Hey guys! Quick note: This particular piece of work is actually an assignment I had submitted for ToK (Theory of Knowledge) a few months ago in school. ToK is an integral part of the IB core syllabus and you guessed it right; my favorite element from this excruciatingly time-consuming course. While I am immensely proud of this essay, it might not transcend well enough to non IB students, so do read a bit about ToK if you want to understand this article a bit better. This essay was answered on the basis of the prompt, “how does a reader shape meaning of a text?”
Language – defined as “the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way”, the aforementioned has played an eminent role in our society from the beginning of time. As human beings, language is a part of our human heritage that is often passed down from parents to children within the speech communities where we live. A child born in India is most likely to speak Hindi and a child born in Washington is likewise, most likely to speak English. Had the two children been switched around during birth, they’d also switch the language capabilities they possess. Language, however, is not confined to only the human voice resonating in other’s ears. Words written by humans possess the ability to transcend meanings from one to another. As Roland Barthes once said, “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author”. So truly, how is it that we humans – we readers – shape the meaning of a particular text at hand?
The question at hand is highly subjective. To begin with, we as people are born as blank slates whose individuality is then painted and crafted by our experiences, emotions, faith and beliefs’ as we grow into adulthood and swim through our daily existence. As the theory of existentialism rightfully states, the individual person is the only agent that can determine his or her own life by means of acts of the will. This means that our life is based on our own decisions. As each person is different and has become the human they are today based on their own choices, is it not fair to say that their personal experiences can manipulate the way they articulate and form a common consensus on a text at hand? For instance, will a woman who has been brought up in free America not find a textual piece on women’s rights violation under Islamic law more abominating than an Islamic woman brought up in the same circumstances in the article herself? Our experiences in this world have an immense capability of shaping our mindsets, which is exactly why different people form different opinions on pressing issues of the world. Whilst conformity is common in the world we live in, it cannot change the virgin thought that forms in a person’s mind when they come across a particular issue.
Secondly, the actual language used in a particular text has the propensity to shape how readers interpret a text. Taking the subject of math into consideration, let’s look at word problems. A common issue a vast majority of students face is the fact that they find word problems in the examination harder to solve than simple algebraic equations. Can this not be referred to as the mere manipulation of language? As a reader, the way a text has been stated can play a huge role in the way we analyze the same. For instance, “1+infinity” will be several times easier to solve than “if the sum of one person’s thoughts are absolute and the other person’s imagination is a void with no particular ending, what can the two combine to form?”
As we can clearly see, not only do our experiences from the past shape the way we see a work of art but also the way the same has been stated can affect our brain when we view it.
When we have a verbal conversation with another, we are granted with the ability to modulate our voice to suit the situation at hand. As authors, however, this perk is snatched from us – which leaves us with only grammar as a tool to help form different pictures when we write. A common linguistic/literary device is “imagery” and authors often exploit the same to help create a picture in the minds of the reader. Whilst it is not certain that the reader will capture the essence of exactly what the reader was going for, it is sure that it can definitely act as a catalyst to boost the process. A simple exclamation mark can help change the meaning of a sentence! See? As this factor is more dependent on the author, it isn’t exactly credible. That being said, the imagination – which is another way of knowing – of an individual, can play a massive part in how they observe or form conclusions on the same.
In conclusion, while there are several elements that can determine the way a reader shapes the meaning of a text, the most important one to keep in mind is that we as people of the world are all unique and created by nature with the intention of being unparalleled. The aforementioned also includes our thought processes. Whether it is the imagery and satirical references used by the author or the fact that the reader himself was brought up in a nation that admires certain intrinsic qualities that might change the way he or she looks at a particular text, it is still very apt to end this essay by the same quote we began it with – “the birth of the reader must be at the cost of the death of the author”.