Meaning in Art, Especially Writing

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It has been perhaps two hundred years since the poems of William Blake marked an important stage in the Romantic Period of literature. Although Blake favored illuminations, and such fantastic imagery was used later also in the work of Coleridge (famous for his own poem, Kubla Khan, reportedly inspired by an opiate dream), Romanticism is noted especially for its discovery of darkness, what became sooner or later to be known as the depths of the group unconscious, the psychological force, and within philosophy what are called natural kinds, a concept about which (according to few important discoveries have yet been made. The territory remains mysterious.

Although it may seem both simplistic and peculiar, the idea that dark and light were the two loci of Romanticism—and I take it for granted that Romanticism appeared in pictorial art as well, for example, Nature Symbolized by Arthur Dove—it may be apprehended, or in the words of the Romantics “drunk in” that these two properties were also in some respects identical properties constituent of a third property—the property of contrast. Indeed, there is a hidden significance that contrast is what represents darkness. So the attributes of darkness are also the attributes of illumination, when it is seen that the attributes of illumination are also the attributes of casting shadows on the wall of a cave. By this allegory Romanticism is actually indirectly a reference to two things: Writing and Philosophy.

But I will ignore this central thesis for now. We don’t have to believe that philosophy is the object of writing, or that writing is the sole purpose of art. After all, part of the darkness of meaning—if we see that contrast in its broad sense is also meaning of any kind—the principle of “inking” the page—is also the figure of visual images within the context of literal and a-literal writing processes. Clearly writing could be more than one thing, in a broad definition; it could be something with a visual and non-visual system. Whether systems have meaning is a question which is often not reached within the realm of literature or art, and certainly philosophers themselves have had problems enough.

So we can assess (instead), what is called the ‘de re’ significance of meaning, the obvious sense in which meaning is intended to portray itself. Clearly this meaning, the meaning of a dark sense of literalism or a-literalism, reduces either to the color of words, or a sense in which the figurative (visual) meanings of words have been realized, as an expression of deep contrast with a pre-text of un-stark imagery. So there is a choice between black and black: black is more primal than white, in the sense in which it contrasts with white, which in turn expresses the summation of all bands of light (a unique privilege), and the alternative to literalism is a sense in which contrast is important, like the stripes of a tiger or the shadows cast on the wall of a cave.

The essential thesis at this point is not that writing is philosophy, or that Blake’s tiger is an allegory for meaning in general (although in the movie The Life of Pi, it is possible that the tiger represents writing), instead what I mean to express is that blackness specifically has been a symbol of the deepest significance. Not general significance, but the highly specific meaning of meaning in general. Dark was meaning. This is like the beginning of the Bible.

What further can be said about dark meanings? I feel they are used DUBIOUSLY in such books as The Heart of Darkness and Lord of the Flies, because darkness has been used simply as a double-name for evil. Since what is intended is evil significance, it is clear that black has NOT been reduced or delegated into any other than its original form, that is, a more generic sense of meaning which cannot be called evil. Evil meaning is just a form of meaning, which has been delegated meaninglessly. It is simpler to conclude over a wider variety of contexts (outside of The Heart of Darkness and the Lord of the Flies) that black generally represents significance, much as ivory during a certain time in history represented wealth. The psychological forfeits of the specialized meaning by use of the word evil is not rational, it is a kind of Romantic mistake. Clearly the Romantics would not call darkness evil except out of some desire to appeal to the psychological aspect of writing.

Another instance in which black has meaning is the use of chalkboards in which, appropriately enough, the drawing with chalk evokes the intelligence of negative space or genuine formalism, connoting the great intelligence of education. Chalkboards prefigure a concept of higher art, in which aversion is used to reach for greater and greater levels of significance, perhaps even through Venn-diagram-like degrees of permutation. In this sense the chalkboard and chalk represents a kind of logical form of meaning, still in the form of contrasting evidence. The direct corollary with writing in general, and conceptual art, is obvious, once it is considered that chalkboards have a near-universal authority. The exception to this rule is another error, the error of poor pupils who commit chalkboards to meaningless squiggles and cartoons. Professors will even announce that these are “meaningless squiggles”. Clearly cartoons, even as a partial exception to my argument, are a case of highly specific meaning which ignores the teaching of the professor.

Throughout nature there is evidence of the validity of treating art according to the principle that dark is meaning. If there is a rhetoric against this it follows from a kind of chalkboard logic evoking the passing of an age—the intrusion of a principle of double-contrast which largely enough does not lose the connotation of the darkness of meaning.

It is easy to deny the objectivity of either view: either the view that black was meaning, or the view that white provides contrast. It is easy to understand that an incoherent view might have coherency in an incoherent context: a Venn-like view. That is a mere exercise in relativity. So I return to the theme of darkness, that rivers are dark, and blood is dark, and when we stare at the sun our eyes go dark, and the most beautiful jewels are dark, and the most precious pearls are dark—

When Homer describes the wine dark sea he seems to be referring to the blood of Greeks, as something that is of the utmost meaning, and still perhaps trivial to the Gods. Likewise, I would like to advocate, that even without a battle for Troy, the form of meaning is very much like a substance which pre-figures any idea, and may also be considered opposite itself, because there has been introduced a principle of contrast, which some believe is already the same thing. Nonetheless meaning fills categories, and every category has a meaning. And all meanings are dark, dark with meaning. Meaning is dark. Let your eyes drink in the meaning of art, the meaning of ink, and the meaningful categories paradoxical with that fixate blindness which is the presence of colors in writing.

If there is a folly in the pursuit of meaning, it is the over-extension which occurs when writers are not serious about meaning, or when blindly and not with blind-sight, they ignore the complexity and perfection of the foundations of their work. Writing is a high art, and it deserves to dabble in the same juxtapositions which are available to the tutor with his blackboard. White can be negative space. We can return to the realm of forms. Poetry is not pollution. En arche en o logos: At first all thought was blind. And darkness was the meaning of all things.

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Source by Nathan L Coppedge

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