Well, look, I know my writing is often abstract and that I tend to include words that aren’t exactly of quotidian usage. When I first developed a literary voice, I was up to my vocal chords in Melville and Hawthorne and Shakespeare. Then there are all the ordinary hurdles of writing — ensuring that context is clear, crafting sentences that contain enough information but don’t barrage the reader, and so on.
Nonetheless, I continue to be amazed at the degree to which readers can find a text to say what they want or need it to say, especially when they hate the writer for political reasons. That’s the subject of my latest Tiverton Fact Check post.
Back in college, it occurred to me that, in some situations, the better somebody articulates an opposing view, the more dishonest or insane he or she appears to be to the opposition. I’ve certainly had that feeling while reading those with whom I disagree, with the frustration that every sentence seemed to be just a little bit off, just a little nudge of the wheel to keep the argument from going off the sheer cliff of actual truth.
My particular literary tics and foibles seem to allow those who disagree with me to believe that I’m weaving an elaborate illusion to hide my vicious insanity behind a reasonable facade. Some years ago, progressive commentator Tom Sgouros repeatedly insisted that I was arguing that “the rich” were leaving Rhode Island. Finally, in some comment section, somewhere, I got him to see that I was actually arguing nothing of the sort. His response, if I remember correctly, was that I’d used “stylized prose” to give the impression that that had been my point.
The confusion can snowball, too. When the person who stubbornly misreads turns around and tells other people what the writer was really saying, even when those people read for themselves, they implicitly begin with the challenge of reconciling what they expect the message to be with what it really is.
Communication on charged topics is tough. I’m certainly a long way from having it down and often reread things I’ve written and see that they could have been clearer. That said, writers should remember that it isn’t always their fault when people don’t understand.