Meaning and Difference

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I am working on a beautifully newly edited version of Evie and Guy. One of the things I’m doing is excising a lot of the excruciatingly explanatory text. It has raised a lot of questions. I want to outline one of them here. For those who don’t know, Evie and Guy is written only in numbers – I take two whole lives, and for each list the time, date and duration of every act of masturbation. The reader is given the space to create meaning and, indeed, full narrative, from this list.

The way we create meaning out of very simple presentations of patterns seems related to the notion of difference. Which is to say, when we start to create a narrative from a list such as that in Evie and Guy, we begin by looking for differences. This means that as authors, knowing this tendency, we will often exaggerate. I wanted to present everyday lives. I wanted not to exaggerate. Which led to the question – does meaning function like time, in the sense that it requires difference? Could we find meaning in a life that was an endless repetition? And how much repetition is needed in order for meaning to grow? And at what stage does difference become so great that you no longer discern meaning in the differentiation from a norm but see only randomness?

I don’t think so. Because unlike the pre-rippled non-white-noise of un-time space, there are still asymmetries in the endless repetition of life, because whilst my Monday is like my Tuesday is like my Wednesday, those repetitive days remain Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday – they are framed by worlds that differ, so that repetition within those different frames may be symptomatic of something very deep – noble, defiant, optimistic, expectant.

But even beyond that, even were the world frozen, there remains a mind behind that repetition and as readers we want to know why? Repetition that is absolute can feel almost more significant than variation.

Say you read.

Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Do you begin to see meaning? How deep do you question those numbers? Then say you see
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

or

Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 9 9 9 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

or
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Monday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 6 1 1 1
Tuesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Wednesday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Thursday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Friday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Saturday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1
Sunday 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1

Now there is clearly something you look to. But does this feel like you are generating meaning, or simply responding to something very artificial? Is the author’s hand writ too large in creating differences that aren’t as they occur in life, thus alienating the reader, but not the kind of fruitful alienation of the purely blank?

At the moment these are little more than thoughts. They are of interest to Evie and Guy but really become pertinent with some of the things I am working on. Because I don’t just want to make readers think about how meaning is generated from symbols. I want to draw them into narratives at the same time. And I am not sure how either can happen with, say, a text that is purely repetition. But it feels like a non-landscape that needs exploring.

Thank you for listening – by the time text hits page, I promise my thoughts will be more than just questions, and where there are just questions, they will be more forensically-formed!

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2 thoughts on “Meaning and Difference

  1. god I miss our old discussions on a shared central site of yore. The concepts of pattern, meaning, asymmetry are the core of my WIP too, but specifically looking at story structures and how the brain constructs reality, which relies very heavily on pattern and symmetry. repetition is usually assumed by the brain, because our senses are not really functioning at full tilt, so the brain fills in the gaps according to its pre-sets.

    There are so many assumptions which arise from our anatomy. Because us and trees are upright, we define so much of the visual world by this frame of reference, up/down, sky/earth, behind/ahead etc etc. Language is of course mired in propping up these useless concepts. If one could break through the mind’s canvas of reality, then we might progress and evolve some more, at least be less likely to be condemned to the same mistakes. That way lies madness? I don’t think so. But then I also know this iconoclasm suits my temperament, that I refuse to accept pattern and symmetry. maybe I’m just wired up differently.

    • Yes, that sounds exactly like the questions I am trying to get to terms with. It’s fascinating now I work in the Linguistics faculty – we have people working with EEG machines doing fascinating research on the way the brain constructs its lexicon. Also increasingly fascinated by conceptual frameworks marginalised by many of our preconceptions – such as what you say about up and down – what does that notion imply for those whose bodies mean they have a different visual frame? All kinds of angles into disruptive possibilities.

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