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The Meaning of Significance  

2009-12-30 15:30:07|  分类: 百川入海 |  标签: |举报 |字号 订阅

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A Lecture by Prof Jerry Ward: "Richard Wright: The Significance of His Work in the 21st Century"

 

If the lecture of Prof. Jerry Ward, which we recently had the honor of enjoying it could be compressed in one word, then that word would be – significance! Why can we say that? I believe that it was obvious to all of us listeners what Mr. Ward tried all the time to put through during his talk was his appeal to value literature by the criterion of significance it bears for us. According to Jerry Ward, a literary work has a meaning in itself, but significance only for the reader. So, the meaning of novel or a poem is the enclosed element behind the lines of the book, but its significance comes into being only in the person of the reader and the researcher who in a special way relates with the work of literature.

As a prime paradigm for this kind of literary attitude, Prof. Ward used the extraordinary opus of the eminent African American author Richard Wright to illustrate this important point. For Prof. Ward what Richard Wright signifies to him isn’t contained only within the intended meaning of his numerous works, but also in his whole life journey to which Mr. Ward thinks he can relate. This means the racial tensions in Twentieth Century America, the feeling of uprootedness in urban settings, the change in values… As an example of a special point of significance, he gave the Wright’s autobiographical account of his family situation, especially the difficult relationship he had with his father, something that bore unmistakable similarity to Prof. Ward’s own experience. In this way, even on such a personal level, the interaction with the literary work from exploring the meaning it tries to convey can suddenly turn into an adventurous and sometimes even dangerous journey of self-exploration for the reader. I feel the main idea behind the lecture of Mr. Jerry Ward was this urge to accept literature as a call to this kind of journey. However, if we do not find in literature this sort of personal significance, then all of our scholarly endeavors become, as Jerry Ward puts it – a stage play where we just to show off our perceived cleverness, or a tool for achieving narrow careeristic goals.       

A striking moment of the discussion happened when Prof Ward was asked to comment on the meaning of Obama’s election for US president for the racial relations in that country. However, his agitated response was unexpected for us, but very true to his own insistence on the notion of significance, even in such events pertaining to the political sphere. For him, the Obama phenomenon does not bear great significance? Why? Simply put it, we are mistaken when thinking that Prof. Ward and Barack Obama come from the same segment of American society, which we are used to call – Black or African American. On the contrary, this two people are from two different worlds. One is true African American while the other is an American African. Let us now explain this subtle difference: Obama’s father was a Kenyan national. Kenya is a country on the Eastern shore of Africa, as disassociated with the history of the United States as it can get. So the President’s ancestors experienced none of the historical drama associated with the experience of African Americans – the time of slavery, the Civil War and the subsequent emancipation, the shameful Jim Crow laws in the South, the Civil Rights Movement and Dr Martin Luther King, the Blacks’ urbanization movement and the adjoining collapse of the family values… So, for Prof. Ward the Presidentship of Mr. Obama does not bear specific significance he can relate to...  

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