He reiterates very clearly a point I've heard made time and again--a point that's always sparked what feels like a "next thought" in me. Well actually, let me just quote who he quotes, Ed Hutchins, who says:
The illusion of meaning in the message is a hard-won social and cultural accomplishment.
I don't have a problem with that. I feel like maybe I'm supposed to, as a literature professor? But I'm okay with that. But what I've always struggled to understand--and always been fascinated by--is how, given our culturally contextufied situatedness (ahem), we are able to wriggle our heads up through the sludge of comfortably calcified "meaning," to critique that culture (that meaning) within which we discover ourselves to be situated. The easiest example is something like slavery, which required a whole web of social meaning to support it: how does one minister in the 18th century finally snap himself out of it and say, "Wait a minute!--that's wrong!" What I'm asking is, from what perspective is he thinking? He seems not to be distracted by the "illusion" of meaning. But what/where else is there?
Let us settle ourselves, and work and wedge our feet downward through the mud and slush of opinion, and prejudice, and tradition, and delusion, and appearance, that alluvion which covers the globe, through Paris and London, through New York and Boston and Concord, through church and state, through poetry and philosophy and religion, till we come to a hard bottom and rocks in place, which we can call reality, and say, This is, and no mistake; and then begin, having a point d'appui, below freshet and frost and fire, a place where you might found a wall or a state, or set a lamp=post safely, or perhaps a gauge, not a Nilometer, but a Realometer.
The Sophists would have it that there is no such reality. But then as I said, how/from-where are we able to critique this set of meanings we've accumulated? Where does the needle on your Justice-magnet point?--what attracts it?