Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Why I Like Gangsta Rap (Shout-out to Lil Wayne), Pt. 2

Last time I said that when I hear a gangster rapper say that he is "covered in ice", I picture a post-apocalyptic desert, and a local warlord. This violent megalomaniac controls an oasis, and is so rich that he can afford to smoke a blunt while luxuriating in a bathtub full of ice water. The interpretation was challenged by my girlfriend, who questioned whether the rapper in fact meant such a thing. I say, "it doesn't matter!" I then refer you to my half-baked logical and literary arguments, below. Cheers!

"Ice" is a word that is used to literally refer to diamonds. It's also a simile insofar as ice and diamonds resemble each other. But what does saying you have "ice" symbolize? What does it really MEAN? Well, it stands for not being able to put your money in the bank because it is dirty (there are only off-shore banks in the world we are talking about). It stands for wealth, power. In the rap context, that power has generally been gained through illegal means. The very existence of the "illegal means" (the drug laws that effectively turn our inner cities into urban war zones, at least according to one liberal view of the world) and the appetite for the product signifies a corrupt government, corrupt morality, corrupt human nature. That is the context of the discussion. It is a Capitalist world where money is God and everything is up for barter-- dignity, morality, people's bodies, people's organs, water, forests, oil that once was forests. Sooner or later it is a world that is going to crumble under its own greed and look more like North Africa than North America. You can't talk about this world without criticizing it in the process, because it is a black-and-white, bad-by-definition world. By talking about it you are fighting a war against the future. Life is a war, it is a battle zone.

You get my point. The thing about language is that it is necessarily vague. This is something that has been "proven" to the satisfaction of most logicians and philosophers. No matter what description of the world someone (including a scientist) comes up with, it is not capable of being "complete". It cannot be complete in this sense (to give an abbreviated argument): in every case, you could have a slightly different hypothetical world in which every semantically-active term or phrase in the scientist's description has a "true", accurate, one-to-one correspondence ("reference") with something completely different from what the scientist intended to refer to. On the flipside, you could have a completely different description of this ("our") world that is just as "successful" as the scientist's in linking concepts to objects in the "outside" world. I'm not asking you to trust me on this, I am asking you to trust the logicians and philosophers of language and science who have studied it up to and through the 20th century. I am taking their word for it, even though it is in alignment with my intuitive beliefs about the world anyway.

While some of these other worlds are "hypothetical", they do demonstrate that there is a serious problem in terms of a person claiming this: "My words are true precisely because there is a one-to-one correspondence between each verbal concept and then some thing in the outside world". Instead, our words are "true" only insofar as they constitute a self-consistent conceptual scheme. There may be many such "correct" self-consistent conceptual schemes.

That is the basis of the metaphysical argument, which needs considerable elucidation before it can become completely clear in terms of its relevance here. But I'm content to rest with my vague ranting... make your leap of logic (or not), and skip to my argument on authorial intent!

Basically, I don't care what the author of a "text" meant (text meaning anything containing recorded information, whether it be the air filled with vibrations or radiowaves, a tablet with writing carved in it, a book, a vinyl album, or a brain storing data through an electrical and chemical medium), I only care what I can interprete it as. Partly because that is the only way I can read it anyway! I can't understand exactly what someone else felt when they wrote the thing (in the sense of recreating their context), nor can I have any chance of completely understanding a statement's cultural, historical, and social context. And, I can't escape the fact that my understanding of everything is pre-coded by the "text" that is already written on my brain. Sure, I do believe that I can figure out approximately what the writer meant in the case of, say, a tv guide. Or even philosophy, to an extent. But when it comes to art (and sometimed literature), I don't necessarily care what the person meant! If I don't know the person, why should I, when it is so much more fun (and creative) to interpret it the way I want! As the observer of the art, I participate in it and make it what it is. That is not to say that what the artist meant should be ignored; rather, what the artist meant is one interpretation of the art among many. Most importantly, the damn artist probably didn't KNOW what he meant!

Since modern science (quantum physics) and modern philosophy (Kant, Hegel, to the reigning 20th century analytic philosophers) all pretty much agree that there is no single mind-independent reality, I see no reason to not embrace the power of the imagination as our most sacred faculty. Now, I totally believe in the "objectivity" of morality and aesthetics, and I also am not a moral utilitarian. But that is a different discussion... The important thing is in that overused Einstein pearl: Imagination is more important than knowledge!

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