Act of Meaning-Making

One of the important processes that we have been led to delve into during our discussions is the act of meaning-making. Every language is, simplistically, a collection of signs which represent individually a certain meaning. A text consists of signs that lead a reader to interact with the inherent meaning on both an affective and cognitive level. It should be noted that the reader is not interacting with the signs per se but with the representations of the signs in their heads.

Now, it is apparent that all signs do not have the same meaning: one only has to look at the number of alive languages. In other words, a text (textual or visual) is designed to lead a reader to an intended meaning but it can in no way control how it is interpreted. One of the corollaries of the propositions we read in class is that the meaning of a text does not reside in its signs itself but in the reader’s response to the signs, or in the determination of the appropriate response. This is one of the reasons why there are an infinite number of ways that a textual or visual narrative can be interpreted and that the only way one can misread a text is by not reading it closely enough.

It is interesting the way in which texts have been interpreted in class. They have been interpreted historically, theoretically, ideologically, culturally. In the case of the Rabbits, students have jumped to the conclusion that the narrative has undertones of the colonial versus the anti-colonial. The written words of Rabbits give little reason to imagine that it is the story of Australian natives conquered by whites because the words are telling a story, while the images are showing it.

One of the ways in which a text can be put to use is by employing it to typify an emergent ideology or theory (for instance, the ways in which recent feminist theories are applied to interpret The Canterbury Tales, or even modern geopolitical military theories which have by and large been designed by men). We see this happening in vivid detail in the Rabbits. The historical knowledge in the readers in class allows them to point out that the work is a product of our times and that it is a retelling of the familiar strain of hegemons nullifying the voices of weaker societies. It can be a challenging experience to think of ways to interpret the visuals without the benefit of historical hindsight though. It is conceivable that a nonliterate person or someone who has never seen the ocean or a person who believes in the imperial line of reasoning will interpret the signs differently and draw unique meanings. The visual imagery provides a much wider range of signs with which to interact with. My personal interpretation is that the Rabbits is an effort to stabilize emergent postcolonial thought within a culture that has always been hegemonic, by drawing sympathy for the annexed and bringing attention to how instrumental physical violence has historically been in retaining the power of the dominant.

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One thought on “Act of Meaning-Making

  1. Jessica Danielle Powell

    “It can be a challenging experience to think of ways to interpret the visuals without the benefit of historical hindsight though. It is conceivable that a nonliterate person or someone who has never seen the ocean or a person who believes in the imperial line of reasoning will interpret the signs differently and draw unique meanings. The visual imagery provides a much wider range of signs with which to interact with. My personal interpretation is that the Rabbits is an effort to stabilize emergent postcolonial thought within a culture that has always been hegemonic, by drawing sympathy for the annexed and bringing attention to how instrumental physical violence has historically been in retaining the power of the dominant.”

    I agree that historical insight is important when analyzing images. I also think that lack of historical insight really causes us to misinterpret images on a daily basis. Of course experience is valid, and the meaning that we extract form our experience is important, but within the context of photographs that have been taken at a particular time – our experience is irrelevant.

    Visual imagery does provide us with a variety of signs to interact with like colors and shapes. It gives the reader more room to connect history/text/ and visuals together. I really love your personal interpretation of the meaning of the Rabbits. It was beautiful stated and very clear. I see some great ideas in here for a paper!

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