Simon Duffy

Thoughts, Bemusements & Arguments

Tag: meaning

Words are Like Maps

Words are like maps. Their meaning shifts as our we find our own position upon the map, as we identify the journey we’ve travelled and our plans for future travels. We may use the same map, but in radically different ways and with radically different meanings.

A Poem is a Letter to God

A poem is a letter to God. Its meaning does not need to be clear to the poet or to the reader, for it is clear to God. It is more an act of homage – a sacrifice – literally – a ‘making holy’.

As the reader we enjoy its mystery, just as we enjoy participation in ceremony – feeling part of something bigger than us. Only the fool would expect to fully drain the poem of its meaning – leaving themselves with only an empty shell – the merely literal.

After writing this I came across this similar thought by Joseph Brodsky:

“…after all, any art is essentially prayer. Any art is directed to the ear of the Almighty. Herein, actually, lies the essence of art. That’s for certain. A poem, if it’s not a prayer, then it’s at least put in motion by the same mechanism as prayer.”

From Solomon Volkov’s Conversations with Joseph Brodsky

What does ‘God’ mean?

The rav asked a disciple who had entered his room: “Moshe, what do we mean when we say ‘God’?” The disciple was silent. The rav asked him a second and third time. Then he said: “Why are you silent?”

“Because I do not know.”

“Do you think I know?” said the rav. “But I must say it, for it is so, and therefore I must say it: He is definately there, and except for him nothing is definitely there – and this is He.”

Martin Buber from The Tales of the Hasidim

Wittgenstein – following Kant – provoked a great deal of philosophical musings on the nature of theological language. He seemed to suggest, not that it was false, but that somehow its meaning could not be treated as equivalent to everyday talk of tables, teachers or tragedies.

It can be seen that Hasidic thinkers had already covered the same ground. However they were more aware that truth itself is one of those categories that is hard to pin down. I may be confidently using a term like ‘table’ and you may assuredly understand me. But we can be less sure about the real and ultimate truth of our assertions. Often the price certainty of certainty is a kind of emptiness.

The Rabbi understood the truth of God’s existence without being confident he understood the meaning of the term God – this is as it should be when our language tries to grasp that which is by its nature greater than us. The price of meaningfulness is certainty.

Difference evokes Meaning

The philosopher, and disabled activist, Judith Snow tells us that disability is a gift.

Disability is a gift because all of our distinct features – everything that makes us different and unique – is a  gift.

Of course this statement can only be made as an act of faith. Clearly differences do not always feel like a blessing and they may not be treated by others as a gift. But she is asking us to have faith in the possibility that another person will exist who, at the right time, in the right place, will be able to receive that gift.

This may not be an empirical statement – but that does not matter. The demands of faith are central to our approach to the world. Judith Snow is telling us how to approach the world – not predicting that we we will do so.

She is also calling us to recognise the central importance of difference to a life of meaning. Getting back what what we’ve already got is an unsatisfactory experience – without meaning. Difference stimulates, provokes and creates the possibility of meaning.

However to experience this meaning, through difference, also demands that we share in a common world that makes meaningful exchange possible – inclusion.

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