Featured Post

Anxious gatekeeping

Analogous to nervous cluelessness is something we might call “anxious gatekeeping.”   This is desire to police the borders of poetry, or of...

Monday, November 8, 2010

Write So As Not To Be Misunderstood

Don't write so as to be understood, write so that you cannot be misunderstood. This adage is atrributes to the Greek stoic philosopher Epictetus. I am a little skeptical. I'm going to try to track down the true source if I can.

Anyway, you want your writing to be so precise that misunderstanding is the reader's fault, not yours. The test is not whether someone can understand you, but whether they cannot not understand. Someone I know complains that people are always misrepresenting Judith Butler. That's irritating, for sure, but I wonder why? The more difficult the ideas, the more opportunity for people to misread them.

1 comment:

Gregory Machacek said...

What did you ever find out? I am skeptical also. I have seen it attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson, William Howard Taft and Ralph Waldo Emerson, most frequently the latter. But in no case is a source text given and I've poked around in some of the likely places in Stevenson and not found it. I suspect it is going to be something that some other writer reports Stevenson telling him. Still I'd like to find the source fo rthat