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February 1996, Week 4


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Louis Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Film and TV Studies Discussion List <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 27 Feb 1996 09:10:41 -0500
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"lgs' comment in response to my question about the meaning of "cinematic pietas"
is very useful to me  in trying to sort out what i admitted was my own
confusion about the matter , and i'm grateful for it . . . but i'm puzzled by
one of its conclusions, to wit:
"In order to analyse the meaning of "cinematic pietas" we do not need to
answer any of these questions, but to analyse how "meaning" arises we do."
i'm sorry to say i just can't imagine how we can construe meaning in a single
particular case if we don't first understand in general what it is that we do,
 or ought to do, when we construe meaning at all"
 Wrote Mike Frank.
When we are construing meaning we are *doing* something different than when
we are understanding the workings of meaning in general. Semiotics is not a
homogeneous field but a motley one. Producing meaning and modeling meaning
making are 2 different "language" games. When we produce meanings from a
text aren't we playing a game where we make up the rules as we go along?
Don't we sometimes do this without any rule binding us, and at other times
do it with all the rigor of a game of chess or better one of those
impossibly elaborate drinking games favored by certain undergrads? Aren't
these both ways of producing meaning?
When we make a theory of meaning however we retrospectively give all those
games (or practices) homogeneity and say that we have been doing the same
thing all along. We try to give, *ex post facto,* a set of rules to what we
were doing whereas those rules never crossed our minds when we were
interpreting films, reading books, etc. When we are engaged in a language
game we think of rules as little as we think of the grammar of our "native"
language when we speak it. Grammar only arises full blown in our minds when
need to explain our language to someone who doesn't speak it, such as a
foreigner or a child. (The scandal of this is that is means that all
semiotics is historical.)
For more on these points see Ludwig Wittgenstein's *Philosophical
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