Meaning’s Edge, Love’s Priority

The story is told of an American wending his way through the British Museum. Reaching the Rosetta Stone, he reached right over the railing, touched the scarred slab, and lamented: “It doesn’t feel meaningful.” Whereupon an old Briton was heard to mumble: “The poor American’s got this old thing confused with the Blarney Stone.” A bully presses his case, but meaning is much more modest. Powerless to insist upon itself, meaning lies in wait of discovery. What distinguishes the Rosetta Stone from other rocks of the same kind and size is that it was someone’s – or rather a group’s – act of meaning. But those who come later cannot count on the Stone to make that meaning known. Meaning, if it is to be found or made, first has to be desired. This desire and the method of its satisfaction are James Boyd White’s concern in The Edge of Meaning. And what is at issue, if White be correct, is human life itself: “I think that this is as deep a need as a human being has: a need of the mind or soul, the need for what we call meaning in life. When it becomes clear that there is no way of meeting it, a person may die, either by simply withering away or by suicide” (p. 7).