From Hayden White, The Content of the Form

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1987

(The quoted paragraphs are from page 213, and are the last two paragraphs of the book. The Questions for Discussion were provided by the present editor, not by Professor White.)

Typicality is produced by the imposition of a specific form on an otherwise wild content. The imposition of this form is carried out in the discourse materialized in Adams's text. It is the enactment of this discourse that attests to Adams's status as a representative of the culture of his age. And it is the product of that enactment, the text entitled The Education of Henry Adams, considered as a finished form, that gives us insight into the type of meaning production available in the culture of Adams's time and place.

This notion of the typicality of the text permits us to deal with the problem of the hated "reduction" of the complex text which hermeneuticists lament endlessly. In saying that a given text represents a type of meaning production, we are not reducing the text to the status of an effect of some causal force conceived to be more basic than that of meaning production in general. We are pointing, rather, to what is both obvious and undeniable, namely, that Adams himself has "condensed" his life into the form that it displays in the Education and, moreover, transformed that life into a symbol of the sociocultural processes of his own time and place as he perceived them thereby. This is not a reduction but a sublimation or transumption of meaning which is a possible response of human consciousness to its world everywhere and at all times. By unpacking the rich symbolic content of Adams's work, we de-sublimate it and return it to its status as an immanent product of the culture in which it arose. Far from reducing the work, we have, on the contrary, enflowered it, permitted it to bloom and caused it to display its richness and power as a symbolizing process.

Questions for Discussion:

1.  How is typicality produced?

2.  In saying that a given text represents a type of meaning production, what are we trying to say?

3.  Did we say it?

4.  The author points out that a work with rich symbolic content may be

(a)  reduced, or (b) enflowered. 

Compare and contrast.

5.  Give three rich and powerful examples of symbolizing processes (one rich and two powerful).