The metaphor is a lie.

I’m finally getting to some of the things I’ve been keeping in my pocket queue. Yes, I am a digital hoarder.

But what does it all mean?

Last week, Sam Jordison over at the Guardian Reading Group site wrote about his experience reading one of William Golding’s lesser known books, The Spire. Jordison wrote that, without access to the Internet, he was reading “unaided.” Without other criticism to read, Jordison didn’t know what Golding meant the spire of the title to represent. He easily comes up with five completely different things the spire could have been a metaphor for.

Jordison’s short article got me to thinking about my own use of the Internet while reading, and had be reminiscing about my days as a young English major. Nowadays, I usually only use the Internet to look up things that are referred to in the text like works of art or architecture, historical events and people, or other books. I’ve also looked up author biographies to see if there are events in the author’s life that are being played out on the page. I’m a vocal advocate of biographical criticism. But I only rarely look up criticism because I only rarely encounter books that I can’t get a lock on, the books that just completely puzzle me. I’m also an advocate of reader response criticism.

As a young English major, classes often consisted of my fellow neophytes and I discussing what we thought whatever we had just read meant. And there were always as many answers as there were people in the room. (More than that if the professor was around, because English majors sneer at conventional mathematics.) Then we would spend time arguing with each other about who was right. There never was just one right answer. (Also, there is no spoon.) It was all a matter of making a convincing argument. I’d say everyone was right, but there was always one person in class that I thought was full of crap. They might not have been full of crap in all actuality; I just didn’t buy their argument.

Seriously, what does it mean?

There was a follow up article to Jordison’s piece, in which other readers responded with what they thought the spire represented. As you’d expect, there as many different answers as there are readers. That’s why I’m such a firm believer in reader response criticism. I’ve always thought that books don’t really come alive until a reader picks them up. Words don’t have meaning until they’re filtered through a human mind.

The spire could be whatever you think it is. Because as long as you can back it up with a solid argument, you’re right. You don’t need the Internet to find other people to tell you what it means. As long as the metaphor has some meaning for you, then the metaphor is not just a fancy way of playing around with words.