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The Margins of Meaning

Arguments for a Postmodern Approach to Language & Text

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Robin Melrose

The title of this book is inspired by Jacques Derrida and by his seminal work, The Margins of Philosophy. The study of meaning in the past thirty years has focused on core meaning, and largely ignored the margins of meaning, where much of the power of language is to be found. The present work seeks to shift this focus by taking a postmodern approach that sees meaning as an accretion of verbal, social, cultural and personal sign systems, with fluid boundaries that shrink or expand with each meaner.
Chapter 1 begins with a brief examination of present-day approaches to meaning, and goes on to a deconstruction of four twentieth century linguists. Chapter 2 takes as its starting point two aspects of the 20th century scientific paradigm, non-deterministic causation and relativity, and considers a number of thinkers who have worked within this paradigm. A major aim of this work is to convince students and teachers of literary theory, cultural studies and feminist theory of the validity of a linguistics of indeterminacy, so Chapter 3 focuses on an analytical approach that models indeterminacy in language, and Chapter 4 applies the model to a newspaper editorial, a Wallace Stevens' poem, and an extract from a Patrick White novel.