meanings without questioning them because they feel good. But many things don't lend themselves to simple meaning, and that's when we have to work harder, to pay attention to our actions and question the easy but empty meanings that are attached to such things.

I found myself thinking of traffic lights and the language of road signage. It is easy for motorists to read the signage and apply that meaning to the road environment to the exclusion of any messier information that might be around. A green light means go, so we go. We are slaves to meaning.

An intriguing, but rarely implemented, method of traffic calming is to remove as much signage as possible, along with curbs, road markings, crossings, etc. This shared space idea makes driving full of uncertainty because you don't know what anything means. There's no handy light telling you to go and a sign saying at what speed. You have to move your car through this space and anything can happen.


pic via

Ronell seems to be saying we should approach the world like a shared space road, removing all the signage erected by those who control and influence society's rules and moving carefully because anything can happen.

Of course this could lead to paralysis, but I think it's more about being aware that the meaning we assign to something or someone is, by necessity, a massively simplification. They are evil, they can be trusted, they deserve their fate. These simplifications let us get past the issue nice and quickly, but that does not make using them the right thing to do. Nuance is important.

Plenty to ponder.

Examined Life is on Prime at the moment.

Up next Pretty Trauma Lindsay Ellis on YouTube, on Manufacturing Authenticity on YouTube I discovered Lindsay Ellis a few months ago as this person who does deep-dive video essays on nerdy subjects in a way that isn’t shite and have
Latest posts Lindelof’s Watchmen, and the creative employment of corporate IP Eisenhower and the Hippies The Widelux, as used by Jeff Bridges The Brothers McLeod’s Bermingham Media with Edges The Magic Carbon Eating Tree Art-trip to Liverpool Sunday Reads - spinning tops, Nazis, Icelandic art, microbiomes, Greta and the social rituals of maintenance. Birthday Books Making your own Media On Leaving Twitter Alexander Johnson and the Crushing Inevitability Of It All Through the Window Three things that got Pete thinking More Stuff Pete’s Been Thinking About Stuff Pete’s Thinking About Public Speaking and the Monoform Debating Fascism and Understanding Mogg Sunday Reads Bunny Butt Master Sunday Reads Mental Labour Scars The Revolution will be Laminated Sunday Reads Sunday Reads Lindsay Ellis on YouTube, on Manufacturing Authenticity on YouTube The danger of meaning Pretty Trauma Sunday Reads Chamberlain Clock ForceNav