February 20th 2007 18:58
What I find more intriguing is how to interpret tarot, on the assumption that it does work.
-- Tarot is a sign system for communicating information.
-- What's communicated is practical human knowledge, the answers to a plurality of local questions.
-- It's a rational system. There's a reason each card falls in the specific place it does.
-- The cards have individual meanings, but not fixed ones. And they have meanings like paintings have meanings.
-- What's important is not the individual meanings, but their combinations. One should pay attention to the whole text, and not obsess about each squiggle.
-- There are parallels to dream interpretation.
-- It's not that you receive meaning that's already there; the meaning is created at the moment of reading, requires the interpreter to bring to the reading process.
-- Much depends on the exact question you ask, and the level at which you ask it -- you can inquire about your own life, say, or about the life of the species, and you can speak with different degrees of vagueness. The cards can be used to answer any question. The question puts a limit to the possibilities of meaning. The question creates the answer.
Does this stuff parallel language in general?
And perhaps most English words have a similar logic, given that they're metaphorical in origin. Perhaps it's partly because of this that they have openness, flexibility.
-- Meanings of cards not fixed. Vagueness is necessary to human language; you're always meeting circumstances that call upon you to use old words in fresh ways.
Construction and film-making require frequent innovation in tools.
-- Question puts boundaries on meaning. "Chair" in a dictionary is vague; but practical usage will specify.
Frege treats the proposition as the meaningful unit, not the word. Quine treats the whole of language as the meaningful unit.
-- Each author's interpretation is correct. Linguistic communities might differ in their usage of the actual word; but intra-group meaning is relatively stable.
And once you fix the meaning of a particular sign, this in turn affects the meaning of every other sign.
-- The creativity the reader injects is a necessary part of the process. Linguistic meaning doesn't come from author's intention alone, but needs two to tango.
And perhaps every time you speak or interpret a word you use it creatively, you bring something new to the symbol; and it's through many such creative acts that meanings shift.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. The image of Inna Semetsky came from the Monash University website. The images of the Rider-Waite tarot cards were scanned by Paul Caskey.
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