After having read this post, and after observing a certain prevailing trend amongst entries and comments around my familiar regions of the blogosphere, I’m going to have to elaborate and modify an earlier argument in which it was stated that it is not the reader that creates meaning but the author. This whole post is probably more rooted in a semiotic and philosophical sphere in which I am nearly illiterate, although I will use David Bohm’s notion of “Wholeness and the Implicate Order” to facilitate this particular articulation.
In elaboration of Part 1, I’m going to add that, while it is not necessarily the viewer that creates meaning out of meaningless or not-so-meaningful things (I will later address the very notion of “creation”), the meaning that authors insert into anime is not all-encompassing of the entirety of the anime itself. As the title suggests, there is a serendipitous, if not incomplete component of the author’s construction of their universe; there is an implausibility of empiric semiosis (if this title didn’t already turn you off). In other words, more meaning exists beyond the first and fundamental semiosis, without disregarding that this primary semiosis is complete unto itself. This puts forth the controversial notion that a completed anime will have more meaning than what was originally created by the authors. And so what exactly does this nebulous jargon entail? Let me explain Bohm first.
Bohm thinks of the universe as a continuous flux wherein existing “sub-totalities” (i.e. these elementary particles and any kind of existing body like galaxies, stars, and so forth) are autonomous, but our perception of reality cannot be empirically reduced to such sub-total autonomies. In an interview with Bohm published by Omni, it was remarked that:
“Believing that the nature of things is not reducible to fragments or particles, he argues for a holistic view of the universe. He demands that we learn to regard matter and life as a whole, coherent domain, which he calls the implicate order.”
In essence, sub-totalities are autonomous entities within the larger whole, yet this whole presupposes the existence of things that are part of it. Bohm also called this the “Undivided Wholeness in Flowing Movement,” that is to say that “this view implies that flow is, in some sense, prior to that of the ‘things’ that can be seen to form and dissolve in this flow.”
In receding now to the partialities and holistics of semiosis, the first thing I am addressing is the notion of “depth” in anime. The second is the processes by which we engage in this depth, that is, our alleged “creation of meaning”. The third is semiosis and hermeneutics as complete functions in and of themselves.
Section 1: Depth
After reading these pieces on depth in anime, there is a recurring motif dealing with depth which bifurcates meaning as simply existing or not existing. Batezi’s piece is the only one that dives into the subjectivity of interpretation, some talk about the difference between intellectual fan service vs. actual depth, and some talk about art vs. entertainment. However, none of these deal with depth as an already-existing thing besides one brief phrase about how “viewers search for meanings in some shows that aren’t there in the first place;” yet this quote is about searching, which presumes the existence of meaning but strives to prove such an existence.
However, my analysis is attempting not to epistemologically solve the issue of the ontological binary of meaning since that in itself presents us with the paradox of our methodology. I am trying to peer into the ontology – the form – of depth; not the epistemology – the content.
What I’m trying to say is that there is this prevailing trend to dismiss meaning as either there or not there in a single location – that there is no holistic process of semiosis and hermeneutics, and that there is no meta-analysis of the context of meaning in which anime is situated. There is an endless depth because anime is just a sub-totality within the wholeness of reality, and in such a relation, anime assumes all the meaning present in reality because essentially, they are one in the same. I’m arguing that depth is always there – not in a superficial Evangelion or Ergo Proxy fashion – but in the reality that is connoted, not the reality that is denoted as its own microcosm: anime metonymically connotes the entirety of reality, but denotes only a small focal portion of it.
You may discover a caveat to this interpretation: universes that do not depict our reality, as in, Gundam and whatnot; but do not be fooled, for the denotation is futuristic, the human relations are not. The very fact that any anime is inherently human in its relationships and mentalities, within an envisioned future or otherwise, will only buttress my argument that it is not the content of the meaning but the form, and that there is one and only one form of knowledge – human knowledge.
Section 2: The “Creation” of Meaning
Now we come upon a common debate: that there is no meaning and that viewers create the meaning, or whatever articulation you fancy. Since I stated in Section 1 that meaning is always there, this will refute (1) that meaning is created since this presumes that (2) there was no meaning to begin with. We are not ever really creating meaning, but rather, we are simply viewing the predominant meaning or extracting a more subtle one. In essence, we are viewing anime through different lenses. This is a good description since it’s widely used around the blogosphere. Another analogy I saw the use of the stencil in this post. Both the “lens” and “stencil” imply that only a portion of meaning is taken out – and this assumes that there is something more, something prior, which is wholeness. In order to use a stencil, you must first have a large wall. In order to have a lens, you must first have a complex body through which you interpret, not in fragments, but in “dimensions” or “flavors”.
This post also brings up how you can analyze anime through lenses (without actually referring to the process), in this case genres. The problem with lenses, stencils, genres and any kind of classificatory system, as I’ve been pointing out this whole time, is that they inherently disregard one thing or another. Comedy or slice of life? Slice of life or comedy? There was a spectrum included that demonstrated how an anime’s genre is not white and black, that there is a gradient. However, the problem with this is that such a gradient is composed of homogenous fragments (genres) and is still planted within the discourse of anime whose fragmentatious nature always divides, cuts up, divides, chops up, until now we have what is seemingly heterogeneity – but it is not, since that very gradient is still paradigmatically homogenous, that is to say, each section going from SoL to comedy is homogenous unto itself. This is what Bohm has argued. In trying to strictly define anime, we make our systems of classification smaller and smaller until we have these fundamental units of analysis that constitute anime. We cannot be fooled by the syntagm of heterogeneity.
Hence, the serendipity of our hermeneutics. We may look for one thing, but end up finding another, both of which (all of which) exist within the same wholeness.
Section 3: The Completeness of Semiosis and Hermeneutics
Semiosis and hermeneutics are processes by which meaning is, in Bohm’s terms, enfolded and unfolded, or through the conduit metaphor, packaged and unpackaged. When meaning is packaged, there is no extra meaning whatsoever. This is the author’s intent. What the author intends, he or she intends, and that’s it. However, what they intend and the final products they create are different. They create those universes that connote infinity. However, their denotation – their intent – is strictly limited. I’m expanding (and obfuscating) these terms in that the author’s intent is both denoted (what is visible) and connoted (what is invisible), while the original connotation is not inserted into the medium, since that is impossible. Culture and wholeness connote denotation. If this is bizarrely confusing read this post about Barthes’ “Photographic Paradox“. This post is called Part 2 for a reason. I also made a fancy diagram.
Second level signification (or second-order in Barthesian terms) is simply when the denotative acquires a connotation due to culture. That is, when a sign elicits an understanding that is cultural, for instance, the intellectual fanservice in Evangelion. Third level signification refers not even to the meaning which the sign itself produces, but the ideology around it and how it is used. This is the metaphysics of the sign: for instance, lolicon being a staple of otakudom.
Basically, this section being the complement of the first, I’m saying that while there is an infinite amount of depth in the external reality that is imaginatively internalized within anime, the semiosis of meaning does not insert that specific depth into the final product because the author’s denotation – his intent and semiosis – cannot also contain a connotation. We cannot possibly uncover an inserted connotation within the physical denotation – that is why we always guess at what the author really meant, and in those rare times when they tell us, they are giving us their own connotation. But we cannot forget that there is a connotation within the denotative anime – that is wholeness. That is the realm in which we analyze, interpret, misinterpret, create meaning, and so forth. This realm of wholeness is not created by the author, yet this does not make it by any means “incorrect”.
IKnight: I suspect the language of this post is beyond me (especially at 00:15). I’m sure you’ve grasped my own position, that meaning is created whenever the viewer plays the anime, like a musical score; I like it like that because it’s simple, complex semiotics being mostly beyond me whatever time of day it is! I’m struggling to see how there can be any meaning in something before it’s experienced. It might help if I mention that epistemologically I stand somewhere near Berkeley’s immaterialism (which may explain a lot).
One minor thing I suppose I should mention is that I find it hard to see the way genres, lenses &c always disregard things as a problem. I think of it more as essential to the way we experience the world and think (‘Forgetting meanings is also part of reading’). But it’s entirely possible that you were going somewhere else with that, so excuse me if this paragraph is a misstep.
Anyhow, great post, though I think it requires some re-re-reading. I suspect I’ll be revisiting it.
Mike: I am also of the opinion that meaning is created. Not all meaning is simply there. I think I would also need to re-read the post, but I strongly disagree that meaning is simply around us. It has to be created, mentioned, or pertained to – otherwise, how can it exist?
Lelangir: Animanachronism/Michael: You both brought up meaning-as-experience. I wasn’t necessarily thinking about meaning in that sense, nor did I even conceive of a possibility of a semantic issue behind “meaning” (sorry!), but rather, meaning-as-depth, or meaning as products of analysis. The “meaning” you’re referring to I would agree with, that you can’t experience anything before it’s experienced. That makes sense. And I’m always up for different experiences that can only be created, however, when we analyze anime, I have used “meaning” to be defined as its “physics” or “mathematics” – its inherent logicalness due to its location within wholeness. That’s why when we hear the phrase “that ‘meaning’ is wrong” I disagree with that – since a “wrong” meaning assumes there is finite meaning. I think we do need to make a distinction between these two definitions, although if I’m wrong this whole thing goes down the drain!
There is that infinite meaning insofar as it is accessible, and in that case, anime is the medium or gateway to accessing that wholeness, since it is imaginatively internalized. Perhaps it would have sufficed here to bring up Benedict Anderson but he doesn’t use imagined communities in the same way so that may have convoluted the essay even more.
Animanachronism: I think that lenses and so forth are inherently problematic because they’re not holistic. This disregarding of other meanings – a fragmented weltanschauung – leads to the belief that they are wrong and that, again, meaning is finite. While it is important to forget some meanings while reading, it does not have to be so through lenses, in that meaning can be manipulated to one’s desire after it is extracted via wholeness. Hypocritically to say the least, I don’t really know how that’s possible – I literally cannot imagine a different mode of interpretation in action – that is something hard to visualize.
Mike: Ah, I see more clearly now. In that case, I would have to agree with you. As products of analysis one can never limit meaning in a container or a placement in either right or wrong, black or white. In that case, I agree, meaning is indeed infinite, because otherwise, saying an interpretation is correct or wrong limits the text – and this is something we do not want.
I would say that while I understand your argument and the gist of your post, like Animanachronism, I was never an expertise in semiotics. Worse, I’ve never read Roland Barthes like you two. Without the references, however, I still ‘get’ (somewhat) the drive of your post.
Baka-raptor: As long as you admit it
Practically, we can’t help but box our analyses into neat little categories. Meaning may be infinite but our brains’ capacities aren’t. We couldn’t function efficiently if we had to analyze everything from scratch. Imagine:
Me: What kind of show is Lucky Star?
Lelangir: It’s everything.
Me: *Spaces out*
Lelangir: *Steals my wallet*
I’ve must admit, this whole Semiosis/Hermeneutics messing with me. My old view was that the author’s intended interpretation is the only correct one, and anything else is BS. I don’t expect to change that view drastically, but maybe, thanks to you, I’ll be less harsh on all those hippies who create extract their own meaning.
IKnight: Ok, I think I see where you were going with this. So there’s a kind of inherent meaning (not as experience) to be found in anime because of its origins in, existence as part of, and role in metonymically connoting (I liked that bit), everything? I suspect my unease really is the product of my immaterialism, then: my idea of ‘everything’ is horribly contingent and doubt-ridden.