We explored a bit about different interpretations (meanings, analyses) in some previous posts. I might post a follow-up later if I have the time.
Now, we’ll move on to discussing /how/ we actually arrive at these meanings.
In the study of knowledge, epistemology (I did last year’s science fair project on that! I got 60% on it!), there are two main ways to acquire knowledge: a priori and a posteriori knowledge. One of these two types of knowledge is the name of someone in Catch-22, and so I vividly remember it due to hours of rolling on the ground laughing at how stupid the name was and how painful rolling on the ground laughing is. I would roll on the ground, laugh, and then laugh at my past self being in pain from rolling on the ground laughing. It was an odd activity.
Anyways, a priori knowledge is things you learn from prior knowledge. For example, knowing that the angles in a triangle add up to 180 degrees, that a right-angle triangle has one 90-degree angle, and that two angles are equal in an isosceles triangle, you know that a right-angled isosceles triangles’ angles are 45 degrees, 45 degrees, and 90 degrees.
A posteriori knowledge requires experience. You wouldn’t know who the current King of France is a priori; you would have to find that out (there is no current King of France!). You wouldn’t know whether you could play piano or not before testing it. You wouldn’t know that Life of Pi was a movie about the Life of Pi without knowing that.
The difference is like the difference between physics and math:
physics isn’t useless um, knowledge of physical laws come a posteriori, whereas applications of those laws to situations are a priori knowledge. If you were Helen Keller, you would still be able to receive a priori knowledge, but not as much a posteriori knowledge. Well, Helen Keller did, but she’s HELEN KELLER and you’re not.
So, what does this have to do with meaning?
You see, whenever we experience literature, be it a book, a play, an anime, a long-winded incomprehensible puerile diatribe by racist prepubescent teenagers on YouTube, we experience literature. The knowledge we gain is a posteriori.
But after the experience, when you think about it in your brain, you are acquiring a priori knowledge. This is when you synthesize the experiences you’ve received to form a coherent (or incoherent if you’re like me) picture of the meaning you got from it.
But does this actually count as acquiring new knowledge? Here’s my question to you. Is it possible to acquire all your meanings of literature a priori? What would happen to somebody who never experienced others’ reactions to literature, but only the raw work of art itself?
What’s better? Meaning through self-reflection, or meaning through discussion? You can reflect on this or discuss it; just don’t be too mean.