In the essay “Redefining the Legacy of Mina Shaughnessy” by Min-Zhan Lu, the following discussion was given:
The image of someone using words to coax meaning ‘to the surface’ suggests that meaning exists separately from and ‘at some subterranean level of language.’ Meaning is thus seen as a kind of essence which the writer carries in his or her mind prior to writing, although the writer might not always be fully conscious of it. Writing merely serves to make this essence communicable to oneself and others. (107)
I have never really had to occasion to think about this too much, but found it thought-provoking. The argument kind of reminds me of the debate about which came first: the chicken or the egg. Lu argues that perhaps Shaughnessy’s thought that meaning is already inside and is given a voice through writing is only one-sided. Lu suggests that a particular meaning can take on new forms and shift into new meanings while the student tries to fit that one meaning into a variety of discourses. This is interesting as well. What it sounds like Lu is saying is that, even though a student has a particular meaning in mind, that meaning will change within different sets of discourse. I’m pondering on this even as I type. Does that mean that meaning adapts to the form it’s written in? That the meaning we so clearly have in our head doesn’t always come out the same way?
I definitely agree that meaning is not always inside first waiting to be “coaxed” to the surface through writing. As I type this very blog, I am creating my meaning, my thoughts. They were not perfectly clear when I began, but I knew that I wanted to discuss that quote because it was interesting to me. There have been times when I had a clear vision of what I wanted to write, a thesis, let’s say. It was only a matter of sitting down at my computer and letting the meaning that was already inside flow out of me. Those papers are usually my best! However, I also have papers where the actual act of writing helps me create meaning. For these papers I often have to go back and change many things. It is the writing that allows me to form my thoughts and draw conclusions that weren’t previously inside of me. It’s like those illusion pictures, which I can never see! You look at the picture normally and see one thing, but when you focus your attention on one point, the picture changes and becomes something completely different. That’s how these papers are when the meaning is inside me to begin with. So… I think I’ve answered my own question! Both can occur. Perhaps in the beginning there were both chickens and eggs!