Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Mission Statement: Textuality and What Matters Today

This blog has been initiated and inaugurated to serve as a forum on textuality. Specifically, it is intended to support the analysis and understanding of current events, issues, and debates from the standpoint of textuality.

As I understand textuality, it is the quality possessed by a tangible thing of being a text. To proceed further, a text is a tangible thing – such as a piece of paper, a book, a Web page or Internet site, an onstage or onscreen performance, a painting, a sculpture, a building, a location in nature, and so on – that is understood to be or to be comprised of one or more signs. Signs may contain one or more signifying elements, but their referents are conceived of as statements of thought intended to be communicated.

For example, an otherwise blank piece of paper with a single letter “b” scrawled on it may not be understood as a text. Why? Because the letter seems not to be placed to communicate any particular idea. In this view, neither the letter, the physical paper, nor the letter-paper combination is acting as a sign. Signs and texts are not always identical, but in this case no sign, no text.

However, another reader may view the paper and letter differently. This person might see the “b” as imitating a teacher’s grade given to a homework assignment. This reader might deduce the paper and letter work together to make a deliberately ironic comment on education. Suddenly, then, we have a text. That is, we understand the paper to belong that class of objects containing signs and possessing an inferable communicative intent.

My view is that if textuality can be said to exist, it does so in the eye and mind of the beholder. This forum is intended to allow a community of beholders to see and understand the textual themes and dimensions of various current issues. I have no objection to examining any topic of a political, social, or cultural nature.

I recently posted thoughts on morality. It was a response to Dennis Parger’s article arguing the need for G-d-based morality. One of the “hidden” texts of the matter, which I did not raise in my post, involved written law – anything and everything from the Tanach to the Bill of Rights. Prager’s arguments on the subject, as well as my own, implicitly differentiate between (1) a transcendent moral standard issued from G-d’s will and (2) a world-bound moral code set down by societies.

The former morality is purported to be eternal, absolute and stable. The latter is supposed to be flawed and subject to the ingenuity of people to find “loopholes” and manufacture “reasonable” justifications to illegalities.

I use this example to make the point that textuality is “in” many of today’s most discussed and controversial topics. What’s more, the nature of the contention often includes competing views of textualiy, such as a conflict between stable and unstable texts.

Having considered, studied, and written about textuality for some time now – in my master’s thesis and my aborted dissertation, I know that certain textual issues are common and prevalent enough to be almost tiresome: stability, authority, fluidity.

My hope is that the collision of textuality and various current issues will lead to interesting and unfamiliar ideas in both domains. I don’t know exactly how or when such ideas might come about, but I am confident that they will emerge and that they will ultimately be of benefit to a much wider audience than that which would regularly participate in a forum such as this.

I hope that this blog will be an active site for many, a place of challenge, conversation, debate, diatribe, experiment, feedback, flames, news, philosophy, polemic, and more. I have parenthetically titled the blog “alpha” because it is the first incarnation of what I hope will be an extended project. I wish that the blog will one day be morphed into a self-sustaining and self-generating publication. I don’t know exactly how or when such morphing might come about, but I am confident that if the field of textuality can be defined, described, and mapped to the fullest practical potential, then this project will develop most grandly.

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