31 may. 2006

So how useful is it to see a work of literature as an act of *communication*? If I tell a story, what I am communicating is that story. I am not communicating another message disguised as a story. That is, I don't first think up a "meaning" and then encode it in narrative form. Even if I do attempt to do this, it is likely that the narrative code will exceed the message in almost infinite ways. That is, it will include many elements that were not part of my message, but which bear other meanings themselves, some of which may contradict my previous message. Of course, a very simple story could communicate a message without too much extra baggage:

Once upon a time there was a boy who touched a hot stove. He burnt his hand and his parents had to take him to the emergency room.

There are didactic tales like this that, but usually what we value in literature are those extra meaning-bearing elements that are too complex to be the bearers of a single meaning like "don't touch the hot stove."

There is a ton of communication that goes on in any literary work. It's about the most complex tangle of communicative intentions and meanings possible. What is usually isn't is a communication between the author and the readers, that can be reduced to anything less complex than the entire process involved.

The New Critics called this the heresy of paraphrase.