Text – A group of signs. In literary and other types of criticism, a text can be a book (a group of written signs), a film (a group of cinematically recorded images and sounds—visual and auditory signs), or even a set of sculptures (think of braille; think of the pieces on a chessboard read as a set of signs with distinct meanings, symbolic readings, histories, and functions).

Typically, “text” in a class means “book,” “essay,” “story,” or “poem.”

Text is the material we generally study. Dimensions of study can go down or up, of course, from text:

  1. Micro = sign – Anything that can be read as having a literal meaning. We can study this level within a text.  This is “deep analysis,” “close reading,” etc. The meanings of individual words are the province of etymologists, lexicographers, poets, and philosophers.
  2. Meso = text – A group of signs that generally treat upon some singular idea. Generally, we spend the most time in humanities classes reading texts and talking about the ideas and styles contained therein.
  3. Macro = discourse – A related set of texts that give us all the ways we have of speaking on a subject. This is an important dimension of literary study which includes everything from styles (history, aesthetics) to languages (linguistics) and codes (semiotics, cryptography).
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