Page 38 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
of the au thor, as contemporary literary critics would say. But
what is the importance o f the position from which a writer
writes? Much o f it has to do with ou r traditional way o f thinking,
the common sense way o f thinking that says an au tho r is the
ultimate creator o f his o r her meanings.
MEANING-PRACTICES
Contemporary theories o f language and meaning that scru­
tin ize comm on sense th in k in g — such as sem io tics o r
deconstruction or psychoanalysis — provide a d ifferen t view.
Instead o f seeing an au tho r as creating meaning, they see the
world as a series o f meaning-practices, a representational sys­
tem,
within which
the au tho r “creates.” The system o f meaning-
practices is there before the au tho r starts writing, indeed it has
already constituted and determ ined the life experiences that
make him o r her who they are. The system o f representation-
ality thus constructs o r creates ou r experiences, and the pos­
sibilities for making life meaningful.
To pu t this ano ther way, what constitutes the categories o f
life experiences as masculine/feminine, male/female, Jewish/
Gentile, au tho r /read e r and so on has everything to do with the
system o f representations and meanings within which we think
and speak — a system which makes us, and makes possible ou r
thinking and speaking — and perhaps very little to do with
what an au tho r imagines she o r he creates, but is ra ther, so
to speak,
created by.
The position from which an au tho r writes
may indeed make a considerable difference to the writing, but
not the sort o f difference in which we believe that writers them ­
selves create the subjects and the categories th rough which they
achieve meaning. To be specific, a writer may write from a “mas­
culine” o r “fem inine” or “Jewish” positionality, bu t this process
o f “writing out o f ’ one’s experiences o f life, one’s positionality,
may not alter the conditions o f the positionalities as such, that
is, the social and significatory process by which these position­
alities are determ ined .
These ideas may seem novel and unfamiliar; they are cer­
tainly disconcerting enough to common sense notions o f self-
identity and autonomy to make some critics want to dismiss
them as a fad. But they cast an interesting light on questions
we are addressing here. To begin to illustrate some o f these