Text is a unit of meaning able to resist the context of production in that it can keep a force of readability that is intrinsic to it. Thus, whereas discourse extends itself as a product of an act of utterance and is of the oral domain in which utterances are always current and meaning depends on the context of utterances, the text affirms itself through its fixation and register, which separate it from its original context. In the Côa Valley (Vale do Côa) all utterances have been lost, but remaining as a readable text are the marks that have become autonomous in their time. The readability of these marks affords them the status of text and unbinds analytical and interpretative mechanisms. Hermeneutics, as an interpretative endeavour, begins where interlocution ends, for its part, understood as a question-and-answer dialogue in discursive dynamics. The ephemerality of discursive practices contrasts, however, with the fixation of textual regimes.
Access to remote epochs predating the appearance of writing and thus commonly referred to as “pre-historic” is only possible because the marks which have endured and persisted over time make text, that is, they provide something to be read, even in their least aspect of totality and coherence, and they are readable in their iterability, that is, in a recurrence that allows us to find structurality in these marks.
Text seen as a totality requires that we use its laws – grammar and structure – or a configuration that mediates an author and a reader/receiver, which allows us to ask questions of a pragmatic and contextual order. Read as a text, the engravings at Foz Côa allow us to detect a semiosic intent which goes beyond the communication present in them. In this sense, the text is a mediator of the world because it is through text that humans consider the world, their position in it and bequeath their understanding. Textualisation of the world is the way to appropriate its complexity and is the product of experience transformed into narrative. In this way, it is always a construction with recourse to textual devices such as narrative, description, argumentation, etc. For us readers, textual intention coincides with a teleological dimension inherent to the text itself as an organised and organising totality of meaning but also as a distantiation, a distancing effect, a displacement occurring amongst things of experience and objects of knowledge or a reflexion upon that very experience. It is in this way that it can be said that culture is text or that culture is a set of texts.
The domain of the text highlights this autonomy of archive and the transmissible legacy and constitutes an incommensurable leap for humankind. It is this aspect which marks the break with respect to so-called oral cultures. The separating of myth and history. The first is always current; history is scatological. Oral history is a continuum that is anchored in the present, thus always current. What returns to history as a written text are defined times. Epochs are determined and determinable. The historical process and historical hiatus are understood in the apprehending and understanding of the temporal distentio, of the time which is distended and stretches itself and which is measurable from its own texts.
As opposed to narrative organisations of an oral nature, text, in its nature as inscribable, resists context and holds on to its readability as a challenge. To read Palaeolithic engravings through the analysis of recurring elements is to encounter their internal coherence and cohesion. Textual readability, the capturing or determination of meaning in this set understood as text is always an inexorable part of its own textual production, always producing more text than its commentary. It is only in this perspective, however, that it becomes possible to conceive of text as the endless potential of meaning (at least tending to be so) or as a “world proposal” or “text world”, as Paul Ricoeur has called it.
It can be said that meaning is, at the same time immanent and transcendent of the text. If the meaning is this telos, the ultimate finality contained in the text but which spills over at the same time, then it is also certain that the very condition of the text is always to produce more text. Its significant force, the potential for readable meaning in the engravings understood as texts comes from the relationship of intertextuality which they end up establishing with all other similar contemporary phenomena – Palaeolithic art in its totality. It means that the context of the text is still textual, or better put: intertextual. Phenomena of palimpsest can be seen, both contemporary or after the date given for the engravings, but ones which in any of the cases draw a truly (inter)textual fabric, as the engravings at Canada do Inferno illustrate.
To understand hermeneutic endeavours when dealing with remote texts is to understand that textual identity also has a productive and reproductive force, this being the same condition for the existence or meaning: it has no pretension of ever running out. The current readability of the Côa engravings is the result of a set of texts of an archaeological, anthropological and aesthetic nature, available for reading. Readability will always be contemporaneous to the texts that constitute the universe of each reading. Such regimes of intertextuality accentuate a textualist vision in which everything is text and in which an infinite and all-encompassing textuality is achieved.
Text is still a complex entity, resulting from an intrinsic heterogeneity, not solely verbal but also non-verbal because it has something which goes beyond and traverses the set of sentences and figures that organise it, and it is not made explicit. The text presents the textual economy, the non-said is involved with the said; it passes through or goes beyond what it is said and always transcends the very text itself in terms of the set of explicit utterances. Through what is said, the text involves something that is on the order of the unsayable, and it is this organisation which sustains textuality. Whereas the manifestation is of a phenomenological and readable order, meaning and textuality are of the order of the non-said and assemble various semiotic regimes. In this case, the textual set which comprises the vestiges of figures included in the Côa Valley implicitly show the daily habits of the people, how they organised themselves and survived and even the type of flora and fauna they came in contact with. The content of this non-said can simply be of an implicit nature; it is this implicitness which textuality enjoys, and it is what constitutes its own textual economy.
But the non-said can touch upon deeper levels in the birth of meaning: it is said that in Foz Côa there is a style which certain figures reveal and which make certain traits unmistakable, singular and singularised. The textual non-said thus constitutes the scope of the significance by demarcation with the meaning. So the great aporia of textuality consists of – through a system of inscription, of inscribing – allowing access to the dynamics of forming meaning: significance.