The Density of Meaning

When I was in Dublin, my walking tour guide said, “I like things to mean something.” He was complaining about the city’s modernisation and the strange architecture that come with bureaucracy and a lack of deference to history. It’s true of course of many modern cities today, especially Singapore. Sometimes we tear down old things to make way for the new, and this removes sites that have come to mean something to its people, like the old National Library scattered with red saga seeds. Now it’s just a road tunnel. And when something meaningful to us is attacked, we will fight back. That’s something very gorgeous about the human race, but also so frightening.

Meaning. Such a tricky word that contains so much to both hold people together and set them apart. After I listened to my Irish tour guide, I realised that I liked things to mean something too. That meaning is very important to me. And that is such a weird thing to realise, because I’m sure meaning is very important to a lot of people, and I’m not unique in this pursuit.

But I guess what I’m trying to say is not just that I like things to be meaningful, but that I like it when things are dense with meaning. This is perhaps why the arts are so great – that it doesn’t just mean one super awesome thing, but possibly many different awesome things all at the same time, picked out differently by different people at different stages of their lives. I like that you can find different levels of meaning, and I love it more when I have a personal stake in that meaning. I love to examine art conceptually – to understand the meaning of a painting and how that particular message/emotion/sentiment/idea is brought out by the artist. But I enjoy it way more when I see a piece of art and it reminds me of someone in my life. Like when I see Van Gogh and I think of my best friend. The fact that certain works of art or culture remind me of people almost always makes those works more beautiful, more meaningful.

What makes this whole layering of meaning all the more dazzling is when you find someone to do it with you, when something contains a shared meaning in your collective imaginations. Then suddenly an art piece is not just about the technique, about the movement, the period of time, the author’s intended meaning; it’s also yours – yours to contemplate and yours to hold with somebody. I think this is why I love intertextual references so much. Because these references help you to build bridges together with the author of the work. A scene in a television show is no longer just a scene; it’s a ‘hey check out this cool thing that we share’ moment.

And why it means so much to me that I’ve found someone who likes (the same kind of) things to mean something too. It’s a very strange quality to try to pin down, and it took me a long time to realise my previous relationship did not contain so much of it. Sure, we had our inside jokes, and things/symbols that were just ours. But there were many times where I appreciated a song, scene in a film, even a phrase as important to our relationship, and then for me to come to the realisation that it was only so for myself. My overtures for trying to make the other party understand usually resulted in well-intentioned but cursory glances, sometimes not even responses. I think this is one of the key reasons why after a while I kept saying the same things over and over, going through the same issues, repeating the same recommendations, and waiting for all these things that were special to me to stick – for them to become special to us. And why after a while, we both stopped listening to each other. Perhaps this is why I am now so appreciative of sharing a connection with someone.

How precious is it to share a type of connection where you are both moved and energised by the same things.

P.S. I fear I do not possess a vocabulary wide enough to discuss this issue of meaning to its full extent. I hope you understand what I’m trying to say.

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2 thoughts on “The Density of Meaning

  1. ‘What makes this whole layering of meaning all the more dazzling is when you find someone to do it with you, when something contains a shared meaning in your collective imaginations. Then suddenly an art piece is not just about the technique, about the movement, the period of time, the author’s intended meaning; it’s also yours …’–GORGEOUS WRITING AS ALWAYS

    Also, Van Gogh reminds me of you too!!!

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