08 January 2008

The ideal reader revisited

A scripture is a text which challenges the reader to live up to the standard of an ideal reader.

The ideal reader has to believe that the text is a sign of the truth. This truth is then the object which the reader aims to see through the sign. Or as Wittgenstein might say, it's the object of the language-game of reading. By an observer of this process, the reader's faith in the sign as representative of the truth could be called a heuristic device; but for the participant, the reader entering into dialogue with the text, this faith must be a genuine belief—in other words, it must actually guide the reader's conduct. She must dedicate herself to learning something new from the text, not reading into it something she already knows or believes.

However, when we reflect on the logic or semiotic of the reading process, it is clear that the real meaning of the text is its interpretant, i.e. the new sign generated in the mind of the reader by the process itself. This is the ‘sequel’ which is ‘of all books the most indispensable part’, as Thoreau said in the passage i quoted here last week, in the ‘Earwaves’ post. And of course this is not the end of the process: the immediate interpretant (the new sign) must generate another interpretant, and somewhere along the line this must affect the practice (behavior) of the interpreter, which ideally carries the whole community forward, toward the ultimate confluence of life and truth. The meaning of the text thus includes what Peirce called the ‘logical’ and ‘ultimate’ interpretants as well as the immediate.

Summing up, then, the ‘meaning’ of the scriptural sign is its object from the participant's point of view and its interpretant from the observer's point of view.

What then does the object of the sign look like from the observer's perspective? I'll take up that question next time.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Interesting to know.